Sunday, March 31, 2013

Exult! Let them Exult! - The Resurrection and a New Kind of King

Exult! Let them Exult!

Our Easter season now lasts until Pentecost, and is a time when we as Christians continue to celebrate the joy that was so beautifully expressed in the Exsultet.  This hymn, which dates to between the 5th-7th centuries, is sung only once a year at the Easter Vigil.  It is usually sung without instrumentation, and it usually takes a cantor 9-12 minutes to sing.  It is sung while the church is in total darkness save for the newly lit paschal candle and for the candles of the faithful, all of whom share the fire and new light of the paschal candle.  Here's what the Exsultet sounds like:

The Exsultet is a profound poem of joy, theologically rich and complex.  It seems only fitting to spend some time with this hymn, to meditate on it, as we continue our 50-day celebration of Easter.

The first stanza reads as follows:

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

What strikes me immediately are the two references in this stanza to Jesus Christ as ‘King.’  This notion of Jesus as ‘King’ is one we’ve encountered a number of times in the readings over the past week.  On Palm Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as a king.  On Good Friday we heard the entire passion narrative of John, which contains the rather cryptic dialogue between Jesus and Pilate where Jesus talks about himself as a king.  And we heard as well that Jesus was ‘crowned’ by his persecutors with a crown of thorns to mock his self-professed kingship, and that over Jesus’ head on the cross were written the words, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’

And now, in the Exsultet, we praise ‘our mighty King’s triumph.’

This imagery of ‘kingship’ indicates that there are political implications to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are not talking about Jesus as king in a metaphorical sense.  Jesus is truly ‘King.’  But what we see in this idea of Jesus as ‘King’ is a redefining of the political, a revising of what it means to be political.

In Jesus we see kingship modeled as utterly selfless love.  Jesus’ kingship is not one that revolves around power, but is one that manifests itself as a servant washing his disciples’ feet.  It manifests itself as one willingly going to death like a lamb to the slaughter rather than one who is willing to use force.  It manifests itself by being raised onto a cross rather than onto a throne.

The triumph of our ‘mighty King’ to which the Exsultet refers is the triumph of selfless love over the violence of the political.  The new life made possible by the Resurrection is not only the life that triumphs over death.  It is a new life insofar as it is a new way of being in the world, one modeled for us by the selfless King who consistently chose servanthood over power.

This is a radically new way of being.  But it is even more a radically new way of being political.  Now, when churches in this nation seem to understand being political only in terms of the nation-state, we are confronted by a radically different ‘Kingdom’ inaugurated by our triumphant ‘King.’  This is a kingdom that, as Jesus said to Pilate, is not from this world.  This is a kingdom that operates in an entirely different way in the here and now.  It is one where the first are last and the last are first.  It is one marked by selfless love for all within and without the church.

The Resurrection is, among other things, a call to be radically different.  It is a call to follow a new ‘King’ whose kingdom quite literally threatens all that most people, including ourselves, hold to be most important.  It is a call to be a political community - to be the Kingdom of God on earth - insofar as we as local communities within the Church become communities that truly demonstrate and be the selfless love that is God as manifested by Jesus Christ.  It means being radical communities that demonstrate to those around us an entirely other way of being together, of living together, of loving together.

What we cannot lose sight of as we praise Jesus' triumph as King is that he was, and through the Resurrection is, a truly radical King.

Icon of the resurrection from

This post is excerpted from an earlier post published on April 9, 2012

Friday, March 29, 2013

John's Passion Narrative as Chanted at St. Peter's

I spent part of the day watching the celebration of Christ's passion at St. Peter's Basilica. As you likely know, the entire passion narrative from John's gospel is read aloud at this celebration in churches throughout the world.
The three deacons chant...

A hauntingly beautiful part of the celebration at St. Peter's today was the chanting of this narrative by three deacons in Latin. You don't need to know Latin to feel in this chant the desolation of the narrative.  The chant somehow drew me into the event in a way that a simple recitation of the narrative has never done.  I'm not a liturgical traditionalist (though I enjoy a good Latin mass as much as the next guy), but I was utterly transfixed.

This chanted version of John's passion narrative may not result in the same response for you, but I thought I'd post the video of it.  Unfortunately, I can't find a video only of the deacons, so I've posted a video of the entire celebration. The passion narrative of John begins at the 23 minute mark and lasts for almost 40 minutes. To assist in following along, I've provided the Latin text of John 18 & 19.  And of course, it will undoubtedly help to follow along with an English translation.

John 18-19 (Vulgate)

Haec cum dixisset Jesus, egressus est cum discipulis suis trans torrentem Cedron, ubi erat hortus, in quem introivit ipse, et discipuli ejus.  Sciebat autem et Judas, qui tradebat eum, locum: quia frequenter Jesus convenerat illuc cum discipulis suis.  Judas ergo cum accepisset cohortem, et a pontificibus et pharisaeis ministros, venit illuc cum laternis, et facibus, et armis.  Jesus itaque sciens omnia quae ventura erant super eum, processit, et dixit eis: Quem quaeritis?  Responderunt ei: Jesum Nazarenum. Dicit eis Jesus: Ego sum. Stabat autem et Judas, qui tradebat eum, cum ipsis.

Ut ergo dixit eis: Ego sum: abierunt retrorsum, et ceciderunt in terram.  Iterum ergo interrogavit eos: Quem quaeritis? Illi autem dixerunt: Jesum Nazarenum.  Respondit Jesus: Dixi vobis, quia ego sum: si ergo me quaeritis, sinite hos abire.  Ut impleretur sermo, quem dixit: Quia quos dedisti mihi, non perdidi ex eis quemquam.  Simon ergo Petrus habens gladium eduxit eum: et percussit pontificis servum, et abscidit auriculam ejus dexteram. Erat autem nomen servo Malchus.

Dixit ergo Jesus Petro: Mitte gladium tuum in vaginam. Calicem, quem dedit mihi Pater, non bibam illum?  Cohors ergo, et tribunus, et ministri Judaeorum comprehenderunt Jesum, et ligaverunt eum.  Et adduxerunt eum ad Annam primum: erat enim socer Caiphae, qui erat pontifex anni illius.  Erat autem Caiphas, qui consilium dederat Judaeis: Quia expedit unum hominem mori pro populo.   Sequebatur autem Jesum Simon Petrus, et alius discipulus. Discipulus autem ille erat notus pontifici, et introivit cum Jesu in atrium pontificis.

Petrus autem stabat ad ostium foris. Exivit ergo discipulus alius, qui erat notus pontifici, et dixit ostiariae: et introduxit Petrum.  Dicit ergo Petro ancilla ostiaria: Numquid et tu ex discipulis es hominis istius? Dicit ille: Non sum.  Stabant autem servi et ministri ad prunas, quia frigus erat, et calefaciebant se: erat autem cum eis et Petrus stans, et calefaciens se.  Pontifex ergo interrogavit Jesum de discipulis suis, et de doctrina ejus.  Respondit ei Jesus: Ego palam locutus sum mundo: ego semper docui in synagoga, et in templo, quo omnes Judaei conveniunt, et in occulto locutus sum nihil.

Quid me interrogas? interroga eos qui audierunt quid locutus sim ipsis: ecce hi sciunt quae dixerim ego. Haec autem cum dixisset, unus assistens ministrorum dedit alapam Jesu, dicens: Sic respondes pontifici?  Respondit ei Jesus: Si male locutus sum, testimonium perhibe de malo: si autem bene, quid me caedis?  Et misit eum Annas ligatum ad Caipham pontificem.  Erat autem Simon Petrus stans, et calefaciens se. Dixerunt ergo ei: Numquid et tu ex discipulis ejus es? Negavit ille, et dixit: Non sum.

Dicit ei unus ex servis pontificis, cognatus ejus, cujus abscidit Petrus auriculam: Nonne ego te vidi in horto cum illo?  Iterum ergo negavit Petrus: et statim gallus cantavit.  Adducunt ergo Jesum a Caipha in praetorium. Erat autem mane: et ipsi non introierunt in praetorium, ut non contaminarentur, sed ut manducarent Pascha.  Exivit ergo Pilatus ad eos foras, et dixit: Quam accusationem affertis adversus hominem hunc?  Responderunt, et dixerunt ei: Si non esset hic malefactor, non tibi tradidissemus eum.

Dixit ergo eis Pilatus: Accipite eum vos, et secundum legem vestram judicate eum. Dixerunt ergo ei Judaei: Nobis non licet interficere quemquam.  Ut sermo Jesu impleretur, quem dixit, significans qua morte esset moriturus.  Introivit ergo iterum in praetorium Pilatus: et vocavit Jesum, et dixit ei: Tu es rex Judaeorum?  Respondit Jesus: A temetipso hoc dicis, an alii dixerunt tibi de me?  Respondit Pilatus: Numquid ego Judaeus sum? gens tua et pontifices tradiderunt te mihi: quid fecisti?

Respondit Jesus: Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo. Si ex hoc mundo esset regnum meum, ministri mei utique decertarent ut non traderer Judaeis: nunc autem regnum meum non est hinc.  Dixit itaque ei Pilatus: Ergo rex es tu? Respondit Jesus: Tu dicis quia rex sum ego. Ego in hoc natus sum, et ad hoc veni in mundum, ut testimonium perhibeam veritati: omnis qui est ex veritate, audit vocem meam.  Dicit ei Pilatus: Quid est veritas? Et cum hoc dixisset, iterum exivit ad Judaeos, et dicit eis: Ego nullam invenio in eo causam.  Est autem consuetudo vobis ut unum dimittam vobis in Pascha: vultis ergo dimittam vobis regem Judaeorum?  Clamaverunt ergo rursum omnes, dicentes: Non hunc, sed Barabbam. Erat autem Barabbas latro.

Tunc ergo apprehendit Pilatus Jesum, et flagellavit.  Et milites plectentes coronam de spinis, imposuerunt capiti ejus: et veste purpurea circumdederunt eum.  Et veniebant ad eum, et dicebant: Ave, rex Judaeorum: et dabant ei alapas.  Exivit ergo iterum Pilatus foras, et dicit eis: Ecce adduco vobis eum foras, ut cognoscatis quia nullam invenio in eo causam.  (Exivit ergo Jesus portans coronam spineam, et purpureum vestimentum.) Et dicit eis: Ecce homo.

Cum ergo vidissent eum pontifices et ministri, clamabant, dicentes: Crucifige, crucifige eum. Dicit eis Pilatus: Accipite eum vos, et crucifigite: ego enim non invenio in eo causam.  Responderunt ei Judaei: Nos legem habemus, et secundum legem debet mori, quia Filium Dei se fecit.  Cum ergo audisset Pilatus hunc sermonem, magis timuit.  Et ingressus est praetorium iterum: et dixit ad Jesum: Unde es tu? Jesus autem responsum non dedit ei.  Dicit ergo ei Pilatus: Mihi non loqueris? nescis quia potestatem habeo crucifigere te, et potestatem habeo dimittere te?

Respondit Jesus: Non haberes potestatem adversum me ullam, nisi tibi datum esset desuper. Propterea qui me tradidit tibi, majus peccatum habet.  Et exinde quaerebat Pilatus dimittere eum. Judaei autem clamabant dicentes: Si hunc dimittis, non es amicus Caesaris. Omnis enim qui se regem facit, contradicit Caesari.  Pilatus autem cum audisset hos sermones, adduxit foras Jesum: et sedit pro tribunali, in loco qui dicitur Lithostrotos, hebraice autem Gabbatha.  Erat enim parasceve Paschae, hora quasi sexta, et dicit Judaeis: Ecce rex vester.  Illi autem clamabant: Tolle, tolle, crucifige eum. Dicit eis Pilatus: Regem vestrum crucifigam? Responderunt pontifices: Non habemus regem, nisi Caesarem.

Tunc ergo tradidit eis illum ut crucifigeretur. Susceperunt autem Jesum, et eduxerunt. Et bajulans sibi crucem exivit in eum, qui dicitur Calvariae locum, hebraice autem Golgotha: ubi crucifixerunt eum, et cum eo alios duos hinc et hinc, medium autem Jesum.  Scripsit autem et titulum Pilatus, et posuit super crucem. Erat autem scriptum: Jesus Nazarenus, Rex Judaeorum.  Hunc ergo titulum multi Judaeorum legerunt: quia prope civitatem erat locus, ubi crucifixus est Jesus, et erat scriptum hebraice, graece, et latine.

Dicebant ergo Pilato pontifices Judaeorum: Noli scribere: Rex Judaeorum: sed quia ipse dixit: Rex sum Judaeorum.  Respondit Pilatus: Quod scripsi, scripsi.  Milites ergo cum crucifixissent eum, acceperunt vestimenta ejus (et fecerunt quatuor partes, unicuique militi partem) et tunicam. Erat autem tunica inconsutilis, desuper contexta per totum.  Dixerunt ergo ad invicem: Non scindamus eam, sed sortiamur de illa cujus sit. Ut Scriptura impleretur, dicens: Partiti sunt vestimenta mea sibi: et in vestem meam miserunt sortem. Et milites quidem haec fecerunt.  Stabant autem juxta crucem Jesu mater ejus, et soror matris ejus, Maria Cleophae, et Maria Magdalene.

Cum vidisset ergo Jesus matrem, et discipulum stantem, quem diligebat, dicit matri suae: Mulier, ecce filius tuus.  Deinde dicit discipulo: Ecce mater tua. Et ex illa hora accepit eam discipulus in sua.  Postea sciens Jesus quia omnia consummata sunt, ut consummaretur Scriptura, dixit: Sitio. Vas ergo erat positum aceto plenum. Illi autem spongiam plenam aceto, hyssopo circumponentes, obtulerunt ori ejus.  Cum ergo accepisset Jesus acetum, dixit: Consummatum est. Et inclinato capite tradidit spiritum.

Judaei ergo (quoniam parasceve erat) ut non remanerent in cruce corpora sabbato (erat enim magnus dies ille sabbati), rogaverunt Pilatum ut frangerentur eorum crura, et tollerentur.  Venerunt ergo milites: et primi quidem fregerunt crura, et alterius, qui crucifixus est cum eo.  Ad Jesum autem cum venissent, ut viderunt eum jam mortuum, non fregerunt ejus crura, sed unus militum lancea latus ejus aperuit, et continuo exivit sanguis et aqua.  Et qui vidit, testimonium perhibuit: et verum est testimonium ejus. Et ille scit quia vera dicit: ut et vos credatis.

Facta sunt enim haec ut Scriptura impleretur: Os non comminuetis ex eo.  Et iterum alia Scriptura dicit: Videbunt in quem transfixerunt.  Post haec autem rogavit Pilatum Joseph ab Arimathaea (eo quod esset discipulus Jesu, occultus autem propter metum Judaeorum), ut tolleret corpus Jesu. Et permisit Pilatus. Venit ergo, et tulit corpus Jesu.  Venit autem et Nicodemus, qui venerat ad Jesum nocte primum, ferens mixturam myrrhae et aloes, quasi libras centum.  Acceperunt ergo corpus Jesu, et ligaverunt illud linteis cum aromatibus, sicut mos est Judaeis sepelire.

Erat autem in loco, ubi crucifixus est, hortus: et in horto monumentum novum, in quo nondum quisquam positus erat.  Ibi ergo propter parasceven Judaeorum, quia juxta erat monumentum, posuerunt Jesum.

Good Friday Meditation

 Rembrandt - The Raising of the Cross

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Isaac Watts (1707)
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Caravaggio - The Entombment
 Images from the Web Gallery of Art

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Baseball & My Enduring Perfectionism

April 1 can't come soon enough
Those of you who know me know how much baseball means to me.  For myself and for many others, baseball is more than simply a game.  There is something truly transcendent about baseball.  It does something within me to turn on a game or (even more profoundly) to sit in the stands and soak in the experience.  Baseball moves me, and to be honest, I don't really know why (I've written about how baseball moves me here).

One of my projects over the next few years is to explore what it is about baseball that tugs at me, and more broadly, to explore what deeper significance and meaning this seemingly simple game might have theologically.  I've gradually been building up a library of novels, biographies, histories, and essays on the greatest game, and I hope to explore theological themes and ideas in baseball on this blog in future months and years.  My hope is that this will turn into a larger project, though I have other projects that require most of my time and energy these days.

The Sandlot
My boys and I have been talking about baseball a great deal lately as we wait for opening day (as an aside the 2013 season begins on Monday, and while it is purely coincidental that the season begins the day after we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and therefore the introduction of new life into the world, this seems to me to be entirely appropriate).  Ever since they watched The Sandlot (a wonderful film that gets at the heart of baseball's beauty) last December, they can't get enough of the sport.  Almost every waking minute appears to be consumed with baseball; they walk around with gloves on, they carry baseballs with them, and they've set up a little field in our backyard to practice pitching, hitting, and sliding.  Last night over supper I decided to take their knowledge of the game to a higher level, and so spoke to them about batting averages.  Aside from learning that I am absolutely rubbish at explaining anything having to do with numbers, I learned as well how difficult it is for a seven and a five-year-old to figure out what batting averages could possibly mean.

Ty Cobb
But I persevered, and spoke to them about Ty Cobb who was, by all accounts, one of the most unlikeable figures ever in the history of the game, but who was also one of the greatest hitters.  Cobb, I told them, has the highest career batting average of all time at .366.  What interested me was not my kids' reactions to this (they appropriated this information uncomprehendingly), but the reaction of Kim (my spouse).  She expressed incredulity that the highest career batting average of all time was only .366, for she interpreted this as meaning that he failed to get a hit over 60% of the time, which
she found to be a very high failure rate.

And as I thought about her reaction, I realized that she had hit upon something that was actually very important about the nature of the game - its tolerance of failure. It is a maxim that baseball is a sport in which one need only succeed 30% of the time to be great, and as I've thought about this, I've realized how valuable this idea truly is.

I am a perfectionist, and while there are aspects of my perfectionism that are beneficial, the negatives far outweigh the positives for me.  One of my personal weaknesses is that my spiritual and emotional well-being is frequently tied to an acute fear of failure that always lurks in the back of my thoughts.  There is, therefore, something tremendously comforting to me about a game in which the hitter is defined, not by how many times they fail, but by how many times they succeed.  Cobb is known for getting at hit 36.6% of the time he came to the plate, not by the fact that he failed to get a hit 63.4% of the time.

This is a remarkably generous interpretation of the facts.  I don't want to be all 'let's-take-a-life-lesson-from-baseball' here, for that can lead to some unfortunately banal platitudes that are helpful to no one.  But I can't help but view baseball's generous interpretation of 'success' as being very healthy.  And as a perfectionist trying to get over my perfectionism, baseball serves me very well.  Very well, indeed.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis' First Homily

This is getting better and better.  I read with interest and glee John Thavis' account of the Pope Francis' first 24 hours as bishop of Rome, pleased by the mixture of independence and humility that appears to mark the man.  And then I read Pope Francis' first homily at mass in the Sistine Chapel.  One can safely assume, I think, that he knew his words at this mass would be parsed and analyzed, and that some would be looking for clues about the kind of priorities that would mark his papacy.  I was pleasantly astounded to read these words in particular:
When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
These are incredible words to fall from the mouth of a newly-elected pope in a room full of the cardinals who just elected him.  They, along with the humility on display last night and this morning, set a clear tone for the kind of pontiff Pope Francis is going to be.  I'm excited to see what comes next.


Here's a video that shows Pope Francis uttering the words above:

Here's the Vatican translation of his first homily:
In these three readings [Isaiah 2:2-5, 1 Peter 2:4-9, Matthew 16:13-19] I see that there is something in common: it is movement. In the first reading, movement is the journey [itself]; in the second reading, movement is in the up-building of the Church. In the third, in the Gospel, the movement is in [the act of] profession: walking, building, professing. 
Walking: the House of Jacob. “O house of Jacob, Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” This is the first thing God said to Abraham: “Walk in my presence and be blameless.” Walking: our life is a journey and when we stop, there is something wrong. Walking always, in the presence of the Lord, in the light of the Lord, seeking to live with that blamelessness, which God asks of Abraham, in his promise. 
Building: to build the Church. There is talk of stones: stones have consistency, but [the stones spoken of are] living stones, stones anointed by the Holy Spirit. Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build! 
Third, professing: we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. When one does not walk, one stalls. When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency. When one does not profess Jesus Christ - I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil. 
Walking, building-constructing, professing: the thing, however, is not so easy, because in walking, in building, in professing, there are sometimes shake-ups - there are movements that are not part of the path: there are movements that pull us back. 
This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord. 
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage - the courage - to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. 
My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified. So be it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis: A Humble Pope (with video)

I had a group of students in my office when it was announced that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope and would take the name of...Francis.  In the hours since his election, the Vatican has clarified that Pope Francis did indeed have St. Francis of Assisi in mind when taking this name.  And by taking this name, Pope Francis appears to be hinting that his papacy will be marked by humility and simplicity, and also by a desire to obey the commandment given to St Francis: "Go and rebuild my Church, which you can see has fallen into ruin."

We will have to wait and see how this pontificate will play out.  In the meantime, I want to comment briefly on what we witnessed this afternoon with Pope Francis' address to the city and the world.

His charisma and his charm came through clearly.  But what was even more apparent was his humility.  With one gesture he signaled to the church what kind of pope he was going to be: He asked for prayer as he commenced his ministry as bishop of Rome (emphasizing his role as bishop; a nod to collegiality?) and joined the crowd in silent prayer for his ministry.  It was a small gesture, but one that was very significant.

For my own sake, so that I have an easily accessible place to view it again, the video of the event is pasted below, followed by a translation of what Pope Francis said.  The excitement of the crowd when the white smoke came billowing out is contagious.  The announcement of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope by the protodeacon was somewhat comical to me, as you could almost hear the crowd collecting say, "Who is that?"  And then Pope Francis' appearance on the balcony...   Cardinal Napier wrote on Twitter after the conclave that Bergoglio's decision to take the name 'Francis' brought tears to his eyes (see his tweet below), and I have read that other cardinals reacted similarly.

I have to admit that his display of humility brought a lump to my throat.

Here's the video, from

Here's the translation of his address, which I found on the Tablet's Storify page.  I thought I'd reprint it here for the sake of ease.  It reads:
Brothers and sisters good evening. 
You all know that the duty of the Conclave was to give a bishop to Rome. It seems that my brother Cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him… but here we are. I thank you for the welcome that has come from the diocesan community of Rome.
First of all I would say a prayer pray for our Bishop Emeritus Benedict XVI.. Let us all pray together for him, that the Lord bless him and Our Lady protect him.
Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Glory to the Father…
And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood . My hope is that this journey of the Church that we begin today, together with help of my Cardinal Vicar, be fruitful for the evangelization of this beautiful city.
And now I would like to give the blessing, but first I want to ask you a favour. Before the bishop blesses the people I ask that you would pray to the Lord to bless me – the prayer of the people for their Bishop. Let us say this prayer – your prayer for me – in silence. 
[The Protodeacon announced that all those who received the blessing, either in person or by radio, television or by the new means of communication receive the plenary indulgence in the form established by the Church. He prayed that Almighty God protect and guard the Pope so that he may lead the Church for many years to come, and that he would grant peace to the Church throughout the world.]
[Immediately afterwards Pope Francis gave his first blessing Urbi et Orbi – To the City and to the World.]
I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will.
Brothers and sisters, I am leaving you. Thank you for your welcome. Pray for me and I will be with you again soon.
We will see one another soon. 
Tomorrow I want to go to pray the Madonna, that she may protect Rome.
Good night and sleep well!
Image from

Review of John Thavis' "The Vatican Diaries"

John Thavis has impeccable timing.  His book, The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church, came out February 21, just in time to take advantage of the uptick in interest in all things Roman Catholic with Pope Benedict XVI's departure and the election of a new pope.  And let me assure you that, while Thavis' timing is great, his book is even better.
Photo from
John Thavis is a retired American journalist  who covered the Vatican from 1983-2012 for Catholic News Service.  While The Vatican Diaries contain some vignettes from Pope John Paul II's time, Thavis' focus is particularly on Vatican machinations under the tenure of Pope Benedict XVI.

The purpose of the book is to provide a more accurate depiction of the culture of the Vatican than the 'caricature of power and authority' that dominates our understanding.  Thavis notes that many of us believe the Vatican to be a place where power and secrecy prevail, where hierarchical authority is clearly delineated from the top-down in a nice pyramid-like political structure.  The reality, Thavis argues, is much messier, and indeed, much more interesting.  Rather than the popular image of the Vatican as "an organizational behemoth - monumental, powerful and cloaked in secrecy" with a "hierarchy that marches in lockstep", Thavis paints a picture of the Vatican as decentralized and disorganized, in which the atmosphere is "more medieval village than corporate headquarters".  Curial offices fight for their turf, and in the midst of this, the pope is often kept in the dark about details of decisions made by the Curia.  This situation leads to a state of affairs where gaffes, miscommunication, and mixed messages are frequently the norm.

If may sound like Thavis has an axe to grind against the Vatican, but this is not the case.  Thavis writes as one who is clearly sympathetic to the Catholic Church and to the men who hold high office in the Vatican.  But he is honest in his appraisal of Vatican politics, particularly as exemplified in the key issues that marked Pope Benedict XVI's time in office.  With painstaking detail, Thavis delves into the sexual abuse crisis - and particularly the Vatican's handling of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder and leader of the Legionnaires who was accused of sexual abuse by numerous seminarians and who was eventually censured by the Vatican.  Thavis looks as well at attempts by the Vatican under Benedict to bring about reconciliation with the Lefebvrists, and the debacle of Benedict lifting the excommunication of one of the Lefebvrist bishops, only to learn that he was a Holocaust-denier; he examines the controversy surrounding Benedict's declaration of Pope Pius XII as 'Venerable'; and he writes about the church's handling of issues surrounding sexuality, particularly clerical celibacy, contraception, and homosexuality.  The Vatileaks affair also comes up for analysis.

Thavis doesn't delve into these events/issues in a sensationalistic manner.  Rather, in contrast to the usually superficial accounts that predominate, Thavis analyzes precisely what happened and provides helpful analysis of what went wrong and what the Vatican, and Pope Benedict, did right.  But what emerges from these accounts is a Vatican that does indeed require the curial reform.

Indeed, it was this that I found most valuable about Thavis' book.  In the wake of Pope Benedict's resignation, we've heard numerous reports that curial reform is a priority for the cardinals as they elect a new pope.  The Vatican Diaries outlines precisely why curial reform is such a priority, and why the next pope needs to have more of a gift for administration than perhaps Pope Benedict had.

Again, in recent weeks we've heard less-than-positive assessments of Pope Benedict as an administrator and manager, and in a chapter on the pope, Thavis outlines not only how difficult the position of pope is, but also how Benedict flourished in some facets of the job and not in others. According to Thavis, Benedict took a low-key approach to the papacy.  Faced with opposition whenever he attempted to reform the curia, Benedict appeared to recognize that his advanced age simply didn't allow for him to enact much change; this is an astute observation by Thavis, particularly given that he wrote this chapter before the pope, citing his age and health, resigned.  Thavis' overall assessment of Benedict is sympathetic.  He portrays Benedict as an academic who was frequently misunderstood by the media.  He was, according to Thavis, uncomfortable in crowds, and appeared not always to know how to engage them.  Unlike previous popes - like John Paul II, who was at one time a poet and factory worker - Benedict's entire life had always revolved around the church, in which he found tremendous peace.  This brought with it a great love for the church, but also perhaps brought limitations in terms of how to engage the world.

The Vatican Diairies also contains some very interesting - and funny - stories about life at the Vatican.  Thavis recounts the story behind why the bells took so long to ring after the white smoke in 2005, he discusses life as a journalist traveling with the pope to various countries, and he writes a wonderful chapter about the Fr. Reginald Foster (the Vatican's primary Latinist and all-around character).  Particularly interesting to me was Thavis' account of Pope Benedict's particular lack of enthusiasm when it came to meeting with President George W. Bush.  I wonder whether Bush understood the veiled insult behind Benedict's comment in 2008 that perhaps, now that he was leaving the presidency, he might actually have time to read a book.

I wholeheartedly recommend The Vatican Diaries.  The book is well worth reading, particularly at this time of papal transition, as it provides a nuanced account of the challenges that will face the next pope, whoever he may be.  In the meantime, Thavis has a blog that he is updated daily during the conclave.  I've consistently found his blog to be insightful.  You can get to the blog here.  And you can buy his book through the link below.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Litany of the Saints & the Conclave

In less than an hour, the Cardinals will process from the Pauline chapel to the Sistine Chapel, praying the Litany of the Saints.  I love this litany, both aesthetically and theologically, and it is appropriate that it be prayed as a new leader for the Roman Catholic Church is chosen. First, in the very act of asking for the saints who have gone before us to pray, the Cardinals and the whole church recognize the need for divine grace in choosing the 'servant of the servants of God'.  Second, to name these saints and ask for their intercession is concretely to place the event of this Conclave 2013 in the entire history - its linear and eternal history - of the Catholic Church.  It is to recognize the communion that exists between the temporal community of the faithful and the eternal community of those in God's presence (the unity of the church militant and the church triumphant, to use the traditional language).

And in so doing, the church recognizes that choosing a new Bishop of Rome has a significance that both encompasses and transcends the here-and-now.

So, for those interested in following along and praying alongside the Cardinals, you can find the liturgy the Cardinals will use for the Litany of the Saints here.  An English translation can be found here.  You can stream the procession, and the entire Conclave here.  And if you can't watch the procession live, here's what it looked like back in 2005:

The Litany concludes with the Veni Creator Spiritus, a hymn of incredible beauty.  A friend of mine has written on this hymn here.

O God, eternal shepherd, who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Update - March 27, 2013

Below is the video of the procession into the Sistine chapel from earlier this month:

Prayer for the election of a new pope from the USCCB website

Thursday, March 7, 2013

'Vacancies' of Papal Administration

The great ecclesiologist Fr. Joseph Komonchak, emeritus John C. and Gertrude P. Hubbard Chair in Religious Studies at Catholic University of America, has a good article in the latest issue of Commonweal entitled, "Benedict's Act of Humility: Now it's Rome's Turn".  The full article can be accessed here.

Komonchak made two points in the article that were of interest to me.  First, he argues that Benedict's resignation may be his greatest contribution to ecclesiology.  Benedict's admission that he no longer had the strength to continue as pope, Komonchak argues, "not only humanizes the pope himself but helps bring the papacy back within the church, down from what Hans Urs von Balthasar called its 'pyramid-like isolation.'"  Komonchak here suggests that there is something ecclesiologically important about Benedict's resignation, for it implicitly counters unhealthy elevation of the office of the papacy.  He writes: "All those unique titles that seemed to place the papal office above and beyond all other offices and ministries in the church suddenly have to yield to what their occupants all have in common: a fragile, sinful, and mortal humanity."

Could it be possible that Benedict's resignation, this act of humility, might contribute to the kind of collegiality arguably envisioned by the council fathers at Vatican II?  Time will tell.

Komonchak's second point has to do with what he refers to as the 'vacancies' of papal administration that marked the tenures of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Neither pope, Komonchak writes, was all that interested in the details of administration.  John Paul II demonstrated this through his continuous travels.  Benedict's lack of administrative prowess, however, was due to his academic inclinations.  Thus, "Pope Benedict retreated into his study, where he composed not only his official homilies, speeches, and encyclicals, but also three books."

This isn't the first time that I've heard of Benedict's studiousness getting in the way of administration.  From a few 'insiders' I've heard that Benedict greatly cut down on meetings with the curia and other administrators in favour of spending more time in his study.  As an academic and theologian I understand and greatly respect Benedict's desire to read and write.  But Komonchak writes that Benedict's penchant for academia was disastrous:
"The result of this approach to the office—call it the two “vacancies” of papal responsibility—has been not only the sort of unedifying spectacle of curial rivalries we saw in the “Vatileaks” scandal, but a return to, and even heightening of, the centralized theory and practice that many had hoped Vatican II would bring to an end. Instead, after modest efforts at institutionalizing the council’s ecclesiology, we have seen over the past forty years the atrophying of structures for co-responsibility and cooperation at every level of church life."
Ideally it would seem to me that what we need in our next pope is someone who can combine the courage and reforming zeal of John XXIII, the charisma of John Paul II, and the theological genius of Benedict XVI with exceptional administrative abilities.  Is that asking for too much?

Photo of Fr. Komonchak courtesy of