Thursday, February 28, 2013


Thanks to the Internet, today I was able to watch live as Benedict XVI took a short helicopter ride from Rome to Castel Gandolfo and bade good night to a cheering crowd before withdrawing to spend his last hours as pope in relative quiet. It was one of the saddest, strangest things I've ever seen. You can talk all you want about historical precursors like Celestine V and Gregory XII, but the fact remains that this is very strange. Belying the polite applause and the smiles, the pain and uncertainty visible on the faces of many of the people surrounding the pope in today's video told of the strangeness of the event; Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict's personal secretary, could be seen crying as the pope bade farewell to the staff of the papal household, and I'm sure that many others shed tears as Benedict XVI left the Vatican for the last time as supreme pontiff.

Though I respect Pope Benedict's decision to renounce his office, this is an event that I had sincerely hoped would never come to pass. I had taken note of Benedict's comments over the years regarding the theoretical possibility of his abdication, but I never thought he would really do it. Popes generally serve for life, and there are very good reasons, both practical and theological, why papal abdications should remain rare; for a concise summary of some of those reasons, here is a fine post on the subject by Father Ray Blake. Pope Benedict XVI chose to vacate the Chair of St. Peter after long and careful discernment, "having repeatedly examined my conscience before God" and "well aware of the seriousness of this act," as he said seventeen days ago. I may continue to struggle with this decision and its implications, but I take some consolation in the awareness that the one who has chosen this path knows the Church and its needs far better than I ever will.

In the past few days, I have spent some time reflecting on my personal history with Pope Benedict XVI. My first exposure to the then-Cardinal Ratzinger's work came during my undergraduate years at Georgetown University, when I bought a copy of The Spirit of the Liturgy, then newly translated into English, from an old Irish lady who sold Catholic books during the weekly coffee hour after the nine o' clock Mass at Old St. Mary's Church in Washington. The Spirit of the Liturgy remained my only real exposure to Ratzinger's thought until April of 2005, when I decided that I should start reading his other books to get a better idea of what this new pope was like. Three years later, during my philosophy studies at Fordham, I became deeply immersed in the pope's writings when I took a graduate seminar on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger taught by Avery Cardinal Dulles. Pope Benedict XVI made a pastoral visit to the United States during the semester that I took that seminar, and I had a chance to see the Pontiff in person when he visited St. Joseph's Seminary at Dunwoodie. Over time, I have come to feel a deep personal affection for this pope that I never really felt for his predecessor: John Paul II always seemed larger than life to me, perhaps too much of a rock star, while the introverted and scholarly Benedict XVI was someone I could easily relate to.

In a homily preached at the noon Mass I attended today at St. Basil's Church in Toronto, Father Mario D'Souza, C.S.B. suggested that Pope Benedict XVI possessed three qualities essential for the exercise of the Petrine ministry: he was holy, he was humble, and he was brilliant. Looking ahead to the conclave that will elect the next successor to St. Peter, I pray that the new pope will possess the same qualities. I also pray for His Holiness Benedict XVI, now the Pontiff Emeritus, as he follows the example of his patron St. Benedict of Nursia in embracing a life which "belongs wholly to the work of God." AMDG.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Cross is the guardian of the whole world.

The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the beauty of the Church; the Cross is the might of kings; the Cross is the confirmation of the faithful; the Cross is the glory of angels and the ruining of demons.

(Exapostilarion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross)

The stone cross seen in the photo above stands opposite the doors of the church that I usually attend on weekends. Though I sometimes glance in the direction of this cross as I enter or leave the church, I don't think I had ever paused to read its inscription until this past Sunday, when the beauty of the newly-fallen snow caused me to linger a bit longer before going inside and ultimately led me to look more closely at the cross. Fittingly enough, the inscription on this cross comes from one of the liturgical texts for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The Exaltation of the Cross is celebrated in September, but I believe that the text presented above can also be a source of fruitful reflection during Lent. Lent is a particularly appropriate time to look more closely at the place of the Cross in our own lives. What crosses do we bear, and what crosses do we place upon others? How is the Cross a reality in our own lives? What would it mean for us to proclaim, perhaps against our own inclinations, that the Cross is "the guardian of the whole world" and "the beauty of the Church"? AMDG.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust.

It's reading week at the University of Toronto, and so, as students often do, I have opted to get away from the city where I live and study to do my reading elsewhere. I won't be posting anything on this blog until I get back to Toronto at the end of the week, but in my absence please enjoy an appropriate selection from Die schöne Müllerin, sung here by Werner Güra with Jan Schultsz on piano. I hope that you all have a good week. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On the abdication of a pope.

Today is Ash Wednesday, which represents the start of Lent for Roman Catholics. Though I had given some thought in recent days to the question of how I might mark Ash Wednesday on this blog, my plans for a special Ash Wednesday post evaporated after I heard the news of Pope Benedict XVI's decision to abdicate the Throne of Peter. If you'd like to read some reflections from me specifically dedicated to Ash Wednesday, this post from last year still captures my thoughts on the subject. Instead of posting something new on Ash Wednesday this year, I'm going to share some personal reflections on the Holy Father's decision, in the hope that doing so will help others who, like me, find themselves stunned and even disappointed by this week's events.

Though hindsight suggests that Pope Benedict XVI had been dropping hints for a long time regarding his intent to step down, his official announcement Monday morning caught the world by surprise. I was as surprised as anyone else - after all, the last papal abdication took place nearly six hundred years ago (!) - but on reflection I thought: If anyone would do it, this pope would. Pope Benedict XVI has shown himself to be a bold and creative theologian who possesses what may be the keenest intellect of any pope we've seen in modern times, yet he is also a man of genuine and disarming humility, as I discovered personally when I witnessed his visit to New York five years ago. Furthermore, as Adam DeVille wrote on Monday, "those who have read Joseph Ratzinger closely [have] known him to be a man who, very quietly, nonetheless insists on doing things his way where possible. He has never been one to go with the crowd; he has long been a man who refutes expectations; he has been a man of surprises who has often done things in a unique fashion." Indeed, all of that has been proven again this week.

As I consider the Pope's decision, I also can't help but recall that, as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger made it clear that he desired nothing more than to enjoy a quiet retirement in his native Bavaria. Joseph Ratzinger's acceptance of the burden of the papacy was a remarkable act of self-sacrifice and a sign of an authentic poverty of spirit - the same poverty of spirit that has now led a man conscious of his growing physical diminishment to take an exceptionally rare and courageous step. Though I am sad that Pope Benedict XVI will only lead the Church for two more weeks, I pray that God may give him great consolation in the remaining days of his earthly life. Well done, good and faithful servant. AMDG.

Monday, February 11, 2013



Fratres carissimi

Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vitae communicem. Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum.

Bene conscius sum hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando. Attamen in mundo nostri temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto et quaestionibus magni ponderis pro vita fidei perturbato ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam et ad annuntiandum Evangelium etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene administrandum agnoscere debeam. Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse.

Fratres carissimi, ex toto corde gratias ago vobis pro omni amore et labore, quo mecum pondus ministerii mei portastis et veniam peto pro omnibus defectibus meis. Nunc autem Sanctam Dei Ecclesiam curae Summi eius Pastoris, Domini nostri Iesu Christi confidimus sanctamque eius Matrem Mariam imploramus, ut patribus Cardinalibus in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice materna sua bonitate assistat. Quod ad me attinet etiam in futuro vita orationi dedicata Sanctae Ecclesiae Dei toto ex corde servire velim.

Ex Aedibus Vaticanis, die 10 mensis februarii MMXIII




Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013



Texts available here and here. I suppose that I may have more to say on this later, but for now I will simply say what is most important at the moment: please pray for the Pope and for the Church. AMDG.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

On Quinquagesima Sunday.

This is the day traditionally known in Western Christendom as Quinquagesima Sunday, marking the fiftieth day before Easter Sunday. Just as the Byzantine churches observe a series of pre-Lenten Sundays which gradually prepare the faithful to embark upon the Great Fast, the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church historically included the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima, beginning on the Sunday regarded liturgically as the seventieth day before Easter (hence the name "Septuagesima") and ending with Shrove Tuesday. The above image linking Septuagesima and Lent comes from an old English children's book by Enid Mary Chadwick called My Book of the Church's Year. I chose to reproduce Chadwick's work here partly because I find its Englishness charming ("And 2 more Sundays in Lent overleaf") and I appreciate the small details, like the monastic tonsure on the priest hearing confession and the woman flipping a pancake on Shrove Tuesday, but also because I believe that images like this can have catechetical value for adults as well as for children. To see the rest of the images in Chadwick's book, click here.

Writing at the Canadian scholastics' blog Ibo et Non Redibo, my Jesuit confrere Santiago Rodriguez recently offered an apologia for the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. I have misgivings about Ordinary Time as a concept, not, as Santi might suppose, because I find it "uninteresting" or "unremarkable," but because it does harm to the structure of the liturgical year. Designating Sundays according to their relationship to the crucial 'hinges' or turning points in the liturgical year provides a clear sense of coherence and direction; for example, the celebration of Sundays "after Epiphany" and "after Pentecost" serves as a reminder that Epiphany and Pentecost are not one-day events but have a lasting significance in the life of the Church - and, hopefully, in our individual lives as believers. The three pre-Lenten Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima can similarly help us by offering a reminder that Lent is coming as well as an opportunity to prepare for that penitential season.

To my mind, the real problem with Ordinary Time is not that it is boring but rather the fact that the modern Roman Missal's Sundays per annum lack the moorings and reference points that have historically been an integral part of the liturgical calendar in the West as well as the East. In other words, the problem with Ordinary Time is that it does not make room for valuable and important celebrations like Quinquagesima Sunday. Happily, this is not an insoluble problem; the 'Reform of the Reform' desired by Pope Benedict XVI could provide a context for dealing with such issues, and I would submit that the Reform of the Reform must get at questions like the shape of the liturgical calendar if it is to have any lasting effect.

Moving from the general to the particular, I hope that readers who find themselves moving into Lent these days - perhaps tonight, perhaps on Wednesday - are able to make the most of this time of preparation. May these days be spiritually fruitful for all of us. AMDG.

The Great White North.

American readers will know that the Northeastern United States was battered by a massive blizzard this weekend, lesving a lot of people (including many in my native region) shivering at home in the cold thanks to power outages and temporary bans on driving on treacherous roads. Toronto wasn't hit nearly as hard, but the 30+ centimeters of snow that we received on Friday and Saturday still made this the heaviest storm that we've received so far this winter. The GTA is now digging itself out of the storm, and I fully expect to get to church this morning without incident despite slushy, slippery streets.

To give you an idea of how things looked here on Friday, this is a view down my street in the midst of the storm.

Here is another view down the street, taken just after the preceding one. The solitary figure seen in the distance was an older man carrying a snow shovel; he eventually caught up with me as I continued to take pictures, and as he passed by he simply said, "Snow!" "Yes," I replied.

The University of Toronto kept its downtown campus open until mid-afternoon on Friday, meaning that many students (including me) still went to class. Here you see hardy U of T students trooping up St. George Street while drivers cautiously advance, with the snowflake-shrouded mass of Robarts Library looming in the background.

This is Queen's Park, just behind the Ontario Legislative Building and surrounded by the University of Toronto. Though this park sits in the middle of the city, I almost felt as though I had been dropped into a tranquil forest as I walked through on Friday afternoon, with hardly another soul in sight and an unusual silence due to the absence of traffic on the surrounding streets.

High on his pedestal in the center of Queen's Park, King Edward VII rides into the snow. This statue spent nearly fifty years in a park in Delhi before it was moved to Toronto in the late 1960s. I find it hard to imagine a greater contrast than the one between the subtropical Indian locale for which this statue was built and the snowy Canadian landscape where it now makes its home; as I regularly make my way past this statue on the way to and from class, I'm reminded that, in some ways, the sun still never sets on the British Empire.

Good wishes to those who now find themselves snowbound or otherwise confronted by the hardships of winter, and a respectful nod to those of you who live in places that never see snow. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Jesuit community chapel in the news.



It's rare enough for the architecture of a Jesuit house to get noticed, but it's rarer still for one of the most intimate spaces in a Jesuit community - the domestic chapel - to draw attention outside of Jesuit circles. This is is what has happened with the Jesuit community chapel at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, which has received the notice of the New Liturgical Movement for the rather remarkable renovation captured in the 'before' and 'after' photos seen above. This impressive renovation was the work of Joel Pidel, a graduate of Notre Dame's School of Architecture and - though the NLM report doesn't mention this - the brother of a New Orleans Province Jesuit. Joel Pidel explains what he did and why - and provides many more beautiful photos - in a post about the project on his blog Seeing the Form. I'm pleased that Pidel drew inspiration from a classically Jesuit source, Bernini's Church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale in Rome, but I'm even more impressed with his success in turning what had been a bland and barren 1960s worship space into a chapel that helps "to manifest God’s ever-greater Glory and facilitate our encounter with the same Living God; or, as Hans Urs von Balthasar would say, an example of theological aesthetics." AMDG.

A new Chaldean Catholic patriarch.

It has been too long since I posted anything on this blog about the beleaguered Christians of Iraq, and for once I'm pleased to report some good news about this venerable and long-suffering community: last week, the Synod of Bishops of the Chaldean Catholic Church elected Archbishop Louis Sako as the new Patriarch of Babylon. Seen above with Pope Benedict XVI, Sako will be enthroned later this month as Patriarch Louis Raphaël I, succeeding Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, who retired late last year. The new Patriarch has often spoken out regarding the persecution and violence which have led more than half of Iraq's ancient Christian community to flee into exile over the past decade, and he has not hesitated to criticize Western governments for policy decisions that have only served to worsen the already difficult circumstances of Christians in the Middle East. At the same time, Sako has also emphasized the need for Christians in Iraq to work across confessional lines for "unity and renewal" within the churches and to be "a beacon of hope" in a badly divided country. In short, he seems to be the right leader for difficult times.

The above video from Rome Reports offers a brief look at the meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Synod of Chaldean Catholic Bishops following the election of the new Patriarch. To conclude this post, I would like to once again share some moving words from then-Archbishop Louis Sako that I first posted here two years ago:
For us Christians of Iraq, martyrdom is the charism of our Church, in its 2000 year history. As a minority, we are constantly faced with difficulties and sacrifices, but we are aware that bearing witness to Christ can mean martyrdom. In the Arabic language they have the same root: Shahid wa shahiid!

. . .

Here in Iraq we understand that faith is not an ideological or theological speculation, but a mystical reality. Faith is a personal encounter with someone who knows us, loves us and to whom we give ourselves totally. For faith, one must always be willing to go beyond, even to sacrifice. Martyrdom is an expression of loyalty to that love. . . .

Christians around the world . . . can renew their faith and their commitment to being in contact with Iraq's persecuted Christians. At the same time, the friendship, solidarity and support of our brothers and sisters of the West gives us the courage to resist and remain in our land and in our churches, continuing our presence and Christian witness. Knowing that you stand by us urges us to cultivate a common life, in peace and harmony with our Muslim brothers.
My God strengthen and uphold Patriarch Louis Raphaël I as he assumes the leadership of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and he may he serve as a true prophet of hope and renewal for his flock. AMDG.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Farewell, penny.

Today's date will go down in numismatic history as the day when the Royal Canadian Mint officially discontinued the penny. Though the production of new pennies actually stopped in May of 2012, today is the first day on which the Mint will no longer distribute uncirculated pennies to banks and businesses. Existing pennies will remain legal tender, but the Canadian government hopes to gradually withdraw them from circulation over the next several years while encouraging businesses to adjust prices and round cash transactions to the nearest five cents to ease the transition to a penny-free economy.

Noting that the cost of producing pennies exceeds their actual cash value, the Royal Canadian Mint asserts that phasing out the penny will save taxpayers $11 million a year. At the same time, analysts suggest that administrative and other costs associated with removing pennies from circulation could total about $7.3 million a year, so the annual savings could actually be as little as $3.7 million - not much for a country with a $276.1 billion federal budget. At least one MP is suggesting that the nickel and the quarter should be eliminated next, with a new coinage scheme being introduced that would retain the existing dime but also add twenty- and fifty-cent pieces. Meanwhile, some people are coming up with creative uses for the now-redundant coins, including turning them into jewelry and encouraging people to donate them to various charitable organizations.

Personally, I'm sad to see the penny go. Practically speaking, I'm not convinced that scrapping the penny is all that worthwhile when one measures the inconvenience involved against the relatively small cost savings. Having collected coins and banknotes in my youth, I must also confess to a certain nostalgia for venerable forms of currency like the Canadian penny, which was first minted in 1858. I take some small consolation in realizing that the penny will have a long afterlife: I'm sure that they'll continue to turn up in desk drawers and under sofas for decades to come, and I'm sure that some Canadians who are still children today will in seventy years be telling their grandchildren that, when they were kids, people used strange copper coins called 'pennies' to make change. I just hope that the U.S. Mint doesn't embark on a similar project, so that I'll return to a penny-fee Union. AMDG.