I first met Pope Emeritus Benedict in June 1988; over the next three decades, I’ve enjoyed many lengthy conversations and interviews with him, including a bracing discussion covering many topics last Oct. 19. I first met Pope Francis in Buenos Aires in May 1982, and have had three private audiences with him since his election as Successor of Peter. Before, during, and after the conclaves of 2005 and 2013, I was deeply engaged in Rome, where my work included extensive discussions with cardinal-electors before each conclave was immured and after the white smoke went up. On both occasions, I correctly predicted to my NBC colleagues the man who would be elected and, in 2013, the day the election would occur.
During and after the grim martial law period in the early 1980s, many freedom-minded Poles would greet each other on Jan. 1 with a sardonic wish: “May the new year be better than you know it’s going to be!” As 2020 opens that salutation might well be adopted by Catholics concerned about the future of the church, for more hard news is coming. So let’s get some of that out of the way, preemptively, before considering some resolutions that might help us all deal with the year ahead in faith, hope, and charity.
On December 17, the day the first “O Antiphon” signaled the intensification of preparations for Christmas, the Church read the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel: writing for a predominantly Jewish-Christian audience, the evangelist stresses that the blessings promised to and through Abraham, and the dynastic promises made to King David, are about to be fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
The incorporation of Anglican hymnody into English-language Catholic worship is one of the great blessings of the past 50 years. And within that noble musical patrimony, Ralph Vaughan Williams surely holds pride of place among modern composers.
Resist the twitterization of thought — give books for Christmas! The following titles will delight, instruct, edify (or all of the above).
My late parents loved Cardinal George Pell, whom they knew for decades. So I found it a happy coincidence that, on Nov. 12 (which would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary), a two-judge panel of Australia’s High Court referred to the entire Court the cardinal’s request for “special leave” to appeal his incomprehensible conviction on charges of “historic sexual abuse,” and the even-more-incomprehensible denial of his appeal against that manifestly unsafe verdict.
Fifty years ago, on Nov. 30, 1969, the Catholic Church marked the First Sunday of Advent with the universal implementation of the revised Roman Rite of the Mass, approved by Pope Paul VI in response to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
November 9 marked the 30th anniversary of the peaceful breach of the Berlin Wall — the symbolic high point of the Revolution of 1989, which would be completed seven weeks later by the fall of the Czechoslovak communist regime and Vaclav Havel’s election as Czech’s president.
During the 2001 Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who’d suffered through a lot of synodal speechifying and small-group discussions over the years, made a trenchant observation: “Jesus Christ didn’t intend his Church to be governed by a committee.” Indeed.
I once knew a Congregationalist minister — Yale Divinity School graduate, decorated World War II chaplain, veteran campaigner for then-unpopular liberal causes — of whom it was said (sometimes by himself) that “David Colwell so fears God that he fears no one else.” It was a striking statement, redolent, perhaps, of the Jonathan Edwards (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) School of American Protestant Homiletics. But the source of this man’s fearlessness was rather different than that of a man I was just coming to know when David Colwell and I were friendly jousting partners on questions theological and political.