A Shepherd's Message - Nov. 25, 2014

November 25, 2014

Brothers and sisters, I am writing the column this week under a deadline and in between meetings. It will take the form of some brief observations on recent events in the Church that make the news and some events that are spiritually important that do not necessarily make the news!

Of the latter, I write this column near the Feast of Christ the King and the conclusion of this year of grace in the Church. The Gospel assigned is the extraordinary scene of the Last Judgment spoken by the Lord as recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, the last public words of Jesus before the Last Supper. Jesus proclaims that the Son of Man will come with all his angels and ALL the nations will be gathered before him. The weight of judgment is twofold: what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters and that you did it for me. Both the sheep and the goats in the scene are shocked by the words of Jesus about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the prisoners. Both groups ask: WHEN did this happen? The Judge keeps hammering that what you did to the least you did for me. It is the ultimate unity of teaching and practice, mercy and belief. The judgment is both Christological and moral. The ultimate weight is on moral action and agency on behalf of others. The “others” are Jesus in all his distressing disguises. It is a fitting climax for the Year of Grace that has been ours in 2014. It is beautiful and tremendous. It is also very disturbing and should shake us out of complacency and into the joy of living the Gospel.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. We make official in a civic way what is the way of life each of us in America must lead, whatever our trials. We are grateful! The gratitude to God is deeper than any things we do or do not have, any problems we confront. God is provident in a way beyond our full understanding. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. We give thanks.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville has just presided over the first major November meeting of the Conference of Catholic Bishops as President. He is clear, steady and listens carefully, appreciates the various remarks and insights, even quibbles, of his brother bishops. I am prejudiced since I am Vice-President of the same Conference and watch him closely in action. He is fulfilling his responsibility well and needs our prayers. (By the way he runs a good meeting and finishes the agenda on time; I like that.)

The meeting of the Bishops’ Conference this year dealt with some liturgical matters, a conversation about some issues in translation of the psalms, not something major, but not something to be snippy about as happened with a few commentators. The Conference operates by a pastoral plan of three years and in our small group meetings we did much discussion about the pastoral priorities for the next planning cycle, issues that are important, but do not tend to make immediate headlines. As has been true in recent years, matters of religious liberty were brought up and discussed. Likewise the bishops discussed issues relative to the mini-synod in Rome in October and the steps that will be necessary to prepare for the major synod next year on the same theme of the Challenges to the Family. The regional meetings also did some extensive work on immigration issues.

On Nov. 18, Francis Cardinal George retired as Archbishop of Chicago and was succeeded by Archbishop Blase Cupich. Cardinal George has been a magnificent shepherd, a man of very acute analytic skill in philosophy and theology, which talents he has used well to pastorally serve the whole Church. For more than 25 years his heart and mind have been dedicated to Christ and his people. He has been in the forefront of the Church on a whole host of vital issues for Faith and culture. He is now receiving some experimental treatment for cancer and he needs our prayers, as well as our deepest thanks for his leadership and priestly example. He has served the truth in love; God bless his Marian heart and great Christ-like soul.

Raymond Cardinal Burke and I are friends, classmates in philosophy and theology; we even worked in Rome as priests at about the same time, though in different positions in the Roman Curia. Cardinal Burke is a superb canonist and one of the most able Canon Lawyers in jurisprudence, a field that moves one into the history and philosophy of the “canons” in Canon Law. To my point of view, his role in the Apostolic Segnatura was very apt since it would involve him in the very issues in which he is so knowledgeable. He has not been renewed as head of that office, but I do hope that he will continue his canonical work in writing in the years ahead.

Let us all pray for one another and be quick in charity, candid without being nasty and mindful of problems in the Church and in the world without losing the essential gratitude and thanksgiving that marks each one of us sealed with the Cross of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. †