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Top stories (and top posts) of 2013

In a year that saw a papal resignation (and consequent conclave) and the public embrace of the new pope, it's not surprising that among our most-read articles and blog posts of 2013 are items on these stories, such as our exclusive interview with Francis. But readers also responded to stories on same-sex marriage, public-education reform, and the relationship among work, material necessities, and "the good life." Below are the top ten stories from Commonweal and blog posts from dotCommonweal this year. As this is simply a data-generated tally, are there other stories and posts from 2013 not represented here that are nonetheless worth a mention? Any particular favorites - or further thoughts? 

Top stories

“The Things We Share,” Joseph Bottum

“Less Please: Capitalism & the Good Life,” Gary Gutting

“A Chat with Pope Francis: The Commonweal Interview,” The Editors

“Beyond the Stalemate: Forty Years after Roe,” Peter Steinfels

“Reform of the Reform,” Jackson Lears

“Regime Change: Benedict & His Successor,” William L. Portier

“The Big Chill: ‘Humanae Vitae’ Dissenters Need to Find a Voice,” Cathleen Kaveny

“A New Balance: What the Pope’s Interview Reveals,” The Editors

“Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” Nicholas Clifford

“The Big Dig: Reconfiguring the Church in Boston,” Luke Hill
 

Top blog posts

“No, the Pentagon won't court-martial service members for sharing their faith,” Grant Gallicho

“NYT’s ironic fact-check error,” Michael Peppard

“Archdiocese of Wobegon,” Grant Gallicho

“Washing feet,” Rita Ferrone

“Apostolic Nuncio to USCCB: Be pastoral, not ideological,” Grant Gallicho

“Francis: women are the first communicators of the Resurrection,” Grant Gallicho

“Interregnum report, March 6,” Dominic Preziosi

“The conclave bird: a distinctively Roman omen,” Michael Peppard

“When ‘allegedly prolife’ groups attack,” Grant Gallicho

“Pontifex legibus solutus?” Joseph A. Komonchak

Plenary Indulgence (Update)

Eugenio Scalfari, in today's edition of La Repubblica, the newspaper he founded, continues his creative interpretation of the significance of the pontificate of Francis. He writes of the profoundly revolutionary nature of the Pope's teaching, culminating in his abolition of sin.

È rivoluzionario per tanti aspetti del suo ancor breve pontificato, ma soprattutto su un punto fondamentale: di fatto ha abolito il peccato.

In reaching this conclusion – in a quite tortured way – Scalfari contrasts the judgmental God of the Old Testament with the God of Jesus ... and Francis:

Il Dio mosaico è un giudice e al tempo stesso un esecutore della giustizia. Almeno da questo punto di vista non somiglia affatto all'ebreo Gesù di Nazareth, figlio di Maria e di Giuseppe della stirpe di David.

Scalfari never mentions that Francis hears confessions and encourages the faithful to frequent the sacrament of reconciliation. It would not fit his agenda.

The article is here; and, for once, it's worth reading the comments.

Update:

Today (Monday) Father Lombardi issued a strong denial that Pope Francis had "abolished sin," as Eugenio Scalfari had contended.

Among other things, Lombadri said: "whoever follows the Pope day by day knows how often he speaks of sin, of our condition as sinners; indeed, one understands the message of God more profoundly the more one appreciates the reality of sin."

Lombardi's statement is reported here; Scalfari's response, in which he purports to agree with Lombardi and still reiterates his contention, is here.

Auguri di Buon Natale

A fraternal visitation from Francis to Benedict: here.

Pope's trip to Holy Land coming into focus

From Yediot Aharonot yesterday and The Tablet today come some tentative details about Pope Francis's trip to the Holy Land. The Israeli newspaper reports that the short trip's proposed schedule has "dashed hopes" of a Papal Mass in Jerusalem.

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Are we at ‘peak Pope’?

Maybe it’s not a crisis of continued supply -- just the opposite, in fact -- but the unregulated flow of Francis coverage in the mainstream media suggests some decline in production is inevitable. Doesn’t it?

Andrew Sullivan has been writing with the unrestrained giddiness he’s reserved mainly for Barack Obama -- and now there’s his inaugural “long-form” piece on the pontiff for the Deep Dish spin-off of his daily blog. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (“I am not a Catholic but there's something about this pope...”) is running a multi-part report with reader contributions. This is on top of reports about Francis celebrating his seventy-seventh birthday with four homeless people; the news about his stint as a bouncer at a Buenos Aeries nightclub; and of course his selection by Time as its person of the year, which really should have been the pinnacle but then here came The Advocate to second the honor. Which itself was followed this week by approving stories on changes to the influential Congregation for Bishops and mostly glowing coverage of the pope’s apparent comfort with public breastfeeding—a development meriting both an email blast from my parish priest and a dotCommonweal post from Mollie Wilson O’Reilly. (Then there are posts like the one you’re reading, which in covering the coverage add to the flow without necessarily getting any closer to its subject.)

James Carroll’s feature on Francis in the current New Yorker (its tagline “a radical pope’s first year” blurring the fact that it’s really only been about nine months) is both an example and a partial examination of the phenomenon. (It’s currently sitting atop the most popular list at the magazine’s website.)  Carroll covers some by-now familiar ground (the interviews and off-the-cuff remarks of last summer; Jorge Bergoglio’s actions during Argentina’s dirty war) and wanders down some thoroughly trod paths in an obligatory-feeling section on the sexual abuse scandal. But Carroll also gives proper due to the resonant field-hospital metaphor from the Spadaro interview, and he introduces a new (to me) detail from the Bergoglio biography about his “extraordinary” boss at a Buenos Aires laboratory, a “great woman” to whom Francis has said he owes “a huge amount” and who for helping victims of the junta was later dropped from a helicopter into the sea. “I loved her very much,” Francis is quoted as saying. And through an interview with former president of Ireland Mary McAleese—whom some have said Francis is considering for appointment to the College of Cardinals—Carroll gets, if briefly, into “the prospects for women under the new Pope” and curial reform.

If all of this makes the story seem a typically wide-ranging magazine feature intended for a general readership – well, it is. But then there’s the fact that it appears at all. Why, Carroll asks, has

the response to the Pope been so outsized? Catholic enthusiasm is understandable, but the globe’s? … The press is obsessed with him… . Francis is clearly a world figure, but a figure of what? Does Francis’s explicitly Christian message of a loving, merciful God survive, even in the secular age, as an inchoate symbol of the human being longing for transcendence?

The questions aren’t explicitly answered, of course, but a personal anecdote in the first part of Carroll’s long story, about a memorable audience with Pope John XXIII, is suggestive: “Lately,” Carroll writes, “the fact that I once sought transcendence in the presence of a Pope has stopped seeming naïve.”

You can read Carroll’s full article here; you can hear him talk about it on NPR’s Fresh Air here. And to bring this item full circle: Does the New Yorker cover depicting a (cartoon) Francis making a snow angel say anything more about the media response?  

"Give it something to eat": Pope Francis, lactivist

At RNS, David Gibson flags an overlooked tidbit from Francis's interview with La Stampa (noted elsewhere for his rejection of the idea of women cardinals):

There are so many children that cry because they are hungry. At the Wednesday General Audience the other day there was a young mother behind one of the barriers with a baby that was just a few months old. The child was crying its eyes out as I came past. The mother was caressing it. I said to her: madam, I think the child’s hungry. “Yes, it’s probably time…” she replied. “Please give it something to eat!” I said. She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing. I wish to say the same to humanity: give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone. If we work with humanitarian organisations and are able to agree all together not to waste food, sending it instead to those who need it, we could do so much to help solve the problem of hunger in the world. I would like to repeat to humanity what I said to that mother: give food to those who are hungry! May the hope and tenderness of the Christmas of the Lord shake off our indifference.

Breastfeeding is a hot-button issue (ahem), but that shouldn't overshadow the beauty of the image, and the urgency of the message, here. David reminds readers that the image of the Virgin nursing the Christ child is an icon with a very long history, though not one we encounter often today -- see also this dotComm post from last year. He also says that the pope's "backing breastfeeding in public" will please "pro-nursing feminists and maybe raise a few eyebrows among the traditional set."

The first part, definitely -- this could perk up the ears of people who tend to assume that nothing a pope or a priest says could have any relevance for their lives. The second part, maybe, although I would guess any eyebrows raised would belong to older (probably male) traditionalists. Among young parents, in my experience, breastfeeding crosses ideological lines, and I would venture to say that it's even more widespread among conservative Catholics. Without any stats to back me up here, I'm guessing that conservative Catholic moms are probably more likely to stay at home with their babies, and to rely on the fertility-suppressing capacities of exclusive breastfeeding as a component of Natural Family Planning.... Ah, I see I've lost almost everybody. But if words like "breastfeeding" and "fertility" don't make you click "close tab," you're surely delighted to know that the pope has endorsed nursing babies whenever they are hungry, regardless of your stance in the intra-Catholic culture wars. This is something to keep in your back pocket for the next time someone shoots you a dirty look for feeding your baby at church. (That has never happened to me, by the way, or if it has I haven't noticed. I think people who say they oppose breastfeeding in public, or in church, tend to think breastfeeding is a lot more graphic and titillating than it actually is.)

But back to the pope's larger point: we can feed the hungry. And Jesus told us to feed the hungry. ("Give them something to eat yourselves.") Significantly, the pope is saying here that private charity doesn't suffice: there are ways to address the problem on a global scale. It's the will that seems to be lacking. This isn't exactly a new perspective, but perhaps Francis's way of saying it will break through in a new way. It is Christmas, after all.

Pope Francis remakes bishop-naming team in new image.

This morning the Vatican announced the revised membership of the influential Congregation for Bishops--that would be the body that recommends the men who run Catholic dioceses around the world. Pope Francis confirmed Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the congregation, but he removed ultraconservative Cardinal Raymond Burke--he of the substantial vestment--and Cardinal Justin Rigali, long known as a bishopmaker in the U.S. church. The pope added Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., as well as Cardinal João Braz de Aviz--a semi-papabile who has said that the crackdown on U.S. women religious caused him "much pain."

This is a big deal. And if the Vatican ever figures out how to create stable web links, I'll happily drop one into this post. Till then, here's the full announcement:

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Is Catholicism compatible with libertarianism?

It's hard to believe that question is still being debated, isn't it? For over 100 years, the definitive answer is No. Pope after pope after pope, right up to Benedict XVI, has explained this in the most magisterial ways.

But perhaps it has taken Pope Francis's singular history, style, and gift for communication to break through the noise of American-style capitalism. Or perhaps the underbelly of globalization has finally come to light, through a combination of the explosion of financial capital, the worldwide recession, and the opportunities afforded by the Information Age for learning about the distant effects of almost-unregulated markets.

Whatever the reason, Pope Francis is getting through. He is obviously not a Marxist or socialist. But he is leveling strong critiques of the current state of global capitalism -- as it is actually being employed.  And to my mind, one of the best interpreters of his message (especially for those reading from the right-wing) has been Michael Gerson.

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Pope Francis: Priorities Make Him Person of the Year

I'm glad he beat out Edward Snowden and Ted Cruz! As I wrote over at Catholic moral theology, the Time article accompanying Pope Francis’ award of “person of the year” is an able, constructive, accurate piece that is a nice way to sum up the state of play after nearly a year. In its construction of the story, the article effectively distinguishes between talking about “change” and talking about “priorities.” Francis is not so much changing the Church as making clear determinations about the Church’s priorities… which also means “change,” but of a certain sort. I sort out a bit more about the difference between talking "priorities" and talking "change" in the full post.

'In our time': Francis moves beyond Nostra Aetate

Muslim immigration to Italy. Persecution of Christians in Syria. Anti-Muslim rhetoric in the Netherlands. Anti-Christian rulings in Malaysia. Mosque burnings in the United States and church burnings in Egypt. These sad events are some of the most obvious points of contact between Catholics and Muslims in the modern world. Thus, it’s unsurprising that Pope Francis’ new apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or “The Joy of the Gospel,” makes mention of Islam and Catholic-Muslim interaction. In his familiar style, Pope Francis smartly roots his commentary on Islam in the tradition of the Church and his predecessors, while at the same time forges new theological territory.

In our time

Fifty years ago, the bishops of the Second Vatican Council published Nostra Aetate (“In our time”), which spoke in new ways about the Church’s relationship to non-Christian religions, including Islam. This document was prompted by the important events of that era, when the world was coming to grips with the reality of the Holocaust and the increased interaction between people of different faiths. In his exhortation, Francis responds to the signs of our own time—the issues and events that are salient for Catholics and Muslims today.

Francis begins his three hundred-word discussion of Islam by highlighting the phenomenon of increased Muslim immigration to Europe. No doubt aware of the challenges and prejudices faced by Muslims in Europe, Francis writes that “we Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries.” His visit to Lampedusa, an Italian island where many African immigrants make landfall, indicated his own personal concern about the plight of refugees—including non-Christians. Yet, Francis describes the situation in Europe in overly idealistic terms—saying, “they can freely worship and become fully a part of society”(252) —seeming to understate the impact of often-racist policies that keep Muslim immigrants confined to ghettos and low-paying jobs.

Francis also addresses the recent spike in persecution of Christians in Muslim-majority countries: “I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!”(253) This statement is only one of many he’s made on the plight of Christians—and all those suffering—in the Middle East. 

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Pope Francis to create commission on protection of minors.

Just as some Catholics were wondering--with good reason--whether Pope Francis was tip-toeing around the sexual-abuse crisis, the Vatican has anounced that he will establish a commission on the protection of minors. The idea, which came from his Council of Cardinals, was explained today by one of its members, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston.

The Commission will study present programmes in place for the protection of children; formulate suggestions for new initiatives on the part of the Curia, in collaboration with bishops, Episcopal conferences, religious superiors and conferences of religious superiors.

What's more, the commission will name the people who will be responsible for implementing these new initiatives. The scope of the commission's work will be expansive. According to the Vatican, it will include coming up with guidelines for protecting kids, developing educational programs for children and adults who work with them, putting in place formation strategies for seminarians and priests alike, establishing codes of professional conduct, finding better ways to determine a man's suitability for the priesthood, conducting more thorough background checks, "reporting of crimes, compliance with civil law, communications regarding clergy declared guilty, pastoral care for victims and their families, spiritual assistance, mental health services, collaboration with experts."

In other words, there is no part of the sexual-abuse crisis that this commission won't examine. In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis promised to decentralize papal authority. This commission seems designed to re-centralize authority on this matter to Rome. Given the way local bishops conferences have been handling the scandal, in this case centralized authority may be just what the doctor ordered.

On the exhortation

Posted to our homepage, two pieces on Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium. First, from our editors, who in “Out of the Tomb” write:

Francis wants to remind us that the church derives its whole identity from its mission to preach the gospel and to do so joyfully. This means that all Catholics, whatever their particular vocations, should understand themselves as missionaries. Most important, in order to share God’s mercy with a suffering world, Catholics must not allow their own sufferings to rob them of joy or apostolic vigor. Despite Francis’s characteristically upbeat tone, there is a suggestion of exasperation with those he describes, in the English translation, as “sourpusses.” He cautions against a “tomb psychology” that “slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum.” He does not quote St. Francis de Sales’s famous maxim “A sad saint is a sorry saint,” but he might have. If Christians really are people who have been liberated by God’s mercy, then, Francis insists, they should act as though they have been liberated.

You can read the whole thing here.

E. J. Dionne Jr. also writes on Francis’s exhortation:

Pope Francis has surprised the world because he embraces the Christian calling to destabilize and to challenge. As the first leader of the Catholic Church from the Southern Hemisphere, he is especially mindful of the ways in which unregulated capitalism has failed the poor and left them “waiting.”

His apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” is drawing wide and deserved attention for its denunciation of “trickle-down” economics as a system that “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” It’s a view that “has never been confirmed by the facts” and has created “a globalization of indifference.” Will conservatives among American Catholics who have long championed tax cutting for the wealthy acknowledge the moral conundrum that Francis has put before them?

But American liberals and conservatives alike might be discomfited by the pope’s criticism of “the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era,” since each side defends its own favorite forms of individualism. Francis mourns “a vacuum left by secularist rationalism,” not a phrase that will sit well with all on the left.

Read it all here

Know your radical leftists

At New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer blog, Dan Amira has a fun quiz based on Francis's new apostolic exhortation: "Bill de Blasio or the Pope?"

Which of those two gentlemen said, "Inequality is the root of social ills"? And who said, "We cannot resign ourselves to the mind-set that says rising inequality is a necessary byproduct of urban success”? It's surprisingly difficult -- or not so surprising, I suppose, given de Blasio's ideological roots in South American activism and the social Gospel. Anyway, I got 9/10. Don't hate.

Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis's "Apostolic Exhortation" on Evangelization has been released. It is a long, rich, and personal document. Here is a thought for the day:

265. Jesus’ whole life, his way of dealing with the poor, his actions, his integrity, his simple daily acts of generosity, and finally his complete self-giving, is precious and reveals the mystery of his divine life. Whenever we encounter this anew, we become convinced that it is exactly what others need, even though they may not recognize it: “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). Sometimes we lose our enthusiasm for mission because we forget that the Gospel responds to our deepest needs, since we were created for what the Gospel offers us: friendship with Jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. If we succeed in expressing adequately and with beauty the essential content of the Gospel, surely this message will speak to the deepest yearnings of people’s hearts. ... Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which cannot mislead or disappoint. It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.

266. But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savoring Christ’s friendship and his message. It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commitment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.

Reconstruction or Construction?

The now infamous "Interview" of Pope Francis with the self-avowed atheist, Eugenio Scalfari, was recently removed from the "Francis" page of the Vatican website where it had been placed under the rather curious designation, "Speeches."

Since its original publication in La Repubblica, the Italian daily which Scalfari founded, it has come to light that the session with the Pope had neither been recorded, nor had notes been taken at the time. The exchange was reconstructed by the eighty-nine year old Scalfari after the fact.

Now, in a true interview with foreign journalists working in Italy, things become curiouser and curiouser. Scalfari says that he told the Pope when he sent his version of the exchange for permission to publish it:

Keep in mind that I did not include some of the things that you said to me. And that some of the things that I attribute to you you did not say. But I put them there so that the reader may understand who you are.

Despite this friendly warning, he received the "ok" to publish his version. But Scalfari goes on to admit to the reporters he was addressing:

I am perfectly willing to think that some of the things that I wrote and attributed to him are not shared by the pope, but I also believe that he maintains that, said by a nonbeliever, they are important for him and for the activity he is carrying out.

Reported in Chiesa.

Russell D. Moore: A Manifesto on "Some" Evangelicals

When I saw that Russell D. Moore had written a long piece about the so-called Evangelical “retreat” from American politics and culture wars, I was elated.

I am updating a syllabus for a course in religion and American politics, and I hoped this would be the perfect fresh take to round out our coverage of Evangelicalism. Certainly the media-savvy and next-generation Moore, the newish President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, would help my students understand the movement better than when they read speeches by his predecessor, Richard Land.

In short, I was primed for this essay.

Sadly, it is not assignable. This 4000-word feature, authored by the most prominent official of the Southern Baptists, is composed almost entirely of straw men.

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John Paul II said what now?

Last Monday, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Vatican ambassador to the United States, reminded the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that Pope Francis prefers shepherds who smell like the sheep, not ermine. The speech was remarkable for its directness. "[Francis] wants 'pastoral' bishops," Vigano told the USCCB, who were preparing to vote for their next president, "not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology." What's more, Vigano cited a text well loved by liberal Catholics, Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975): "It is primarily by her conduct and by her life that the church will evangelize the world, in other words by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus — the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity."

That Vigano chose to lean on Evangelii Nuntiandi is even more interesting because of its history. The document was written in response to the synod of bishops on evangelization, and it conceives of the church not only as teacher but also as learner:

The Church is an evangelizer, but she begins by being evangelized herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hoping, to the new commandment of love.

In advance of next year's synod, Pope Francis has asked the world's bishops to ask their parishioners about a range of issues, including gay marriage and contraception, and report back. He wants to know where his people are. "For the church," Paul VI wrote, "evangelizing means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new." Sound familiar? (For more of Pope Francis's commentary on the missionary character of the church, and the kinds of bishops required to carry it out, see his recent message to Guadalupe pilgrims: "The attitude of the true shepherd is not that of a courtier or of a mere functionary, focusing principally on discipline, rules and organizational mechanisms.")

Most of Vigano's speech reads like a rearticulation of Pope Francis's call for Christians not to get trapped in the sacristy. But about two-thirds of the way in, it gets weird. Vigano drops in an apocalyptic  passage attributed to John Paul II, in which the late pope warns that "we are now facing the final confrontation between the church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist." Sounds scary. Vigano claims John Paul delivered those remarks in a 1976 speech at a Eucharistic congress in Philadelphia. But that address doesn't contain those words.

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Speaking of Discernment

During this morning's homily at Santa Marta, Pope Francis prayed:

Lord give me the discernment to recognize the subtle conspiracies of worldliness that lead us to negotiate our values and our faith.

He then, apropos the reading from Maccabees, offered an interesting allusion:

with a reference to the 20th century novel, Lord of the World, that focuses on the spirit of worldliness that leads to apostasy, Pope Francis warned against the desire to “be like everyone else” and what he called an “adolescent progressivism”. “What do you think?” – he said bitterly – “that today human sacrifices are not made? Many, many people make human sacrifices and there are laws that protect them”.

Lord of the World was written by Robert Hiugh Benson, a convert to Catholicism and Catholic priest, who was the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury. Of the novel Joseph Pearce writes that it depicts "a world where philosophical relativism has triumphed over objectivity...a world where euthanasia is practiced widely and religion hardly practiced at all."

Benson wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century, and Francis clearly finds his dystopian novel a cautionary tale.

Apostolic nuncio to USCCB: be pastoral, not ideological.

As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prepares to elect its next president, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, delivered a remarkably pointed address urging bishops to be "pastoral," not ideological.

Pope Francis, Vigano said, "wants bishops in tune with their people." The pope

is giving us by, his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the gospel. While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable life style characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.

Vigano quoted liberally from Pope Paul VI's Evangelii Nuntiandi, which, he noted, Francis has called "the greatest pastoral document written to date." It was promulgated in 1975.

"The first means of evangelization," Paul VI wrote,

is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one's neighbor with limitless zeal. As we said recently to a group of lay people, 'Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.'"

That witness, Vigano suggested, is what's required in order to carry on the work of Vatican II.

Vigano also cited John Paul II and John XXIII to highlight the constant "call to attentiveness, watchfulness, and preparedness for whatever proclaiming the gospel may mean for us as successors of the Apostles, who were called to give radical witness to their faith in Jesus Christ."

Noting that American culture is marked by a diversity of views, Vigano observed that "this is also true of the church." But, he warned, "we must take care that, for us as a church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation."

In conclusion, Vigano mentioned an article describing the past half-centuray of U.S. politics. Its subtitle: "The era of polarization began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders."

"Well said," Vigano continued, "since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops."

 

Our Inner Zacchaeus

At yesterday's Angelus in Saint Peter's Square, Pope Francis gave a particularly lovely reflection on the Gospel reading. (I have corrected the translation in a number of places.)

Let's look at Zacchaeus in the tree. His is a ridiculous gesture, but it is an act of salvation. And I say to you: if you have a weight on your conscience, if you are ashamed of so many things that you’ve done, stop for a moment, do not panic. Think about the fact that Someone is waiting for you because He has never stopped remembering you — and this Someone is your Father, it is God Who waits for you! Climb up, as did Zacchaeus, climb onto the tree of the desire of being forgiven. I will assure you that you will not be disappointed. Jesus is merciful and never grows tired of forgiving! Remember well, that’s the way Jesus is.

Brothers and sisters, let us allow Jesus to call us by name. In the depths of our heart, let us listen to His voice that says to us: "Today I must stay at your house," that is, in your heart, in your life. And let us welcome Him with joy. He can change us, can transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He can liberate us from selfishness and make our lives a gift of love. Jesus can do it. Allow yourself to be gazed upon by Jesus!

The Italian text is here.