Ad Limina Journal – Tuesday, January 31, 2012
It is Tuesday in Rome, and the formal meetings and Masses are complete. The plane will leave bright and early tomorrow.
As I take a step back and review the privilege of taking part in the ad limina visit with the bishops of Region V, a panorama of events flood my consciousness. Of course the special meeting with our Holy Father was a highlight. The pilgrim visits for Mass to the major basilicas were part of the prayerful rhythm as was the daily holy hour in St. Peter’s Basilica, so near our dwelling. Today I made a holy hour in Chiesa Nuova at the altar where St. Philip Neri’s body is preserved. It seems no matter which way you turn in Rome, there are constant calls to prayer.
Of course at each congregation, we raised issues of vital importance to the Church and to our world today – from the Holy Eucharist and the new Roman Missal to respect for human life and immigration to the state of marriage today.
On Saturday I had the privilege to be the principal celebrant and homilist at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. It is a magnificent basilica, which we also visited last Wednesday for evening vespers with Pope Benedict and representatives of various Christian denominations for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Those who have visited St. Paul’s Basilica will recall the unique presence along the frieze—the upper section of the wall where it touches the ceiling—where there is a row of portraits of Popes that stretches along most of the church. I am told that there are 263 cameos of each man who has served as the Vicar of Christ on earth from St. Peter to Pope Benedict. There are 27 open spaces, and I somewhat jokingly said to brother bishops that a capital campaign may be in the offing!
I want to reflect on this symbolism of the papal cameos. We came to the Eternal City of Rome so that we might be in touch with the Church universal, which I often picture as Christ through His grace uniting every corner of the world to Himself in and through our Holy Father. These cameos remind me that the universality that is ours is not simply in space, touching every corner, but also through time. Here we are joined with the sacred tradition that stretches over the centuries in an unbroken manner and unites us to Christ and that familiar and powerful scene from the 16th chapter of the Gospel According to St. Matthew in which Jesus turns to St. Peter and tells him that it is on this rock of Peter that Jesus would build His Church.
Choosing weak apostles to be the clay, Jesus would be the One who shapes and sustains this Church. It was at St. Paul’s that the conversion of Saul in the Acts of the Apostles was recounted and Jesus’ words, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” were uttered again. Indeed we are the body of Christ who uses our imperfect efforts as channels of His grace.
Joining with the other bishops who were concelebrating that Mass, I was powerfully struck that Jesus does not call us to be His Church one at a time but to be His Church together. This ad limina visit has reminded me to pray not only for the local Church of Louisville, but also for the other dioceses in our region and indeed for the universal Church. This notion of unity in Christ and communio that is the essence of the Church is clearly the biggest lesson I bring back with me as I pack my bags to return.
Life continues on and while here I also wrote to all the faithful of the assaults on religious freedom in our day. The recent governmental decision to require by law that citizens provide coverage and pay for health procedures judged immoral is shocking and needs to be opposed. Clearly our fidelity to Christ and His Church must be 24/7 – 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. I used the time in Rome to pray for the courage and fidelity that will be required of me and all Catholics in the days ahead.
As I prepare to leave the Eternal City, may God our Father bless all the bishops of Region V and all the priests and faithful with whom we serve the Lord Jesus. May He continue to provide our Holy Father Pope Benedict strength, and may we all receive and live the Peace of Christ.
Ad Limina Journal – Thursday, January 26, 2012
Today is Thursday, January 26, and finally there is a break to journal. Right now the Provinces of Mobile and New Orleans are having their visit with our Holy Father. Later this afternoon we will gather for a special Mass at St. Mary Major. The weather has been mild, and so it has been quite easy to get to appointments. I can easily access Wi-Fi at the North American College on Gianicolo Hill, and so I make my daily climb to access emails. It is good to work off some of the superb pasta I have been enjoying!
Last evening we participated in the Vespers for Christian Unity at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. We will return for Mass on Saturday, the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul.
At the Vespers for Christian Unity, those in attendance included Christians from various denominations. One blogger summarized the theme of our Holy Father’s homily as “let us all finish the race together.” This reference to St. Paul’s running the good race to the finish line and Jesus’ prayer for unity combined forcefully and succinctly as a compelling call for unity in the midst of challenges.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we reflected on that theme as well as the new evangelization in a number of congregation and council visits. Naturally the theme of religious freedom also was prominent given the recent shocking decision of President Obama’s administration not to widen the unacceptably narrow conscience clause that will require the coverage of procedures that violate consciences. I will be communicating separately to all of the faithful on this urgent topic.
Of special interest was the discussion with Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, who was very impressive in his call for a solid foundation for the new evangelization as we prepare for the synod this October. Our “Why Catholic?” process seems to fit precisely the direction he presented, which focused on a personal identity as Catholics grounded in solid teaching. Then he addressed the importance of belonging to the church community. The conversion experience of meeting Christ in and through His church is basic to the structured small groups that form the core of the “Why Catholic?” process. Learning and belonging are required first steps if we are to witness Christ in our lives.
The meeting with Cardinal Rylko of the Council for the Laity also was rich as we spoke of the blessing of new ecclesial movements in the church. At times, bishops become aware of problems that can occur, especially as we seek to coordinate new movements with parish life. However, it was healthy to see the apostolic zeal that comes from such movements and to rejoice in the opportunities that can emerge.
On a general note, I only grow in gratitude and pride for our local church of Louisville as I travel from congregation to congregation. From clergy to religious to the signature on Tribunal procedures, I marvel at our richness. Sometimes stepping away makes us grow in our appreciation of what we experience every day. I also appreciate the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of pastoral issues of importance and bring home insights that can improve our service to Christ and His people.
Finally, one nice side effect of this ad limina visit is the fellowship of the bishops, who throughout the year work together. By praying, working, and eating together, we grow in a unity that will benefit all. This is certainly true of our province of Louisville, which includes Tennessee and Kentucky, but I also am experiencing this growth in unity among all of the bishops of region 5, which, in addition to Kentucky and Tennessee, includes the bishops of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Ad Limina Journal – Monday, January 23, 2012
Day two in Rome and so much is happening. Today the bishops of the Louisville Province met our Holy Father for about 35 minutes. I will bring some photos home, but the pictures won’t capture the deeply moving experience.
After greeting each of us… Bishops Steib and Stika from Tennessee and Bishops Foys, Gainer, Medley and myself from Kentucky… Pope Benedict spoke of the depth of witness to our faith in our midst, so close to the tomb of St. Peter. He spoke of the love of Christ at the center of our Church and of the suffering love that has been heroically given over the centuries because of Christ’s grace and the generous response of so many faithful disciples of Him. (This was especially fitting since earlier today we 20 Bishops of Region V celebrated Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter, on the floor below the main church of St. Peter’s.)
Our Holy Father then invited our questions and our reflections about issues and challenges. A whole range of issues emerged. As you might imagine, we spoke of the new evangelization in which we seek to invite those whose faith has been dampened as well as the special challenges of preserving religious freedom. I have written in The Record on both. We raised the important issue of respect for human life on the day in which hundreds of thousands of faithful gather in Washington, D.C. to stand up for life now for the 39th year following Roe versus Wade.
Pope Benedict also raised the question of Christian Unity during this week of Christian Unity. We will be with him on Wednesday at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls for Vespers on this topic of Jesus’ prayer that all may be one. Pope Benedict has often spoken of the pilgrimage of truth and charity in regard to efforts for unity. He asked about our relationships with Muslims in our Province. To both questions, we were able to share the hopeful signs of mutual respect in dialogues that are ongoing. We also shared the divide in doctrinal and moral areas that have increased the challenge of ecumenism greatly.
While this meeting was only 35 minutes, we fully sensed the holiness and love of our Holy Father. How deeply moving was the blessing at the end in which we were once again as bishops joined to the successor of St. Peter for the good of the universal church.
Another event that filled these two days included Mass with the community of the Pontifical North American College at which I was privileged to be the main celebrant and homilist. We also met this morning at the Congregation for Bishops for a very good conversation on religious liberty and the challenges to bishops as well as the qualities that are essential for bishops, now and into the future.
More to come.