Dear Fellow Parishioners,
I was happy to convey in my Easter letter that, for the first time in four years, our celebrations of Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter will be back to their pre-COVID form. The Passion Gospels will be read in parts, including the congregation. The last remnant of COVID observance – offering Holy Eucharist only under the species of bread – will continue, as will receiving on the tongue at the communion rail for those who prefer that option.
If the passage of time is a measure of change, there are ways in which the last four years have gone very quickly considering the changes we have seen in so many areas of life, from the personal to the international. The last year alone has been a tumultuous one. Tensions among superpower nations are greater now than they have been for at least 40 years. COVID has had a lasting, if not permanent, effect on countless areas of national life including the economy, the workplace and the classroom. Prices are up, and many store shelves are still not back to their pre-pandemic plenty. (The common question at check-out – “Did you find everything you were looking for?” – is never asked.) The price of eggs, even in the historic “Egg Basket of the World,” has not gone unnoticed.
Within the past few months, Benedict XVI has passed from Pope Emeritus to Late Pope, and Pope Francis has crossed the ten-year mark in his reign. Interestingly, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio came in as a strong second place contender in the Conclave of 2005 which elected Benedict XVI. One can only speculate as to how history might have been different. Pope Francis is already older than Benedict XVI was when he stepped down.
Few popes have been without their critics, especially in more recent times. Paul VI was said to have been deeply shaken by the reaction of many in the Church to his 1968 re-affirmation of traditional teaching on artificial birth control and priestly celibacy. Pope John Paul II had the strength of personality to teach and enforce doctrine, and to take enormous amounts of public exposure, which created a mystique all its own. His total opposition to Communism, based on his own experience, created a common ground between himself and some western nations. At the same time, he had a streak of anti-Americanism – not unheard of in popes – and was distrustful of what he saw as western self-indulgence, secularism and misguided pluralism. Of all recent popes, Benedict XVI was probably more pro-American in attitude and outlook. Some of that doubtless comes from his experience of World War II and aftermath, in which the U.S. played a decisive role in the re-birth of modern Germany.
Pope Francis has drawn both praise and criticism in both the theological and politico-economic spheres. Whether deserved or not depends largely upon one’s viewpoint. A couple of things are worth keeping in mind. First, it is not unusual that a person from Argentina would have a wholly different take on political and economic matters. Recent Argentine history is full of political instability, domestic terrorism and economic dislocations. The Dirty War of 1974-83 left deep and lasting wounds on both the state and the Argentinian Church. Second, it is important to remember that a pope is infallible only when speaking in defined circumstances on matters of faith or morals. As both pope and a Jesuit, it’s quite possible that he favored Gonzaga in their win over U.C.L.A. last night, but it’s not something that a Bruin fan who is also Catholic needs to take as binding on one’s personal faith!
Fr. Bill Donahue