Liveblog: U.S. bishops’ Monday morning session

(UPDATE: For Monday afternoon session, click here.)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago gives his president's address Nov. 10 at the opening session of the U.S. bishops' general fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago gives his presidential address Nov. 10 at the opening session of the U.S. bishops' general fall meeting in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

(If you’ve opened this page mid-session, make sure you refresh your browser often to get the latest updates.)

The CNS Blog today launches a grand experiment: liveblogging of the public sessions of the U.S. bishops’ fall general meeting in Baltimore. Check back here both for what’s going on on the floor of the meeting but also for links to relevant materials.

12:45 p.m.: Press briefing now being livestreamed on the U.S. bishops’ Web site. Many questions being raised about the Catholic vote in the presidential election. (UPDATE: Link now takes you to recording of this briefing.)

12:32 p.m.: Morning session ends with the praying of the Angelus.

12:25 p.m.: Cardinal Cordes notes the importance of charitable activity in the life of the church as expressed in Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est.”

Archbishop (now Cardinal) Paul Cordes, left, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrive in Biloxi, Miss., with other church officials for a 2005 tour of Mississippi areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Archbishop (now Cardinal) Paul Cordes, left, and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, arrive in Biloxi, Miss., with other church officials for a 2005 tour of Mississippi areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. (CNS/Bob Roller)

12:16 p.m.: Oops, Archbishop Cordes is now a cardinal (as of a year ago). Here’s a CNS file photo (right) when he visited after Katrina.

12:07 p.m.: Archbishop Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” is addressing the bishops now on the church’s charitable activities. He recalls visiting devastated areas in the U.S. following Hurricane Katrina.

12:03 p.m.: Concludes by recalling that he was worried about what he would say to the pope when they shared an elevator ride during the papal visit. But the pope set him at ease when he told Father O’Connell that CUA is “a truly great Catholic university.”

12:01 p.m.: Difficult times because of the current economic crisis, but Father O’Connell says fundraising has been strong.

11:51 a.m.: Father O’Connell says he’s proud that the pope chose CUA as “his pulpit” for addressing the U.S. bishops last April. And he says the impact of the papal visit on the students of the university is hard to describe.

11:47 a.m.: Next up, a report to the bishops by Vincentian Father David M. O’Connell, president of The Catholic University of America. He’s grateful for the bishops’ support, both personally and financially, for “the bishops’ university.”

11:43 a.m.: Archbishop Pilarczyk of Cincinnati draws a laugh from the bishops when he notes that the proposed document is erroneous when it refers to “a varia” since the singular form of the word is “varium.” The proposal then is approved.

11:38 a.m.: Now they’re on “varia” process. This too is fairly internal: How do bishops raise new topics for the conference to explore and how are these ideas assigned to a committee?

11:36 a.m.: Remember, this is just a preliminary discussion. Vote on priorities and plans is tomorrow.

11:30 a.m.: Some discussion of the bishops’ marriage initiative, but much of this discussion continues to be fairly routine.

11:14 a.m.: Priority and plans of the bishops’ conference now up for discussion. This is routine stuff that happens every year, though this is the first discussion following the USCCB restructuring which took effect this year.

11:09 a.m.: Discussions about the translations of the Mass have been going on for years. Here is some background: here, here, and here.

11:05 a.m.: Only two questions on the blessing in the womb item, so now they’ve moved on to the translation of the Roman Missal rejected at their previous meeting.

11:01 a.m.: Meanwhile, the full text of Cardinal George’s address to the bishops is now posted on the bishops’ Web site.

10:59 a.m.: Proposed liturgical item on blessing of a child in the womb now on the floor.

10:57 a.m.: Break over, on to “action items.” The bishops don’t vote now. Documents are presented and bishops can ask for clarification.

10:25 a.m.: Coffee break, and then there will be preliminary consideration of the meeting’s “action items,” such as a proposed service for the blessing of a child in the womb and the bishops’ conference priorities and plans.

10:20 a.m.: Auxiliary Bishop Cisneros of Brooklyn addressing bishops about last year’s Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean and presents a triptych representative of the meeting, which Cardinal George says will be given a place of prominence at the bishops’ headquarters.

10:17 a.m.: Archbishop Sambi is given a standing ovation at the end of his talk, customary for the pope’s representative in the United States. Cardinal George suggests he ask the pope for a raise.

10:16 a.m.: USCCB has Web page devoted solely to this meeting.

10:13 a.m.: Archbishop Sambi covering list of all the duties of bishops, including supporting their priests.

10:08 a.m.: Praises American Catholics’ emphasis on religious education.

Abp. Sambi

10:00 a.m.: Archbishop Sambi recalling words of Pope Benedict to the bishops in Washington last April.

9:55 a.m.: Now the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sambi, addresses the meeting. Last year he announced the schedule for the papal trip to the United States

9:54 a.m.: Time of challenge for the church and the nation, but all times are, the cardinal says.

9:50 a.m.: Applause when Cardinal George comments that life of the unborn cannot be sacrificed.

9:47 a.m.: Opens with comments on the election of the first African-American president, but also talks about how Catholic politicians often have to put aside church teachings to be successful.

9:46 a.m.: Cardinal George, president of the USCCB, is delivering the meeting’s “presidential address,” which some would call a “state of the church” speech.

9:40 a.m.: For instance, report includes recommendations — and strong support — for the bishops’ movie reviews from the Office for Film and Broadcasting.

9:35 a.m.: National Advisory Council report being given now. Council is a body of laity, religious, priests and bishops that give advice to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on issues facing the bishops. Here’s some background on the council from earlier this year.

9:20 a.m.: Meeting opens with message to the Holy Father, as it always does, asking Pope Benedict to pray for the bishops as they deliberate.

CNS Bible Blog: What made Peter squirm?

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

We have all seen the Holy Thursday scene so many times: a few embarrassed-looking parishioners in front of the congregation with their shoes off and an alb-clad priest trying to wash their feet without stumbling or falling. Everyone seems relieved when it is over.

But the footwashing that Jesus performed in chapter 13 of John was not intended to give us another liturgical ritual. It was supposed to be a paradigm for authentic Christian life.

Washing the feet of the guests was considered the lowest task in a household and no Jewish slave would ever be asked to do it. So when Jesus puts a towel around himself and begins to wash their feet we can imagine their shocked and stunned silence. There are echoes of Philippians 2:1-11 –- assuming the condition of a slave –- as Jesus begins his task.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis, SJ

The synoptic Gospels portray the disciples squabbling among themselves at the Last Supper about who is the greatest. John considers this question so important that he is willing to omit the institution of the Eucharist in order to relate this scene. But the footwashing will illustrate love to the limit and can be seen as an interpretation of the meaning of Eucharist rather than a replacement.

Peter’s objections are often thought to reflect humility or feelings of unworthiness. That may be the case but there is another possibility. Peter might have seen all too clearly what Jesus was doing and was struggling to come to terms with it. The paradigm that Jesus mimes for them is one of renunciation of status, honor, and ego and runs counter to human values and human societies. This was an essential element of spirituality in the early Christian communities. No wonder Peter was squirming. But Jesus was adamant and uncompromising: unless I wash your feet you can have no share with me!

A church window depicts Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A church window depicts Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

As Jesus dons his robe again, he recognizes that only later will they understand what he has just done. He is teacher and lord, and if he is willing to serve others in what is considered the lowliest way without feeling slighted or diminished then how much more should his disciples?

Humility has a bad reputation — understandably so — because of how it is often invoked to oppress and control others. The humility that Jesus models is not one of subordination or domination. New Testament scholar Sandra Schneiders describes this as a “radical new order of human relationships” between equals. Disciples are invited to draw their sense of worth and honor from their relationship with Jesus Christ and the love which they share with one another.

At the conclusion of the supper he gives them a “new” commandment: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Chapter 15 will clarify the manner of this love: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Love alone is to be the identifying sign of the Christian disciple, not what one eats, drinks, or wears, nor the manner of ritual and prayer.

In what sense is this commandment new? Christianity did not invent love. When Jesus refers to love of God and neighbor as the greatest commandment in the other three Gospels he quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But it is new in the sense that it is the first and essential commandment given by Jesus in the new age that he has inaugurated by his incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection.

The spirituality that Jesus invites us to follow in every aspect of our lives is a continual letting go of pride, fear, and desire for honor, power, and recognition. In its place we should be eager to lay down our “life” (ego, selfishness, and personal advantage) for the sake of others.

Bishops and the Catholic electorate: One more view

The debate likely will never end over whether the U.S. bishops had any influence on Catholic voters in last week’s presidential election.  We’ve had several pieces, such as here, here and here, on the issue as well as links to some of the articles (e.g., here and here) our clients have been doing.

Taking a more in-depth look at something one of our stories from last week touched on, Our Sunday Visitor has an article in an upcoming edition maintaining that Barack Obama actually lost votes in states where bishops spoke out. What makes this article of more-than-average interest is that it’s written not by a lackey (ouch!) of the Catholic right or left but by Mark M. Gray, director of Catholic polls at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. (Gray, some of you may recall, was also one of the researchers on last year’s readership study — is the glass half empty or half full? — on the Catholic press and other Catholic media efforts.)

Obama’s strength in ‘Catholic’ states

President-elect Barack Obama won 13 of the nation’s 15 most populous states in the Nov. 4 election. That placed California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, Massachusetts and Indiana in the Obama column, while John McCain captured only Texas and Georgia on that list.

But how did Obama do relative to McCain in “Catholic” states? Based on figures from the Official Catholic Directory, he did just as strongly.

There are two numerical measures that can be looked at: Catholic population within a state and the percentage of Catholics in a state’s total population.

Based on Catholic population, Obama won in 12 of the 15 most populous Catholic states. McCain took Texas (third most populous), Louisiana (13th) and Arizona (15th), but Obama captured California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Connecticut and Minnesota.

By the other measure, percentage of the population that is Catholic — which includes smaller states — Out of the top 15 of those states, Obama swept 11: Rhode Island (the nation’s only Catholic-majority state at 59.5 percent), Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Nevada, Illinois, Delaware, Wisconsin, California, New Mexico and New Hampshire. McCain took Louisana (12th on that list) and Texas (13th).

McCain won nine of the 10 states with the lowest percentage of Catholics in the population. From the lowest number of Catholics to the highest, those are: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Alaska and Utah.  In Catholic population those states range from 2.3 percent to 8.7 percent. North Carolina, which Obama took, is 4 percent Catholic.

By the same token, McCain also won the 13 states that have the fewest Catholics: Wyoming, Alaska, West Virgnia, Montana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Dakota, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Oklahoma and South Carolina. The District of Columbia (not a state, as its residents will readily remind you) has a Catholic population estimated at 100,000 by the Archdiocese of Washington — placing it between West Virginia and Montana, and with three electoral votes — was in Obama’s camp.

CNS Bible Blog: Signs of the Messianic age

Link to Bible Blog seriesBy Father Scott M. Lewis, SJ
Special to Catholic News Service

The miracle at Cana is of a rather strange variety. No healing or exorcism is involved, no one is raised from the dead and no sins are forgiven. It appears only in John’s Gospel.

Today, there are three separate candidates in Galilee for the Cana in question — the most established of them sports two or three churches in honor of the event. Souvenir shops sell bottles of Cana wine but the quality does not inspire much confidence in the miracle. Wedding feasts lasted for days and the bridegroom’s parents were expected to provide a lavish celebration. Family honor was at stake, and in an honor/shame-based culture its importance cannot be overstressed.

Scott M. Lewis SJ

Scott M. Lewis SJ

When the “mother of Jesus” (she is never named in John’s Gospel!) tells him that the hosts had run out of wine, Jesus responds in a way that makes us uncomfortable. He addresses her as “woman,” which sounds rude and disrespectful, an address he uses to her again from the cross in chapter 19 as well as to the woman of Samaria in chapter 4. It is the Greek translation of an Aramaic form of address that is formal but not disrespectful — more akin to “madam.”

His reply is unclear: “Ti emoi kai soi” — in Greek, literally “what to you and to me?” The gist of it is, “Why are you telling me?” He insists that his hour — the hour for the Passion as well as the beginning of his earthly ministry — has not yet arrived. There is tension in the story — Jesus is defined by his relationship with God the Father, not earthly ties even to his mother. But the mother of Jesus is undeterred, simply ordering the waiters to do whatever Jesus told them to do — advice we would do well to follow. The six huge stone jars were soon filled to the brim with wine of excellent quality.

A church window depicts Jesus performing the miracle at Cana. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

A church window depicts Jesus performing the miracle at Cana. (CNS photo from Crosiers)

The head steward comments on the quality of the wine and the fact that the best vintage was saved until last. This leads into the meaning of the story — it is about the change of the age — the new world and the advent of the Messiah. There are references to wine of the last days and the arrival of the new age in 1 Enoch (one of the apocryphal Gospels); Amos 9:11, 13; Joel 4:18; and Isaiah 25:6. In this first of John’s seven “signs,” Jesus revealed his glory — divine power — and in doing so announced the inauguration of the Messianic age.

The story of the woman taken in adultery (7:53-8:11) is one of the most beloved in Christian tradition. It comes as a surprise to discover that the story is missing from the earliest manuscripts that we have of John’s Gospel. Other manuscripts place the story elsewhere in the narrative; a few even place it in Luke. It probably represents a free-floating Jesus tradition that was later inserted into the text. This should not cause us concern, for the New Testament itself was created over a period of time by the church in response to the experiences of individual communities and the work of the spirit.

The crowd is out for blood and is behaving in the murderous and unthinking fashion of crowds in every time and place. Scholars such as René Girard would even suggest that what is at work here is a “scapegoating mechanism.” This occurs when a community relieves the conflict arising from competition and desire by selecting and projecting on a victim the collective negative energy and tension. And we know immediately something is wrong: adultery requires two individuals but her male partner is nowhere to be seen.

The question posed to Jesus puts him on the spot — either he will break the demands of the law or the demands of compassion and mercy. But he refuses to meet their eyes and merely bends down and writes in the sand. What was he writing? Pious tradition says that he wrote all of their sins down. Unlikely — that would take a huge amount of sand and most people were illiterate. He needn’t have been writing anything in particular — it was a device to stop them in their tracks, make them begin to wonder and question, and eventually to force them to look within themselves.

The parting words of Jesus to the woman are interesting — he does not “forgive” her because he never judged or condemned her in the first place. He merely gives her some friendly advice and sends her on his way. And that is what this passage is about -– not primarily forgiveness, but self-knowledge. The unreflective crowd was doing what mobs of people or even societies have always done -– project their unexamined darkness on individuals or groups.

Smoky stoves and global solidarity

A visit to their sister parish in San Marcos, Guatemala, led parishioners at St. John the Baptist Parish in Covington, Wash., to a new understanding about the realities of life in their sister community. An article by Terry McGuire in The Catholic Northwest Progress, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle, details how the parish raised $19,000 to purchase fuel-efficient, ventilated stoves for as many as 100 families in the 10 villages that make up the Guatemalan parish.

Vatican document on use of psychological testing in seminaries available in Origins

A week ago the Vatican released the long-awaited document called “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.” (We had coverage of it here and here.)

The full text was difficult to find at first, but now we have it available in the latest edition of Origins, our documentary service. Origins’ subscribers can read the document by clicking here. (It’s in Vol. 38, No. 23, dated Nov. 13, 2008.)

We also offer single-copy sales of this edition of Origins for just $5. To order, call (202) 541-3290 and we’ll mail one out to you.