Thursday, April 23, 2015

Misericordiae Vultus

Who reads papal bulls these days?  Only old shriveled up scholars in dry, dusty libraries, right?


I read the most recent papal bull, from the hand of Pope Francis, last week.  He issued it on April 11.  What a document.  If I tell you once, I will tell you many times, read it.

"Misericordiae Vultus" is translated "The Face of Mercy."  The first two sentences grabbed me.  "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy.  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith."  

In this letter, Pope Francis announced an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, from December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, to November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King.  The pope says explicitly that he chose December 8 because it marks the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.  He wants the whole church to breathe in the spirit and letter of Vatican II.  But most of all he wants the whole church, and the whole world, to know better God's mercy.  

Francis says he will open the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica , and then the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Rome -- the Basilica of St. John Lateran -- in the first few weeks of the jubilee year.  But he asks that every diocese in the world also open a Door of Mercy, in its cathedral, or in another special church.  This will allow the faithful everywhere to participate in pilgrimages of mercy within their local diocese "as a visible sign of the Church's universal communion."  

The papal bull is a brief but rich walk through mercy in our faith lives:  in and through Jesus Christ, his deeds and his words; in the Old Testament; in the New Testament; in the lives of saints; in the liturgy; and in the lived experience of the People of God.  He says, mysteriously, in paragraph 18, that during lent of 2016 he intends to send out "Missionaries of Mercy" to the world.    Francis calls for increased appreciation and application of the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy.  He urges priests in the confessional to redouble efforts to be merciful to those who come to the sacrament of confession.  Francis does not neglect justice, but in a passage that to me recalled Pope Benedict's excellent treatment of justice and charity in "Caritas in Veritate," he weaves together mercy and justice.  As with other jubilee years, this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy entails the granting of indulgences.  But only so that "God's forgiveness knows no bounds."

Francis also takes the jubilee in a new direction, asking "that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter  with these two great religions [Judaism and Islam] and with other noble religious traditions."  

"Mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life."  As I read it, I could hear the cadence of Francis' daily and Sunday homilies.  These talks, most often off-the-cuff and spoken without notes, are homespun, simple, direct, focused on Christ, inviting.  So also is this papal bull.  

You can access the document at  and click on "Apostolic Letters."  This is contemporary spiritual reading at its best.  Please treat yourself to 20 minutes of quiet contemplation and read it.  

Father Dennis Colamarino, R.I.P.

There are two sayings about death which I often repeat.  "There is nothing deader than a dead priest."  "If you want a big funeral, die young." These bromides clashed two weeks ago when Father Dennis Colamarino, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was laid to rest.

You have probably heard about Dennis, his life, illness and death.  Dennis was the pastor of two parishes in Duquesne, PA, for 32 years--Christ the Light of the World and St. Joseph.  He was a beloved pastor, making church"work" while almost everything else in that declining mill town didn't.  

Two years ago Dennis was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition known as Lou Gehrig's disease.  He was saying Mass on Easter Sunday, and for no apparent reason, fell at the altar.  Several parishioners urged him to see a doctor, which he did the following day.  On Easter Friday, he was given the devastating diagnosis.  Loss of all motor function, and death probably within two years.

Yet it did not stop Dennis, from pastoring.  He continued doing as much as he could.  When he couldn't do something, as for example, when he gave up driving after he crashed his new car into a wall backing up, because he couldn't control his feet, others drove him.  When he couldn't cook, parishioners and friends brought him food.  When he couldn't walk the one flight of steps to his bedroom, the parishioners came together and had an elevator built into the rectory.   When he couldn't stand in the sanctuary to preside at Mass, he sat on his motorized scooter and preached.  And when he couldn't even speak, he drove to Mass and cried with the people. 

And the disease did not stop him from being himself.  I joined a priest support group, of which Dennis was a charter member, five years ago.  I loved his loud cackle of a laugh, his irreverent sense of humor, his sarcasm which was never a downer.  Dennis was truly one of the great "characters" of the Pittsburgh  presbyterate--and Dennis reveled in being a character.  We would rib him that he was "the bishop of Duquesne" and "things were different in the diocese of Duquesne."  And he agreed--and then laughed some more.

Dennis received a lot of tv and print publicity in August 2014 when he publicly invited Bishop David Zubik to participate in the "ALS ice bucket challenge" with him.  The bishop agreed, with one stipulation, that he would first celebrate Mass with Dennis and his flock, and give Dennis the sacrament of anointing of the sick.  The church was filled, with 150 more outside on that warm summer Saturday.  But Dennis didn't need the additional publicity.  He was already widely known, throughout the Steel Valley and greater Pittsburgh area.

How ironic that at almost every meeting of our priest support group Dennis would say, "Well, only seven year, one month, and four days until I retire."  Or, "only six years, nine months."  (Our clergy personnel policy only allows us to retire at the age of 70.)  With the onset of ALS, Dennis never got to fulfill all his well-thought out dreams of what to do in retirement.

About five weeks before his death, Dennis hosted our priest support group at his rectory.  He and we knew that death was drawing closer (those none of us would have guessed only a month away).  He told us he loved us, he loved the priesthood, and he loved the people.  He knew he was loved by God, and had tried to return that love in ministry.  He said that he found it better for his spiritual life if he only went to Mass once a week, on Sunday.  Dennis said longing to receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion for a whole week made the reception of the sacrament all the more sweet and powerful.  I am not ashamed to say I was crying as Dennis quietly spoke to us.  His words and his spirit from that day are forever embedded in my memory.

What Dennis did as a pastor was extend hospitality far and wide, and the message of God's incredible mercy.  (See next post.)  People bought it, because Dennis lived it.  People came to Christ the Light parish, and stayed, and participated in both church work and community service, because of Dennis's leadership and personality.

Yes, Father Dennis had a big funeral on Easter Saturday, April 11, with an overflowing crowd in Christ the Light of the World church.  But Father Dennis is far from dead.  He and his Christian spirit is alive in everyone who met him and for whom he ministered.  May your rest in peace, brother, and may your laugh and spirit even bring smiles to the angels of heaven.

P.S.  As I was noodling around on the internet, I found a wonderful and touching post about Father Colamarino and his impact on the city of Duquesne and its people on a blog, "The Duquesne Hunky."  Check it out.  

Hello Again

To my few but very faithful followers:  You must have wondered, did I fall down a rabbit hole, move to China, lose the ability to write, or ... what?  I haven't posted anything on this blog in almost four months.

To which I can only reply, sorry.  One day moves to two, and three, and so on, and then ... it's been quite a while since I posted.  I am embarrassed by my inaction.

But several of you have pestered me to begin again.  My imagination has not shut down.  I have regularly made lists of topics I wanted to blog about, but just didn't take "the next step" and write them up.  The Holy Spirit even nudged me.  A week ago I was writing up a request to name one of our church halls after Msgr. Jules Roos, a Pittsburgh priest who served as a missionary in Chimbote, Peru, for 48 years.  I googled his name, to get the basics of his life history from obituaries.  On page 2 of the search, there was a post I did about Jules on the blog, from two years ago, when he died.

Then I knew even God was telling me what to do.  Blog.

So, I'm back, at least for a day.  I'll post a couple of things tonight.  Then tomorrow eight friends and I leave on a vacation in Europe.  We are taking a  Viking river cruise on the Danube River.  I'll be back home on May 7, with lots to share.  And back on the blogging trail.

Thank you for reading and listening.