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Roman Journal: Part One, A View From the Hill

April 30, 2011


As I write to you, this is just about my view from the desk where I am working. The major difference is that at the moment it is rainy and dark. But otherwise, pretty amazing view, huh?

This week I am in Rome for the Beatification of Pope John Paul, the final stage on his route to Canonization. Since it rarely happens that the process works this quickly and so many of the candidates contemporaries are alive to witness it, this is a most historic event. In a city that defines history, this is history. It is also an historic event in my own history. Pope John Paul was the leader of the Catholic Church through most of my life, all of my adult life, and during the whole period of my ordained service. I meet him many many times and helped plan his visit to Baltimore. He is obviously an important part of the history of lots of other people too. Today, walking the teeming streets around the Vatican, people were already camped out, waiting for tomorrow’s ceremony…camped out in the rain.

The North American College, which is my alma mater and residence for the week, is just up the hill from St. Peter’s.  It’s technically part of Vatican City State, but enough removed from the center that there are no crowds congregated here. Its a great vantage point to see what’s happening. The view from the hill is different than the one I had in the crowd.

In the crowd its easy to espouse the simplistic views that a crowd holds, and there are basically two out there: the Church is too liberal and needs to return to her roots, we need to circle the wagons around the “sacred deposit” of our faith and defend it; outside the wagon train the Indians are griping that the Church is too conservative, and needs to loosen up or continue to lose members. This view holds that we need to get with the times, especially on the hot button issues. 

Those are views from the crowd. From the hill, the view is different. 

It is no secret that I have been alarmed and heartbroken by developments in the Catholic Church in recent years, I am of the growing conviction that business as usual will not do and that fooling ourselves into thinking everything is alright or just getting better is foolish and perilous.  I gladly go further and avow that if we will not embrace the humility that God demands of his servants, and begin to serve his will with broken hearts, instead of our will for broken systems, God will remove his blessing, just as he did with the Pharisees in Jerusalem.  He will remove his blessing and bless those who are serving him. 

At the same time, I do not for a minute compromise my Roman Catholic faith, in all its fulness. In the phrase of another, it is all about a “dynamic orthodoxy.”  I believe that one of Blessed John Paul’s greatest and historic contributions, was to help us understand this middle path forward…for the whole Church starting with our local parish church. Pope John Paul didn’t have a view from the crowd, he had a view from the hill. That’s the view I want too.

[ to be continued ]

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  1. Thank you for the perspective from the hill – and for speaking the love that exists for this Holy Roman Catholic Church, even when that love flows from a heart that is broken for her — thank you for calling us and leading us to reach out from and in that brokenness to follow Christ as servants and to do so, as you say, within the fullness of our Roman Catholic faith.

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