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Easter, Ælfheah, and embryo adoption

Happy Friday friends,

And a very happy Easter to you all, for it is very much still the Octave. As serial readers of this newsletter know, the measure of time is something of a fascination of mine, and the idea of a feast so powerful that a day becomes a week is deeply appealing to me.

Easter was a joy in our house, I can tell you, even if a five hour vigil which comfortably straddled midnight did leave the three of us a little tired on Sunday.

Even if it has been back to work for us since Tuesday, it’s still a long way from business as usual, still less ordinary time. The feast is meant to be a blinding explosion of the light of the Gospel which illuminates the rest of the year for us, so please, do not be in a hurry to let it go.

This Sunday, the eighth day, goes by a number of different names: Low Sunday, Domenica in albis, and of course Divine Mercy Sunday.

The last of the three titles is actually the most recent of them all, but probably now the most widely used. But what is Divine Mercy Sunday all about, exactly? Well, we have an explainer on that for you right now.

Meanwhile, Easter has wiped out (perhaps I should say “subsumed”) many of the other feasts we normally celebrate this week, including that of St. Ælfheah, the first martyr of Canterbury, whose martyrdom began with him by being pelted with the remnants of a barbecue one Easter Saturday.

The martyrdom of St. Ælfheah, stained glass window, Canterbury Cathedral.

Ælfheah was a monk in Gloucestershire (pronounced Glossd’shur, please) shortly before the turn of the first millennium, and after a stint as the Abbot of Bath, he became Bishop of Winchester. During his time as bishop there, he is widely credited with persuading the Danish raider king Olaf Tryggvason to leave off the plundering of England and even converting him to Christianity.

In about the year 1006, Ælfheah was made Archbishop of Canterbury and five years later was captured by Danish raiders who demanded a huge ransom for his return. The saintly archbishop forbade the ransom to be paid.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “the raiding-army became much stirred up against the bishop, because he did not want to offer them any money, and forbade that anything might be granted in return for him. Also they were very drunk, because there was wine brought from the south.”

“Then they seized the bishop, led him to their hustings on the Saturday in the Octave of Easter, and then pelted him there with bones and the heads of cattle; and one of them struck him on the head with the butt of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell on the earth, and sent forth his holy soul to God's kingdom.”

So, there’s a saint to add to your private litanies this weekend.

But, while the feasts of saints have been covered up by the glory of Easter, the news has continued. So let’s get to that.

The news

A scoop you will only read at The Pillar, folks, at least so far:

The  bishops of the United States learned this week that the Vatican has approved their new Program for Priestly Formation, after years of back-and forth between Rome and the USCCB.

The new text makes some major changes to seminary life in the U.S., including a mandatory “propaedeutic stage” for the first year of priestly studies, and a six-month parish residency for all transitional deacons.

The USCCB and the Congregation for Clergy have spent years in discussion over the draft of the text. Several U.S. bishops pushed back on the propaedeutic year, which is meant to be non-academic and focused on personal and spiritual development — They had concerns about how the plan would affect student visas, and the deferral of student loans for seminarians who weren’t enrolled in academic courses.

The final text seems to square the circle a little, allowing for part-time classwork for first year students, but only in certain subject areas, and definitely separate from the beginning of the philosophy cycle that marks the beginning of formal academic seminary studies.

We got the document, and we have the whole story for you here.

One of the thorniest questions facing Catholics in the realm of pro-life issues is what to do for the hundreds of thousands of human lives held in medical freezers across the country.

These embryos are, in science, in natural law, and in Church teaching, unique human lives essentially being held captive. Their fate, in the vast majority of cases, is to be thawed out and disposed of as medical waste or sold on as material for experimentation.

But what can we do to fight for the rights of these persons? What does justice for them look like? And what does the Church say about all this? Well, this is what our own Charlie Camosy discussed this week with bioethicist Kent Lasnoski, associate professor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College.

Here’s a bit of what they talked about:

The idea of leaving embryos to thaw, or to eternal cryostasis, or to death by research should be disgusting to everyone, but I run into three strong gut reactions to the idea of embryo adoption as the solution.

On the one hand, it feels like an heroic and beautiful work of mercy and hospitality, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry.

On the other hand, many women feel revulsion at the technologically invasive procedure and the idea of becoming pregnant with someone else’s child. Finally, there’s lots of anxiety about participating in the evil of buying and selling persons. No one wants to raise demand in the already existing ‘market’ for human embryos.

So what’s the answer? Read the whole thing.


This Friday Pillar Post is brought to you by the University of Dallas, “The Catholic University for Independent Thinkers.”
The University of Dallas invites you to check out their free 5-episode video series “The Quest,” available at udallas.edu/pillar

In just under two week’s time, Cardinal Angelo Becciu will return to a Vatican City courtroom to answer questions about his time and work in the Secretariat of State.

Becciu was supposed to be in court on April 7, but his lawyers discovered a sudden “scheduling conflict” for the cardinal shortly after Pope Francis waived pontifical secrecy for his former chief of staff, clearing the way for him to give evidence about a range of allegedly criminal activity he has insisted is too classified to be discussed in court.

As I discussed in an analysis this week, the relationship between Becciu and Francis has been at the center of the cardinal’s rise and fall from grace, and the former sostituto has made his personal loyalty to the pope a hallmark of his public comments since his sacking in September 2020.

It seems clear Becciu has been using his month off to revisit his courtroom strategy, now that he will have to answer a whole lot of impertinent questions from the judges. As a matter of pure legal strategy, and public relations, the easiest thing for the disgraced cardinal to do might be to simply blame the pope for everything — he’s certainly given indications in the past that he might do so.

If he does, it would make life very awkward for Francis, who doesn’t really have a mechanism to formally refute what Becciu says as a witness, and it could throw the whole trial into chaos. But it would also probably mark a point of no return for the curial lifer, who many around him insist could yet return to papal favor.

So will Becciu start talking about business “outside the family”? I have some ideas about how he might signal his next move.

At 89, James Cardinal Stafford has seen some things. He is one of the most senior American churchmen and had one of the most interesting careers a cleric could imagine. And he has some thoughts on what the Church is missing.

We are missing out on joy, he told me in a long and very personal interview this week. And that joy can be found in rediscovering the nature of prayer — daily, unceasing, communal prayer which transforms the Church into the “canticle of praise” to God that she is called to be.

Cardinal Stafford’s personal history, and his relationship to prayer, is fascinating. Growing up during World War II, he told me that a defining moment of his life was learning about the Allied firebombing of Dresden and wrestling with what this meant about our humanity. The answer, he found, was in the Psalms and in the rhythm of the Church’s ancient Liturgy of the Hours.

Later in life, he found praying those same Psalms was the key to unlocking the Church’s relationship with the Trinity. And it’s praying them, he says, which can help reshape the life of the parish.

“The lack of joy in the Church, this has really struck me. When I read about people in the Church, it’s often about parish councils and so forth. It's about structures in the Church, and priests, and priests’ structures in the Church. That's not where it is, but that seems to be where we're stuck…

How do we define Church today? How do we define a parish today? Usually when we look at parishes, they serve people, they have a ministry of service. When I was visiting parishes as a diocesan bishop, I would say “bring along your pastoral statement or pastoral mission.” And they all had it, usually the parish council, together with the parish priest, would all work on it.

But invariably, the emphasis was the parish is to be a sign of Christ as servant. And that's legitimate. And with my background as a social worker, I affirmed that. But if I were going out today, I would say, how about the parish as also being canticum laudis, the canticle of praise to the Father, the body of Christ? That's what the parish is.”

This is one of the most interesting conversations I have ever had about prayer. Read the whole thing.


A ‘primary concern’

Yesterday, my wife informed me that it was time to sign our daughter up for Catholic Montessori at our local parish.

I was halfway through what I thought was a patient, but firm, explanation that the baby was barely six months old and I thought she should at least be able to stand prior to being sent off for schooling, when she interrupted my train of thought to tell me that she was aware of the kid’s age but that these things have to, apparently, be done more than 18 months in advance.

It was a nasty shock, one which has given way to a looming sense of dread.

Throughout the near decade and a half during which we had no children, I often thought about the things I was missing out on by not being a parent. But, even in moments of profound regret, I would often console myself with the thought that “at least I don’t have to deal with the educational system.”

Don’t misunderstand me, I am for the education of children. But, having been free to sit out the increasingly shrill discourse around the subject, I am possessed of no especially strong or controversial views on the particulars — this is something I realize is about to change.

What little of the current debate I have caught in my peripheral vision seems to involve rival claims (or accusations) between parents and teachers over the formation of children towards one particular set of beliefs or another, be they secular or religious.

I don’t know how prevalent this is, or if it is a question of outlying cases being seized by either side, and I am not sure to what extent this is a new development, or if it was ever thus:

My last experience of American education was at my local parochial school in Chicago in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I don’t recall any particular efforts at cultural indoctrination, beyond the nascent movement for mass recycling. Though, come to think of it, Miss. Jacobs did encourage us to sneak into our parents’ jackets and purses to throw their cigarettes away — a practice I eagerly adopted and continued through my teenage years — though, thanks to the admonitions to always recycle, I stopped throwing them away. Waste not, etc.

But as I look at my daughter, I am acutely conscious of how… particular I will likely be about her education. The Church (and natural law) defines parents as the primary educators of their children. It’s something I have always considered to be self-evident. But, six months into fatherhood, I’m beginning to understand why debate about it quickly becomes ferocious.

As a final note, JD and I are quietly moving ahead, behind the scenes, with some year 2 projects to grow our work here at The Pillar.

We need, we know, a better website. And we want to broaden our podcast offerings and extend our network of correspondents in other parts of the world. All of this growth, of course, relies on us growing our subscriber base — and we are immensely grateful for all the support we’ve received from readers of these newsletters.

If you’d do us a favor to help us keep growing, I’d ask you to consider forwarding this newsletter to someone you think might enjoy it. It’s free to read, and free to sign up, and every fresh pair of eyes is someone we hope might consider supporting us one day.

And thank you, really, to all of you — The Pillar exists because of our readers and subscribers, and you’ve all been in our prayers over the Octave.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
Editor
The Pillar

This Friday Pillar Post is brought to you by the University of Dallas. Check out their free 5-episode video series “The Quest,” available at udallas.edu/pillar

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