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Double duty, the bridge, and our Maundy mandate

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Hey everybody,

It’s Holy Week, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

This newsletter is coming to you a bit later on Tuesday than you’re accustomed to, and it’ll be a bit shorter, too. 


Well, Mrs. Flynn got a bit of a bug on Sunday afternoon, and she’s been resting — and keeping her germs away from me and the kids — since then. This means that I’ve been pulling double parent duty since then. 

It’s fun to have some extra time with the kids, but also somewhat time-consuming, so you’re getting your newsletter late.  

Without wanting to sound clichéd or platitudinous, I’ll say this: Moms do a lot. And parenting is rightly designed as a team sport — in her 36-hour absence, I’m already pooped covering the stuff she gets done on a daily basis. And I’m reminded to pray especially for people who parent by themselves every day, without the benefit of a spouse to share the load. 

Anyway, I’m also praying this morning for the families affected by the Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, including the still-missing six members of a road crew who were fixing potholes on the bridge when it collapsed.  

Francis Scott Key Bridge, Baltimore. Credit: Patorjk/wikimedia CC BY SA 4.0

If you haven’t read about it yet, the bridge collapsed overnight when a massive cargo ship lost power in Baltimore Harbor, and then drifted into one of the bridge’s support columns, likely caught in the pull of an ebbing tide seaward.

Traffic was limited on the bridge because the ship made a mayday call before crashing into the massive steel pillar, where it remains wedged this morning. 

I’ll admit, I would have expected that a bridge, built in a harbor where cargo ships traffic, would have been strong enough to withstand an accidental collision from a cargo ship in that harbor.

But it turns out that while the Key Bridge was opened just 47 years ago (this week, eerily), cargo ships have changed a lot since 1977. They’re much bigger and more forceful than they were then, and the columns of the bridge couldn’t withstand the crash. 

I found this graphic, and explanation, from the Daily Mail helpful:

It’s remarkable, really, that more people weren’t hurt or killed. But six are still missing, and need our prayers. 

Like a lot of people, I have an affinity for the city of Baltimore that’s spurred on by my love for “The Wire,” one of the best-produced television series of this century. And if “The Wire” taught me anything, it’s that rebuilding anything in Charm City will be a long and expensive undertaking.

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The news

Cardinal Mario Grech last week told a Swiss newspaper that he believes synodality can help the Church move from “uniformity of thought” to “unity in difference,” while reshaping the exercise of authority within global Catholicism.

The cardinal, who is secretary general of the Vatican’s synod office, said he “imagine[s] the Church as a rainbow, with the colors that are not excluded but, together, create harmony. A harmony that, of course, would be missing where there was a conflict.”

Grech is a major shaper of the synod on synodality, and the ongoing synodal study committees established by the Vatican. He’s also regarded in many circles as a man who’d like to be pope. So understanding his vision of the Church, and the theological foundations he claims for it, is important. 

You can read about that here.

Vatican officials and German bishops met on Friday to discuss ongoing issues related to the German “synodal way,” and German plans for a permanent body of clergy and laity that would be empowered to make policy for German dioceses.

So what came out of the meeting? Did anyone “win” — or at least gain ground in the very long standoff between the Germans and the Vatican? 

Luke Coppen breaks it down.

Any believer who pays Catholic school tuition — and I write a painful check each month to the parish school — likely asks himself periodically the same questions: Does Catholic school really make a long-term difference? Is the school helping my children to become disciples? Will my children get a lasting Catholic vision of the world here? 

Researcher Eileen Reuter has wondered about some of those things too. So she conducted a study of 35 women who attended Catholic school, and who say their Catholic education helped them to have an integrated life of faith after graduation

And that research may well help Catholic school administrators make decisions about the culture and identity of their own schools. 

Reuter talked with Michelle La Rosa about the project, and its future.


By the way, I can only write that painful tuition check each month because of The Pillar subscribers who believe in our project, and think we make journalism worth paying for. We depend on you. Really. We mean it.

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The excommunication of a Louisiana deacon made headlines last week, because Deacon Scott Peyton’s son was abused by a priest of the same diocese where is incardinated.

Peyton was declared excommunicated after he and his family joined an Anglican church in January — a fact not reported in many media accounts, and the direct cause of his excommunication. 

In one sense, that’s not complicated at all — when a cleric formally enrolls himself in a non-Catholic ecclesial communion, it’s reasonable to expect that a decree of excommunication will follow.

But this situation has attracted attention because of the suffering of Peyton's family, and — I think — because there is little evidence of much pastoral outreach for a family carrying trauma before the decree was issued, even while canon law itself calls for that kind of outreach.

It may have happened — there might have been long and engaged discussions between the diocese and the family before the decree was eventually issued, and there may be other nuances and relevant factors to the story.

But because the diocese has declined questions, that’s not come across to the Catholics across the country — including victims of clerical sexual abuse — who say the apparent absence of pastoral care for a victim’s father is discouraging to them. At the same time, the deacon’s family says their diocese has been at odds with them for years.

Again, there could be other factors at play — but if that’s so, the diocese hasn’t said it, while the case continues to make headlines across the country.

I tried to break down some relevant information in an analysis published yesterday.

You can read it here

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The French bishops’ conference revised its proposed governing documents last week, after the Vatican did not approve the last version the French bishops sent them

The crux of the issue is this: Vatican officials have told the French bishops that their draft statutes vested too much authority in a small subset of bishops, called the “permanent council,” which would have left many bishops out of decision-making. 

In response, the French have expanded their proposed “permanent council” to include more members, and made some other tweaks, which aim at spreading responsibility for the conference’s work beyond that group.

The new statutes are now with the Dicastery for Bishops for consideration. Read all about it.

The Pillar reported Friday that organizers of the Eucharistic Congress this month urged a scheduled Congress speaker to reconsider his plans to appear at a Mar-a-Lago event in support of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The move came as the Congress has been criticized in some corners for the appearance of partisanship.

But while the Congress declined comment on that report, a spokesperson told The Pillar that Congress organizers are trying to thread a difficult needle: In a contentious presidential election year, with the Republican National Convention the same week as the Congress, organizers are hoping to keep the focus away politics, and on transformative encounters with Christ in the Eucharist.

“We are very much trying to keep the Congress completely away from politics,” the spokesperson told The Pillar.

“This is not a Catholic convention — It is a Eucharistic Congress. And the pilgrimage is not a march — it is a Eucharistic pilgrimage. It is extremely important to the Congress, and to the bishops, that, especially during this election year, we do everything we can to keep the focus on Jesus Christ.”

Can they do it? We’ll find out. But you can read about their efforts here.

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Just a reminder for those of you who are paying subscribers to The Pillar. Every day, Luke Coppen produces an incredible round-up of the Church’s news, sent to your inbox first thing in the morning. Starting Seven is a great read, every day. And if you’re not getting it, here’s how you can.

God didn’t create you for an “ok” marriage. You want a joyful, purpose-driven marriage. But that takes work. Join Chris and Natalie Stefanick’s new series, RENEWED, 7 steps to an amazing marriage, a 21-part video series with daily challenges. Releases April 1st online, FREE for only 45 days!

Finally, please be assured of our prayers for you this Holy Week and Triduum.

We typically take off the days of the Triduum, and Easter Monday, so you won’t hear from us much during those days, unless some emergency happens. There won’t be a Pillar Post on Good Friday, and we’ll only publish news if it’s an emergency. 

We hope you’re able to take those days off as well, and spend them in prayerful contemplation of the Lord’s Passion, his death, and his Resurrection. 

Yearly, I commend to you attendance at the Easter Vigil, the most solemn and beautiful liturgy of the Church’s calendar. If you can go, I hope you will. You won’t regret it.

If you can’t go, here’s the Exsultet — a most beautiful proclamation — chanted at the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica last year:

And here’s the same prayer, chanted at a liturgy in China, where more than 6 million Catholics will worship this Easter, many of them in adverse circumstances:

Read the words of the Exsultet proclamation here.


Our Maundy mandate

Before I go, I want to share with you one of the coolest Holy Thursday customs I’ve ever read about it.

I read it first in “Blessed Charles of Austria,” a 2020 biography by Charles Coulombe.

I can’t say how far it dates back. But I can say that it’s a beautiful custom, taken up by members of the Imperial Habsburg dynasty, a family whose piety and Christian conviction has long been recognized by the Church.

Emperors of the Habsburg dynasty believed their reign was a vocation — a call from God to help ensure the human and Christian flourishing of their subjects. The Habsburgs are not beyond reproach in their administration of that call, but the sense in which their family sincerely perceived a vocation to Christian leadership is clear. They believed their leadership was a service to the Christian identity and call of their people.

And over time, the emperors of the Habsburg line developed a custom, meant to remind themselves and their subjects of that call.

Emperor Franz Josef washes the feet of the poor.

Each Holy Thursday, 12 poor and elderly men would be chosen from the neighborhoods of Vienna. They would be taken to the Hofburg palace.

There, in a great hall, they would be seated at a large and beautiful table. The emperor would personally serve them a meal, placing course after course before the men.

In the early years, they’d eat the meal as the emperor waited on them. But over time it became clear that this was uncomfortable for the men; they didn’t have the table manners for palace dining, and attempting it in the presence of their sovereign and his court made them feel inadequate. 

So eventually, the meal became a ritual. The emperor would place a course before each man, the man would approve it, and then it would be packed up to be taken home and eaten with his family. Each course would be enough to feed them for days. 

After the “meal,” the table would be cleared. And as the Gospel of the Lord’s supper was read, the emperor would kneel before each man, and wash his feet. 

Then he would place a bag around each man’s neck containing 20 silver coins — a symbol that the man had been ransomed in Christ. From there, the men would be driven home in state carriages, the food delivered into their homes by footmen.

In another room, the empress would do the same for 12 poor women.

Each of us, adopted into Christ, is a member of a royal line, we bear in our baptisms the kingship of Jesus Christ.

That means we’re called also to wash feet, as the Son of Man himself did. It’s more than a call, in fact. It’s a mandate — the word “maundy,” of Maundy Thursday, means just that. 

“You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” 

“Christ washing the Disciples’ feet.” Jacopo Tintoretto, 1548.

May we take up that maundy mandate.

Please be assured of our prayers. And please pray for us, we need it.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar

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God didn’t create you for an “ok” marriage. You want a joyful, purpose-driven marriage. But that takes work. Join Chris and Natalie Stefanick’s new series, RENEWED, 7 steps to an amazing marriage, a 21-part video series with daily challenges. Releases April 1st online, FREE for only 45 days!

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