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Super Mario, Sunday School, and the Big 1

Super Mario, Sunday School, and the Big 1

Happy Friday friends,

And a happy feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

There is a certain kind of Catholic writer who would feel obliged to tell you all about the Battle of Lepanto today, probably attempting to draw some kind of parallel between then and now, and give a dark hint of looming certain destruction before invoking Herself’s aid in some or other fight — probably political.

That ain’t me. Here’s what I have got to say on the feast: Pray the rosary. Every day. She never ignores the cry of her children, and our Lord has a special love, so I have been told, for those who love his mother.

That having been said, let’s talk about baseball for a second.

Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees has made it to 62 home runs this season, overtaking the American League record of 61 set by Roger Maris back in ‘61, when he lapped Babe Ruth’s previous best of 60.

It has been a delight to watch Judge approach the record, tie it, and then pass it. He has conducted himself with nothing but humility, quiet dignity, and respect both for the past and for the game. I know next to nothing about the guy’s personal life, but based purely on his conduct on the field, Judge’s season has been a reminder of what baseball can be about, of the example of character it can set, when played the right way.

Better than all of this, for me, has been the universal happiness and acclaim to greet Judge’s milestone, both in the baseball and wider sporting worlds — that people are making a big deal of this at all is a very big deal.

On paper, Judge is the fourth MLB player to pass Maris, after Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. But Judge is the first player to beat the record clean, without being visibly roided out of his mind or sweating HGH from every pore. Allegedly or whatever.

It would be easy for the steroid-tainted records to have loomed over Judge’s effort this year, to kind of qualify what he has achieved and mute the magic of the moment. But it hasn’t.

Instead, every MLB chart has shown Judge climbing up the record ladder to pass Maris, with the suspiciously BIG 3 listed there, above both players, but just ignored by all of us. Not erased, just dismissed in favor of a sporting hero who did it right.

That’s a victory worth celebrating.

The News

A Tulsa man was arrested Wednesday after attacking the city’s Catholic cathedral with a Molotov cocktail and slashing a cathedral employee with a sword.

We spoke yesterday with Tulsa’s Bishop David Konderla and the diocesan cathedral rector about the event, and about what Catholics should take away from incidents like these.

The bishop spoke about the way our media consumption can distort our sense of these things, and condition us to cynicism and pessimism.

“None of those things are worthy of us as people of faith,” he said. “It’s absolutely important for us to stay more focused on what Jesus is doing in our world than on what we or the devil are doing in our world.”

Read the whole interview here.

Polls indicate that Americans overwhelmingly see adoption as a good in society. Yet abortions outnumber adoptions in America 50 to 1. Why?

Elizabeth Kirk, director of the Center for Law and the Human Person at the Catholic University Columbus School of Law, talked with Charlie Camosy this week to unpack that question — including a look at the “soft stigma” against adoption.

Do not miss this conversation.

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The office of Bishop Franz-Joseph Bode of the German Diocese of Osnabrück has conceded to The Pillar that Fr. Hans Zollner, the Vatican’s front man on child protection, didn’t actually advise Bode not to resign, despite the bishop’s suggestions to the contrary.

“In conversation with Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, Father Hans Zollner spoke neither for nor against the bishop's resignation,” the diocesan spokesman told The Pillar on Oct. 5.

Bode previously stated that it was after consulting Zollner that he had decided not to step down after a report found him guilty of serial culpable negligence in the reassignment of known abuser clergy, and of failing to deliver on past promises to care for abuse victims.

What exactly they did talk about still remains unclear. But Zollner’s implied endorsement of Bode was something of a non-sequitur, given he’d previously criticized German bishops for failing to resign over exactly these kinds of independent reports.

Bode remains in post as bishop, as vice president of the German bishops’ conference, and as a member of the four-person executive committee in charge of the country’s synodal way.

Despite the report finding he moved known predators to other ministries, including those in close contact with children, and although the report noted Bode had failed to deliver on past promises to victims, the bishop has insisted his resignation “would delay this process [of reform in the diocese] rather than help it.”

You can catch up with The Pillar’s exclusive reporting on the whole story, here.

When the USCCB meets for its autumn plenary session in Baltimore next month, it will face an unusually wide-open election for the conference leadership.

By informal custom, at the end of the three-year term, the vice president is picked by the bishops to step up to the presidency, and the real contest is for who will become the new veep. And the assumed president-in-waiting.

But this year, current conference VP, Archbishop Allen Vigneron. is too old to run for the presidency — he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 75 before the three-year term would end — so the bishops have a wide open slate to elect, and a very crowded field of candidates to choose from.

In his analysis this week, JD takes you down the ticket —  walking you through the runners and riders, as well as their likely bases of support. And JD explains the significance of this year’s vote.

Don’t miss it.

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Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda, Cameroon, took up his post in 2019 — right as his country was in the midst of a separatist crisis. The conflict is still going on. Last month, gunmen seized five priests, a nun, and three lay people in the country.

The archbishop first came to global attention in 2018, when he told a Vatican press conference for the synod on youth that his “churches are all bursting, and I don’t have space to keep the young people.”

This week, he spoke with Luke Coppen about life in his archdiocese, the Church’s continued growth, his approach to kidnappers’ demands, and Cameroonian Catholicism’s distinctive features.

Read the whole thing here.

A prominent priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical association offering the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, is facing charges of child pornography for a second time.

Newly released federal probation records reveal that Fr. James Jackson, FSSP, was investigated for possessing child pornography this summer, while he was awaiting trial on earlier federal child porn charges, for which he was arrested last October.

Jackson maintains his innocence of the original charges, and argued in court this week that the search leading to his initial arrest was unconstitutional.

You can read all about the case here.

Super Mario?

Cardinal Mario Grech is a fascinating character who is now, in the words of one curial official I spoke with this week, “in the middle of everything.”

The secretary general of the permanent secretariat of the Synod of Bishops isn’t technically part of the Roman curia at all — the synod is something formally apart from the Vatican, and isn’t even listed in the curia constitution.

But, thanks to the global synod on synodality, Grech is now at the heart of the biggest conversation in the global Church. And, as I explained in an analysis yesterday, Grech is much more than just a coordinator or administrator of a process. He has become the leading champion of the concept of a “synodal Church.”

It’s a controversial concept. The cardinal insisted this week that the synodal process is the “mature fruit” of Vatican Council II, of which he also set himself out as the authentic interpreter: “A correct reception of the Council’s ecclesiology,” Grech said, is “to open up scenarios that not even the Council had imagined.”

Given the current stand-offs between the Vatican and the bishops of Germany and Belgium on issues like church blessings for same-sex unions, intercommunion with Protestants, and the ordination of women, the unimaginable is becoming an ever more central part of preparations for next year’s final synodal session, and it will be Grech, more than any other person, who can shape the final text sent to the pope when it concludes.

All this has meant that Grech is increasingly seen, including by himself I’ve been told more than once, as the natural heir to Pope Francis in the event of a conclave.

As one friend in Rome put it to me, the cardinal is being positioned so that “voting for Grech will be like voting for the synod itself.”

There’s no doubt Grech is becoming ever-more obviously papabile, and he has come to outshine the other names often mentioned as potential Francis II’s, like Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, president of the Italian bishops’ conference.

But his viability may hinge on his ability to bring the synod in to land. Bishops in places like Germany and Belgium appear set on taking the Church in a radical new direction, and they have been accused of using the synod’s somewhat anemic participation rates of around 1% as some kind of new doctrinal revelation.

If Grech can bring them back into line with the Vatican and the rest of the Church through the synod’s final text, he could stand himself up as the architect of a grand compromise. But if the whole idea of a “synodal Church” becomes synonymous with permanent crisis, it might be Grech who gets the blame.

You can read my whole analysis here.

In 1817, the English poet and brawler Lord Byron is said to have challenged an Italian cardinal to a multilingual cursing contest. And he lost.

Byron described Cardinal Mezzofanti later as “a monster of languages … a walking polyglot … who ought to have existed at the time of the Tower of Babel, as universal interpreter.”

He may indeed be one of the most gifted linguists who ever lived, and he is certainly a fascinating historical character. So if you want to learn more about the cardinal, and his proficiency with profanity, read this profile from Luke Coppen.

Something(s) new

As JD announced on Tuesday, we have a brand, spanking new newsletter here at The Pillar. Sort of.

Luke Coppen’s Starting Seven.

Ever since he joined us in June, Luke has been taking advantage of being six hours ahead of the rest of us to send us his roundup of the day’s Catholic news, the daily Vatican bulletin, and what’s lurking over the horizon, dropping it in our inboxes before we’re even fully awake.

It is the thing I read before I even make it to my desk every day. It is my morning cheat sheet on what is going on. It’s clean, clear, to the point, and gives me everything I need to know before I sit down. I devour this thing.

And starting this week, we’ve made it available to you, too.

What's Starting Seven? Here's what you're reading, and how to get must-read morning news in your inbox, each day.

For a while now, we’ve been trying to figure out what we could offer our subscribers as a thank you for supporting our work. We had some ideas for gimmicky new things we could try, but Luke’s morning roundup isn’t any of those.

Starting Seven is part of our secret sauce, our daily routine here at The Pillar; it’s a key part of how we do what we do and we’re sharing it with you, our subscribers, because you’re making this happen with us.

So thank you.

We don’t want to just start spamming everyone’s inbox, we know that can be annoying. so if you want to read Luke’s daily newsletters, here’s how you do it — it couldn’t be easier, it’s like three clicks.

For this month, we are making it free for everyone who wants it, but starting in November this is going to be for paying subs only. We aren’t trying to be jerks about it, but we do want to offer something special to the people who have stepped up to help us pay the bills around here and made it possible to bring incredible journalists like Luke on board.

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That said, if you’re a religious sister or priest, or even just a reader who’s been with us since the beginning, and $5 is just not in the monthly budget, don’t worry — we’ll sort you out when we get there.

But wait, there’s more.

Getting to know and love Sacred Scripture is, silly Protestant stereotypes notwithstanding, a big part of Catholic life.

And while we all probably have a lot more familiarity with the Bible than we realize, just from spending our lives hearing the reading at Mass and listening to preaching, we often don’t know how to unpack it and dive deeper into the Word of God.

So, we are also launching our newest podcast — Sunday School: A Pillar Bible Study.

Dr. Scott Powell is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Denver’s St. John Vianney seminary, and he and JD will take you on a guided walk through the Bible, one book at a time. The first season, which we are running now, begins with the Gospel of Mark. And you can expect new episodes to start dropping next week.

It is FABULOUS. It is FREE. And you can sign up for it RIGHT NOW. You can listen on our website here, along with our other podcasts.

And you can get it now through Apple, Spotify, and all the usual places you get your podcasts delivered to your phone, just look for Sunday School: A Pillar Bible Study.

And remember, while we are immensely grateful for the tens of thousands of people who read these newsletters, we are especially thankful for the small percentage who choose to pay to help support our work — that’s how we grow, and that is why we are able to bring you all these great new projects.

So please, if you like what you’re getting, help us keep it coming.

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The Big 1

It was JD’s 40th birthday yesterday, which is kind of a landmark. I assume he had some kind of party — if he did, he didn’t invite me. But whatever, I wish him a very happy birthday anyway.

Rather a bigger deal in my house this week was another anniversary: our daughter turned one.

I’ve mentioned here before that my wife and I waited, and prayed, and hoped for more than a decade of our marriage that we might become parents. And when we discovered our daughter was on the way it was an immense joy, and shock.

It was also a real invitation to lean on the Divine Providence.

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We found out we were expecting two weeks after I quit my last job to launch The Pillar with JD. A year on from her birth, I can see that, as He does in all things, God has provided for our family, and I am immensely grateful.

But looking at the kid, whose resemblance to a hyper-expressive Muppet grows more acute every week, I am, at a human level, still filled with a towering sense of my own inadequacy.

We’ve brought the baby relatively unscathed through her first year of life, and that’s great. And she’s started taking her first halting steps, which has been as emotional as everyone said it would be. But the truth is, looking at her I cannot imagine how I am supposed to teach this kid to walk and talk, or hold a spoon, let alone a conversation.

That I am tasked with keeping her warm and fed and relatively clean looms large enough in my mind, without thinking about the crushing responsibility to teach her to pray and bringing her to know the Lord.

But fatherhood has also been an unexpected consolation in my own spiritual life. Intellectually, I have always known, and been taught, that God is love. That He is my father who chases after me with an endless and gratuitous love and patience. As a concept, I’ve always been able to grasp it.

But, honestly, in prayer, it’s always been something I have really struggled to live, to understand, to really know. I know well who I am, and what my sins are. And I wrestle constantly with the notion that He isn’t going to finally run out of patience with me.

My daughter is changing that.

Chasing her around the house as she ferrets out only and all of the things that can hurt her, deucing her trou over and over, while I desperately wish she would just look me in the eye for more than a few fleeting seconds, I don’t feel patient with her — I just feel love. An urgent, all-consuming, constant, obsessive love that isn’t so much in me and it is me.

That this is even the faintest echo of the Divine disposition of love towards me has been an immense consolation, and cause for joy. It has changed, not enough yet but some, my prayer life and put new joy in my moments in the confessional, meeting the mercy of my Father.

Her feet, one year ago this week.

It’s been quite the year. I don’t know what’s next, but I know I’m being gifted a different kind of faith as our family heads towards it.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon
The Pillar

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