Things to know: Cardinals have ranks, abortion debate continues, and the new St. Lazarus

The Tuesday Pillar Post

Hey everybody,

Lazarus Devasahayam Pillai was born in 1712, the son of an influential Hindu priest from an influential family, close to the king of the southern Indian kingdom of Travancore.

Before he was 30, Devasahayam was an important minister of state in the king’s palace. He was expected to rise even higher, until he met the Dutchman who commanded Travancore’s military. Through him Devasahayam heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and found the meaning and purpose of his life.

When Devasahayam was 34, he was baptized a Catholic. He took the name Lazarus. His faith put a stop to his political career.

Though Christianity is thought to have come to India less than 100 years after Christ was born, Devasahayam’s faith offended some of his highest-ranking countrymen. They were suspicious of it, and thus suspicious of him. He was accused of sharing state secrets with Europeans, and eventually of treason. He lost his job, was arrested, and then he was tortured.

He remained faithful to the Gospel.

He was banished. He faced more torture.

He placed his trust in Jesus Christ.

In January 1752, seven years after he was baptized, Devasahayam was shot by soldiers in the hills of Kanyakumari, overlooking the Indian Ocean. He has since been regarded as a martyr.

And on Monday morning, Pope Francis confirmed that Lazarus Devasahayam Pillai will soon be declared a saint. May he intercede for us all.

Quick links

This morning, we reported on questions raised in Washington, DC over a centralized approach to leasing parish property that, some pastors say, inhibits the capacity of parish pastors to exercise good stewardship over their parochial resources.

On the other hand, Catholic Charities of Washington, which rents property at below-market rates from several parishes, has argued that pastors should should support ministries that aim to serve the poor, even when that support comes at a cost.

The issue is noteworthy, at least to us, because it touches on the canonical relationship between parish and diocese, the obligations of pastors to good stewardship, the religious character of social service ministry, and the broad and looming question about how the Church can best make use of limited resources to good purposes that seem at least potentially at odds with one another. 

Read about it here.

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There are 223 members of the College of Cardinals, the body appointed to aid and assist the ministry of the Roman Pontiff for more than 1,000 years of the Church’s history.

You might think that apart from being pope, becoming a cardinal is about as high in ecclesiastical hierarchy as one can climb. Well, you’d be wrong.

We Catholics love a good hierarchy, and the College of Cardinals is no exception.

The college is both part of the Church’s hierarchy, and has an internal hierarchy all its own: There are ranks among the Church’s College of Cardinals, and this week, a number of the “princes of the Church” were promoted.

We’ve put together a little explainer for you here.

Speaking of cardinals— On Friday Pope Francis made a rule change in the Vatican City state, permitting cardinals and bishops to face criminal charges before the city state’s civilian-led courts. This was the second time last week that Pope Francis changed the laws of criminal procedure for Vatican City; he also made some interesting rule changes on Thursday.

If you’re wondering whether this has anything to do with the sprawling Vatican finance investigation, it does. And if you’re wondering how, why, and what comes next, well, just read this.

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Saturday was the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, which was first declared by Pope Pius XII in 1955.

On May 1, 1955, the pope told the Catholic Association of Italian Workers that:

“There could be no better protector to help you bring the spirit of the Gospel into your life… From the heart of God-made-Man, the Savior of the world, the spirit of Gospel flows into you and into all men; but it is certain that no worker was ever so perfectly and deeply penetrated by it as was the foster father of Jesus, who lived with him in the closest intimacy and community of family and work. Thus, if you want to be close to Christ, We repeat to you today: “Ite ad Ioseph!” — “Go to Joseph!” 

Read more about St. Joseph the Worker, and check out our suggested tunes for the working man.

Our playlist, of course, includes the Nitty Gritty Dirt Man and Merle Haggard’s classic “Workin’ Man Blues.” But here’s Willie Nelson and Jody Payne making pretty good work of the same song:

Finally, Cardinal Beniamino Stella has words of gratitude, and advice, for priests:

“Pastoral practices that were supported only by habit and were no longer able to nourish the faith of the People of God will likely fall,” he said. “At the ecclesial and pastoral organizational levels - to use a cliché - I believe that nothing will be the same again.”

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the cardinal said he “would like the clergy to be aware of this, to refocus their life and vocation in Christ, and to find with ever greater strength the missionary impulse to go and announce the joy of the Risen One, bringing his light to a world overwhelmed by the shadow of death, which the virus has made more evident.”

Read all about it.

San Francisco speaks

Archbishop Sal Cordileone on Saturday published a pastoral letter on abortion, which weighed in on the ongoing discussion of the U.S. bishops regarding the reception of the Eucharist by pro-abortion politicians.

The question has been a live, controversial, and much discussed issue for Catholic bishops since the inauguration of Joe Biden as the second Catholic U.S. president in January. But for Cordileone, whose archdiocese is the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, the question has been in play for much longer. Pelosi, a very public Catholic, has long helped set a legislative agenda that includes federal funding for abortion and expanded legal protection for abortion.

Cordileone’s letter also comes ahead of an expected vote at the June USCCB meeting, on whether the U.S. bishops should proceed to draft a statement on “Eucharistic coherence,” the euphemistic term they’ve chosen to describe the fact that those who set themselves in opposition to Catholic doctrine — a foundation of ecclesial communion — should not be receiving Holy Communion — the sign and symbol of that very communion.

The letter will be hailed by some as a cornerstone text, and criticized roundly by others. It is direct on abortion, clear about the incongruence of abortion advocacy with living the Catholic faith, and exhortative that advocates for legal protection for abortion should change their tune.

The exhortation is straightforward:

To my fellow Catholics who openly advocate for the legitimacy of abortion, I beg you to heed the perennial call to conversion God Himself addresses to His people down through the ages…A compassionate, inclusive society must make room at the table for the most defenseless, and it should help a woman to keep her unborn child, not kill her or him.

If you find that you are unwilling or unable to abandon your advocacy for abortion, you should not come forward to receive Holy Communion. To publicly affirm the Catholic faith while at the same time publicly rejecting one of its most fundamental teachings is simply dishonest. Heeding this perennial call to conversion is the only way to live the Catholic faith with integrity.

The letter also address the possibility of sacramental discipline — the prohibition of Holy Communion, which Cordileone called a “bitter medicine” sometimes warranted by “the gravity of the evil of abortion.”

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Does Cordileone’s letter indicate the path the U.S. bishops will take on that question? I doubt it.

I suspect most U.S. bishops agree with Cordileone. Their own public statements suggest as much. But if they vote to publish a collective statement on the Eucharist and abortion, it will almost certainly be toned down.

I expect it will say that those advocating policy positions contrary to the teaching of the faith should not come forward to receive Communion. The document will —rightly, in my estimation — suggest that norm applies well beyond abortion.

But while a nod might be given to the possibility of prohibiting Holy Communion, it will very likely loom only in the background, and only subtly.

Why? Because a USCCB document more overt about that issue would come only after a very ugly, very public fight among the bishops — a vocal minority would frame Cordileone’s perspective as “weaponizing” the Eucharist, a handful of bishops would push back on that, but many who agree with Cordileone’s perspective would not weigh in at all.

Most bishops, regardless of their position, would not relish the fight. They are generally predisposed to favor the appearance of unity.

I expect that at the USCCB itself, the desire to affirm points of agreement without conflict will probably win out over the desire among some bishops for a document of greater clarity.

At the end of the day, of course, “Eucharistic coherence” is not a matter for the conference. The universal law of the Church gives guidance, and the diocesan bishop, or the minister of Holy Communion, is empowered to apply that guidance. The USCCB’s document would be only instructive. But it probably won’t look much like Cordileone’s letter.

And that fact is instructive too.

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In sum

The ocean, you probably know, is really, really deep. How deep? Watch this. It’s pretty cool.

Finally, The Pillar is excited this week to welcome a new member to our team. Longtime Catholic journalist Michelle La Rosa will be working with us as our “assignments editor,” — helping us to develop new freelance voices, and more freelance reporting. We think there’s a lot to cover intelligently and fairly in the life of the Church, and we want continue growing our ability to do so.

Bringing Michelle on is a bet on ourselves — you, our readers, have supported The Pillar, and helped us to produce important Catholic journalism you won’t find anywhere else.

We’re betting you’ll keep supporting us, and we hope that more of you will support us. We put our faith in that support, and with Michelle, upgraded our team. Thank you for allowing us to do that.

As always, please be assured of our prayers, and please, for the love of God, pray for us. We need it.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
editor-in-chief
The Pillar