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Peace on earth, holiday cheer, and season’s greeting

The Friday Pillar Post

St. John Fisher was the first known person to wish anyone a Merry Christmas. Did you know that? I didn't.

Happy Friday friends,

We are all ready for our annual Christmas “break” here at The Pillar. I put that in scare quotes because, while I have every intention of keeping the octave uninterrupted by work, one never knows.

But, emergency breaking news notwithstanding, we have scheduled a few things to go up over next week and we intend to otherwise keep the feast and keep offline, so you won’t be hearing from us in your inbox until the new year.

I, as much as anyone, know I need to down tools for a few days and focus on the meaning of Christ’s incarnation.

Of course, the news hasn’t slowed this week, nor grown appreciably more cheerful or festive. And we’ll come to that in a moment.

I’ve been trying this week to see the more distressing things we have to report not as a cause for discouragement but a reason to pray all the more intently: Maranatha.

God enters creation amid the darkness and cold and violence and uncertainty of our sin. This isn’t just backdrop, it’s the essential context. Christ’s incarnation, the epicenter of human history, is the answer of the Divine to the worst we can do.

To welcome Christ at Christmas is, for me, to recognize that he comes in answer precisely to the things within me and around me which would otherwise lead to despair.

The message of the angels to the shepherds — of peace on earth and His favor to his people — wasn’t an observation on global affairs, it was an urgent loving promise from God, at once both made and fulfilled.

Longfellow’s well-known poem Christmas Bells is, like many things around the holiday, almost a cliche at this point. But, written as it was at the height of the Civil War, I think it does capture this important aspect of the feast: that Christmas confounds the darkness around us, not the other way around.

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.

Indeed, He is coming. Maranatha.

The News

The story of Jesuit Fr. Marko Rupnik continued to unravel this week.

Yesterday, we reported that, despite his 2020 excommunication for abusing the sacrament of confession to abet his sexual misconduct, he has retained his appointments as a special consultor to several important Vatican departments, including the Dicasteries for Clergy and Divine Worship.

Given the nature of his crimes, and of the other terrible allegations made against him, these appointments are just the latest discouraging sign that Rupnik seems to have continued to wield influence at the highest levels of Church life despite serial, and according to his victims expressly blasphemous, sexual abuse.

Another facet of this story relates to why Rupnik is so famous in the first place, and how physically entrenched he is in the fabric of the Church.

Apart from his other various roles, Rupnik is a prolific artist. And his work forms the centerpieces of many prominent churches, shrines, chapels, and other places of devotion around the world — including in the U.S.

One French church has announced it is canceling a project with Rupnik already underway. But what should happen to the mosaics and other works of art he has created for sacred spaces? Should they be ripped out and replaced, out of abhorrence for his crimes and deference to his victims? Or does sacred art, as some have argued, transcend the sins of the artist?

To report on that, we talked with some American institutions with Rupnik-designed chapels and churches, and with a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

So what should be done about Rupnik’s church art?

We reported on the question this week. You can read about the different plans and arguments here.

At least 46 villagers were killed last week in northern Nigeria, in two separate attacks believed to have been perpetrated by a group of Fulani herdsmen.

A local diocesan official told The Pillar this week how priests are providing spiritual care, as local Christians prepare for Christmas after the devastating and unexpected attack.

Fr. Emmanuel Kazah Faweh, vicar general of the Kafanchan diocese, told our Nigeria correspondent Fr. Justine Dyikuk that there had been a lull in terrorist violence in the region in recent months, and that “the diocese had expected that there would be a peaceful Christmas season.”

Alas, it was not to be.

Please keep the Christians in Nigeria in your prayers this weekend.

Sunday last, Pope Francis announced he had already signed a letter of resignation against the possibility he’d one day become medically incapacitated.

Francis said he had done so years ago, as several popes before him apparently had, so this isn’t and shouldn’t necessarily be taken as some urgent hint at a looming papal health crisis.

But, as JD unpacked in an analysis this week, the whole idea of a conditional papal resignation letter is fraught with problems.

There are certainly legal questions raised by the idea of such a letter actually being invoked: who is qualified to say that a given set of conditions has been met and effectively declare the see of Peter vacant? And on whose advice could they or would they make that determination?

We might think of situations like “brain death” or “persistent coma” to be obvious, even self-evident, but the reality is there is no medical consensus on these issues — indeed, they are fiercely debated.

These issues to one side, as JD points out, the political considerations alone would make invoking such a letter potentially disastrous. Even to this day there are people who question the validity of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, even though he wrote it with his own hand and read it out to a consistory of cardinals in his own voice, in real time, on camera.

To be clear, “Benevacantists” (as these resignation deniers are called) are unserious people making unserious arguments — logical and canonical.

But no one should doubt the deep and immediate divisions that would open up if the Cardinal Camerlengo, or whomever, were to announce that Francis’ resignation had been triggered because he’d (for a hypothetical) lapsed into a coma during surgery.

JD games out all the problems these letters pose l, and offers some alternatives to writing them in the first place.

I agree with his conclusion: That if popes will insist on writing them, we should pray they never leave whatever drawer they are put in.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, is due to give testimony in the Vatican financial trial next month. This is a big, big deal.

Parolin isn’t just a witness.The department he leads is a civil party to the case as it tries to claw back some of the hundreds of millions of euros of which the rogue’s gallery of defendants bled it white over a period of years — allegedly.

But, as I said in an analysis the other day, credibly representing his department’s claims will mean Parolin is going to have to think long and hard about how directly he is willing to point a finger at his former deputy, Pillar reader Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

The idea of even implying, let alone affirming in open court, that a brother cardinal is a crook will go against every ounce of Parolin’s curial training and instincts and it will be interesting to see how he will react to what will be ferocious questioning from defense attorneys.

But, while Parolin is certainly not on trial, his reputation as an even halfway competent curial cardinal is. The bottom line is, everyone who is on trial was getting paid by Parolin’s department and, so the prosecution would argue, up to all kinds of criminal behavior.

There’s still a sizable camp in Rome who think Parolin could and should be in the running to be the next pope. But that could all change if he’s unable to acquit himself well in court. He has to somehow explain how so much went wrong at his department, without painting himself as knowing little and understanding even less of what is going on in his own office.

It’s going to be a tough needle to thread. Read all about it.

The roiling liturgical war in the Syro-Malabar Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly is definitely not taking a break for the holidays.

Having already forced the resignation of an archbishop, this week protestors got into the cathedral and stopped the cathedral administrator from celebrating the Eucharist according to the liturgy approved and mandated by the Vatican and Syro-Malabar Church synod.

I cannot stress enough how big a deal it is that an archdiocese of half a million Catholics has been brought to an effective standstill by a now months-long rebellion over priests and faithful demanding to be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist facing the people.

Stay up to date here.

Quite a few people this week have written to ask for an update on the situation with Pillar reader Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia.

Since we reported last week on how he diverted considerable amounts of money earmarked for charitable and missionary works to pay for building projects in Rome — including his own Vatican apartment — the archbishop has, I am afraid, still declined to answer our offer to speak with him about his version of the events.

Although the story generated some broader interest, the archbishop declined to comment on its substance to other media outlets, too, it seems. But he has confirmed to some reporters that he is definitely going to sue The Pillar for defamation. Definitely.

So, we’ll see, I guess.

We’ve spoken with our lawyer, who is now pretty used to fielding angry letters demanding we take down something we’ve written or else. He usually reminds people, as patiently as he can, that whatever it was we wrote, it happens to be true.

It seems the archbishop’s lawyer hasn’t been in touch yet. But we’ll keep waiting to hear from him, and keep asking for an interview with the archbishop in the meantime.

And finally, on a lighter note: Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released a kind of Christmas message this week — disavowing Donald Trump as a pawn of the deep state.

I kid you not. You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

The controversial, some might say obviously troubled, former nuncio has been living in a kind of self-imposed exile for years now, occasionally breaking cover to issue letters, do the occasional spot on cable TV, or put in a video feed appearance at a Stop The Steal rally.

Perhaps even more than for his initial “testimony” about who knew what and when about former cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2018, Vigano has become known as an avowedly MAGA bishop, praising Donald Trump in heroic - even messianic - terms during the last election cycle, in language entirely reminiscent of Russian Patriarch Kirill’s support for Vladimir Putin.

Indeed, the last time Viagno crossed my radar was when he basically came out in favor of Putin’s Russkiy-mir worldview and backed the Russian president as the last champion of Christianity on the world stage.

Vigano has now definitively broken with Trumpworld, however, after the former president hosted a party in his Florida compound to which he invited, as Vigano put it, “openly homosexual supporters of the Republican Party.”

“It is now evident that the action of the deep state has contaminated the entire political elite without distinction, even involving Donald Trump, who up until now seemed to be a source of hope for the future of the United States,” said Vigano.

The archbishop concluded that “American Catholics find themselves today in the impossible situation of being represented by a political class that is revealing itself to be completely incapable of representing and expressing Catholic convictions in moral and religious matters.”

Some of us came to that conclusion decades ago. But whatever.

I’ve no idea where the archbishop’s political journey will stop next, but I’m sure he’ll let us know when he gets there.


Holiday Cheer

Away from the news, if you’re looking for something a little lighter to read this holiday, we have you covered.

On Sunday, King Charles III will deliver the first Christmas message of his reign. Christians, and subjects of all faiths throughout his many dominions, will be waiting to see if he follows his late mother’s long habit of using the broadcast to speak about his own faith.

The Mrs and I will be watching, obviously. God save the King and all that.

But to get you ready for the event, we have a little primer for you on the tradition of the royal Christmas broadcast, its origins, and highlights over the years — like the time a NYPD police radio cut into the Queen’s speech, informing the world that a cop was about to get a quick coffee.

Read all about it here.

If you haven’t already, you really have to read this interview with Bishop Erik Varden on the Incarnation.

I could write several hundred words on the simple eloquence and faith of what he says, but that would be a waste of your time by comparison. There is simply no better preparation for Christmas — read this.

And don’t miss our interview with a Santa about one man’s surprisingly profound and spiritual experiences playing the big man each December.

Last year we also carried a report on how to evangelize so-called “Christmas Catholics” who might only set foot in church on Dec. 25 — we asked experts about what works and what doesn’t.

You can check that out here.


Season’s greetings

Every year, I find myself in something of a small social conundrum. As you probably know, the British tend to wish people a “Happy Christmas” as opposed to the American usage of “Merry Christmas.”

My bride being a London girl, Herself has always said “happy,” naturally enough, and having lived over there for some 20 years, I picked up the habit, too.

But since moving back to the States in 2018, I’ve been in something of a cleft stick about it all. “Happy Christmas” still comes more naturally to me, but I worry it will come across as something of an affectation, so I make an effort to say “Merry Christmas” instead — but somewhere inside I get annoyed at myself for being neurotic enough to care.

I’ve often wondered why the different usage exists at all, and longed for something to settle the issue for me, one way or another.

Luckily, the Hindustan Times, a truly excellent publication, and one of only five newspapers I read with any regularity, published an article on the difference last year.

It seems the first record usage of “Merry Christmas” was actually in a letter from St. John Fisher to Henry VIII’s minister, the nefarious Thomas Cromwell in 1534 — the Christmas before he was martyred for the faith.

Merry Christmas was, it seems, the usual greeting for sometime, but as merry-making became associated with seasonal drunkenness and wassailing, Happy Christmas became the preference of the more proper classes, bolstered in the 20th century after it was taken up by the Queen in her annual Christmas messages (see above).

So there you are. Merry Christmas is the proper greeting of recusant Catholic martyr saints who like a drink. That settles things for me.

As a final note, can I please just thank you for reading this far into the newsletter? Really, I mean that.

Every week, for nearly two years now, JD and I have been bashing out these thousands of words and shoving them into your more-or-less willing inboxes on Tuesdays and Fridays and you have been generous, really very generous, with your time, attention, and encouragement.

That means a lot to us.

Over the last week or so, several of you - heroes of the paying subscriber type - actually got in touch to ask if there was any way you could pay more for your Pillar subscription (there is, you can do that here) or gift subscriptions to other people (you can do that too, here).

Apparently, some of you are worried about our legal costs.

Thank you all, for all of that.

Two years into this project that is The Pillar, I will admit there have been some moments of profound discouragement, along with the nagging worries that come with launching something like this and then waiting to see if and how far it can fly.

But we, JD and I, have been constantly amazed by the providence of God, and the support of the people who have made The Pillar something of a community.

We quite literally couldn’t have got this far without you, and we won’t get much further without you either. And we never forget that. Thank you all again, and know that you and your families are in our prayers this week.

See you in the New Year, and Merry Christmas,

Ed. Condon
Editor
The Pillar

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