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The shortest day, Cardinal Wuerl, and answering 'the dubia'

Hey everybody,

This is The Tuesday Pillar Post, and - if you live in the Northern Hemisphere - today is the shortest day of 2021.

Today is the winter solstice, on which Earth’s North Pole reaches maximal tilt away from the sun. If you live in Fairbanks, Alaska, you can expect to get fewer than 4 hours of sunlight today. If you live in Rome, you’ll get about 9 hours.

And if you live in Barrow, Alaska, you’ve not seen the sun since late November, and you won’t see it again until late January.

Polar night in Longyearben, Svalbard, Norway. Credit: Bjorn Torrissen/wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

On the other hand, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the longest day of the year, and you’re getting ready for a balmy Christmas. Lucky you.

Anyhow, let’s get started.

The news

Cardinal Wuerl’s season of giving

Back in March, The Pillar reported on a $2 million fund in the Archdiocese of Washington designated for the “continuing ministry activities” of the retired Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Given that the cardinal retired amid some scandal over what he knew - and claimed he didn’t know - about the crimes of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, the $2m caused quite a stir, and seemed not quite right to a lot of folks.

Well, some priests in the Archdiocese of Washington were informed this month that the cardinal has given the balance of the fund away to charity. While the Archdiocese of Washington has not confirmed the dispersal, several priests told The Pillar that groups in the archdiocese have been informed of the cardinal’s decision.

And some officials close to Wuerl say they have a pretty good idea where the money actually went.

Read all about it.

Custodians of tradition

The Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments released on Saturday a kind of q-and-a meant to clarify certain elements of Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis’ restrictions on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, also known as the Traditional Latin Mass.

Here’s a breakdown of what the Vatican had to say, and what it means.

Among the most interesting questions, by the way, is whether the q-and-a’s instructions actually bind diocesan bishops.

Yesterday, Ed assessed whether the Vatican’s newest guidelines on the subject align with the principles of the Second Vatican Council.

Even bishops who are either uninterested or even reflexively unsympathetic to the Extraordinary Form may resent being told what is or isn’t a legitimate pastoral need among their own flock. Some may intend to remind Archbishop Roche that they are, in the spirit of Vatican II, shepherds of their flocks, and not his local branch managers.

Of course, the obvious place where such feedback might be given, from bishops, clergy, and local Catholics, is the ongoing global synodal process — itself rooted in the ecclesiology of the Council. But, given the tone of the congregation’s Saturday instruction, there is little indication that Rome, or at least Roche’s department, is open to dialogue.

Give the whole thing a read here. And count on additional reporting on the subject later this week.

In other news

— Rumors began floating around in Vatican circles that Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, a mainstay of the Vatican scene, had resigned from his position leading the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development — rumors which the cardinal himself confirmed in a tweet Sunday. Last week, before he confirmed it, Ed and I took a look at what that resignation might mean for the pope’s project of restructuring the Vatican bureaucracy, and for the Church in Africa.

Read all about it.

Midnight Mass is one of the most ancient and beautiful Christmas liturgical traditions.

Where did the custom come from? What’s so special about the middle of the night? And does Midnight Mass have to be at midnight?

Here is everything you never knew you wanted to know about the custom of Midnight Christmas Mass.

Christmas Eve Dinner and Mass at St Peter's Basilica

Something light

For reasons I don’t quite understand, it has became a part of our Christmas culture to listen to a capella carols and hymns with new and unusual arrangements each Christmas. Which mostly means that from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, we are inundated with the familiar sounds of the Pentatonix, the Official Beatboxing Chamber Musicians of Christmas™

Well, if you like a capella music, but you’d like to expand your horizons a little bit, here are some other voices you might find cool:

‘Any obedience is better than none’

It has been my intention to write something here about the political roadmap of the Church — about further implications of the Vatican’s instructions on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and about the division among Catholics which the last few years, those of the pandemic and its fallout, have intensified. I’ll do so, at the right time, and without hesitation.

But I was struck this morning by the nearness of Christmas - the feast of the Incarnation of Christ - and I thought we might all be better edified by an exhortation I came across in my own spiritual reading this morning.

In an Advent sermon, St. John Henry Newman remarked that Christ “foresaw the state of the world and the Church, as we see it this day, when His prolonged absence has made it practically thought that He never will come back in visible presence: and…He mercifully whispers into our ears not to trust in what we see, not to share in… general unbelief, not to be carried away by the world, but to ‘take heed, watch, pray,’ and look out for His coming.”

Then Newman asked “What is to to watch for Christ?”

It is, he said, “to be detached from what is present, and to live in what is unseen; to live in the thought of Christ as He came once, and as He will come again; to desire His second coming, from our affectionate and grateful remembrance of His first.”

Most of us, even with faith, don’t live with that kind of detachment.

Instead, Newman said, many believers “look on the present world as if it were the eternal…They do not understand that they are called to be strangers and pilgrims upon the earth.”

It is easy for us to become so preoccupied, Newman preached, with our concerns about the affairs of this world that — even with good intentions — we forget that we are waiting and preparing for Christ to return, and for the most important things to really begin.

We too easily believe that we can serve Christ and also love being comfortable, being wealthy, being influential, being unchallenged. We can too easily give ourselves half-heartedly, with our eyes on both the Lord, and on the things we love in this world, when Christ asks of us that he be the center and the measure of all things.

To keep watch is to be ready.

When Christ tells us to watch for him, to be waiting for him, Newman says, it is as if he is saying this: “Few will open to me immediately when I knock. They will have something to do first; they will have to get ready.”

“They will have to recover from the surprise and confusion which overtake them on the first news of My coming, and will need time to collect themselves, and summon about them their better thoughts and affections. They feel themselves very well off as they are; and wish to serve God as they are. They are satisfied to remain on earth; they do not wish to move; they do not wish to change.”

“Year passes after year silently; Christ's coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as He comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven! O, my brethren, pray Him to give you the heart to seek Him in sincerity. Pray Him to make you in earnest. You have one work only, to bear your cross after Him. Resolve in His strength to do so…. Pray Him to give you what Scripture calls ‘an honest and good heart,’ or ‘a perfect heart,’ and, without waiting, begin at once to obey Him with the best heart you have. Any obedience is better than none…You have to seek His face; obedience is the only way of seeking Him.”

“Life is short,” Newman says. “Death is certain; and the world to come is everlasting.”

If we have not yet been doing so, let’s prepare ourselves, and keep watch for the coming of Jesus Christ in the final days of Advent.

Thank you, readers, for all of your support, your friendship, and your prayers. Thank you especially for your Christian witness. Please be assured of our prayers for you in these final days of Advent. And please — for real — pray for us. We need it.

Keep watch!

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
editor-in-chief
The Pillar

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