2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 32 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Ageless Index


This is an index to the Agelessage blogs December 2011 to December 2013.
The Ageless Sage.
Reflections on life by an old missionary who believes that all people are called to care for one another and to care for the earth which we share and so leave it in good shape for those who come after us.
114 Ageless blogs between December 9, 2011 and March 21, 2013.
6 blogs in 2013; 85 blogs in 2012; 23 blogs in 2011.
The Index attaches the month and date to each title so you know exactly where to look for that title when you go to the Archives in agelessage.wordpress.com/
Index to Ageless blogs by date, title and number of words:

21-Mar Vatican and Women 539
14-Mar Pope Francis 505
7-Mar Infallibility On Hold 830
28-Feb Farewell Benedict 441
22-Feb Papal Election 508
14-Feb Benedict Surprise 457
8-Dec Immaculate Conception 445
7-Dec Saint Ambrose 262
6-Dec Saint Nicholas 195
26-Nov Religious Freedom 1040
19-Nov Unity of Christians 1121
12-Nov Church in Today’s World 521
5-Nov Revelation Vatican II 1349
29-Oct The Church Vatican II 1194
22-Oct The Liturgy Vatican II 860
15-Oct Teresa the Doctor 855
8-Oct 50 Years On 978
1-Oct Pious Deceit 1136
24-Sep New Wine-skins 1031
17-Sep Missing Counsel 832
11-Sep Sancta Maria House 905
4-Sep Bartholomew Again 454
27-Aug Saint Bartholomew 792
20-Aug Train of Thought 935
13-Aug John Milton and Galileo 718
6-Aug Galileo’s Daughter 500
30-Jul Message on Screen 369
23-Jul Nuns on Trial 511
16-Jul People of God 822
9-Jul Food for the Poor 766
2-Jul Fortnight for Freedom 355
25-Jun San Juan Bautista 879
18-Jun Penny Catechism 749
11-Jun Corpus Christi 470
4-Jun Filipino Santacruzan 846
28-May Solidarity 711
21-May Pope John XXIII 770
14-May Translations 606
7-May Original Sin 1038
29-Apr Vocations Sunday 603
22-Apr No Time 514
14-Apr 2012 Titanic 631
13-Apr Limbo Revisited 586
2-Apr Good Friday Mother 767
27-Mar Church Dynamite 644
19-Mar Saints Alight 533
1-Mar Where God Weeps 597
29-Feb Dominus Flevit 520
28-Feb Our Father 559
27-Feb Change Your Ways 487
24-Feb The Stations 669
23-Feb Lent Online 394
22-Feb Palms and Ashes 549
21-Feb Parent Leadership 449
20-Feb Father Leo Clifford ofm 349
17-Feb Subsidiarity 717
16-Feb Coincidence 327
15-Feb Saint of the Day 457
14-Feb St. Valentine’s Day 468
13-Feb Lourdes 710
10-Feb New Words 673
9-Feb From the Heart 482
8-Feb Josephine B 545
7-Feb Jesus and Religion 396
6-Feb A Day in the Life Of 656
3-Feb Throat Saint 437
2-Feb On Duty 382
1-Feb Find the Diamond 706
31-Jan Faith Endures 348
30-Jan Two Masters 606
27-Jan Winter Wedding 614
26-Jan Two Ships 549
25-Jan Sister Ursula 544
24-Jan March for Life 507
23-Jan Siege of Jericho 489
20-Jan San Sebastian 483
19-Jan Skills for Ills 549
17-Jan 2012 Anthony abbot feastday 382
16-Jan Vocations Fair 548
14-Jan Every Step Counts 257
13-Jan The Five Steps 490
12-Jan Desert Thirst 518
11-Jan Excess Baggage 489
10-Jan Breakfast All Day 462
9-Jan The Work of Christmas 414
8-Jan An Empty Manger 482
7-Jan Three Wise Gifts 424
6-Jan Traffic Star 407
5-Jan Pencilling Prisoner 431
4-Jan Modern Martyrs 392
3-Jan Actors’ Chapel 458
31-Dec Hogmanay 345
30-Dec The Holy Family 382
29-Dec The Great Silence 391
28-Dec Holy Innocents’ Day 406
27-Dec 12 Days of Christmas 325
26-Dec Boxing Day 344
25-Dec Our Lady of Dallas 371
24-Dec O Virgin of virgins 184
23-Dec O Emmanuel 211
22-Dec O King of the Nations 266
21-Dec O Radiant Dawn 132
20-Dec O Key of David 240
19-Dec O Flower of Jesse’s Stem 245
18-Dec O Adonai 233
17-Dec O Wisdom 194
16-Dec Speaking Truth to Power 248
15-Dec Saint Gall in Africa 257
14-Dec Saint John of the Cross 464
13-Dec Saint Lucy 424
12-Dec Our Lady of Guadalupe 323
11-Dec Three Comings 279
10-Dec Catholics Come Home 291
9-Dec 2011 The Miraculous Medal 326

The Vatican and Women


Last week the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women concluded a two-week session which dealt with protecting women and girls against violence in the modern world. I was embarrassed to read in The New York Times that the Vatican delegation sided with Russia and several Muslim countries in blocking one of the declarations for women’s protection.

I am aware that the Vatican opposition is sometimes due to the wording rather than to the proposal itself. But I wish they could be more careful in their objections so as to avoid always appearing opposed to something which most people consider right and just. This is particularly true in regard to the rights of women, since the Church has the reputation of wanting to keep women in a subordinate role.

Unfortunately there is a basis for this reputation, beginning with the words of Saint Paul in his letter to the Ephesians where he wrote that wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything (5, 22-24). He continued along the same line in his letter to Timothy where he laid down rules about women’s hair-styles, and then forbade that women be allowed to teach or have authority over a man (1 Timothy 2, 9-12).

This basic teaching of women being subordinate to men was taken up in later centuries and put forward by Scholastic theologians as a reason why women could not be admitted to priestly ministry in the Church. This reason no longer has any acceptance, but the Church authorities continue their opposition to women priests on the basis of what the Popes now call “theological anthropology” (Angelus Domini Paul VI Jan 30, 1977; Ordinatio sacerdotalis John Paul II May 22, 1994).

Whatever about this new concept of theological anthropology, I am convinced that the Vatican delegations, which give the impression of opposition to women’s rights at international meetings, are not representative of the Catholic Church. They are called delegations of the Holy See which represents the Vatican City State at international meetings. The Vatican City State came into being in 1929 from a Papal agreement with the government of Italy.

The Holy See or Apostolic See is a term that came into use in the 4th century in reference to the diocese of Rome, the primary diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Modern Church Law describes the Holy See thus: “The term Apostolic See or Holy See refers not only to the Roman Pontiff but also to the Secretariat of State, the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church, and other institutes of the Roman Curia, unless it is otherwise apparent from the nature of the matter or the context of the words” (Canon 361). In other words the Holy See is not the Catholic Church, but the central administration which has shown itself to the world in recent times as totally dysfunctional with its in-fighting, corruption and intrigue.

In future I will console myself with the thought that the Holy See delegations at international meetings represent only the Vatican City State and not the Church founded by Jesus Christ who taught us that authority is given not to dominate or control but to share and to serve. Our new Pope Francis is showing the way.

Pope Francis


I was really surprised yesterday evening when I heard the announcement that Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected as the new Pope and that he had taken the name of Francis. The Cardinal had not figured in any of the pundit short lists, and even though I had been to Buenos Aires a few times I do not remember ever having seen him or heard his name.

When the new Pope appeared on the balcony overlooking the Piazza San Pietro I thought he looked uncomfortable, almost apologetic as if to say, “I’m here not because I want to be here but only because they elected me”. What followed left me with the feeling, “I really do not know this man, but I like what I saw and heard”.

What impressed me more than anything else was when Pope Francis, before imparting the Papal blessing to Rome and to the world, asked the people to pray for him. The new Pope made a profound bow to the assembled people, and more than 100,000 people maintained a solemn silence for about 20 seconds while they prayed for Francis the Pope.

That simple gesture gave me hope that perhaps now we have a Pope who recognizes the enormous power and talent in the faithful Catholic laity who constitute more than 99% of the Church membership. This is in keeping with the Second Vatican Council which in many ways sought to empower the laity to take an active part in the life and governance of their Church.

Church authorities have been slow to fulfill the decisions of Vatican II in regard to sharing power with the laity. In fact the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that only the clergy are qualified to participate in the governance of the Church (Canon 129).  Pope Francis’ humble gesture of respect towards the people raises the hope that he will be willing to engage the enormous talent and power of the Catholic laity at all levels of decision-making in the Church.

Pope Francis comes to the Papacy with the reputation of a man who is like his divine Master in his love of the poor and his caring for them. He lives a simple life in which there is no place for pomp and ceremony or the princely trappings of medieval finery. I think we have every reason to hope that he will bring to the Papacy that same simplicity of life and dedication to the poor.

I am willing to believe that Pope Francis is the kind of Pope the Church needs at this time. I want to believe that he will teach us by word and example that the Church is the Church of all God’s people, not just of the Cardinals and the clergy. I pray that he will be an instrument of God in helping the Church to become what she is meant to be, a loving mother to her children, and a living example to the whole world of God’s love for all humanity.

Infallibility On Hold


Some journalists were fascinated by the fact that Pope Benedict XVI freely surrendered his infallibility in giving up the Papacy.  But however wonderful Papal infallibility may seem in theory, it really has not been of much significance in the history of the Church.  It is very limited, and works only for faith and morals.  It has never solved any problem for the Church, but rather has led to problems when there was an overlap between matters of faith and matters of science.

The Church authorities have sometimes extended their competence in matters of faith to cover other matters, like when they said that the bible taught that the sun goes round the earth, and therefore it was heretical to teach that the earth moves round the sun. At the time of Galileo (1564-1642) all writings that claimed that the earth was in motion were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books.  That remained in force until 1741 when the Roman authorities quietly relaxed the ban.  They learned that they were not always infallible.

I have often wondered why Pope Pius IX was so anxious to get the Council of Vatican I (1870) to confirm his claim to infallibility as Pope.  Some historians suggested that Pius was upset because he was in the process of losing the Papal States to Garibaldi and the Italian nationalists, and desperately wanted some new symbol of power to help him stay relevant in the world of politics.  But Pius claimed that the Pope had full and supreme power over all the Church, so it puzzles me that he did not simply declare the dogma of Papal infallibility.  To insist on confirmation from the Council seems to hint at some degree of self-doubt.

Anyway, Papal infallibility is not always what it is talked up to be.  Pope Boniface VIII tried it in 1302, and it fell flat. He should have known better.  Boniface VIII immediately succeeded Pope Celestine V (1294), who resigned after just 5 months as Pope.   Before Celestine there was no Pope for two years, as the Cardinals could not agree on a candidate after the death of Pope Nicholas IV in 1292.  But the fact that they dawdled for two years without electing a Pope seems to indicate that they thought the Church could manage quite well without somebody infallible in charge.

 Boniface got into a head to head struggle for power with the Emperor Philip the Fair. To establish the Pope’s superiority over the Emperor he issued a Papal Bull, Unam Sanctam, in which he refers to the two swords (Luke 22, 38) as the sword of temporal power (of the Emperor) and the sword of spiritual power (of the Pope).

According to Boniface, the Papal sword always trumps the Imperial sword.  He concludes the document with these words: “We state, declare and define that every human being, in order to be saved, must submit to the Roman Pontiff”. (Denzinger n.874)
With this solemn choice of words it seems that Boniface wanted to appear to speak infallibly. Unfortunately for him, his declaration was so obviously self-serving that nobody took him seriously.

Centuries earlier there was the case of Pope Honorius I (625-638).  As Pope he got involved in correspondence with some bishops and theologians in discussions about the human nature of Christ.  The words used by Pope Honorius implied that Christ had no human will.  This led to Pope Honorius after death being declared anathema by the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680) and condemned by Pope Leo II (681-683) for “fanning the flame of heresy”.  That was a sad fate for a Pope who could have taught infallibly if only he had remembered.

Even the first Pope Saint Peter was not immune from teaching error as the apostle Paul pointed out in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 2, 11-14).  Peter approved the ruling that gentile converts to Christianity were obliged to observe Jewish religious law.  Paul objected to this and later wrote, “I opposed Kephas (Peter) to his face because he was clearly wrong” (Galatians 2, 11).  Paul prevailed, and his teaching on this issue became official Church teaching.

With the history of occasional Papal mistakes it seems unreasonable to demand unquestioning assent to every public statement of a Pope as if it were infallible.  I think the framers of the doctrine would have done better to insist on infallibility for the Church while admitting Popes as individuals can be wrong occasionally.  Even in the contests with the Roman Emperor, history shows that the power of excommunication proved to be a much more effective weapon for the Pope than the claim to infallibility.

Benedict XVI must have been aware of all this when he handed in his infallibility badge on February 28, 2013.  But I am sure he was quite confident that the Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would not go astray even while Papal infallibility was temporarily placed on hold.

Farewell Benedict


Just a few minutes ago the Swiss Guards closed the main doors of the Papal Residence at Castel Gandolfo, indicating that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to abdicate the Papacy has taken effect, ending his career as Pope.  Pope Benedict’s momentous decision of February 11, 2013 opened the way to serious reflection among Catholics, and I think it will have an impact on the Church for years and maybe even for centuries.

During his Pontificate Benedict XVI was always concerned about the dangers of relativism.  Now, by the reasons he gave for his resignation, he shows that the Papacy itself is not immune.  For centuries we were led to believe that the Papacy is a divine institution not measurable by any human standards. In resigning, Benedict revealed his view that the Papacy can be measured relative to performance, and that he resigned because he is no longer capable of meeting his own performance expectations.

At a stroke he has removed the aura of divinity that surrounded the Papacy.  He has clarified that the Papacy is primarily a ministry of service, and when the incumbent becomes incapable of providing that service, it is time to make way for another who can provide what is needed.

This means that future Popes will be under a new kind of scrutiny.  They can no longer presume that once elected they are there until the end of their days.  Benedict has introduced a new standard and has indicated the course to follow if the standard is not being met.

I think it is Providential that this is being done by a Pope of Benedict’s intellectual and spiritual stature.  It cannot be dismissed as an aberration of a Pope who lacks understanding or adequate formation.  Coming from a person of Benedict’s professorial standing it must be taken as a serious and thoughtful commentary on the role and function of the Papacy in the Church.

History will one day pass its verdict on Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to abdicate.  I believe that Benedict served the Church and the Papacy well.  By his abdication and the reasons he gave for that decision he has opened the way for a Church that is more transparent, and a Papacy that is less like Imperial Rome and more like the Servant model proposed by Jesus in the Gospel: “You know how the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority felt.  But it shall not be so among you.  Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20, 25-27).

The Papal Election


Just a week before Pope Benedict made the surprise announcement of his imminent abdication there was an article in the New York Times about voters and elections.  The writer, Sam Wang, an associate professor at Princeton University, pointed out that in the 2012 elections for the United States House of Representatives, the candidates of the Democratic Party received 1.4 million more votes than the candidates of the Republican Party.  Yet the Republicans won control of the House by 234 seats to 201.

This undemocratic result comes from the party in power arranging electoral districts so that their party will have narrow victories in many districts while the other party will have large victories in fewer districts.  Such an arrangement of electoral districts is known as gerrymandering, and it frustrates the democratic system.

As Catholics we are often reminded by our religious authorities that the Catholic Church is not a democracy.  Yet in many ways the Church does act democratically. In the Vatican II Council for instance, the bishops arrived at final decisions by a system of majority voting.  In the coming Conclave in Rome to name the successor to Pope Benedict XVI, the new Pope will be the candidate who receives two-thirds of the Cardinals’ votes.

But there are some who question if the Conclave Cardinals are really representative of the international character of the Catholic Church in today’s world.  At the beginning of last year Pope Benedict named 22 new Cardinals.  16 were from Europe, 3 from North America, 1 from Latin America and 2 from Asia.  Many were surprised at the strong European and Western presence in these nominations, when more than half the Catholics in the world are now living in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to the statistics in the 2012 Vatican Yearbook.

Towards the end of 2012 Pope Benedict called an extraordinary Consistory to name 6 more Cardinals, none of them from Europe.  One was from North America, 1 from Latin America, 3 from Asia and 1 from Africa.  It seemed like a gesture from the Pope to compensate for the imbalance of the earlier Consistory.

But it was a feeble gesture and the total picture of the Cardinals in the Church is still one of gross imbalance.  Latin America, Africa and Asia have a total of 797 million Catholics, or 68.2% of Catholics in the world.  Between them they have 41 Cardinals.  Europe and North America have a total of 76 voting Cardinals while they account for just 363 million Catholics, or 31% of world Catholics.  Oceania accounts for about 9 million Catholics, 0.9 % of the world total.  They have 1 Cardinal.

Maybe the Church will decide some day to choose the Pope by drawing lots, as the Apostles did in replacing Judas (Acts 1, 26).  But until that day comes, the growing millions of Catholics who live in the vibrant churches of Africa, Asia and Latin America deserve a proportionate voice in deciding who is best qualified to lead their Church on earth now and in the future.