Father Joseph Blanco remembered for his servant’s heart, generosity

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Father Joseph Blanco, a priest of 36 years for the Archdiocese of Denver, died peacefully May 13. He was 80 years old.

A Colorado native, Father Blanco lived his life demonstrating his generosity and humanity towards others, while serving the Lord. Father Blanco was born Jan. 22, 1940 and was raised in Glenwood Springs. Between 1958 and 1962, he served in the U.S. Air Force where he was honorably discharged. During his college years, he attended St. Thomas University in Houston, Texas, where he earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts and then entered the St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.

On June 2, 1984, Father Blanco was ordained a priest at the age of 44. The ceremony took place at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver and was celebrated by Archbishop James V. Casey.

As Father Blanco’s funeral Mass, Father Ken Koehler, pastor of St. Mark Parish in Westminster delivered the homily.

“I mainly got to know Father Joe when we were in the seminary,” said Father Koehler. “He was studying for the Holy Ghost Fathers at the time and eventually changed to the diocese of Denver. We became good friends when he was assigned to my home parish in Sterling, St. Anthony’s. There, he grew to fall in love with the rural community and parishes. He served them so very well and they loved him for his dedication and care.”

During his priesthood, he served in multiple parishes mostly on the Eastern Plains of Colorado including St. Anthony Parish in Sterling, Holy Family Parish in Keenesburg, and Our Lady of Lourdes in Wiggins, among others, earning the affection and respect of not only the rural community, but also of his fellow priests.

“His gentle and quiet personality was a charm. He never sought after glory or recognition and was humble in receiving so many accolades from the parishes he served,” said Father Koehler. “He remained a pastor in the rural community from then on to the time of his retirement. They loved his little and subtle jokes and always gave him support when he was growing more and more ill. I will have him as one of my special friends and people always remembered him.”

“My walk with the Lord wouldn’t be where it is if it wasn’t for him,” Stephanie Todd, Father Blanco’s niece, told the Denver Catholic of her uncle. “He planted seeds early on just about paying it forward and things that I’ve tapped into adulthood and passed on to my children.”

In June 2010, he was granted retirement at the age of 70 and spent the next few years as a humble servant of God always reaching out to those in need. After a long struggle with an illness, Father Joe passed away this past May 13 in Wheat Ridge, leaving behind beautiful memories to not only his loved ones, but also to all the communities he served during his time on earth.

“He was a wonderful minister and he certainly was one who desired to bring Jesus Christ to others… The Church is thankful and blessed for his ministry.” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila at Father Blanco’s funeral Mass.

For Stephanie Todd, her uncle left her a special mission: “To pass on the goodness of the Lord,” she said. “And it’s not always by word, but it’s more by action than word. And he showed me that.”

COMING UP: The Next Pope and Vatican II

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Polemics about the Second Vatican Council continue to bedevil the global Catholic conversation.

Some Catholics, often found in the moribund local Churches of western Europe, claim that the Council’s “spirit” has never been implemented (although the Catholic Lite implementation they propose seems more akin to liberal Protestantism than Catholicism). Other voices claim that the Council was a terrible mistake and that its teaching should be quietly forgotten, consigned to the dustbin of history. In The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (just published by Ignatius Press), I suggest that some clarifying papal interventions are needed to address these confusions.

To begin: the next pope should remind Catholics what Pope John XXIII intended for the Council, thereby challenging both the Catholic Lite Brigade and the Forget Vatican II Platoon.

The pope’s opening address to Vatican II on October 11, 1962, made his intention clear: The Church, he said, must re-focus on Jesus Christ, from whom she “takes her name, her grace, and her total meaning.” The Church must put the Gospel proclamation of Jesus Christ, the answer to the question that is every human life, at the center of her self-understanding. The Church must make that proclamation by proposing, “whole and entire and without distortion” the truths Christ gave the Church. And the Church must transmit those truths in ways that invite skeptical contemporary men and women into friendship with the Lord Jesus.

John XXIII did not imagine Vatican II to be a Council of deconstruction. Nor did he imagine it to be a Council that froze the Church in amber. Rather, Pope John’s opening address to Vatican II called the entire Church to take up the task of Christian mission: the mission to offer humanity the truth about God and us, both of which are revealed in Jesus Christ.  The next pope should forcefully remind the Church of this.

The next pope might also engage – and settle – a parallel debate that began during Vatican II and continues today: Did the Catholic Church reinvent itself between October 11, 1962, and December 8, 1965, the day the Council solemnly closed? Or must the documents of Vatican II be read in continuity with revelation and tradition? Curiously, the “progressive” Catholic Lite Brigade and the ultra-traditionalist Forget Vatican II Platoon promote the same answer: Vatican II was indeed a Council of discontinuity. But that is the wrong answer. It is a mistaken reading of John XXIII’s intention for Vatican II. It is a mistaken reading of Paul VI’s guidance of the Council. And It is a mistaken reading of the Council’s texts.

Three canonized popes – John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II – plus the great theologian-pope Benedict XVI have insisted that Vatican II can and must be read in continuity with settled Catholic doctrine. To claim that Vatican II was a Council of rupture and reinvention is to say, in effect, that these great men were either duplicitous, anti-conciliar reactionaries (the tacit indictment of the progressives) or material heretics (the tacit indictment from the far right-field bleachers). Neither indictment has any merit, although the latter has recently gotten undeserved attention, thanks to ill-considered commentaries reverberating through the echo chambers of social media and the ultra-traditionalist blogosphere.

Thus the next pope ought to insist that the Catholic Church does not do rupture, reinvention, or “paradigm shifts.” Why? Because Jesus Christ – “the same yesterday and today and forever” [Hebrews 13.8] – is always the center of the Church. That conviction is the beginning of any authentic evangelization, any authentically Catholic development of doctrine, and any proper implementation of Vatican II.

The next pope should also lift up the Council’s genuine achievements: its vigorous  affirmation of the reality and binding authority of divine revelation; its biblical enrichment of the Church’s self-understanding as a communion of disciples in mission; its insistence that everyone in the Church is called to holiness, especially through the liturgy; its defense of basic human rights, including the first of civil rights, religious freedom; its commitment to truth-centered ecumenical and interreligious dialogues. Yes, there have been distortions of these teachings; but to blame the distortions on the teachings themselves is a serious analytical error.

A Catholicism indistinguishable from liberal Protestantism has no future. Neither does a Catholicism that attempts to recreate a largely imaginary past. The Catholicism with a future is the Catholicism of the Second Vatican Council, rightly understood and properly implemented. That happens to be the living Catholicism of today, and the next pope should recognize that, too.