Surprise, surprise! I’m a little embarrassed about having disappeared from this spot for the last couple of weeks without any explanation, but we’ve had some special circumstances, including turnover in our chancery staff, that disrupted this daily blog. Let me say, however, that I am very proud of the fact that we did indeed produce daily blogs for over four years, with little repetition in the subject matter. Creating this commentary each day, for lo those many months, has been a real delight for me. I no longer have steady access to a pulpit, so being able to share with so many friends- and I do mean FRIENDS- what I thought about this or that issue was a true joy.
There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven:
A time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.
A time for killing, a time for healing; a time for knocking down, a time for building.
A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing. –Ecclesiastes
Thank you so much for visiting this space, and let’s walk into the future with FAITH and LAUGHTER,conscious that it is a battered, worried world, but that ultimately, our loving God is in charge.
Let me send you “onward through the fog” with one of my favorite Irish blessings:
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
April 27th, Second Sunday of Easter
The joy and happiness of Easter continues in the life of the Church across the world. We are a believing people. We believe that God stepped into the human story in the person of Jesus. We believe that Jesus offered his life as a sacrifice for each of us. We believe also that he rose from the dead and is still with us.
The Church today is an awesome institution. It is a community of faith and has drawn billions of people into its arms, but it was not always that way. Today’s readings give us the opportunity to look at that infant community of faith, and see the men and women who walked with Jesus and were witnesses of the Resurrection. The Gospel story is one that each one of us knows all too well.
Thomas is in the center of the story and in a very real way he represents each one of us. Thomas doubts the Resurrection and demands physical proof. That proof is provided and then Jesus looks into the future and sees each one of us. We have not seen physical proof. We believe in the Resurrection because the message has been brought through the centuries by this wonderful family of faith. We need to stop and think occasionally about the fact that our faith is grounded in the Church.
The apostles provide us with an excellent image of some aspects of the Church’s frailty. They stumble and fall, they doubt, they fight among themselves but ultimately they believe in Jesus and they accept the Resurrection.
The first reading goes into greater detail and shows the Church getting itself organized in chapter two of Acts of Apostles. Two thousand years later, Pope Francis has just appointed eight cardinals from seven different countries from around the world to assist him as he endeavors to improve the organizational structure of the Church. It was needed in the first century and it is needed today. The Church is guided by the Holy Spirit but it will always be in need of reform.
When I was a younger priest I frequently gave retreats to high school students. I thoroughly enjoyed that work and they would be marvelously attentive. I always tried to get and keep their attention by using examples that they had in some sense experienced or had knowledge of. When I was talking to them about the Church, our community of faith, I would remind them of the old Westerns that still play on Turner Classic Movies so all of them had seen the old movies about wagon trains struggling to get across the Indian territory trying to make it to California.
I would tell them that Pope John XXIII was the wagon master in the Church back in 1958 and that, despite his weight, he climbed up on the lead wagon and cried out in a voice heard around the world, “WAGONS WEST!” With that the Church began to give up the defensive posture as circled wagons that it had maintained since the Protestant Reformation. The Church began to move in a new and exciting chapter in its journey through history.
I must admit that it was not a perfect example because the wagon master in the movie is leading them towards California and that is certainly no heavenly paradise. The Church had circled its wagons after it had suffered terrible losses in the 16th century. One-third of Europe abandoned the Catholic faith in only two lifetimes and thus the Church was very defensive.
Pope John XXIII had great confidence in the Holy Spirit and was ready to take the risk of uncircling the wagons. That would lead into a new period of exciting religious openness, which we now call the Ecumenical Movement. I will fill you in on that soon…
Spiritually, each one of us needs to transport ourselves back to that hillside outside Jerusalem, stand silently before that open tomb, a tomb now empty, and ask ourselves if we really do believe in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead!
This is the heart of the Christian message. This is the ultimate test as to whether or not we are really followers of Jesus. In the following 2,000, countless numbers have died because they answered “yes” to that question. They believed in the Resurrection, were committed to Jesus and they would allow nothing to turn them away from that faith and commitment. Happily, most of us are not asked to die for our faith but it would be perfectly valid to ask ourselves would we be willing to do so?
Let us thank God for his infinite love for us. Let us walk into the future with confidence knowing that we are a redeemed people. Let us continue to celebrate the great feast of the Resurrection.
Bill was helping to develop my interest in foreign mission work and in about 1962 or ’63 he got me to return with him to Guatemala in an open jeep! After that I was hooked. For the next several years, I made it a practice of buying jeeps in Houston for the Maryknoll Missioners. I would drive them down there for them and then spend two weeks riding in the mountains with Father Bill. I would then return home by plane. It took four days to get down there and three hours to get back!
After a while, the tragic intervention of the United States into the political affairs of Guatemala began to produce horrible results. The United Fruit Company and the CIA worked together to overthrow an elected leftist government. War was on. In those terrible years the United States saw Communists behind every bush and any corrupt government that declared itself to be anti-Communist was immediately a friend of ours and we would help them. That means that we would help them kill their own people.
My friend, Father Bill Woods, would be assassinated. His plane was shot down mysteriously in 1976. Then the reign of terror would begin. Villages would be wiped out, the archbishop of San Salvador would be assassinated, four American nuns would be raped and murdered, Jesuit professors would be slaughtered, etc., etc. For the most part, nothing would be done about it.
Now, however, a U.S. immigration court in Miami is seeking to expel General Jose Guillermo Garcia from the U.S. The American Ambassador at that time, Robert White, is wonderful and testified against Garcia and congratulated the court that “this is the first court that has ever found General Garcia linked so directly to these massacres and these killings.” The court stated that General Garcia held “the greatest power and authority in El Salvador.” The judge wrote, “He rebuffed reform, protected death squad plotters, denied the existence of massacres, failed to adequately investigate assassinations and massacres, and failed to hold officers accountable for the killing of their fellow countrymen.” The general also, “failed to adequately investigate Archbishop Romero’s assassination and encouraged “sham investigations” in the killings of the four churchwomen.”
Guatemala is far from a perfect country today. With the expulsion of Garcia back to his home country it may create the situation where that government will move against him for his countless heinous crimes.
But some kinds of theft are worse than others. Walking into a liquor store with a handgun in order to empty the cash register is theft and if you don’t get killed, you certainly can go to jail for a long period of time. You may not understand this but there is a certain honesty in that kind of theft. You have money, I want it and if you don’t give it to me, you are going to get hurt!
However, let me tell you of a worse kind of theft. Put yourself in the executive offices of a fast food place. It doesn’t matter whether it is McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King. You see the hourly charts coming in reflecting that Gene Jones or Raul Martinez worked 52 hours at the minimum wage. No one can actually survive on that in an urban setting. Why should those two guys who sweated for so many hours get so much money? We will just say that he worked 40 hours cutting him out of overtime. Stealing from the poor is, in my opinion, the very lowest form of theft!
A few weeks ago the United States Department of Labor announced the results of a survey indicating that the scope of wage theft in this country is stunning. The practice of stealing wages, commonly called “wage theft”, is a national epidemic. It eats away at the livelihood of already underpaid workers. Eighty percent of surveyed fast food workers experienced off the clock violations, meaning that they were required to work without pay before punching in and after punching out. Forty-eight percent who worked more than 40 hours in a week did not receive overtime pay. Wage theft has ramifications beyond the employees who are cheated. We suffer when wage theft becomes a way of doing business. Law abiding businesses can’t compete with wage cheats who shave their operating costs by breaking the law. The less money that wage earners bring home, the less money they have to spend on basics, such as food, clothing and household necessities depriving local businesses of much needed consumer dollars and hampering our economy. When that happens everyone loses.
The Department of Labor has studied and documented that this heinous crimes. Now let’s give them the charge of cleaning this utterly cruel form of theft up as quickly as possible.
These American events are being rather well marked but for some reason the Catholic bishops of the United States have done little or nothing to remind the 60 million of us that the Council was an extraordinary event widening horizons, creating hope and helping to lead us into the future. Maybe one of the reasons why it has not been spotlighted so much in this country is that many of the younger bishops would just as soon forget it! That is a tragedy but it is not an enduring tragedy. The Council is being brought back to life by our magnificent leader Pope Francis.
A few days ago I started a series of blogs on the documents of the Council. Since I find it so refreshing to go back and study them, you may appreciate or enjoy at least a brief mention to various segments of them as I plod through the next few weeks.
The other day I stressed that the first and most exciting of the Council documents was the one on the sacred liturgy and how it got started. Now I would like to go very briefly through certain segments of this document that has touched each and every one of us in this country and actually every Roman Catholic across the world. I break Roman Catholics into two groups about the Council. Older men and women who remember it taking place fifty years ago connect it with a time of change and tension and the most visible thing they remember is that Latin ceased to be imposed on the Universal Church and all the countries of the world were able to use vernacular language. Imagine – the Church decided to put worship into a language that the worshipers understood. What a breakthrough!
To discuss the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would require volumes and believe me many volumes have been written about it. With the constraints of this space, I want to simply break it into two key components. Many subdivisions are possible.
The first thrust of the document centers on the fact that the Eucharist is the absolute center of the Church’s prayer life. Certainly, the other sacraments are important and they draw us closer to Jesus and private devotions and prayers of individuals are very valuable. However, it is in the Eucharistic liturgy that the entire Church prays and we pray in unison and with one faith and one heart. The Eucharist is the center of the Church and it unites each and every one of us together. We are believers.
Secondly, the liturgical document calls forcefully and urgently for a resurgence in the study of sacred scripture and more effectively integrating scripture into the Eucharist liturgy and all the other sacraments as well. I am happy to report that this early Council directive has been rather well implemented. While there is much work to be done, it is a very measurable accomplishment.
In the meantime, what we need is millions of small groups across the world taking time out of their lives, day by day and week by week, to study God’s word, to see their own lives in relationship to it and to be guided by that word. We are a long way from there but I think we are moving in the right direction. For that I thank God.
However, there had been certain glimmers of approaching change and they first began to appear in the liturgical life of the Church. In the Western Church, everything was in Latin, not just the Mass and the Sacraments, but it was the working language of the Church. It was really a good thing for people who traveled a great deal. If you were a Frenchman attending Mass in the Congo, you were right at home with the Latin, but for most of the faithful the Latin language served as background music. They understood nothing but found it comforting.
Pope Pius XII had worked hard to encourage theologians to go back to the scriptures and he unleashed a very strong surge of dramatically improved scripture studies. Scripture would soon be overlapping in the world of liturgy and question began to be asked about certain things that might be accented too much or not enough.
Liturgists began to organize, liturgical and scripture scholars began to communicate more effectively, and suddenly there came to be a sense that not all was well in the inner-life of the Church.
In 1958 a wonderful, fulsome, Italian bishop from the Alps was elected to the Chair of Peter and he took the delightful name of Pope John XXIII.
He had been listening to that questioning and wondering himself about the need for updating the inner-life of the Church and then finally he did it. He called for a meeting of all the bishops of the world to come together under the dome of St. Peter’s and to pray, study, test, debate and decide on how the Church could more effectively move forward. In calling the Council, it generated an explosion of excitement and hope. The bishops answered his summons and met for several months a year for four years. Needless to say, the first issue that they took up was the sacred liturgy and they published an extraordinary document that would have awesome repercussions around the world.
Let’s take a look at that subject tomorrow.
I was delighted to see a statement in the Austin American Statesman on the fact that the struggle needs to continue. An article was coauthored by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus and they touched briefly on very serious issues that still must be addressed. They state that as Texans:
“We rightly demand a fair system that provides meaningful freedom and opportunity for each of us….
“Instead we see a fixed system that consistently puts well-connected millionaire donors and corporations ahead of middle class working Texans. We still a school finance system that is so unfair and inadequate that most Texas school districts are compelled to sue the state over it.”
“We see a sustained attack on health services, women and the poor, along with efforts to revise history, whitewashing the record and ignoring the plain fact that Texas leads the nation in its percentage of uninsured residents.”
“And in clear echoes of 50 years ago, we see repeated efforts to make it harder for Texans to exercise the most fundamental right of all – the right to cast their ballots.”
The senators are very correct in pointing out that so much still needs to be done. I certainly hope and pray that Texans will continue to work for a more just and equitable society.
Onward through the fog.