The other night as I was watching the news hour on public television I was fascinated by the stories that appeared back to back. Egypt was receding, Bahrain was on the front burner, 144 Catholic theologians in Germany confronted the hierarchy of that country and accused them of failing to provide leadership and of being incapable of handling pressing problems that the Church faces. The channel switches to the capital of Minnesota where thousands of state employees are demonstrating in the capitol building and at the governor’s mansion; angry employees who are challenging the effort of the governor to arbitrarily deny state employees the right to collective bargaining.
Were these different stories? They may very well be but my first reaction is that they are all a reflection of the fact that the global economy, instant worldwide communication, pent-up anger and frustration in institutions long considered sacred and involatile are suddenly coming apart at the seams. In the past, two great institutions endeavored for many years to provide stability and order across the world, never with complete success but at least the effort was there. One of those institutions was the United States of America, which has placed itself in the position of world cop. The other is the Roman Catholic Church, and although it endeavors to speak only for its own members, finds that it cannot really do that any more.
Throughout history, there have been upheavals of one sort or another but I don’t know if we have ever had this many taking place at one time, and each one being reported so quickly and in such detail that they motivate other societies or structures to begin to emulate what they saw in other parts of the world.
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8th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Here we are in the 8th Sunday of the Church Year and Jesus is still talking up on the mountain. What he had to say last Sunday was somewhat disconcerting – love our enemies, forgive those who oppress you. Today is not much easier!
In today’s Gospel excerpt, Jesus challenges us to strive for a life of detachment. He warns us not to make material goals the all-consuming influence of our lives. He uses beautiful, poetic examples of birds and flowers, how beautiful they are and not one of them has an eight to five job. Jesus stresses that the key to detachment is faith; strong faith in him and our ultimate destiny.
It is necessary to read this text very carefully. Jesus does not deny that we need material things. He just says that first, we sing the kingship of Jesus and holiness, and these other things will be given to us beside. “Your heavenly father knows all what you need…and all these things will be given to you besides.” This is not an invitation to lay down our jobs and to be unconcerned about day-to-day living. It is a question of priorities and balance.
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While news reports, both on TV and in the newspapers, continue to accent Afghanistan, the tragedy of Iraq does not go away. Killings and clashes continue to take lives every week, and the future of the country is a long way from being the stable democracy that we have claimed as one of our principal reasons for being there.
Let’s hope and pray that things work out and that stability and success is achieved. But if that wonderful thought were to become reality tomorrow, the agony and suffering of yesterday will hover over the people of that battered country for decades and decades to come.
Understandably, we Americans kept careful count of our own losses. Tragically, due to the complexity of life on the ground or to our lack of concern, we have failed to keep an accurate count on civilian deaths that occurred solely to activities directly related with the war. Because there is no official count, various groups have developed very differing methods of coming up with some type of trustworthy total of losses. Ronald Osborn, the author of Anarchy and Apocalypse, wrote recently in America magazine that after extensive research he was convinced that “the best evidence we currently have suggests that the number of Iraqis who have died as the result of the U.S. invasion and the sectarian violence it unleashed is probably more than 400,000. A very high percentage of those deaths are civilian deaths.” On the American side, the 2,977 victims of 9/11 and the more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq will be honored, remembered and not forgotten. However, for every one of them dozens of Iraqis, killed in an unjust war, will not be remembered. We did not even count them!
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Back in 1985, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford starred in a wonderful movie about land problems in Africa in the early part of the 20th century. The heroine is desperately trying to save the land of the natives people from being expropriated by the British government and English developers. The movie had a happy ending but time marches on.
At the end of last year, a world bank study released tallied farm land deals covering at least 110 million acres, the size of California and West Virginia combined. It announced that during the first 11 months of 2009 more than 70% of these deals were for land in Africa with Sudan, Mozambique and Ethiopia among those nations transferring million of acres to investors. Tragedy follows tragedy. I don’t doubt that the economic forces in countries like China and France will increase agricultural production but for whom? There is a very real chance that the native populations that have been there since the dawn of time may find themselves cut off from their land, their villages and their future.
Village leaders in Mali were dumbfounded when government officials said last year that Libya now controlled their land. They had always considered it their own passed down from grandfather, to father, to son. Now Libya has leased it.
Out of Africa indeed!
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Theology is that manifestation of human activity where we endeavor, with the limited capacity of our minds, to reach out and somehow grasp the reality of God. Sometimes we put adjectives in front of theology that limits it to a certain extent, such as Catholic theology, Presbyterian theology or, let’s say, the theology of the environment.
Last week, for the first time, I saw a new description of a form of theology. It was an article entitled, “The Theology of Migration,” in the February 7th issue of America as being developed by Father Daniel Groody, CSC. For two decades Father Groody has been studying what might be called a theological ethnography. He studies indicate that Christian faith experience among various cultural groups is rooted in an attempt to understand the gift and challenge of Christian faith beginning with those who live with acute human suffering, like undocumented migrants who are victims of human trafficking.
An article in the same issue of America was excellent. At the same time, we were given an example that a picture is worth a thousand words. My screen shot shows a portion of the cover of America, depicting these five men with their backs to the camera walking into a desert with a starkly cold mountain range on the far side. Note that each is carrying a plastic bag of food in one hand and a plastic water jug in the other. That picture says everything about men and women who put themselves in that position. Beyond the mountains lies hope; in that burning valley is danger and possible death. Those men are risking death because of their hope.
Father Groody’s article gave me much food for thought. The picture moved me emotionally and together they made me wonder why so many people in Texas are so hostile, insensitive and seemingly lacking in empathy for men and women who take risks because of their natural desire to take care of their families.
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Yesterday we were talking about the fact that the United States is cutting back on the amount of attention it is giving to formative Presidents such as George Washington and Abe Lincoln. I expressed my opinion that I think that is sad. The ability to remember is one of the greatest of human gifts. We all have it, and should celebrate it, and should be guided by it.
In this context, I have noticed a strange tendency popping up. Many of my friends, whether in early middle age or older, are not interested in birthdays. They don’t want to talk about them, they don’t want to celebrate them. I think this is just as regretable as forgetting about ole George and Abe!
Remembering our birthdays is very healthy, and can give us a sense of rootedness, if at least once a year we stop, think about, and celebrate the reality that one special day, we arrived here. That day was to be the first of all that would follow, filled as they would be with learning, excitement, hard work, pain, suffereing, a sense of loss, and finally, preparation for the other book end- our earthly death and birth into eternal life.
None of us are free of pain. None of us avoid suffering. Although these negative realities follow our birth, they do not negate the awesome reality that we have been born, brought into existence as part of the plan of a loving God. That plan is with us every moment of our existence. What a wonderful thing to celebrate! Happy Birthday this year, and many more. Bring on the cake!
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Recognize any of these faces?
Public holidays are expensive for our government, and there is a natural resistance against multiplying them, and actually a tendency in the other direction, to cut back when possible. This is the reality that cut George Washington out of his own special day, and the same is true for Honest Abe Lincoln. I regret this because I think that their contributions to the reality that is the United States of America is so massive, so important, so permanently transformative as to forever have given them their own special day.
Every little child in the country heard the George Washington stories, several of which are actually true! Remember the cherry tree? Every struggling young adult has had the example of Abe Lincoln’s determination in the face of adversity placed before him many times. Now, our kids are told “rejoice and be glad, because today is President’s day!” Do you think that will excite a ten year old, or encourage a discouraged law student? I doubt it.
Despite this sad merger, each of us is free to continue to spotlight the influence that these two national heroes have had in our own individual lives. George Washington is still touching each one of us, and Abraham Lincoln continues to give an example of faithfulness and integrity that is desperately needed in our country today.
The presidency is probably the single most difficult job in our society. We should be thankful that there are men and women willing to seek it, and thankful that when and if they achieve it, they make every effort to give it their best.
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Many times when we are reading sacred scripture the words and the ideas flow gently over us with soothing and gentle caresses. The sacred texts are loaded with sections about God’s infinite love for us and the need to respond to that love, and the courage we have seen in scripture in terms of both God’s people in the Old Testament and the New. Overall, it makes very easy listening.
Then comes today’s Gospel excerpt! There is Matthew having Jesus still up on the mountainside unveiling his overall teaching, most especially about God’s love, our need to love God and, because of our love for God, our need to love each other. It is in that context that in the fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells us that we should not seek revenge but that we should help others in every way that we can, that we should lend to the poor freely. That is all easy enough but he doesn’t stop there. Jesus tells us that we must “love your enemies…pray for our persecutors.” This is not easy but it is absolutely logical.
Human beings are creations of God’s infinite power and are part of his overall purpose. All of us are invited to eternal life. That means, regardless of where we are politically or theologically, we are journeying together. Everyone is our brother and sister. We are not in a position to judge or complain about the evil qualities that we think we see in another person that cause us to be their enemy. We are in a position, however, to pray for each other as we journey together towards Judgment. It is not easy but he never promised us a rose garden!
Remember, he said love not like!
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You must have read about it! Everybody is talking about it. Some people are intrigued. Most just laugh.
What will they think of next? The story I’m talking about is that some bright young techie at Notre Dame has developed an App for use in receiving the Sacrament of Penance. I’m very limited in my computer skills, so I don’t know exactly how it works, but I do know that it is being marketed as a means of keeping track of ones sins.
To me, that is really funny. I don’t mean that sinfulness is funny, but this project assumes that there is a divine computer in the sky keeping track of our individual transgressions and that God expects perfect harmony between our record and His.
Some sins can be very serious, but happily, most adult Christians find that the majority of their transgressions come under the category of “venial”. We are petty, proud, insensitive, and inappreciative. We lie a lot socially. when we look back over a day or week, we can see an almost countless number of petty failures. God does not care! What He WANTS from us is love and faithfulness.
When we go to the Sacrament of Penance, in our preparation we should stress whether or not we are deepening our love for our Creator. Really, whether or not we are responding to His infinite love for us. There is no place for that on the keyboard.
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Congratulations to St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Southwest Austin. It is the first school in Texas to provide cyberbullying training for the entire middle school.
Modern communications technology is wonderful. The Internet and other electronic media are a big part of our lives, especially the lives of students. While there have been many positive uses of this new media, it has regretfully also become a vehicle for social cruelty in spreading hatred and intolerance based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or other parts of people’s identities in lives.
Now comes the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith with a wonderful program to help offset the negative sides of electronic media and social cruelty.
CyberALLY is a half-day or full-day training for middle and high school age youth that increases awareness about the unique impact of cyberbullying, provides strategies for young people to respond effectively to these attacks and fosters an increased culture of ease/safety ally behavior and respect for differences among the youth.
Studies show that over 5 million young people have been the targets of cyberbullying in our country and more than 3 million have themselves bullied others on-line!
What is an ally? An ally is someone who speaks out on behalf of someone else who is being attacked or takes actions against cyberbullying. All of us should respond to the challenge to become cyberallies.
Congratulations again to St. Gabriel’s Catholic School. You are leading the way.
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