Last week, I mentioned that I wanted to talk about some of the extraordinary women that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with over the last half century. Although there have been hundreds, I want to especially stress a few who have almost singlehandedly developed extraordinary ministries in order to lighten the burdens of the poor, the ill and the vulnerable. I have already made reference to Jennifer Long and Patti McCabe. Today, I want to talk about Sister Mary Rose McGeady.
Sister Mary Rose is simply extraordinary. A Daughter of Charity who successfully led Catholic Charities in the Brooklyn Diocese from 1973 to 1990, she was called/challenged to come in and attempt to save Covenant House, an excellent national program with facilities in 21 cities aimed at providing food, shelter, counseling and new beginnings to teenagers who had taken to the street. Covenant House had been a great success but its founder, Father Bruce Ritter, was accused of impropriety in some of his actions and chose to resign. Covenant House income dropped dramatically and Sister Mary Rose stepped in faced with a $38 million debt.
This remarkable woman didn’t know how to use the word impossible.
Today, Covenant House is financially sound and even more prosperous than before. When Sister Mary Rose arrived, the agency was in 12 cities. Today, that number has increased to 21 with 15 facilities in the United States, two in Canada and one each in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Thank you and may God bless you, Sister Mary Rose. You are a wonderful example that the great work of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise continue to be made real and concrete in this battered world.
May God bless the Daughters of Charity.
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Please allow me to shamelessly steal an opening paragraph from one of Thomas Friedman’s columns of last week.
You probably missed the recent special issue of China Newsweek, so let me bring you up to date. Who do you think was on the cover — named the “most influential foreign figure” of the year in China? Barack Obama? No. Bill Gates? No. Warren Buffett? No. O.K., I’ll give you a hint: He’s a rock star in Asia, and people in China, Japan and South Korea scalp tickets to hear him. Give up?
It was Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard University political philosopher.
Friedman goes on to point out that the response to Sandel throughout Asia has been phenomenal. He describes Sandel as a professor with an extraordinary speaking style using real life examples to illustrate the philosophy of the likes of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill and relating them to the immediate questions facing all of us, but especially the young.
And the young are responding both in Asia and in Boston. Friedman gives a number of examples but his main point that he documents is hunger of young people to engage in moral reasoning and debates, rather than having their education confined to the dry technical aspects of economics, business or engineering. “Students everywhere are hungry for discussion of the big ethical questions we confront in our everyday lives,” Sandel argues. “…there is a growing sense, in many societies, that G.D.P. and market values do not by themselves produce happiness or a good society.”
Anyone familiar with Roman Catholic social theology would recognize the accuracy of those sentences. Let’s wish Dr. Michael Sandel every success in his extraordinarily effective teaching.
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The scandal had been around for sometime but it was in 2002, ten years ago, when it exploded in the Archdiocese of Boston and Cardinal Bernard Law had to resign his See and accept an assignment in Rome to flee from the bitter criticism that fell upon him because of his failure to effectively deal with corrupt priests. Then came Dallas in 2002 and the bishops, under the glare of television cameras, drafted a policy and a set of directives that everyone hoped would put the agony of the sexual scandal behind us, a scandal that most objective observers believe is the worst evil to befall the Church in several centuries. Would it be over? Regretfully it was not!
In the spring of this year, a grand jury criticized the Review Board of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for not recommending the suspension of several priests charging that the results of the board’s work were often worse than had there been no decision at all. Was the Review Board really at fault? Not at all. Ann Marie Catanzaro, Chair of the Review Board, fired back with the response that the Archdiocese had failed to give them information on 21 cases and she went on to say, “Cardinal Rigali and his auxiliary bishops failed miserably at being open and transparent. Their calculated public statements fueled the speculation that they had something to hide.”
We are still having cover-ups in one of the most important dioceses in the country ten years after Dallas. This whole scandal has been a terrible tragedy for the Church but it has been made far worse by the failures of certain bishops.
As the Chair of the Review Board said subsequently, and no one can argue with this statement, “The solution to the sexual abuse scandal rests on being honest, acting promptly and transparently, being open to constructive criticism, and being committed to protecting minors. If Philadelphia bishops had authentically followed their call to live the Gospel, they would have acted differently. Instead, they succumbed to a culture of clericalism.”
I pray with all my heart that this mistake will end the agonizing experience. Onward through the fog.
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Most of my adult life has been involved with trying to help people. It is not a personal sacrifice. I was well provided for in the process. It did give me countless opportunities to see the generosity that is present in our society.
I have dealt with hundreds and hundreds of men who worked tirelessly to improve the living situations of people who were sick, poor, vulnerable or simply misunderstood. May God bless them for it.
But my great love has been to see the extraordinary vision, dedication and courage of women in the social sphere. Such heroic women first appear in the Old Testament and can be seen in the New Testament providing help and solace in the early Church, and that has continued throughout the last 2,000 years. Now I want to spotlight a few heroic women who are accomplishing wonders and they are accomplishing it without the resources that are so often available to their male counterparts.
Today I want to tell you about an exciting program called Mary’s Pence. Mary’s Pence is the name of a wonderful self-help organization brought into existence by women whose goal is to fund programs led by women who are changing lives or women in vulnerable positions. While small in terms of Peter’s Pence, Mary’s Pence is much more focused on one of the great worldwide problems – the oppression and subjugation of women, the lack of economic power in proportion to their numbers and their contributions to society. Mary’s Pence is still small, but I feel very confident that before another 20 years has gone by we will see that Mary’s Pence has grown into an important social vehicle contributing to a more just society.
The national director is Katherine Wojtan, Mary’s Pence, 1000 Richmond Terrace G-304, Staten Island, NY 10304, (718) 720-8040, and their website is http://www.maryspence.org/
God bless Mary’s Pence.
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How blessed is that beautiful city down on the South Texas coast. I am referring to Corpus Christi. The early Spaniards honored it with an awesomely beautiful name, the Body of Christ. Today, all over the world, the Catholic Church celebrates the central aspect of its faith under this title, the Body and Blood of Christ. We are, of course, referring to the Eucharist, the gift which Jesus gave to the Church to make it possible for him to be always present to and always available to those who believed in him.
Most of us are frequent communicants and we try to prepare ourselves for receiving our Lord. We realize the reality of his presence and we commit ourselves to being his follower. However, maybe we should also remind ourselves that the Eucharist is the external sign of an awesome contract, a contract between God and the Church. Jesus brings the Eucharist into existence on the first Holy Thursday night, a night in which he and his Jewish brothers are reminded of the contract between Yahweh and God’s people in the Old Testament. As Jesus transforms bread and wine into his extended presence, he reminds them that this is the New Covenant, the new contract between God and man, and is to be celebrated until the end of time.
Let’s thank God for this infinite gift – Corpus Christi.
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During my life, I have been told and I believe that there is an extraordinary unity in nature. I also understand that human beings do not always see it that neatly. When I was a young man, I was told that forest fires were essential for the continued enhancement and development of the forest, that floods, such as the Mississippi and the Missouri are experiencing now, will, in the long-run, do tremendous good for increasing agricultural production and finally, hurricanes do a wonderful job in the need of creating water out of the oceans and scattering it over land masses that are sorely in need of it. I believe that. But what about tornados?
Rather than asking in this form, I should be contacting some expert in the world of weather science and seeing what good do tornados do. In view of my opening thesis, it may very well be that they do some good but I certainly don’t recognize any of it.
At the end of April and the beginning of May, the Midwest and the South were sorely attacked by tornados. Nearly 300 people died violently. These twisters delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and altogether it was an agonizing and terrifying experience.
What do they do? Clear the air? Contribute to the prosperity of companies that build storm shelters? I don’t know. I am, however, glad that this season is for the most part past and we can go together into the future.
It is not too late to help. Tuscaloosa and Joplin have been terribly hurt and will need help for a long time. Do you have a few extra dollars? If so, send it off to the Red Cross or some other group that works with the people who have suffered so deeply.
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Catholicism sees itself as an enormous family of faith. I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of the things that I love about day-to-day Catholicism is our firm belief in the Communion of Saints; that those of us here on earth, and those who have gone before us and are with God, can be united by prayer and the saints assist us by their intercession before the throne of God, and by the example that they had given to us while they were among us. Through this firm belief about an interaction between heaven and earth, there has developed a secondary belief or practice; namely, that saints with whom we feel a special relationship, either because they are our patron or they did the same type of work that we did, are concerned about and respond to our requests that they join their prayers to ours as we worship the infinite God. St. Thomas More is the patron of lawyers. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine are patrons of scholars. Black teenagers have St. Charles Lwanga. It is interesting – it is almost like having a lobbyist in heaven!
The above facts are going to affect the way the liturgy manifests itself in the next few months. Pentecost and several of the major Christological feasts are behind us and we are going into that second half of the year, which simply passes by the rather bland title, “Ordinary Time.” We say it is ordinary because the exciting seasons that centered on the coming of Jesus, his saving work, his resurrection and return to his heavenly Father are all behind us. The mood of these seasons will not appear again until December. However, the Church doesn’t want us to fall asleep so it scatters into the liturgy the lives of wonderful men and women who have gone before us and the Church asks us to look at them, to use their example, to attempt to walk in their footsteps the way that they walked in the footsteps of Jesus, and to live lives that are based on faith.
A joint feast, marking two of the most extraordinarily lives, is soon coming up. I am talking about the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, which we will celebrate on June 29th.
Peter and Paul – the Catholic Church always puts them together. They are the basic rocks, bricks, slabs, foundation on which the Church of the first century would be built. Peter would work in the Jerusalem area and then move on to Rome while Paul would cover a great deal of the eastern half of the Mediterranean. They laid a marvelous foundation and they brought the message of Jesus to the people of that period and ultimately both of them would die for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul would be decapitated and, tradition has it, that Peter would be executed upside down, as he did not feel worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.
How blessed we were to have them among us and how much we need men and women today to imitate their burning desire to tell the world the joyous news of Jesus of Nazareth.
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One of the nice things I like about day-by-day Catholicism is that we are all encouraged to saddle up with some saint from our way of life or field of endeavor. St. Joseph takes care of the carpenters, St. Therese of Lisieux is the patroness of missionaries, etc., etc. On the 22nd, we mark the feast of a great layman, St. Thomas More, lawyer, chancellor of England, and a martyr.
Many Catholic saints are very obscure as far as the average American is concerned since so man of them come from the Middle Ages or even from the times of persecution in the first three centuries in the life of the Church. However, Thomas more arrives on the scene at the beginning of modern times and on top of that, Broadway and Hollywood have made him famous by putting his story first on the Broadway stage and then in a wonderful Hollywood movie. Both are under the name, “A Man For All Seasons”.
The title itself is a tremendous compliment and has become a cliche in modern American expressions, indicating that the person so described is a person of extraordinary virtue who can be trusted in fair weather or fowl, one who lives by his or her convictions, regardless of the price to be paid.
Thomas More was King Henry VIII’s right-hand man and they had been close friends from their youth, but when King Henry ripped the Church in England away from the universal unity of the Roman Catholic Church, Thomas More would not go along. All he had to do was sign a document stating that he thought theat King Henry VIII was the head of the Church in England. More refused, and paid with his life.
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Most of us live very ordinary lives. We do the same things that our neighbors do. We live in the same environment and culture. We all have troubles, we all have moments of joy, and the vast majority of us get through to the end. I do think, however, that something happens periodically in my life that is very unusual.
Last Saturday I drove to Houston to attend the 75th year marking the 1937 first grade class of All Saints School. That is right – the first grade. We had 16 members and with spouses and a few children, the group ran over 30. We have known each other for 75 years. I am very proud of my first grade class. We entered grammar school in the depth of the Depression. Three members of the class became priests and one of them became a bishop. One girl became a nun and was elected major superior of her community. We were all poor but several members became wealthy and all of us have managed to do much more than just “get by.” We are in different places in life but we all share that memory of that little school in the Houston Heights, the values that we learned there and those are the values that we have all tried to live by over the last 75 years.
Let’s hear it for the first grade of class of 1937!
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I mentioned earlier how saddened I was by the fact that thousands of hard working men and women are frequently cheated of the wages that they have struggled so hard to earn. Wage theft in America is a tragic reality. I am encouraged by the fact that concerned citizens and the workers themselves are making progress in confronting this crime.
Let’s celebrate the development of a new form of self-help assistance to such cheated workers. These responses are called “Worker Centers” where the workers themselves come together to cooperate in developing their rights under the law and to move in a unified fashion against corrupt employers who systematically endeavor to steal the wages of hard working but vulnerable employees.
I am very proud and happy to report that Austin has a very excellent worker center, Workers Defense Project, located at 5604 Manor Road. Recently, the Austin center was able to assist a group of masonry workers to recover nearly $12,000 in back wages which had been kept from them illegally. Victories such as this give workers the knowledge and the courage to defend their rights to work together to improve their working conditions and to secure the proper payment for frequently very difficult labor.
Like the Roman Catholic Church itself, I am a strong supporter of workers rights to organize into unions. Regretfully, in this country working people have always faced hostility in their efforts to organize themselves. Actually, they only got the legal right to do this in the mid-30’s with the passage of the Wagner Act. Regardless of where a person stands in their attitude towards unions, however, no right thinking person could be opposed to hard working men and women getting their completely fair share of payments that are owed to them for labor expended. The anti-union situation is not likely to change any time soon but in the meantime we should all be willing to encourage society to see that workers are properly paid for efforts that they have expended to provide for their families.
I am proud of the Workers Defense Project and I am proud of the good work that it has done here in Austin.
Is one of your church organizations looking for an exciting and interesting subject for a presentation and discussion? Why don’t you suggest to your president or chairman that the issue of wage theft in America be a subject of thoughtful discussion and prayer and maybe then some very real action on behalf of justice. The Workers Defense Project will supply speakers. Just call (512) 391-2305 or their e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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