Surprise, surprise…

By , October 31, 2011 5:47 am

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has for 15 years studied the lives and health of people who have moved from poor neighborhoods to better off neighborhoods. The results are dramatic! Would anybody be surprised that people living in slums or near slums would, because they are living in those conditions, have low income, inadequate variety in purchasing of food, poor health connected from breathing polluted air? Needless to say, the social characteristics of the people around you impact the way we think and act. Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine, but not involved in the government study, chimed in, “Your health is influenced by all those around you and the environment…some environments are toxic to health.”

While this information could be deduced from horse sense, it is good to have scientific analysis at our fingertips as our society tries to deal with the problems connected with low-income neighborhoods. One of the great causes of hope of the last half century has been the development of strong neighborhood organizations. Saul Alinsky, a frequently defamed organizer and a real hero for those seeking safer and healthier neighborhoods, started the process in Chicago in the 1940’s. The movement has since spread across the United States and has been a special force for good in Texas with successful organizations in San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley and other areas. These efforts do not come cheaply but they produce wonderful results, including improved health, as mentioned above, traffic improvement, personal safety and so forth and so forth.

Everything is connected to everything.

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The Pharisees Deserved It!

By , October 29, 2011 6:41 am

October 30th, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
We are gradually working our way through that long section of St. Matthew’s Gospel in which day by day Jesus teaches the crowds his basic message of how we are to live in relation to our Heavenly Father and toward the brothers and sisters with whom we share life. Today we see that our Lord gets very tough on the Pharisees and all religious hypocrites.

We all have weaknesses. We all have foibles. We all make mistakes. Because we all share in human frailty, most of us tend to be rather patient with each other. One quality, however, that always turns everyone off is hypocrisy. All hypocrisy is despicable but religious hypocrisy is by far the worst. When we see people who are living behind a false front of holiness and fake spirituality and then we find out that they are actually mean and cruel, we naturally react with great negativity. We have no obligation to go around telling the whole world about our mistakes and weaknesses. We have a right to privacy. However, we should not project the image that those weaknesses are not there while basking in a spirituality that is a mere charade.

Speaking of the Pharisees, who knew a little bit about hypocrisy, Jesus says, “There words are bold but their deeds are few…all their works are performed to be seen.” “…whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

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Is a Second Chance Possible?

By , October 27, 2011 4:57 am

Yesterday, I mentioned the enormous amount of pressure and pain existing in Catholic congregations across the world where a very sizable portion of the laity are involved in civil marriages and are not able to receive the sacraments. This pastoral practice was completely unchallenged until the last few years, but because of the high incidence of committed Roman Catholics living in irregular or civil marriages pressure has begun to build to bring about a change that would harmonize the sacramental relationship for millions of our people.

A number of efforts have been made to lessen the spiritual burden that such Catholics are carrying. Even Cardinal Ratzinger, in 1972, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented a proposal to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to return to communion. They would be permitted, he argued, as long as the first marriage had broken up in an irreparable way sometime ago and that the second marriage had been filled with a spirit of faith and that penance had been performed. Giving such couples communion “appears to be no less than just and to be fully in line with the Church’s tradition.” Later on, Cardinal Ratzinger rejected that position, saying that his 1972 article was only a suggestion made by an individual theologian and he has since changed his position on that.

Quite a stir was created in 1993 when three of the leading cardinals in Germany wrote a pastoral letter urging that the parish priests should access each case individually when admitting remarried divorcees to communion. They encouraged people to take a decision according to their own conscience. The cardinals were summoned to Rome for “discussion” and a year later, the Vatican reiterated the traditional teaching.

The pain continues.

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Are the Greeks Bringing Gifts?

By , October 26, 2011 5:54 am

One hundred years ago, you would find very few Catholics living in second, unsacramental marriages. Divorce was very rare and Catholics in second unsacramental marriages simply accepted the fact that they would not be able to receive the Eucharist when they went to Mass on Sunday. With the passage of time, however, the number of divorces in the U.S. and Western Europe have soared, and nearly one-third of urban marriages that are entered into culminate in divorce within a few years. When these people enter into a second marriage “outside the Church,” a very heavy spiritual problem descends on their lives. Many times these first marriages involve a very young and immature couple, whereas the second marriage, involving more mature and emotionally developed couples, result in permanent, stable marriages. The couples are frequently very devout Catholics. However, the Church forbids them to receive the Eucharist.

Of late, pressure has been growing on the Church to change its attitude to divorce and remarriage. Organized opposition to this tradition is growing in England, Austria, Germany and the United States. Church leadership holds firm with no indication that Church leadership would alter this long-standing pastoral practice.

The late Cardinal Hume and other bishops have suggested that the Latin Church take another look at pastoral theology developed in the Greek Orthodox Churches that found a solution to the problem while, at the same time, maintaining traditional Catholic theology on the Sacrament of Matrimony.

More on that tomorrow.

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A Bishop Indicted!

By , October 25, 2011 4:41 am

Well, it has finally happened. Bishop Robert Finn, of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and the diocese itself have been indicted by a county grand jury on a charge of failure to report suspected child abuse in the case of a priest who had been accused of taking lewd photographs of young girls.

This is a terrible event and bitterly saddening for those who suffer with the Church during this long, extended agony. Great progress and cooperation with civil authorities has been present in the vast majority of the dioceses since the bishops developed their own mode of operation in 2002. The fact is that there have been shocking, really shocking failures. Two years ago, Cardinal Francis George in Chicago was discovered to have kept a priest predator in active service in a situation where he could do terrible harm. Last year, the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia stated that there were no priests working in the archdiocese who were charged or suspected of improper conduct with minors. Local authorities released a list of 37 names against whom credible charges had been made. Cardinal Justin Rigali resigned shortly thereafter. There are about 1,000 priests in the archdiocese.

Now comes Bishop Finn ten years after Dallas.

The indictment states that the bishop and the diocese had reason to suspect that the priest might subject a child to abuse. Hundreds of pornographic photographs of children had been discovered on the priest’s laptop. Indicting a bishop is a humiliating event, but the fact is that throughout all of these agonizing years the first reaction of most Church leaders has been trying to cover problems up, to operate under secrecy. In their naivety, they were attempting to avoid scandal but, in acting so imprudently and unjustly, they have generated an agonizing amount of scandal. Let’s pray that the end is in sight.

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The Good Ol’ Boy System Collapses in Winkler County

By , October 24, 2011 5:55 am

Hopefully, things are settling down in Winkler County which is in far West Texas, just below the New Mexican border. As small as it is, Winkler received a great deal of publicity last year when two nurses in this small hospital tried to protect hospital patients from dangerous medical care. These two nurses registered an anonymous complaint of dangerous practice with the Texas Medical Board against the town doctor who had previously been disciplined by the Board. The doctor had friends. Four prominent Winkler County good ol’ boys orchestrated the prosecution of the nurses. Both were fired and indicted on third degree felony charges of misuse of official information. They were facing a possible ten year prison sentence.

Happily, the Texas Attorney General opened and investigation and prosecuted the doctor’s buddies. They lost their jobs, were fined and received short prison sentences.

It was very refreshing to see that even in small towns and lightly populated counties that justice can still be secured.

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Pay Attention Exploiters of Hotel Maids!

By , October 22, 2011 7:38 am

October 23rd, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
If you are not self-employed but rather are working for another person or entity, you expect to be paid, do you not? Maybe it is every Friday; maybe it is on the 1st and 15th, maybe it is by commission. Whatever your situation is you do expect to be compensated for your efforts on behalf of another.

That is true for all of us but in point of fact many workers in the United States and, especially in Texas, work hard, fulfill their side of the contract but are cheated out of some of their well-deserved pay or maybe, in some instances, are not paid at all. Wage theft in America is very real and the victims are the most vulnerable among us. Unskilled construction workers, especially immigrants, often find that they do not receive all that is due them when payday does come around. The same is true of jobs such as hotel maids. Laws regarding overtime are often disregarded and a 22-year-old girl from Nicaragua is not likely to take on a national hotel chain. Well, they have two things on their side. One is God, himself, who, in today’s first reading, God’s word comes to us in the book of Exodus with, “Ye shall not molest or suppress an alien…ye shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry and my wrath will flare up.” You can’t have a better patron than that.

But an additional source of strength for workers who are cheated out of their just due are two wonderful organizations, both of which exist here in Austin, Texas. One is a group of pro bono lawyers who work under the heading of the Equal Justice Center (510 S. Congress) and the other is the Workers Defense Project (5604 Manor Road). Both of these organizations have limited resources but they make up for that by dedication and courage.

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Little Rock is a Rock for Justice!

By , October 21, 2011 5:50 am

Photo from

My heartfelt congratulations to Bishop Anthony Taylor, the Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas. He has just joined with the Methodists and the Baptists in his state in an intiative called Gospel Without Borders. It is a documentary produced by a divisive of the Baptist Center for Ethics and funded by a grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas. The documentary portrays how members of these three churches are trying to help immigrants who are all victims of the same injustice. We see all this together and will accomplish far more if they work together. The video focuses on the Scriptural mandate of Jesus common to all Christians.

The bishop has sent a copy of Gospel Without Borders to all the parishes in Arkansas. Regretfully, I have not seen the documentary myself yet, but I feel confident that it will produce a great deal of good across the State of Arkansas. What excites me even more than the production of this useful tool on behalf of justice is the bringing together, in a very concrete and organized way, of the religious leaders across the state in order to speak with one voice on the retractable issue that is not about to go away in the near future.

We constantly hear the figure that there are 12 million illegal people living in the United States at the present time. The largest portion of them are Hispanics from Central and South America. These workers are obviously needed for many sectors of our economy. There is, at the same time, an increasing hostility towards undocumented immigrants as manifested by the recent enactment in Alabama of the most restrictive law to date on the question of immigration. Happily, Archbishop Thomas Rodi, of Mobile, has joined the U.S. Department of Justice in opposing this law.

The United States has a right to make every effort to control its own borders, but once people are here, settled in, are productive and needed in the economy we need to be very careful on how we attempt to resolve this situation.

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The EPA is Our Friend

By , October 20, 2011 5:16 am

All of us live in a complex society in which seemingly mysterious forces are swirling around us – some of them helping us, some of them hurting us. We are often too busy to familiarize ourselves with these issues and hope that somebody else is monitoring them.

Well, thank God for the Environmental Protection Agency. The staff struggles year in and year out to protect all Americans from constant efforts of corporate polluters to attack public health and the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency is a public entity, established in 1970 during the presidency of Richard Nixon. As a government agency, it is sharply limited on what it can do in direct political activity but there are many other private entities that struggle also to oppose the currently unparalleled attacks on the EPA by anti-environmental polluters.

Today, I am thinking especially of the Environmental Defense Fund, currently striving mightily to block an unprecedented attack on the environment. This summer, no less than 40 anti-environmental riders were added to the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the EPA. If they became law, many of these riders would be disastrous. For example, they could:
• Prevent the EPA from regulating mercury, smog and soot from power plants.
• Bar the EPA from spending to enforce the agreement between the administration and car manufacturers to raise vehicle fuel economy, effectively killing the deal.
• Open one million acres adjacent to the Grand Canyon to uranium mining; despoiling that iconic landscape.
The Environmental Defense Fund is fighting back and certainly deserves the support and encouragement of anyone who is concerned about the environment and the health of American citizens.

Take action. Tell Congress to stand up for the nation’s bedrock environmental laws at

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Jesuits as Missionaries!

By , October 19, 2011 4:11 am

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The Society of Jesus, most popularly known as the Jesuits, is one of the strongest and most important religious communities in the Catholic Church. Founded by Ignatius Loyola, it grew rapidly and actively involved itself in every activity of Church life. Today, when we think of the Jesuits, many of us tend to think of the Jesuits as academicians teaching in the many colleges and universities that they have established across the world. They have 27 separate universities just in the United States. What an accomplishment!

However, the Jesuits are also among the greatest missionaries in the life of the Church over the last four centuries. This week, we are reminded of that fact because today we celebrate the memory of St. John de Brebeauf and St. Isaac Jogues, two extraordinary missionaries who courageously worked among the Huron Indians in Canada and the Iroquois in New York. After years of exhausting missionary activity, these two brave men would ultimately be killed by the people among whom they were working.

Some of us wake up on Sunday morning and if there is a hard rain, we decide that we will cut Mass this week and “catch up” next Sunday. When we are faced with a temptation like that, we ought to think about the extraordinary generosity of those who helped to build the faith in North America. The Jesuits were among the best!

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