Should We Be Surprised?

By , August 31, 2012 4:11 am

I believe that most of us think of the United States of America as being an enormous middle class family. Yes, there is a very high percentage of very wealthy people, a larger percentage of the population than has ever been the case. On the other hand, we have always had a certain percentage of our people who are living in dire poverty. Although the numbers are high, it is also true that for most of them poverty in America was a reflection of the agonizing difficulties that Hispanics and blacks have had to face because of the sad and unjust economic history of this country.

There was always the middle class. That is us! We don’t rub shoulders with the very rich but our homes for the most part are air-conditioned. We frequently have roast beef on Sunday. May God bless the middle class, the solid infrastructure of the world’s greatest economy and the world’s most successful democracy. We have got it, we depend on it, we thank God for it.

Will we always have it?

The other week, the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. released highlights of the research on the middle class. It is discouraging and to me even frightening.

The middle class is receiving less of America’s total income declining to its smallest share in decades as median wages stagnate in the economic doldrums and wealth concentrates at the top as the study documents. The study describes that the middle tier of American families are suffering the worst decade in modern history and have fallen backwards in income for the first time since before World War II. Eighty-five percent of middle class Americans say life is more difficult now than a decade ago in their efforts to maintain their standard of living. Why is this happening?

In the case of any complex situation, there are many reasons. The economic collapse of 2008 for more than any other reason was generated by the selfish, blind greed of the financial world who lied and cheated. The middle class lost billions of dollars in value in their homes. Their taxes then paid to bail out the banks who have gone forward quite well. The middle class has not!

Who will speak for the middle class? Who will represent them in the state capitals and in Washington, D.C.? Throughout the 20th century, the unions did a great job in urging and helping workers to aggressively work to fight for their share of the pie. However, union membership today is less than 10% and going down.

What about the churches? During the 20th century, church leaders and clergy were frequently out speaking for, arguing for and helping middle class people to protect their interests but you don’t see much of that today. The middle class is struggling, lacks a clear voice and has very little confidence in giving their children a better tomorrow than they had received from their parents.

The demographics are sad and even frightening but they are there in front of us for all to see. The massive wealth continues to move to the top. Whether or not it is 1% or 6% is not important but represents a tragic imbalance in distribution of the nation’s resources. The middle class grows smaller and smaller. It is not because their members are disappearing. It is simply that they are dropping down the ladder and joining the ranks of the acutely poor. So the poverty component of the country expands dramatically and tragically.

This has happened before in history often with dire results!

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Let Me Repeat!!

By , August 30, 2012 4:11 am

A wonderful and agonizingly necessary accomplishment was achieved by thousands of people in Central Texas last year when by working together through Meals on Wheels and More they accomplished the following:

• Nearly one million meals prepared and delivered
• Five thousand trips to the grocery store for elderly shut-ins
• Ten thousand calls to respond to sick people’s needs
• Five thousand bags of hope for family needs
• Twelve thousand meals for kids
• Five thousand people in need directly affected by this

That is what was accomplished when you gave to Meals on Wheels and More. Were you part of that?

I know I keep coming back to Meals on Wheels but my friends there are people across town and maybe just a few blocks down who are in real trouble. Please take seriously our responsibility to help with the agonizing reality of hunger in Central Texas.

The above-mentioned facts and programs are a wonderful reflection of the generosity and helpfulness of people in the area. If we are going to objectively evaluate our accomplishments, it must be done in terms of the needs that are before us.

Let’s keep working!

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Good News For Everyone!

By , August 29, 2012 4:11 am

Fast breaking news sometimes separates us. Something dramatic happens and a part of our population is upset. That same event may be a source of encouragement to another segment of citizenry. In view of that, I was delighted to see an article in the paper the other day that I think is encouraging for everyone in our society. I will tell you what it is.

Research in the world of academia has just revealed that Latino young people in this country are now the largest minority group on U.S. college campuses. This research was done by the Pew Hispanic Report. It was just released.

The research shows that more than 2 million Hispanics between 18 and 24 were currently enrolled in colleges last year making up a record 16.5% share of enrollments in that age group at two year and four year universities. Terrific!

We are all conscious of the rapid growth of the Hispanic population in this country and many of us have been praying for improved high school completion rates so that these young people could go on to colleges and universities. It is happening – it is happening!

With an ever-increasing percentage in colleges and universities, it means that the earning ability, the stability and the ability to contribute to the larger society will be greatly enhanced. When more young Hispanics are seeing their older brothers, sisters, uncles, friends going on to college and they see that this is an accomplishment that they can achieve if they work hard themselves and take advantage of the programs that are out there.

Last year, 76% of Hispanics in the country between 18 and 24 years of age had a high school diploma. This represents a surge of 6% in only one year. Regretfully, that is still below the national average of 85% and still below the African American average of 81%. However, it is movement in the right direction and it is MOVING!

Everyone who wants to see our country make progress needs to be delighted about this. That includes government, educators, churches, families and the students themselves.

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University of Dallas

By , August 28, 2012 4:11 am

Recently, I mentioned on this page that one of the extraordinary accomplishments of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was the establishment of about 230 colleges and universities. These private schools of higher education, while scattered all over the country, are heavily concentrated in the Northeastern part of the United States. That is because up until the end of the Second World War that is where most of the Catholic population was in this country. Six of those colleges were established within the State of Texas and three of those are located in San Antonio. Today, however, I would like to mention the newest of these Catholic schools in Texas. That is the University of Dallas which opened shortly after the end of World War II.

U of D is really an excellent school with very high academic standards. It is also a school with tremendous commitment to the Roman Catholic faith and many would say that theologically it is the most conservative of the Catholic schools in this state. I am in no position to judge that but I do respect its commitment to tradition and stability. The school enrolls nearly 3,000 students. One interesting aspect of this school is that it was actually established by the diocese itself. The vast majority of the other Catholic colleges were established by one or another of the religious orders. I would think that there are only about six or eight schools in the country that were established by the individual dioceses.

The diocese also maintains Holy Trinity Seminary, a very fine school for priestly formation and its undergraduate department is structured within the University of Dallas. Again, an excellent example of cooperation and development inside the life of the Church.

Another point that I find interesting is that when the school was beginning, Dallas was considered by many to be the “city of tomorrow.” Everything was modern, everything was new, but when the diocese started to establish the university it got great help from one of the most traditionalist communities in the Church, the Order of the Cistercians, which was founded in France in 1098. These priests came to Dallas as refugees from Eastern Europe endeavoring to escape Communist tyranny. Since then everyone has done well – the Cistercians, the university and the diocese itself. Sometimes mixing the old and the new is a good formula for success.

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University of the Incarnate Word

By , August 27, 2012 4:11 am

Today, I would like to take a look at another one of the six Catholic universities located in Texas. This time it is the University of the Incarnate Word. Incarnate Word is the second oldest of the Catholic colleges. It was established by the Sisters of the Incarnate Word and Blessed Sacrament in 1881. These missionary nuns had arrived from France and Ireland and had two educational concerns. First, they wanted to make Catholic education available for young Catholic women and, at the same time, educate their own sisters in order that they might properly and more effectively teach in the Catholic schools that were being opened everywhere late in the 19th century. They succeeded in both areas and then went beyond those two goals.

For many years, Incarnate Word limited itself to female students but after World War II the school expanded and accepted male applicants. Since then, the school has made great strides. Currently, approximately 8,000 students are enrolled. The present president is
Dr. Louis J. Agnese, Jr. and under his leadership the school has expanded tremendously in a wide variety of majors, a very successful school of business as well as opening new campuses in China, Mexico and several other countries.

The motherhouse of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word is still on the campus and has expanded its own ministry as needs in our society change. The magnificent convent, which is still the headquarters of the sisters, also accepts elderly residents allowing them to live in a beautiful atmosphere and easily center their faith-filled lives around the convent’s chapel.

By discussing each of these colleges individually there is one underlying reality that we ought to keep in mind as we admire their existence, development, effectiveness and outreach to the larger society. Each one of them costs a lot of money, a great deal of money. I always admire the presidents of these colleges because while they are very interested in running excellent academic institutions, one of their main tasks is the never-ending search for dollars. Whenever a new building is needed, funds have to be raised to bring it into existence and then after that more funds for professors. It is an always expanding and never-ending struggle.

Go for it President Agnese!

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A Real Scandal

By , August 25, 2012 5:41 am

August 26th, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, when you hear the word “scandal” we almost always connect it with disappointment or a letdown relating to some religious person or program. We are scandalized when the pastor marries the church secretary but the original meaning of the word is quite simple. A scandal is something that causes you to stumble, to falter, to not be able to go forward. In today’s Gospel as we are winding down the 6th chapter of
St. John, we have a classic act of stumbling.

Jesus has been talking at great length about the fact that he will continue to abide with us in the mystery of the Eucharist and that he himself will be the food that will bring us to eternal life. This shocked many of his listeners. Jesus does not back down. Six times he repeats the basic thesis that he is the bread of life and that he will nourish us as we continue to journey after him.

The sentence reflecting the scandal is really sad.

“From this time on many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company.”

Our Lord does not apologize. He does not say they misunderstood. He just keeps repeating the truth of his continued presence among us. There are two things: that it is some of his disciples who are leaving and then Jesus turns to the apostles and says, “Will you also go away?” And Peter replies,

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We are convinced that you are God’s holy one.”

Let us stand beside Peter each day of our life.

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Poolside Theology

By , August 24, 2012 4:33 am

At last it’s in sight! The end of August. Our kids are not all that excited about it, but parents see the closing days of summer as a special gift to be enjoyed by the constant ads for school clothes and supplies. They are going back to school. As parents look back over the summer months, they are conscious that so many kids have spent a few weeks in summer camps- frequently a camp sponsored by a Christian Church. This is a wonderful atmosphere for young people, and can do a great deal of good, but regretfully, in some cases, it produces real tension for Roman Catholic young people. The question is language.

Thanks be to God, the vast majority of Christians hold beliefs in common- God, the human family, Jesus, the Resurrection, and the continued story of Jesus cast into history which we call the church. While we hold these things in common, our mode of expression can somewhat differ. Chalk it up to Martin Luther! His theology was extraordinarily profound, but simple: salvation comes by placing your faith in Jesus Christ and accepting Him as your personal Savior. All Catholics believe in Jesus Christ. All Catholics realize that His life, death and resurrection have brought about the salvation of the human family, but we do not usually use the expression in exactly that manner. Frequently kids are talking to each other beside the swimming pool at Camp Flowing Water and the Catholic kid is asked, “Are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” The Catholic kid is somewhat taken aback, and might not answer (as he or she should) with a resounding affirmative. That then creates a situation where the Catholic may be isolated, embarrassed and out of the main stream. This can be avoided! Let’s make plans now for next summer. We need to stress with our children, that for 2000 years Catholics have placed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth as their Lord and Savior. They do so today, and they will continue to do so until the end of time.

The rest of the story is that Catholicism is an awesome tapestry- a mosaic- with Jesus of Nazareth at its center, and countless other aspects of faith, love, beauty, and generosity within it. If this is stressed with young people headed to camp, they will not only NOT be embarrassed, they will have an extraordinary and much deserved pride in their spiritual heritage.

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What a Strange Outfit He Has On

By , August 23, 2012 4:11 am

When you attend Mass as a stranger at a Catholic parish, you won’t have any trouble finding out who is the priest. He is the guy with the unusual outfit! Most people aren’t too curious about it. They just say to themselves, well that is the way that they do it and that it is. Curiosity often leads us into greater understanding as to what is going on around us, and I want to say a few words about that outfit the celebrant has on up there at the altar.

I have celebrated Mass in a thatched hut in the jungle with an unhappy mixture of mud and rain pouring over me. Sometimes I would be vested and at other times it was not possible. Vestments are always proper and should be worn except under exceptional circumstances. What are those vestments?

One is a long white garment that covers the entire body of the priest and is called an alb. Actually, it is an adaptation of the Roman toga which carries us back to the beginning of the Church in the first century of the Roman Empire. The second vestment, and the most important of the three, is a long slender garment that drapes around the neck of the priest. Maybe it was a necktie in the second century. Two thousand years ago, it was simply decorative but with the passage of time it has come to represent the office of the priesthood. It is called a stole. A priest will wear this whenever he is celebrating sacraments, whether it be baptism, penance, blessing objects, etc. Finally, there is the outer garment that most of us see all the time. That is called a chasuble. In the Roman times, it was simply a cloak or jacket for the purposes of warmth. Today, the Boy Scouts are all familiar with it and know it as the poncho.

So there he is – all dressed up in the best style from 200 B.C. But – oops – the colors keep changing! Most societies and cultures put various meanings on colors and the same is true in the Church. So, there are a half a dozen different colors that can be used in which the outer vestment, the chasuble, can be made, but the principal ones today are white, red, green and gold. In our Western culture, white symbolizes joy and purity; green represents life; red represents fire, the Holy Spirit, or blood for martyrs; gold is the color of triumph and is used especially for the great feasts of Easter and Christmas. The use of black was suppressed after the Second Vatican Council. It was utilized principally at funerals but now we see funerals, not as a tragic, sad event but as entry into eternal life and so we use white.

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A Follow-up On Loneliness

By , August 22, 2012 4:11 am

The other day in thinking about the pain of loneliness, I tried to stress the positive reality that is always present for people of faith, namely, that none of us are ever really alone. God, who brought about our creation, is always with us and always knows of our pain, our potential, our hopes and places in our hearts the capacity for love, which has the potential to break through any degree of aloneness. The fact is, however, that there is a lonely chapter in virtually every life. Our children grow up and move away. One of the spouses dies and the survivor may have an intense feeling of aloneness, of isolation. This is not always the case, and those who have developed good friends and have maintained good relationships with their children survive it rather easily. However, what about those who don’t?

First of all, there are many among us who have varying degrees of autism. Most of us think of autism in its extreme form but that is not always the case. Shyness is not autism but extreme forms of shyness make it very difficult for us to reach outside ourselves to initiate conversations; to reach over, pick up that telephone and place that call that we have been wanting to make for two months now. “I really ought to drop a note to Jerry explaining why I couldn’t go to the funeral but I have used my last postage stamp. Oh well. He will understand.”

If you are a relaxed, outgoing person, you may never really feel that sense of aloneness. You should be sensitive of others who don’t have your gifts. When you see a person being left out of a conversation, make a determined effort to bring him or her into it. When you see a woman at the cash register using monosyllabic answers and looking tired and sad, use her name and thank her for her much appreciated helpfulness. When someone has experienced a death in the family, the time that they need you is not between the death and the funeral. It is a week or two weeks or a month after the funeral. Make that call, drop that note, invite them out to lunch. Reach out!

Human existence is a great gift. The humanity of each one of us is awesome but we must cultivate our humanness and one of the best ways to do it is to be concerned about the happiness of those around us.

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There Must Be Another Way

By , August 21, 2012 5:05 am

Should it take two years to elect the president? Should it cost a billion dollars in TV ads and staff salaries in order to put a man in that important office? I am solidly committed to democracy but does democracy have to be so inefficient? This year’s electoral cycle started a year and a half ago in the battle for the Republican nomination. It ended two months ago when it became obvious that Governor Mitt Romney had sewed up the nomination for his party. The actual election is now less than 100 days away.

I think that it is highly unlikely that either candidate will say very much that is new, interesting and important between now and November, but both sides will spend millions and millions to convey endless repetitions on four or five crucial points that separate the two candidates. I envy the European parliamentary system where there is always a trained replacement standing in the wings, the people decide that a change is necessary and it can be done in a couple of days, not with an unprepared replacement but with somebody who has been standing there in a “shadow” government for a long period of time and is ready to take over in an instant.

Two months ago in France Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated. The next day Francois Hollande stepped into the office. It must be wonderful not to be exposed to all that blather over such a long period of time.

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