Hunger In Central Texas

By , February 28, 2013 4:44 am

When was the last time you missed a meal? Was it because you were trying to diet or you were too busy to stop and eat? OR WAS IT BECAUSE THERE WAS NO FOOD! As you drive around the beautiful city of Austin or take a drive out into the lovely surrounding world of the Texas Hill Country, do you ever stop to think that there are people out there that you don’t see but who do not have enough food and sometimes they have NO food?
It is a fact, my friends. Thankfully, unemployment in this area is low compared to the national average, but there are thousands and thousands of people who do not have a regular income or pick up an occasional part-time job producing just a few dollars but not enough around which to organize a family. If we don’t think about this fact, we ought to make a point to try to do so more frequently. When we do, let’s commit ourselves to being ever more generous in our response to various programs attempting to deal with the agonizing issue of hunger in Central Texas.
First of all, I think of the Capital Area Food Bank, an absolutely extraordinarily valuable organization. The Food Bank’s relatively small but dedicated staff gathers millions and millions of pounds of good food and distributes it in various ways, but mostly through neighborhood churches and pantries. The biggest source of this food is from the major food suppliers, such as national grocery chains and programs like the Crop Hunger Walk, Souper Bowl of Caring and a half a dozen other programs and organizations that work generously to confront the evil of hunger in the wealthiest and most prosperous part of the planet.
The Capital Area Food Bank is led very effectively by Mr. Hank Perret, the president and CEO. He has done an outstanding job but he and his co-workers really need your help. Naturally, the program requires much more than just free food to be distributed. Its trucks, its warehouses and operating costs require cash. If you can’t get a case of beans out to the distribution points, then why not send money? It is extraordinarily helpful and doesn’t require a lot of storage space. Their address is 8201 South Congress, Austin, Texas 78704.

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We Need Them

By , February 27, 2013 4:43 am

Whenever a few U.S. citizens sit down together and start talking about various aspects of the political scene, the immigration issue will quickly raise its head. The subject was a major issue during the last presidential campaign and it certainly sees many bills surfacing, not only in Washington but in Southwestern states as well. Whether it is accurate or not, the fact is that the figure 12 million illegal immigrants is the one most quoted in these discussions – 12 million human beings. And what are we as a nation going to do about it?
It was a Democratic issue until after the election when the Republicans saw that they were losing very badly among Hispanics, the fastest growing voting bloc in the nation. GOP leaders have softened their position and are now taking an interest in some type of solution to the issue, and some type of solution will be found! Why? Because we need them!
Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal had a very supportive article written by Giovanni Peri of the University of California in which he was pushing that not only would legalization of the undocumented be a tremendous asset to these 12 million human beings but that it would also be an extraordinary shot in the arm for the American economy. Dr. Peri urged simplification in the process of entering the country and allocating the number of temporary work visas on the basis of actual demand for their labor. Currently, visas are very limited with no consideration to the economic conditions that are present. The third point is that he thinks the country would be very wise to recognize that scientists, engineers and innovators are the main drivers of productivity and economic growth. He documented that the presence of this group allowed into country between 1990 and 2010 contributed 10% to 20% of the yearly productivity growth. That is an aggregate increase of output of 615 billion as of 2010. Wow!
Let’s get moving on immigration reform.

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Loaves and Fishes on Wheels

By , February 26, 2013 4:40 am

Catholics in the United States have historically been woefully lax in their study of God’s word. Things have been much improved since the Second Vatican Council but we still have a long way to go. At least most Catholics are familiar with the Parables and the message that they contain, and the more dramatic scenes from our Lord’s life as presented in the Gospel. One such a scene is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. You know it well. A great throng to hear the words of Jesus, no food markets conveniently nearby and the apostles are aware that hunger is setting in. We know the rest but let’s take a look at a modern twist with the same basic idea of Jesus, or at least the followers of Jesus, feeding the poor.
One of the most socially involved parishes in the Diocese of Austin is St. John Neumann. In 1998, a group of parishioners were clearly conscious of the amount of hunger and the material need there was within this rather prosperous Texas city. In September of that year, a small committee of five persons made 75 sack lunches and went through the town distributing at points where they saw people who were unemployed or homeless. In 1999, seeing the great need, a truck along the lines of those used by neighborhood lunch wagons was purchased and the miracle took off.
At the present time, Mobile Loaves and Fishes have established 16 catering trucks located in five cities and four states, every one serving with magnificent compassion and love. Going out into the streets every night, Mobile Loaves and Fishes serves food, basic clothing, hygiene products, friendship, a smile and a handshake to their brothers and sisters living on or near the streets. This is yet another example of how much good can be generated when two or three people get together with faith, vision and energy. Can you join the great work of St. John Neumann? The contact information for Mobile Loaves and Fishes is 903 S. Capital of Texas, Austin, Texas 78746, (512) 328-7299.
May God continue to bless Mobile Loaves and Fishes and may their trucks continue to increase and roll.

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Religious Women – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

By , February 25, 2013 4:36 am

The Church today is very much alive and since it is alive, it is moving and since it is such a diverse entity, it is moving in several directions at once. As Catholics across the world continue to increase, the largest factor causing that increase is simply births in Africa, South America and Asia. The birthrates in Europe and North America continue to decline.
The number of Catholics is increasing but in those last two continents they are dropping principally caused by the enormous number of people that no longer are active in the living of their faith. The ordained and vowed personnel structure of the Church is also undergoing a contraction that is really ominous. The number of religious women, religious priests and religious brothers has dropped dramatically over the last few decades. For religious women, the figures are astounding – 180,000 in 1965 and about 55,000 today.
Some very thoughtful people are saying, however, that while the number of religious is contracting, it is also changing. I think to myself that in my own personal experience that this is true. When I was a kid there were lots of sisters and virtually 100% involved either with education or health care. Today, the religious women in the Catholic Church, while few in number, are everywhere and doing truly great work. Beyond those important ministries, they are no longer just fitting into large established organizational entities. They show great initiative and diversity. Some of our best theologians are religious women. They are committed to helping the poor, have entered law and are doing extraordinary work among people with special needs. For example, I know religious women who are friends of mine working in the field of ecumenical relations, Christian-Jewish relations, nutrition and the environment. Throw in prison ministry and you get a glimpse of what this extraordinary group of women are accomplishing in and through the Church. It is wonderful to see that some communities are organizing associates who will keep alive the spirit of their communities and enable that spirit to be expanded that in a way that was not true in the past, namely lay involvement.
May God bless them all.

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The Transfiguration

By , February 23, 2013 4:34 am

February 24th, Second Sunday of Lent

Jesus of Nazareth is a real human being. The apostles who worked with him during his public life were also real human beings with different temperaments, personalities, talents, etc. It is only natural then that Jesus dealt with the apostles in different ways. We can guess at those ways but we will never know exactly the motivation that caused our Lord to act in such a way in specific situations.
Those thoughts are brought to my mind because of today’s Gospel which in the life of the Church is called the Feast of the Transfiguration. The majority of the apostles are left behind in the valley. For some reason Jesus goes away with Peter, James and John. This is really a dramatic scene. The four of them ascend high up on the mountain. Suddenly Jesus looks different, awesomely different! The texts say that his clothes became dazzlingly white and he is no longer alone. There is Moses to one side and Elijah on the other. They also appeared in glory and were having a conversation with Jesus about the fact that he was about to fulfill ancient prophecies. It is an awesome scene but Luke gives it very few words. The visitors soon disappear and the three apostles are headed down the mountain again. From within a mysterious cloud they hear a voice saying, “This is my son, my chosen one. Listen to him.” The apostles were shocked into silence and did not report this scene until after the resurrection.
What is the purpose of this event? Anyone could come up with a number of explanations. Was Jesus just preparing these chosen apostles for something that would be more awesome in the future, namely his resurrection and an awareness of his divinity? Was he uniting his life and work with God’s dealings with his people in the Old Testament which is symbolized by both Moses and Elijah? Maybe it was just to remind you and me of two facts: that life is mysterious and God is near.

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Let’s Pray For The New Pope

By , February 22, 2013 4:29 am

Photo: M. Poloskey

In a few more weeks, the Roman Catholic Church will have a new leader. He will be the 266th successor of St. Peter. He will assume an awesome task. The burdens of his office will not simply be the complexities of the Universal Church operating in virtually every country in the world and having a billion, two hundred million members. He will find a Church that in many ways is experiencing serious internal conflict, dogmatically and structurally.
It would be wonderful if the first day that the pope stepped into office, assumed the tiara, that he would have a really first-rate staff around him but sadly the Curia itself has been badly divided and in conflict and one of the first things that the new pope will have to do is bring order and efficiency to the Roman Curia. I believe with all my heart that the pope will enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such guidance, of course, relates to the central doctrines of the Church, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no real connection between that divine gift and day-to-day administrative effectiveness. That is a very earthy skill and not every pope has had it.
Seriously, let’s do pray for the man who is among us now but in a few weeks will see his life changed dramatically.

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A Religion of Peace?

By , February 21, 2013 5:11 am

After the terrible tragedy now simply remembered in American history as 9/11, I was very proud of the fact that President George Bush spoke repeatedly about the need to not develop hatred or misunderstanding along religious lines. He stressed that the Muslim faith was a religion of peace and I think that his thoughtful words had a calming conditioning effect.
I have tried to remember the president’s advice over the next ten years. Sometimes it is difficult to see when so much killing across the world for the last 20 years much of it done in the name of following the teachings of Mohammad. There are many countries in the world where no religion is tolerated other than Islam, people are killed for attempting to convert to a Christian faith. Churches are burnt, schools are destroyed and it continues. Quite frankly, it is growing worse!
Last month in Nigeria, nine polio immunization workers were shot dead by gunmen who attacked two clinics. A month earlier, another nine female polio workers in Pakistan were slaughtered. All those killed were women and each was shot in the back of the head. I clearly realize that these tragic situations are the work of small, bitter groups who think that the Crusades occurred two weeks ago and that the West and the values of the West are a threat to Islam. What concerns me is why don’t we hear loudly and clearly from the religious leaders in these Islamic countries? Why isn’t there an international Islamic organization trying to phase out the hatred and bitterness against Christianity that marks so much of the Islamic world?
These social workers who were murdered were themselves Muslims but their lives were taken because they were seen as representatives of the West and of Christianity. In today’s world, the vast majority of religious leaders are against violence and injustice. When will we begin to hear marked criticism from the religious leaders of Islam?

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Every 600 Years?

By , February 20, 2013 5:09 am

Photo: Megan Poloskey

They say it has been more than 600 years since a Pope retired, and only three have done it in 2000 years, so it certainly is a noteworthy event!

Serious Catholics are almost all vitally interested in the upcoming election. They hope and pray that a Cardinal will be elected who has the faith, vision, courage and strength to lead our Church during this very difficult time.
You know the list: sexual scandals, inadequate clergy, doctrinal conflict, persecution in the Islamic countries, etc. etc. The new Pope will have his work cut out for him.

But Catholics are not the only ones who are interested in this election. Millions of others, of widely varying faiths, will be watching the evening news with fascination. Why? It’s because this news will,in many ways, take them back six or seven hundred years. Most leaders in today’s world do not sit on thrones. Our White House and Capitol are not nearly as inspiring as St. Peter’s and its Piazza. The method of communicating the election of a new Pope is certainly strange, but delightful! If they fail to elect a new Pope, they burn wet straw on a tiny stove in the corner of the Sistine Chapel, thereby emitting black smoke from above the Papal palace. If a new Pope is elected, the smoke is white. Both messages, of course, depend heavily on the wind of the day. My guess is that there is about a billion dollars worth of communications equipment down in the Piazza and in the surrounding balconies, all looking for that precious white smoke.
Back to the serious side, a Roman Catholic Pope can be a tremendous source for good in the world, so everyone- whether they be of the Catholic faith or not- should be hoping for an outstanding new leader. Have the straw ready!

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Vatican II – the 50th Anniversary

By , February 19, 2013 4:28 am

It has been 50 years, a half century, since Pope John XXIII called the bishops of the world to convene in the Vatican “in order to open the windows of the Church and let in some fresh air.” It was a momentous gathering, only the 20th such meeting in the whole 2,000 year history of the Church. The meeting went on for almost five years and while the bishops were only in session about three months out of the year, they had many committees that continued to work in-between the general sessions. Under the Council, it produced 16 documents on an extraordinarily wide-range of issues. There were four Constitutions promulgated and they are the most important. They include the Church, Revelation, Liturgy and The Church Today (Gaudium et Spes). Then followed nine Decrees on important subjects but not carrying the weight of the Constitutions. Finally, they produced three Declarations and these were on education, ecumenism and religious freedom.
It fell to Pope Paul VI to guide the implementation of all of these documents that had been spelled out in 103,000 words. No small task! The Council was endeavoring to update the Church after a 400 year period during which the Church had circled the wagons. The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century had made the Church very fearful of any type of change and it wasn’t until the Second Vatican Council that real updating began to take place. But that updating came with shock and a period of implementation was not completely smooth.
From my perspective, things began to settle down fairly well in the 1980’s but then the rollback began. Many of the progressive changes called for by the Council began to be quietly dismantled. The Council called for every country to have a national conference of its bishops. They came into existence but gradually their prerogatives and responsibilities were dramatically limited. The document on the Sacred Liturgy had produced wonderful results allowing the Church to use the language of the people where it was functioning and the role of the laity or more accurately, the whole community was much more involved in divine worship. Since many of the translations immediately after the Council were somewhat rushed, there gradually began to be an awareness that sacred texts should be improved. The bishops of the 17 English speaking countries worked hard at producing new and improved translations, but ultimately they would be rejected by the Vatican and the Vatican would impose its own translations to be used in all English speaking countries. Etc., etc., etc.
A year ago when the 50th anniversary of the Council arrived very little was done to mark it or to refresh the memory of the Church across the world. I think that it is very important that dioceses everywhere begin renewed efforts to refreshen our memories of the importance of this event. The 2,500 bishops, working for more than four years in front of TV cameras, made great strides in accomplishing what Pope John XXIII called them to do but, regretfully, much of it has been undone and continues to be undone by a very small group of Vatican officials working behind closed doors.

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Death – Death – Death

By , February 18, 2013 4:52 am

All of us find ourselves bombarded by the news. It is available now 24 hours a day, seven days a week in many different formats. There is a lot to choose from but I have long held that the top of the line in news programs is public television’s late afternoon program, “The News Hour” which appears Monday through Friday and the best is Friday because on that day Mark Shields, the liberal commentator, and David Brooks, a conservative, discuss the issues in a way that is regretfully rare today. They do it intelligently, calmly, politely, each showing great respect to the opinions of the other.
Mark Shields startled many of his listeners two weeks ago with the amazing statement that there have been 1,384,000 fire arms related deaths in the United States since the night that Robert Kennedy was killed. If that wasn’t bad enough, he went on to say that total civilian deaths from guns in our country exceeds that all the wars in our country’s history from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, World War I, World War II in those 45 years. The first reaction of many listeners was wide-spread denial. We know that the Civil War took more than a half a million lives and World War II almost as many. There was so much denial that went to work and their research justified Shields comments. In the United States history 1.2 million Americans died in wartime and nearly 1.4 million Americans died by fire arms outside the context of war during these 45 years.
The gun right lobby continues to spike terror into the hearts of political candidates in borderline election victories. Sooner or later, America must deal with this awesomely destructive reality.

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