In my opinion, every thinking person ought to endeavor to be an environmentalist. The general population is beginning to realize that polluters are poisoning our air, water and land, killing our wildlife, destroying forests and global warming continues to increase. Generations of children in the future are threatened.
I try to contribute to the many different environmental organizations and sometimes I have to admit I think that there are too many of them. However, one that really stands out is Green Peace. Green Peace will not accept corporate or government funds, making it truly independent. Therefore, their research and investigations are taken very seriously and have an impact on the larger society.
All contributors of Green Peace ought to be proud of what this organization has accomplished. Among those accomplishments are:
• The banning of commercial whaling
• The banning of ocean incineration and ocean dumping of toxic wastes
• The stopping of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons
• More than 21 million acres of forests are legally protected from destruction in Brazil’s Amazon and Canada’s great rainforests
My friends, those are enormous accomplishments. All of us should stand with Green Peace and their work.
Their address is Green Peace, P. O. Box 90136, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22404-9952. When we help save the planet from destruction we are actually carrying out the directives that God gave to Adam and Eve.
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September 29th, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Photo by Gustave Doré
At last the summer is coming to an end and we are still traveling. We are walking with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and death. The days may be cooler now but the message from God that comes to us through the Church is continuing the tough challenge of last week. We are to live just lives. It is the gifts that we receive and one that is fair, generous and loving. Good old Amos thunders, “Woe to the complacent in Zion lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches. They eat lambs taken from the flock and calves from the stall but they are not faithful!” Amos warns them that these luxury loving idolaters will be the first to go into exile and their happy times will be over.
The scene in the Gospel contains the same theme but more directly Jesus describes a rich man who has fantastic wealth and ignores the needs of the poor. While the rich man is nameless, the poor man is given that dignity by our Lord himself. His name is Lazarus. He is very sick. He has leprosy but he is destitute and from afar he sees the inordinate luxury of the rich man.
Oops! Suddenly the scene changes. Lazarus is dead and the rich man is gone as well but he is in a difficult place and suffering for his selfishness, for his greed, for his indifference to the needs of the poor. The rich man cries out for help from father Abraham. When the wealthy man finds out that there is no crossing over into the better world of Lazarus he shows his good side and begs that Abraham would send a message to his father’s house and warn his five brothers so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes that the rich man made. Then he is turned down and Abraham reminds the rich man and all of us that while we are struggling here on earth it is very important that we live good lives because evil and sinfulness cannot be undone in the next life. It has to be done here.
Let’s all listen to the voice of Abraham.
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All of the sacraments are about life. They are about our own individual spiritual life and the life of Christ himself. It is through the instrumentality of the sacraments that we are joined to Jesus – first in Baptism where we become his brothers and sisters, and then in the Eucharist where his life becomes one with ours. This is an awesome and beautiful reality and we must always endeavor to keep the reality of it clearly in our mind. But we are frail and weak human beings and we are also free!
In moments of powerful temptation or evil decisions we can willfully separate ourselves from sharing in the life of Jesus. I am referring to the destructiveness of sin. That fact would be extraordinarily sad but for the exhilarating reality that our conscience recognizes our failures and motivates us to repair the damage and destructiveness of sin. It is for that purpose that the Church was given the gift of Reconciliation. The proper name through the centuries was the Sacrament of Penance and the popular title was usually simply “confession.”
Following the Second Vatican Council we all began to use the word Reconciliation as the best name or title for this sacrament because it tells the reality that is present here. If we find ourselves separated from our Lord because of deliberate, grave evil, we are not to be discouraged or slide into depression. Our Lord loves us; he loves us even in our sinfulness and invites us to be reconciled with him. The great truth is that we are forgiven for our sins the instant that we are truly sorry for them. God’s love is unconditional. But no grave sin is completely an individual act. Sin offends not only our Divine Lord but the Christian community itself, and so from the first years of the Church those who failed in the practice of the faith came to the community and “confessed” their failures recognizing that the faith community was weakened because of their failures. The Church would then impose a penance, sort of a spiritual fine, on the penitent and they would be absolved in the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Home again, home with the Lord, home with my brothers and sisters in faith. Home as together we journey to our eternal home.
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The 1960’s were a very wild, fast changing, dangerous decade. Changes ripped through every segment of our society and our churches. Many of those changes were very good, some were horrific and all were challenging.
I am thinking especially today of an event that occurred in September of 1963, fifty years ago. Four young black girls went to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama to work together on their bible assignment. The Sunday school lesson was to be “The Love That Forgives”. While these beautiful young girls were studying that theme, a bomb exploded killing them instantly. It was a horrible event and as columnist Leonard Pitts said, “What kind of people kill children in church?” It is true that God can draw good out of evil, and I guess that a natural optimist might say that the martyrdom of four innocent little girls made our country examine its conscience and begin to face more effectively the hideous reality of racial hatred and the resulting segregation.
A short time before this tragedy Dr. Martin Luther King had given his immortal speech in the nation’s capital proclaiming that he had a dream. How Dr. King must have felt when he heard the news of this despicable event. In the face of that, he still went forward with faith in God and trust that in the end America would confront its sinfulness. We have made progress since evil white hatred placed that bomb in the 16th Street Baptist Church but not nearly enough.
We must all continue to work together to bring America to the point where it lives its proclaimed principle that all are created equal. We have a way to go.
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When new leaders are ushered into new positions of power and authority they are usually an unknown quantity, at least as far as the exercise of that particular office is concerned. This is true of both the presidency and the papacy. When you learn of the identity of the key assistants in these important posts you can usually guess the general direction in which this new leader will be moving. Now Pope Francis is beginning to make the decisions that are offering us fairly clear indications of what he wants to accomplish in terms of short and long-term leadership.
In my opinion, the first important thing that Pope Francis did was to appoint eight cardinals from different countries around the world. Only one was a Vatican bureaucrat. These eight cardinals are to provide research and information regarding the Church across the planet, and to contribute to decisions about how the Church should work through its many problems and begin to move forward effectively again. The chair to this group is Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, who is very well respected as an effective leader.
The next thing that got our attention was that the pope hired a management firm to help him with day to day administrative problems in the various structures of Vatican City. I assume that they are at work now but I am sure it will be some time before they see the benefits that flow from their new approach to management.
Then a few weeks ago- the big one. For most observers, the single most important appointment for the pope is the office of Secretary of State. By tradition, he would be called the pope’s prime minister. Pope Francis filled that key post on August 31st by appointing a 58 year old Italian, Archbishop Pietro Parolin. He replaces Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a person with whom I had considerable dealings back in the struggle over Brackenridge Hospital.
Parolin looks like a natural. He is still young and vigorous. He has had extraordinary experience as a staff person in the Secretariat of State and then as a nuncio in many crucial assignments around the planet. When he was appointed to this office he was just winding down four years of being the papal ambassador to Venezuela.
Archbishop Parolin is well equipped for the task. In addition to Italian, he speaks fluently in English, French and Spanish. Many observers say that Pope Francis didn’t just hire a CEO, but also a statesman.
May God bless the Archbishop and may he be of great service to our wonderful Pope Francis.
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It’s amazing what a difference a couple of generous people can make in the lives of others who are in need, once one of the members gets an idea. I say that today, because I am thinking of a wonderful, small but incredibly effective organization called Open Arms
. Leslie Beasley has had the blessing of being able to travel a lot, and was often shocked at the stark poverty of Asians, especially their women. Over coffee, she challenged a number of her Austin female friends (including a good friend of mine, my coach, Linda Knebel) to do something for women in the country of Bhutan. They had the idea that women HERE could help women THERE.
Leslie then met several women from this distant country who were in real need, and had skills as seamstresses. She brought them together, and developed the idea of opening a small textile manufacturing company. It seems that large amounts of textile waste is easily available from large companies that can’t make use of every square inch as they produce larger products. Central Presbyterian Church on East 8th Street made space available to her and they were in business!
Seven women from Bhutan, the free “waste” fabric, the space from the church, and the encouragement of “her” and her generous friends from suburban Austin launched a program that is really changing lives, both here and back at home in Asia.The company expects to recycle 80,000 t-shirts for skirts, dresses and other uses.
This is a wonderful project, but what I like most about it is that the wages that are paid to these ladies is about $12/hour, well above the minimum wage. Open Arms is setting an example to many of the other employers in Austin, to be more realistic in their payments to their employees.
Another delightful thing about Open Arms is that there are so many of these small projects generated by the imagination and generosity of moderately affluent women.
When we occasionally get discouraged from selfishness and greed in our society, we should think about Open Arms as a reflection of the mass of goodness scattered throughout the American people. I thank them for keeping those arms open all the way to Bhuton!
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For years and years, I have laughingly told people that I was going to write a book. Of course, the possible topic would change on the basis of to whom I was speaking. However, that elusive book has finally been published. It actually started in a roundabout way. I was giving a talk to a group of elementary and middle school students at St. Theresa’s here in Austin, and I really stressed the evil of bullying. Bullying is terribly destructive, and I feel very strongly that our society needs to deal with this issue better than we have. Afterwards, a friend of mine, Dr. Drew Grimes, gave me a delightful small book (Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart)- a book that included many topics in small chapters, written in a very encouraging and positive style. Drew’s wife, Dr. Jill Grimes, joined me in the project, and you can see the effect in the advertisement on your right!
The book actually touches on nearly 150 different subjects, but they are tied together by what (in my opinion) is an easy, relaxed conversational style. No threats, no condemnations- very little that is negative. The response has been extraordinary! We had two initial book signings- one at St. Louis, King of France, that drew over 600 people, and the next day, approximately 400 people attended another signing event at Book People.
The reaction happily leaps across denominations and binds generations. I’ve found that parents of adult children have been especially responsive when they see the positive reaction from the younger generation. Interestingly, it has also worked the other way around, where young adults have given the book to their parents.
How wonderful to be able to enjoy an experience like this when you are a mere six years from 90!
Thanks be to God!
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September 22nd, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we hear the voice of the Prophet Amos stretching across nearly 2,500 years touching our ears and reminding us of one of the saddest aspects of the human story. Human beings are weak, many of us have a strong temptation to take short cuts and do not always successfully resist those temptations. One of the most common temptations in all cultures and civilizations has been the temptation of the wealthy to take advantage of the weaker citizens in their society or culture. It was true in Egypt, Greece, Rome and it is true in the United States.
Poor areas of our cities have fewer grocery stores and the commodities for sale within them are more expensive than in the more affluent parts of town. When the poor get in trouble and they need a $50 or $100 loan they pay astronomical fees sometimes becoming much larger than the original loan itself.
Two weeks ago you saw an explosion as the fast food workers of the country challenged the food giants to pay them more than $7.25 an hour. In many parts of the country their effort was very effective and they received substantial raises. That is good but did their employers really think that their employees could live a normal life on our pathetic minimum wage?
In today’s first reading our friend Amos had a lot to say about this and the exploiters of the poor when he says, “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob never will I forget a thing that they have done.” Not a thing? Wow! That is very strong. In our dealings with each other we ought to keep that in mind. God will not forget crimes of injustice against the poor. They must be atoned for and the perpetrator must experience sorrow and repentance because, “The Lord has sworn never will I forget a thing that they have done!”
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In the Eucharist, Roman Catholics are strengthened by their profound faith in the Real Presence of Jesus. He is with us. He promised that he would be with us and that he would be with the Church until the end of time.
In baptism, we were made the brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth. At Confirmation, we committed ourselves to be loyal and faithful followers. Both of these sacraments were celebrated but once in our lives but, nevertheless, continue to strengthen us as we go forward on our spiritual journey.
The Eucharist is for TODAY and its reception brings with it wonderful spiritual gifts. Every individual receiving communion should be conscious that at that moment they are one with Christ. They are joined to their Savior. Their Redeemer is with them. They are not alone. Receiving communion is an intensely personal experience but it is more than that.
When we receive communion we should also be conscious that we are one with those who share our faith and who understand our oneness in Christ. At Sunday Mass we get out of our pews and move to the center aisle. See that long line of people moving towards the altar? A beautiful reality is being expressed there. This procession carries us back to the Israelites journeying across the desert being fed with bread from heaven. As we receive communion, so also are we being fed bread from heaven! We are one with Jesus, the others in the procession are one with Jesus, and we are one with our brothers and sisters in faith. Jesus ties us all together.
Those journeying with us in the Eucharistic procession are our sisters and brothers in Christ. So also are all those across the city and even across the world one with us through our union with Christ. This means that we are all responsible for each other, we need to pray for each other, defend the weak and vulnerable among us, and be prepared to witness for our faith in our Divine Lord.
The Eucharist, the Body of Christ, is an awesome multifaceted gift. Let us celebrate it always and not lose sight of the awesome reality that its presence brings to us.
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Last week, I touched briefly on the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. I mentioned that each of these sacraments are received but once in our lifetime and because of that their importance can easily recede into our memories and not hold our attention as firmly as they should. We ought to mark the date of our baptism in our working calendar and remind ourselves of it frequently, but especially on the day of our baptism. With Confirmation, an exact date is nice to know, but the important thing is for us to realize that we have committed ourselves to be strong followers of Jesus of Nazareth and that carries with it challenging responsibilities.
We need to celebrate our faith, to be conscious of it, to look for calm situations where we can discuss it with others and to pray frequently that we respond generously when we have the opportunity to move forward God’s great message, which came to us through Jesus, that each and every one of us are loved – loved infinitely.
Let me just make a brief mention here of the Eucharist, the central sacrament which allows Christ to live within us and we can say, as did St. Paul, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.”
The central reality of the sacrament of the Eucharist is that Jesus is not remote, not an important figure from history, not someone who lives in another world, but that he is with us day by day. Knowing and receiving the Eucharist frequently brings about many wonderful results. I will discuss them tomorrow.
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