The Voter Rights Issue

By , January 31, 2014 5:30 am

I use this small amount of space each day to communicate with my friends as well as those people that I do not have the privilege of knowing personally. It is a wonderful thing and one the things about today’s world that for those who really desire the opportunity to express their views, this modern electronic communications really makes that possible.

I am in my fourth year of running a blog almost daily and while I try not to repeat myself, or at least not to repeat myself too often, it is not always easy. Today, I want to return to the issue of determined efforts by the Republican Party to restrict voter rights in this country. Voter rights – you remember the issue. It is part of a long, difficult, painful and sometimes dangerous effort to expand access to the vote under the Constitution, also that effort towards expansion were wonderfully positive and progressive for 200 years until very recently. At the time the country was beginning, voting was restricted to white male property owners of the Protestant faith. With the establishment of the Constitution it only required that you be a white male. Women and blacks could not vote.

After a long struggle, women received the right to vote in 1920. Black Americans received the right to vote theoretically with the 13th Amendment but not actually until the mid-1960’s.

Suddenly, in the last few years the Republican Party has been frightened by an imaginary threat. “There is voter fraud going on out there.” Careful research has shown this to be a totally imaginary problem. Proven voter fraud is a fraction of a fraction of 1%. Nevertheless, 34 states have recently passed Voter ID laws. In every instance they have been advanced by the Republican Party. Proposed restrictions have taken a number of different forms, Voter ID being the most common. If voter fraud does not actually exist as an issue, why this big push? The answer is very simple. The people that are most affected by these restrictions have a tendency to vote on the Democratic side. Rather than winning these people to the Republican point of view by argument and documentation, the party has taken the very negative and undemocratic steps by restricting one of the basic human rights in the United States of America, the right to vote.

I am happy to see that a reaction is setting in. A state judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the restrictive law in that state. Soon this issue will be moving towards the Supreme Court and we will get a final resolution.

Onward through the fog.

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Say It Isn’t So!

By , January 30, 2014 5:31 am

Oxfam is a very fine organization based in England that attempts to alleviate the suffering of the poorest people scattered around the world. Last week on the eve of the Economic Forum, which was to meet in Davos, Switzerland, the timing was good because the forum is a gathering spot for world political, academic and business leaders. Its website states, they “shape global, regional and industry agendas.”

Oxfam certainly gave them something to think about when they reported and documented that the richest 85 people on the planet own half the world’s wealth. In announcing the study, Oxfam said that what it sees as the growing wealth gap undermines democracy. “The past quarter of a century has seen wealth become ever more concentrated in the hands of fewer people. The wealth of the 1 percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half.” Oxfam also stated that 210 people joined the ranks of billionaires just last year, bringing around 1,400 people who hold that status.

I certainly hope that those attending that meeting in Switzerland took that report very seriously. Throughout human history, wealth has moved around many times in many ways, but when it gets too lopsided it produces explosions and the explosions are hard on everyone including the wealthy. Let’s pray for a serene and just future.

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The Parish Bulletin Vs. The New York Times

By , January 29, 2014 5:31 am

I regret to say that most parish bulletins are deadly dull. For the most part, there is nothing in them except cold statements of dates and times. The easiest way to put one out is to use a commercial company that will let you have an 8 ½X11 sheet when folded that have permanent schedules, Masses, baptisms, etc. on the front and commercial ads are on the back. It leaves only one side of an 8 ½ sheet of paper to describe and announce the limited activities of the upcoming week. This means that there is no room to laugh or complain about the limited activities of the upcoming week. That means that there is no room to laugh or complain about the activities of the past week and last week is still very much a part of the life of the parish.

Happily, there are parishes where someone has the information and the responsibility to produce a very readable document that can be fun and educational. I think especially of Monsignor Richard Shirley, a pastor in Corpus Christi, who every week wrote a one page report on what he had done the preceding seven days and how he was braced for the coming week. He has the wonderful gift of humor and nobody would miss that story. In my opinion, the parish bulletin is a reflection of the parish itself. If the parish is dull, the bulletin is dull. I think that is a measurable pastoral error because in some ways the bulletin outlasts the New York Times.

The Times is out in the recycling bin within a matter of hours and the bulletin will be attached with a little magnet to the front of the refrigerator until Saturday. An example of where we fail in the proper use of the bulletin is in the area of special collections. A dull bulletin merely announces the name of the collection and tells us that they will be taken up on the following Sunday. Very few of them tell of the importance of these collections.

“Not another second collection!” growls the disinterested pastor. If such a pastor exists in fact, he is a man who really has a very limited understanding of how the Church operates.

Special collections are the vehicle or the instrument that the Church uses to provide lay people with an opportunity to participate in the work of the Church, not just in their own parish but at the diocesan, national and international levels as well. The Austin Diocese has 12 special collections and they break down almost evenly into special needs within the Diocese that cannot be resolved by individual parishes, needs of the Church in the United States and the needs of the Church Universal. Our people are wonderfully intelligent and they know that just that one check in the parish envelope doesn’t fulfill all of their responsibilities to building the Kingdom. We all work together to educate our priests. We all work together to provide at least some support to our colleges. We come together to support our home missions and our international missions. We come together to support the needs of the Universal Church centered in Rome.

If parishes would do a better job in giving all of us an understanding of the multiple levels of responsibility, the results in those special collections would be fantastic. When we look at the total of these collections sometimes it looks impressive but when they are measured in terms of the numbers of Catholics within a diocese, whether it be the Archdiocese of New York or the Diocese of Lubbock, it turns out that the average breaks down to about 25¢ per Catholic. Not a reflection of mature responsibility.

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What a Mind!

By , January 28, 2014 5:41 am

About 800 years ago in a small town in northern Italy, a boy was born who would be baptized in the village church as Thomas. The year was 1225, the same time that the Magna Carta was signed by King John in England. Thomas would grow up and become a Dominican priest. I am sure that everyone with whom he worked realized that he was extraordinarily bright, but I doubt that many people had any idea of the phenomenal impact he would have on the theological development of the later Middle Ages, as well as the influence that he still exhibits inside the Roman Catholic Church in 2014.

Following the tradition of the period, St. Thomas Aquinas was sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino to train among Benedictine monks when he was just 5 years old. In 1239, St. Thomas Aquinas began attending the University of Naples. From 1245 to 1252, St. Thomas Aquinas continued to pursue his studies with the Dominicans in Naples, Paris and Cologne. He was ordained in Cologne, Germany, in 1250, and went on to teach theology at the University of Paris. In the spring of 1256, Thomas was appointed regent master in theology at Paris. During his tenure from 1256 to 1259, he wrote numerous works. By the end of his regency, Thomas was working on one of his most famous works, Summa contra Gentiles. In February 1265, the newly elected pope summoned Aquinas to Rome to serve as papal theologian.

The Church had many theologians throughout the centuries but the two most dominant minds were St. Augustan of 4th century and Thomas Aquinas of the 13th. They were both Catholic priests.

Plato strongly influenced St. Augustan whereas Thomas Aquinas was strongly influenced by Aristotle. The differences of opinion still play out in the development of Roman Catholic theology.

Onward through the fog.

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Vatican II Unveiled Again

By , January 27, 2014 4:04 am

I was only 35 years old when Vatican II came to an end. That four year meeting of the world’s bishops generated extraordinary hope, optimism and confidence for the renewal of the Church. In the course of those years, the world’s 2,500 bishops looked at almost every aspect of the Church’s structure, called for deeper thought and came up with many directives as to how this or that aspect of the Church could be more effective in fulfilling its mission. There were hundreds of issues involved and thousands of gentle directives, but there was one underlying theme. Advancing the message of Jesus Christ was the responsibility of every baptized person and every confirmed person was encouraged to find a way to make his or her own contribution.

Responsibility was to be shared by all the bishops of the world and every nation was directed to establish a working conference of its bishops, and the conferences were to work closely with the Bishop of Rome. It was a new idea. Not everything was worked out in detail but there was no doubt that it was a movement towards a real collegial church and the bishops of the world would share in a meaningful and effective way with leadership and decisiveness in the Universal Church.

One of the new entities brought into existence was the World Synod drawing bishops from across the world to meet every four years on major issues faced by the Universal Church and work with the Bishop of Rome to implement new approaches. It was a good idea but it was not allowed to work itself out. The Holy Father chose the topics. He also chose many of the bishops who were to attend, edited the final document and released what he chose to release of materials developed!

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I saw last month that Pope Francis expressed the hope that the collegial spirit of the council would now be fully realized and he acknowledged that the “juridical status” and genuine “doctrinal authority” of episcopal conferences “has not been sufficiently elaborated.” In other words, my friends, real episcopal conferences, the hope and dream of the council, are now going to be developed. This is one of the many reasons for the hope and optimism present in the Church today. Thanks be to God.

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Looking Back To Move Ahead More Effectively

By , January 24, 2014 6:23 am

Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938? It was one of the great legislative achievements brought about by Franklin Roosevelt as he was leading the country out of Depression and through World War II. No other presidents, other than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, ever had a more difficult time to serve.

I am delighted to see a great deal of conversation going on at the present time as to the need to raise the national minimum wage. Currently it is so low at $7.25 an hour that many individual states are raising it for their own jurisdictions. The Democratic Party will be making this a major platform issue as we approach 2016 and while there is a pressing need for raising this minimal standard, politically it is not going to be easy because they will not be as strong as they might have been if Obamacare had rolled out more smoothly. Roll out smoothly it did not.

Last week, Ross Eisenbrey, the President of the Economic Policy Institute, had an op-ed piece in the New York Times. What he suggests is another way to improve the situation and one that can be done by executive authority rather than getting something through the Republican controlled House. Eisenbrey strongly suggests that in view of the president’s speech last week in which he said, “Whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.” Well, Eisenbrey suggests that he use it by raising the overtime rules now held quite low by the Fair Labor Standards Act. This change would make overtime work be more expensive and create an incentive for employers to spread work out among workers. That is an important goal in today’s sluggish economy.

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Mission Spirit Revives

By , January 22, 2014 5:21 am

I firmly believe that the spirit of optimism and joy that is generated by Pope Francis is rippling through the entire Church and even reaching beyond the ecclesiastic boundaries of dioceses around the world. This new mindset seems to be reawakening the faith and joy that always leads to a stronger missionary thrust.

I was glad to see that Christina Krueger, Director of the Mission Office of the Diocese of Austin and Chair of the Diocesan Mission Council, convened a group last week to talk about strengthening missionary activities, both at home and overseas.
There is so much to be done. One of the suggestions made at the meeting was that each parish organizational structure ought to model itself after the diocesan and state mission ministries. Every parish council forms itself into committees to accomplish goals set within the parish. Those committees usually center on finances, religious education, property maintenance, ecumenical activities, etc. Since the Church is essentially missionary, shouldn’t ever parish council consider establishing a mission committee to develop programs within the local parish?

It would be wonderful if at every meeting of the parish council that the chair inquired of the mission committee as to what had been done since the last meeting to advance the saving mission of Jesus Christ in that particular parish.
I wish Christina every success in this important diocesan office.

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Poor Haiti

By , January 20, 2014 5:20 am

It has been four years since an agonizingly, destructive earthquake hit the small French speaking, black population struggling to survive on the tiny island nation of Haiti. In a matter of minutes, a million one hundred thousand people, one half of the population, was made homeless. Church and governmental buildings were destroyed, schools collapsed, work places disappeared and the poorest country in the western Hemisphere was prostrate.

Not to worry! The wealthy nations saw the plight of their poor neighbors and rushed to promise aid and sustenance. Promise they did…some $18 billion! While some help came it has begun to dry up. Sadly, sadly, Haiti is beginning to recede into the background of those who made the promises.

There have been some accomplishments. The number of those living in camps has fallen to 170,000. Half of the primary school children are back in school but the mechanics necessary to develop and expand the economy are simply not present, and workers report that the garment factories routinely violate Haitian minimum wage laws and pay most workers too little on which to live.

Surely the wealthy nations can do better. The country is so small, having less than the population of Houston, Texas, that a serious effort on the part of the prosperous nations could, if the will was there, put Haiti back on its feet, make it a viable country and enable it to truly be a member of the self-reliant nations of the planet. In my opinion, the real issue here is Western Hemisphere solidarity. Surely, Canada can do better for its Southern neighbor. Surely Argentina could provide measurable help. And shouldn’t the colossus to the north, the United States of America, be leading the way?

Let’s not forget Haiti in the midst of its agony.

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Did you Hear It?

By , January 18, 2014 5:51 am

Did you hear it? I am inquiring as to whether or not you have been listening to the fact that Almighty God is probably calling you to do good things with your life. You are being called to do things not in 2015, but right now in January and maybe even today.
The Christian community has always felt strongly that we live constantly with God. This means that we should struggle to be always aware of his presence and of his expectations of us. When we are called, gongs do not go off, firecrackers do not explode, lights may or may not get turned on, but as we move through the day we see opportunities for kindness, patience and generosity. That is God calling us and expecting a response.

Let’s put those facts in the context of this part of the Church year. We are back with the dull, not too exciting “Sundays of the Year.” Today is the Second Sunday and next November we will be celebrating the 35th Sunday. Remember, this is the liturgical year, not the calendar year. In each Sunday, a collage of texts has been selected to bring us an important message for our meditation and spiritual development, and this Sunday is a classic example of a specific message.

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah is told by Yahweh that he has been called in a very special way to stand up and proclaim God’s love for the people. In the second reading, Paul tells the Corinthians that he has been called to be an apostle and so have they, and they have been made a holy people. Finally, the Gospel presents the dramatic scene in which John the Baptist points out, “There is the lamb of God!” Jesus has been called into the human story to achieve salvation and victory over evil. That of course is the call of all calls.

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Project Rachel At 30 Years

By , January 16, 2014 10:40 am

In a few days, the media will remind us of a sad event in our nation’s history. It was back on January 22, 1973 that our nation’s bitter division over the issue of abortion was launched by the Supreme Court. The response of the Catholic Church was immediate and condemnatory. For a number of years, the public media gave the American people the idea that abortion was generally accepted in this country and it was essentially only the Catholic Church that was resisting. With the passage of time, we now see that the American people as a totality have not accepted abortion but they are very divided on what to do with this painful issue.

While the news media reflects the division and the conflict in the country of intentional termination of pregnancy, they do not do an equally good job of telling the nation that there are tens of thousands of people out there who are not able to stop abortion but who are able to enter into the lives of the distressed women who have endured this agonizing and heartbreaking experience.

In my opinion, the largest and best single response is called Project Rachel. It began in 1984 and it has developed a response to the situation that is gentle, understanding and healing. Most dioceses sponsor Project Rachel ministries and have retrained clergy and mental health professionals to be of assistance to women who are suffering emotionally and maybe physically from the after effects of this procedure.

Project Rachel draws its name from Jeremiah, chapter 31:15-17 when the Jewish mother, Rachel is mourning her children who have been lost. At that time the Lord says to her, “Cease your cries. They have been heard. There is hope for your future.” And that is what Project Rachel is all about – to have people put their hearts and arms around a mother who is suffering and to lift her spirits towards God, reminding her of God’s infinite love for her and the child that has been lost.
May God bless all those who work on Project Rachel and may their number increase in response to the pressing need.

“Cease your cries. They have been heard.”

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