A Country Remembers

By , April 11, 2014 5:38 am

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Most of the years of my childhood saw President Franklin Roosevelt in office. He was elected four times! The only living president at that time was poor old Herbert Hoover who took the rap for the Depression and would not be appreciated until the 1970’s. Now we have a plethora of former presidents – two Bushes, Carter, Clinton and, of course, in office today, Barack Obama.

Austin was honored this week as these presidents convened in the Johnson Library to mark 50 years of the extraordinary progress in civil rights under the leadership of LBJ.

It saddens me that some commentators claim that this program was developed to simply offset the agonizing memory of Vietnam, which perdured throughout so much of the Johnson years. I think that this is regrettable. The Vietnam War was certainly one of the great tragedies of American history and its agony will never be forgotten. However, the magnificent progress in civil rights was a completely separate thing and the president’s memory needs to be kept in high honor in view of what he accomplished in the face of overwhelming odds.

How did a Southern senator ever succeed in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was an earthshattering breakthrough, and then see it followed by the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, the War on Poverty and the establishment of entities, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and another half dozen accomplishments in the general area of civil rights?

I am glad that the former presidents came to Austin to honor Johnson and his memory. There is much to be thankful for in terms of progress in civil rights, but there is so much more to be done. I will write about that tomorrow.

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The Pilgrim Church

By , April 10, 2014 8:58 am

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Several times in the last week or so, I have gone back to re-read and meditate on one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, the one on the Church which Latin title is Lumen Gentium, Light of the Nations. The document spent a great deal of time on major components of this mystical organization; for example, dealing separately with bishops, clergy and the laity, but it pulls them all together with a wonderful title that had not been used too much in recent years. The Council Fathers reminded us that ours is a pilgrim church. We are wounded and, to some extent, lost people traveling across the desert.

When I was in the seminary in the ‘50’s, the theology textbooks did not stress that idea. Actually, they went in the other direction and theologians claimed that the Church is a perfect society. Don’t have a heart attack! Those writers knew that there was much sin and weakness inside the Church, but it held that the Church is perfect in that it had everything needed to attain its goal, namely to present God’s message to the human family; that message coming from God the Father through the Son and guided by the Holy Spirit. We wouldn’t dare use language like that today, but it is wonderful to put our arms around the idea that we are a pilgrim Church. That means that we travel lightly and not with too much baggage.

What an example we are receiving from this marvelous new shepherd, Francis. Look at those two little rooms in the Vatican Hotel. I wonder who is staying in that lavish apartment up on the sixth floor of the palace. Let me stop myself for a minute. Over the last 25 years, I have been in the papal apartments several times and I agree with Pope Francis. They are cold and bleak and I wouldn’t want to stay there either. The pope is giving the bishops of the world a good example of how to be a pilgrim but not everybody gets it. We saw a rather thick-headed German bishop removed from his diocese because he wasted vast amounts of money on his residence and just last week we saw the sharp criticism of two American bishops, not from the Vatican but from the American media. Both were guilty of inordinate spending on their residences. One, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, immediately apologized for his foolishness and plans to leave to a more proper residence. The other bishop, Archbishop Myers of Newark, felt that he was being unjustly criticized. All he did was put a $500,000 addition on his 4,500 square foot house.

Let’s hear it for the pilgrim Church. Onward through the fog and over the sand.

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The Laity – Freedom and Responsibility

By , April 9, 2014 5:07 am

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Oh, how blessed is this holy Catholic Church. Just think – we have at least one billion, two hundred million members and for all practical purposes they are all laity. Just think of the reservoir of talent and energy that resides in this enormous mass of faith-filled human beings. They could accomplish wonders if not miracles, but in point of fact they don’t because they are really not able to.

I am proud of the faithful. They do a great job in backing their pastors and bishops in developing the material sides of parishes, schools, hospitals, etc. But ultimately, our system does not give them real freedom and responsibility. Their role is to follow their shepherds and that is not all bad, but the fact is that many of the shepherds among us do not really trust their fellow Catholics who have not been ordained. Father knows best and the old joke about the laity was that they were to “pray, pay and obey.”

Happily, following the Second Vatican Council lay involvement, especially in the liturgy, has increased tremendously but we have a long way to go. Let me tell you about a happy story in my first assignment as a pastor. We had established a first-class St. Vincent de Paul Society and it was doing wonderful work on behalf of the poor in that section of the city. One day the president of the Society came to me and told me that we had a serious storage problem, but not to worry – he had signed a two year lease on an inexpensive warehouse about four blocks from the church. I was thrilled. He saw the problem, he knew we could afford it and he acted. I am not saying that pastors and bishops ought not to provide close supervision but they must avoid being control freaks.

The other day when I visited with you in this space, I talked about the value system that was dominant in the world of my childhood. I then went on to admit that many of the cultural strengths of 75 years ago are now gone, generating the need for yet a greater response from the Church to encourage its members to embrace and live by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s lay people are far better formed or educated than were the adults of my childhood. The Church has still not found a way through clericalism and antique ecclesiology to vest the laity, either in the parishes or in the dioceses, with a real sharing in power and authority. The Second Vatican Council had that as one of its principal agendas – convincing all of the baptized and confirmed on the planet that they had a vested interest and a very real responsibility to teach that “each individual layman must be a witness before the world of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God.” How is that for a job description?

The Council Fathers then went on to say give the laity freedom and opportunities to breathe and act and be responsible. In paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium, the Council stated that, “

“The pastors indeed should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church LEAVING THEM FREEDOM AND SCOPE FOR ACTING (emphasis added). Indeed they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. Moreover, the pastor must respect and recognize the liberty which belongs to all in the terrestrial city.”

Vatican II called for parish councils in every parish in the world but regretfully only a small percentage have functioned effectively. Why? Because they are deadly dull and do not usually come to grips with what that particular parish should be undertaking. Go check on the agendas of a dozen parish councils and you will see that much more time is allocated to painting the school auditorium than to how we should be advancing the message of Jesus in this neighborhood in this month. The challenge is awesome but sometimes not really heard.

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The Importance of Values

By , April 8, 2014 5:06 am

Houston in the 30′s
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I grew up in a church that was in many ways very different from what it is today. When I was a child the neighborhood was less than fifty years old and relatively prosperous. Since then, it has gone on to what seemed to be decaying and sliding off into a high class slum, but then gentrification arrived and the Houston Heights bounced back. Its greatest advantage was that the center of the Heights is only three miles from downtown Houston. With Houston spreading itself to being more than one hundred miles wide in any direction, living in the Heights has become a tremendous advantage and the prices responded accordingly.

A house could be purchased in 1905 for $6,000 and lived in for about 110 years. The house would become run down but if a new roof, central air conditioning and good landscaping can be added, that little house can be picked up for a bargain price of $700,000.

All Saints Parish, which served the Heights, built a magnificent church in 1927 and was able to maintain a good school until the 1960’s. The staff was fairly simple – a pastor, assisted by two younger priests, eight Dominican nuns in the school and a janitor. There was no business manager, no secretary and no parish council. It was a very simple world. The faith was strong and passed powerfully from generation to generation. Few women worked and the men themselves were carpenters, brick layers, truck drivers with an occasional insurance salesman thrown in. Hospital rooms cost $15.00 a day and doctors made house calls. White Oak Bayou ran behind our house and when we came back from the movies on Saturday we could all play Tarzan or the Lone Ranger without spending a penny. Milk was delivered on wagons and the garbage was collected in enormous blue wagons pulled by mules. That is in my lifetime folks! . It was a wonderful world but it is gone.

There were lots of problems in the ‘30’s, money being one of them on almost everybody’s agenda. I don’t kid myself by saying that everybody was gloriously happy but overall things were stable, calm, life had meaning and balance. When I was nine year’s old I was taught values in various fora. One was the parish church where a wonderful old German priest from Westphalia held forth with at least occasional references to hell’s fire. But my mother and he held a common value system. When we kids got to the school it was again the same system. If I had gone to a public school, even there the same values would have been proclaimed. When I went over to the Yale Theater on Washington Avenue the movies would pretty well concur with what I had heard at church and school and in the family.

That is not the way it is today. We are a nation bereft of generally accepted values. I know we are so free to pick and choose as to which one we will accept and be guided by. Today we struggle in a society that is tragically conflicted in every direction and we are paying a price for it. The Church is weaker in the society than it was in the ’30’s but has an even greater responsibility to try and convince, first ourselves, and secondly, the larger society, that a society without unified, sustainable, good moral values is doomed to destruction.

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Is Apple A Bad Apple?

By , April 7, 2014 5:53 am

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Green America, located in Washington, DC, is a wonderful organization and helps most of us with its vigorous vigilance over health problems about which many people are not aware. Green America has just come out with a very strong criticism of Apple, Inc. Green America asserts that Apple is showing a reckless and dangerous disregard for human health. The organization asserts that Apple’s supplier factories in Asia expose its workers to chemicals like benzene and n-hexane causing their workers routinely to develop debilitating nerve damage and leukemia. Green America then asserts that if the employees receive any medical attention at all, they are likely to be sent to hospitals that are controlled by the factories. Their symptoms are then ignored or downplayed. They can be denied proper care and the whole scandal is covered up.

Green America continues that what is even worse about this situation is that the leukemia that many of these workers contract is roughly 80% curable in the West with proper medication. Finally, the workers and their families seldom receive proper compensation for their injuries. They are frequently returned back to work or to their villages with devastating health effects that may last their lifetimes.

Green America is starting a program called “Stop the Bad Apple.” They want you and me to contact Apple and urge two concrete steps.

1) Stop the use of benzene and other dangerous chemicals in their smartphone supply chain as a first step to ending labor abuse in the electronics-manufacturing sector.

2) Create a fund to pay for the medical treatment of Apple factory workers harmed by handling benzene.
Green America asserts that these problems can be resolved by Apple diverting $1.00 from each phone sold into this program. They assert that Apple generated profits of over $37 billion dollars just last year and are currently sitting on an estimated $146 billion in cash and marketable securities.

Green America is not boycotting Apple itself. Life without a cellphone is becoming to be very difficult, but at least with the huge profits of this giant corporation there needs to be a greater sense of justice for the people who are laboring to produce our cell phones.

This approach to bad advertising for large corporations has proven to be successful. Remember the abused employees in Nike factories in Asia? Hershey’s, Proctor & Gamble, General Mills and Home Depot chose to transform the way they did business, rather than suffering from the charge of injustice and exploitation of the poor. Green America says that you and I can make the difference. Let’s try.

You can support and learn more about the Bad Apple campaign at Bad-Apple.org. Why not send a note of encouragement to Green America as well. You can contact them at: Green America, 1612 K Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006, 800-58-GREEN, GreenAmerica.org.

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Jesus Loves His Friends

By , April 5, 2014 4:48 am

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April 6th, Fifth Sunday of Lent

Oh, today’s Gospel! This is one of my favorite texts in the entire bible whether you are talking about Old or New Testaments. Today’s Gospel excerpt is drawn from the 11th chapter of St. John’s Gospel and for me it is wonderfully meaningful. The whole thrust of this Gospel is John, communicating to the first generation of the life of the Church, his memory what Jesus revealed about himself.

Sometimes our Lord communicated with words and other times just extraordinary actions. Today I am making reference to what I consider a wonderful extraordinary aspect of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That is the fact that he was a MAN.
Members of the Christian community always recognize that Jesus is God dealing with us through a human nature. We know that. We believe that. But can we get our arms around it? Can our limited brains really grasp the awesome reality that within this Jewish carpenter from Nazareth the Godhead dwelt?

Well, today’s text really helps us to go in that direction. You know the story so well. Jesus goes to visit his friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus but on arriving, he is told that Lazarus died several days before. The text says that he was “troubled in spirit, moved by the deepest emotions” and then listen to this, he began to WEEP!

Did we all catch that? Jesus of Nazareth is weeping. This Divine Presence is torn by emotions, saddened and filled with a sense of loss. Can we really grasp that? I think the principle underlying the scene is that Lazarus was a friend of Jesus. Jesus liked him. Jesus was crushed on learning of Lazarus’ death. I like to transfer that concept to the rest of us. Yes, we are followers of Jesus, yes, we believe in him, but do we really see him as our friend? What a gift.

If we live a good life and if we do the things I just mentioned, we are his friends. Would your acquaintances be impressed if you were at a meeting and they announced that the president of the United States has called for you and has asked you to return the call? Would it seem important to you if it were only the governor or the mayor? My friends, if we are living a good life, we are the friends of Jesus. There is nothing better than that.

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More On Lumen Gentium

By , April 4, 2014 4:46 am

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I offered a few comments the other day on that extremely important document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and I talked about the fact that there are many aspects of the Church that qualify the Church itself as being a mystery. The document goes on to discuss the structural nature of the Church, namely that it is hierarchical and the great reality of the Church’s membership, namely that it is overwhelmingly, yes overwhelmingly, made up of lay people.

In the few paragraphs that I have here, I can’t do a dissertation of the fact that the Church we see in the New Testament enjoys various levels of responsibilities. Jesus called the apostles and he sent them forward to preach his message. Once they established a community of faith in a given area, the apostles provided leadership, coordination and direction. After establishing a church, Paul put men that he had ordained in charge of those churches since he had to keep moving to spread the Gospel. Therefore, I have no doubt that the Church is by its very nature hierarchical but I think that over the centuries, especially in the second millennium, the hierarchical aspects of the Church have been exaggerated, made too rigid and regretfully counterproductive.

Our blessed new Pope Francis has been working hard in his first year to awaken us to the need to strip down the exaggerated signs of hierarchy and prestige that at times have been abused in the Church. And he is making great progress.
Next in Lumen Gentium comes the section on the laity. The document makes a great step forward and that is about the best that could be done at that time. However, what we are seeing now is a wonderful, glorious change where the laity across the world are beginning to assert responsibilities, opportunities and challenges that flow from baptism and confirmation.
These two entities are currently interacting and we can be sure that we will see a certain amount of friction.

Onward through the fog.

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Moving Faster in Texas

By , April 3, 2014 4:44 am

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About 25 years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with the Bishops of Texas to a wonderful part of France, the area around Lyon. When the Catholic Church in Texas was getting started in the 1840’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s, the first bishops and most of its priests were from this area and we should all be grateful to those early missionaries. There were many aspects of that trip that made strong impressions on me. There were about 22 of us and we visited four villages to celebrate Mass in the birthplaces of the first two bishops of Galveston-Houston and one in what is today the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The little local paper ran a headline saying, The Texans are coming – the Texans are coming! It was a wonderful experience both for the villagers and for the Texas Bishops.

Most of those impressions were, of course, of a religious nature but I was also in awe of the fast trains! Remember, this was 25 years ago but the trains were already moving at 225 mph. We got from Paris to Lyon very quickly.

Fast trains have been used a great deal both in Japan and other Western European countries but not in the United States. Efforts have been made to develop them in California but they have not been successful. Now there is a great deal of talk about bringing fast trains to Texas. Austin sits in the middle of the great Texas triangle of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Those cities represent more than half of the population of Texas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get back and forth to any one of them in less than an hour?

I am not in the railroad business and I don’t travel very much anymore, but I would love to see Texas lead in the competition for high speed rail.

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The Church is a Mystery

By , April 2, 2014 5:43 am

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The Second Vatican Council is now a little more than fifty years behind us. What an awesome event it was, and how it challenged the Universal Church to endeavor to review its ministerial effectiveness and make needed adaptations so that its ministry to the human family could be more effective. For about half of those fifty years, there was real progress and then a reaction set in. While most of the work of the Council was still on the drawing boards, determined efforts to slow it down were strong and destructively effective.

Then comes Pope Francis! All over the world, there is renewed hope that we will begin to move forward forcefully, not only to revivify the work of the Council, but to move with faith and confidence into a yet unknown future.

I have often encouraged people to go back and restudy the more powerful documents that emanated from the Council between 1962 and 1965. While we are in this recovery period, I am going to make sure that I do the same thing myself. The first document that I have gone back to is the awesomely important one called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) . It was promulgated in November of 1964. It is a rather lengthy document and, given my always limited space here on this blog, I will have to practice verbal discipline, which is always difficult for an Irishman, especially since we are still quite close to St. Patrick’s Day.

The first important position point is the fact that the Council Fathers reminded Catholics across the world that the Church, begun by Jesus of Nazareth, guided by the Holy Spirit and inviting the whole human family into it, is in fact an awesome MYSTERY while at the same time, the Church, in terms of its membership, is all too human and there is nothing mysterious about that.

The Church is a mystery in that it originates in God’s plan. It is set up by Jesus of Nazareth. He begins it himself by teaching tens of thousands of people for three years and calling them, and all of us as well, to walk in his footsteps. The Church is a mystery because its prime director is not this bishop or that pope or the local pastor, but nothing other than the Holy Spirit who sanctifies it by its presence and guidance. The church is mysterious in that its inner life is formed, not by organizations, structures, leaders or plans, but by the saving grace of Jesus of Nazareth.
In our day by day life, going to Mass on Sunday, seeing our grandchildren baptized, receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, we need to be conscious that we are living and acting and being affected by this mysterious reality, the Church itself.

As we move forward towards Easter, let us try to concentrate more clearly on the awesomeness of this mystery.

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A Good Night a St. Edwards’s

By , April 1, 2014 4:22 am

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Last Wednesday night, St. Edward’s University was honored to have Bishop Robert W. McElroy, Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, as the speaker in the McCarthy Lecture Series on the Catholic Church in the 21st Century: “Swords into Plowshares: Catholic Teaching and America’s Role in the World.”

Bishop McElroy has been a forceful spokesperson on behalf of peace over the last few years and has written a number of articles for America magazine. In his opening remarks, McElroy stated the obvious but frightening fact that the central foundation of America’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was the tragically misguided belief that America can ennoble the world through warfare. Coming from the other direction, the bishop reviewed the pacifist tradition within Roman Catholicism and then went on to develop in some detail the “just war” tradition. However, he pointed out that in the last century Catholic teaching has dramatically strengthened the presumption against war. In addition, he stated that today’s Catholic teachings condemn most of the major decision-making that has led to 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bishop McElroy urged his listeners to reject a threatening new isolationism present in the country today and to embrace and work for the Catholic theology of war, which is embedded in a vision of peace.

While describing the agony and suffering that comes from war, the bishop reversed it and told that by turning “swords into plowshares” the agonizing poverty of the world and the unjust and meaningless hunger could be eradicated with but a fraction of the resources now being used for killing human beings. Bishop McElroy used the example that was taking place under the crisis in Crimea giving his listeners an extra interest in his remarks.

I personally want to thank Bishop McElroy for journeying from the distant world of California to the heart of Texas. During his brief visit he was able to make many new friends. May God continue to bless him and his wonderful work.

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