Most Americans tend to idolize life in small towns. Sure there are plenty of people who would like to live in midtown Manhattan but most of us idealize the quiet world of a smaller community with neighborhood schools, no traffic, faithful neighborhoods and, overall, a life of peace and quiet. That is not always the case.
A terrible tragedy struck the little town of West, Texas on April 17th. This little town called West has always confused people. West, Texas, is surprisingly not in western Texas, but in Central Texas, and this town is served by the northern most parish in the Diocese of Austin, St. Mary, the Church of the Assumption
. West is a heavily Catholic town with most of its citizens being Czech and Catholic. On Thursday of last week, there was a tremendous explosion in the West Fertilizer Co. which manufactured fertilizer. Many of us forget it but from time to time we see terrible explosions related to fertilizer. That is what exploded in Texas City in 1947 and it was used in the terrible Oklahoma City bombing 20 years ago. It is very dangerous. The explosion was so severe that dozens of houses and buildings were either damaged or destroyed. At least twelve people lost their lives. Rightfully the parish made its facilities available to the rescue program and in their sorrow and loss they are joined by the rest of Texas and all across the country.
West is a small town but it is huge in terms of courage and community commitment. The agony and the sense of loss will purdure for a long time but the strong faith of the people will enable them to get through this agonizing catastrophe.
Our wonderful Pope Francis has already reached out to Bishop Joe Vasquez and the community of West. Let’s all pray for the citizens of West, and thoughtfully consider what else we might be able to do to help.
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Ever since the bitter struggle over raising this country’s debt ceiling, there has been an enormous amount of verbiage expressed over the 1% and the 99% as to who possesses the wealth of this country. It is referred to so frequently that it seems to have almost lost its meaning.
It doesn’t matter whether the figures are actually accurate. Do 1% of the people have the vast majority of wealth and the 99% get along with the remainder? Don’t get tied up on the math! There can be no doubt that there is an extraordinary concentration of wealth and therefore power in the hands of a very small portion of the American population. This situation existed throughout the 19th century but began to change when economic and social reforms were enacted in the 1930’s and for nearly half a century there was dramatic improvement in regards to the distribution of wealth in the United States. Regretfully, for the last twenty years we have been sliding back into that 19th century format which leaves such a sizable portion of the country in dire straits, desperately poor and terribly vulnerable while the wealthy 1% increased not only their wealth but the power that naturally comes with that wealth.
Whenever a political and economic system concentrates power and wealth in the hands of a small minority, it guarantees the existence of a permanent underclass whose members live without capacities of decent living, whether it be employment, housing, proper education and health care. In our democratic society, massive programs have been developed to respond to each one of these pressing needs, but the fact is that the concentration of wealth creates these problems and no amount or number of do-good organizations or programs are going to change that until there is a more equitable distribution of our nation’s economic production.
Regretfully, the history of the human family does not reflect many situations where the wealthy segment of a population freely steps forward to share its vast wealth with those who are in need. This usually does not happen at all and when it does, it is often brought about by a violent revolution. I thank God that our country has developed a system where we could develop a more equitable means of sharing the benefits of our extraordinary economic system, but in the summer of 2012, the scene is grim.
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It has been many years since I heard his name or thought about his life but in the Easter edition of America magazine an article reignited my interest and admiration of this extraordinary man.
I am talking about Father Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., an American Jesuit, born in Pennsylvania in 1904 and died in 1984. I share the Jesuits enthusiasm and happiness that the Vatican has now given formal permission for the canonization process to begin for this wonderful American priest.
Father Ciszek as a young man volunteered to go to serve as a missionary in Poland. When the German army rolled over Poland in 1939 Ciszek became a refugee moving into Russia. Following the war, the Russians falsely accused him of being a spy. After five years of brutal interrogation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Amazingly, he survived both of these experiences. In 1963, President Kennedy secured his release from Russia and he returned to the United States where he would later write two extraordinarily powerful and popular books, With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me.
This man’s life was truly amazing. His heroism, patience and, yes, let me mention here, forgiveness, for he carried no bitterness against those who caused his terrible experience, is really an example of a follower of Jesus. May God bless the Jesuits and may God bless Father Ciszek.
I think that canonization of men and women of this caliber will do much to bring the various factions of the Church in the United States closer together, and maybe once again we can be Catholics and not liberal Catholics or conservative Catholics.
Coming – A New American Saint!
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Once the President of the United States leaves public office, what is he to do with himself? If the last fifty years is any indication, it seems that there is almost an unwritten law as to how he should move forward. First, comes the book and then comes the library. Bush’s book, Decision Points, is now in the bookstores and the library is on its way. The former president has worked hard at selling the book and the first press run was for 750,000 copies. He gave media interviews to Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Jay Leno, Matt Lauer, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, FOX, CNN and CBS. He said, “I want to sell books!”
I have not read the book but I did read a review by one of my heroes, Colman McCarthy (no relation regretfully) of the National Catholic Reporter. According to that McCarthy, nowhere in the book are there expressions of sorrow or remorse for the loss of life in Iraq and Afghanistan civilians. McCarthy alleges that Bush’s lack of sensitivity of American death as well and that in his eight years in office the president never attended a funeral at Arlington Cemetery!
The Iraq war may have been the worst tragedy in American history other than possibly our own Civil War. The country is devastated, unmanageable, no one knows how many Iraqi civilians were killed but certainly far more than 100,000. More than 5,000 young Americans lost their lives and 25,000 were wounded. Virtually everyone agrees that the war was a terrible, tragic mistake. May God forgive us.
President George Bush is still a young man and may live for many years. Let us pray that he can do something to be remembered by other than the agony of Iraq and those terrible statistics.
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The dust is beginning to settle over last month’s big flap, namely the resignation and removal of General Stanley McChrystal, the leadership post in the war in Afghanistan. While the event was startling to the average American, pundits and historians turned back time and reminded all of us of the fact that the same thing had happened with Lincoln and McClellan and, of course, Truman and McArthur. One of the glories of our country is that ultimately the military are under the control of laymen. In our third century we have yet to have a real or attempted military takeover.
For me the interesting thing is the near unanimity among many of the pundits that I read on the subject as well as my friends around town. Everyone seems to recognize and with sadness that once the story broke McChrystal had to go. The president was lucky that he could so quickly put in a replacement that was so acceptable to almost everyone involved, especially the American people.
Onward through the fog.
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