Posts tagged: Civil Rights Act

Fiftieth Anniversaries Surround Us

By , April 16, 2014 5:48 am

Have you noticed that we are surrounded by a very plethora of anniversaries marking the 50th anniversary of this or the 50th anniversary of that. If it tells us anything at all, it should be that the 1960’s were an extraordinarily important period. It is fifty years since the riots in Watts, fifty years since the death of Jack Kennedy, fifty years since Lyndon Johnson led the change in America by the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is also fifty years since the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

These American events are being rather well marked but for some reason the Catholic bishops of the United States have done little or nothing to remind the 60 million of us that the Council was an extraordinary event widening horizons, creating hope and helping to lead us into the future. Maybe one of the reasons why it has not been spotlighted so much in this country is that many of the younger bishops would just as soon forget it! That is a tragedy but it is not an enduring tragedy. The Council is being brought back to life by our magnificent leader Pope Francis.

A few days ago I started a series of blogs on the documents of the Council. Since I find it so refreshing to go back and study them, you may appreciate or enjoy at least a brief mention to various segments of them as I plod through the next few weeks.

The other day I stressed that the first and most exciting of the Council documents was the one on the sacred liturgy and how it got started. Now I would like to go very briefly through certain segments of this document that has touched each and every one of us in this country and actually every Roman Catholic across the world. I break Roman Catholics into two groups about the Council. Older men and women who remember it taking place fifty years ago connect it with a time of change and tension and the most visible thing they remember is that Latin ceased to be imposed on the Universal Church and all the countries of the world were able to use vernacular language. Imagine – the Church decided to put worship into a language that the worshipers understood. What a breakthrough!

To discuss the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy would require volumes and believe me many volumes have been written about it. With the constraints of this space, I want to simply break it into two key components. Many subdivisions are possible.

The first thrust of the document centers on the fact that the Eucharist is the absolute center of the Church’s prayer life. Certainly, the other sacraments are important and they draw us closer to Jesus and private devotions and prayers of individuals are very valuable. However, it is in the Eucharistic liturgy that the entire Church prays and we pray in unison and with one faith and one heart. The Eucharist is the center of the Church and it unites each and every one of us together. We are believers.

Secondly, the liturgical document calls forcefully and urgently for a resurgence in the study of sacred scripture and more effectively integrating scripture into the Eucharist liturgy and all the other sacraments as well. I am happy to report that this early Council directive has been rather well implemented. While there is much work to be done, it is a very measurable accomplishment.

In the meantime, what we need is millions of small groups across the world taking time out of their lives, day by day and week by week, to study God’s word, to see their own lives in relationship to it and to be guided by that word. We are a long way from there but I think we are moving in the right direction. For that I thank God.

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A Country Remembers

By , April 11, 2014 5:38 am

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 Impact of LBJ

By , April 16, 2013 4:17 am

In the course of producing this little blog, I try to touch on a range of issues going from theology, politics, history and economics. Of course, in my opinion, they are all delightfully intertwined! Today, I had a brief but enjoyable experience at the LBJ Library here in Austin, Texas. The former director of the library- Harry Middleton- has taught a course for years on the the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson. Each year he has kindly asked me to direct one class during this course to reflect on how the LBJ presidency affected my work as a parish priest.
It is an easy subject to talk about. Most of the students have had no experience with the cruel segregation that marked life in the South prior to the upheaval created by the President over a short three or four years, when he was able to produce major structural changes in governmental and racial issues. First came the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the first serious break that blacks had received since the end of the Civil War. That was followed by the Open Housing Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, and many others.
If you were a Black American in 1955, you would see tremendous cause for hope and optimism by 1965. While changes required action by both the House and the Senate, those changes would never have occurred except for LBJ. Mr. Robert Caro has made a career of writing about the extraordinary life of President Johnson, completing four books to date, with one to go. I have read them all, but would primarily recommend Passage of Power for those interested in this fascinating story.
Now to the parish. I was serving a poor area during these turbulent years. Dramatic changes I witnessed first hand included better educational opportunities (via Head Start), better housing, more open job opportunities, and a surge in self-confidence in the poorer members of our society. Sadly, over all of this wonderful activity, there was a cloud- the VietNam War. I leave that subject for another day.
If you’re in Austin, take advantage of the opportunity to visit the LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus. This library will give you a wonderful picture of this administration’s crucial work under President Johnson from the early 1930′s until his death in 1973, only 63 years old.

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