Believing in Jesus Christ and being committed to the Christian faith is a tremendous source of encouragement, calmness and courage. The center of our faith is that for all eternity there has existed an infinite being who willed our individual existence, provides us with what is necessary to become adopted children of God and surrounds us with an unending invitation to holiness and to wholeness. Among God’s greatest gifts are those that we describe as special gifts of the Holy Spirit.
When you begin to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, theologians soon jump into the discussion and make it more complicated than it has to be. The gifts of the Spirit are spiritual. They envelope and fulfill our souls but they are different from the virtues.
The word “virtue” simply means a habit and almost everyone has both good and bad habits. Good virtues are lived at the natural level – generosity, courage, competence. Some theologians have wanted to match virtues and the gifts but it is simply not necessary. We need to concentrate on the reality of God, his existence, his love for us and his desire that we share in his infinite joy for all eternity.
Nothing is more mysterious in our lives than our own inner being and thoughtful people endeavor always to know more about themselves and the relationships through which they are living. I have been talking about the importance of our relationship to God, about the importance of virtues and the gifts of the Spirit. In closing, let me mention that St. Paul, in the fifth chapter of Galatians, made reference to the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
“On the other hand, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self-control. No law can touch such things as these!”
Theology can be a challenge, can’t it?
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For the most part, Americans are rather forward looking. They are optimistic and ready to take on the future. That is a good trait but it comes at a cost. As a nation, most of us are not overly interested in history. Here I pass up the temptation to use that tired, hackneyed expression about who is going to repeat it, but you know what I mean. One thing that most Americans are not familiar with is the history of organized labor. It is a great story of courage, heroism, some violence and, for a while, a period of triumph…but only for a while.
Labor has been in the news quite a bit of late but almost always in a negative light. Dues paying members have dropped dramatically over the last 25 years and the only area where successful organizing has been occurring is in the public sector unions. Realizing that, the opponents of organized labor have moved effectively to undercut and, if possible, break the backs of the public sector unions. For the last two years, we have seen a number of states move to block organizing efforts by their employees, cancel pensions, cut back benefits and blame the working people for the economic problems that these states face. I am saddened by the fact that while all this is going on the voice of the Church has been strangely silent.
First in Germany and then across Europe and the United States, the Roman Catholic Church espoused the cause of the working people and stood staunchly beside them as they struggled in the face of overwhelming odds. Although Leo XIII strongly supported workers rights to organize in 1899, American workers did not get that legal right until 1935 with the passage of the Wagner Act. Following the passage of that act, labor unions grew enormously in this country. Secretaries of Labor in the Democratic Administration were staunch supporters and bishops and priests became very public in their endorsement of working people’s right to better their economic condition. Things were going wonderfully well and then labor made a terrible mistake from which it has not yet recovered.
More on that tomorrow.
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I have been a priest for 54 years and more than half of that time was spent as a bishop. People are always asking me how I liked the work and were always curious about “what do you do?” My favorite answer to that was always that being a bishop was much like either being an orchestra leader or a fireman. As an orchestra leader, I tied all the various programs of the diocese together, never made a sound and, like the man with the baton, got credit for everything. As a fireman, I found myself constantly putting out fires generated by hypersensitive people who took everything too seriously.
I have given a great deal of thought to the pleasure and pain of those 54 years and there is one thing that I would like to mention to the readers today, and that is one particular aspect of the office of bishop that I enjoyed tremendously. That was the fact that I was in a position, time after time- dozens and possibly hundreds of times- to see extraordinarily wonderful things, good and generous things, important things, generated by an individual person who saw a problem and had the courage to undertake at least a partial solution. I salute those people and thank God for what they have done for others, and I was certainly one of their beneficiaries.
I think I am going to take these programs up one by one and fill you in on so much extraordinary generosity that is accomplished so very quietly with little fanfare or publicity. I will start tomorrow with Casa Marianella over in East Austin.
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I have been out of high school for 61 years. When that chapter is more than a half century behind you, you don’t expect to be seeing news about one of the kids from high school but the other day I just did.
Last week the Houston Chronicle ran a wonderful story about David McNerney, like me, a member of the St. Thomas High School Class of 1949. Back then, he was quiet, almost shy, and liked by everyone. The story in the Chronicle was about the fact that back in March of 1967, during the Vietnam War, McNerney’s A Company was ambushed by the Vietcong. The officers were the first to die leaving David, a staff sergeant, in charge. The radios were damaged. They were cut off and encircled by a more powerful group. McNerney was wounded early on but refused evacuation. He continued to work the line directing his men. They held out but thirty-three would die. For this he was awarded the Cox Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award.
Sergeant McNerney is now in the last stages of lung cancer and his “boys,” as he called them, wanted to do something special for him. He asked that they convene at the Vietnamese Veterans Memorial and lay a wreath at panel 16E where the majority of those 33 soldiers names were engraved. For the 50 survivors it will be a time to say thank you to a tough sergeant who made the difference in their lives.
Bullets may not be flying but we all are challenged to stand up from time to time. Let’s pray that we have half the courage that David did.
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