I continue to be in awe of the new reality that the Church is experiencing with the election of Pope Francis. There are so many interesting aspects of it and of course the most important is that the Church really needs to endeavor to implement the values of Francis of Assisi in a very realistic manner.
Let’s look at the time frame. When Francis was beginning his community of what would later bear his name, he was calling for a life in the Church of poverty, simplicity and humility.
Who was pope at that time? It was Innocent III. Innocent III was exercising the papacy at the point of its highest power in history. Church leadership symbolized wealth, prestige, honor and every other type of exaggerated adulation. There you have them – Francis of Assisi and Innocent III…what a contrast! To a great extent there are contrasts in the Church today that are somewhat similar to those occurring in the 13th century.
Prior to the time of Innocent III the dominant title for the pope was “Successor of Peter.” It was Innocent III who began to use the title “Vicar of Christ” and it is in use to this day.
Our new pope has gotten off to a great start showing by example that the strength of the Church is dependent upon faith in Jesus Christ and the exaggerated use of worldly symbols of wealth and power should be kept at a minimum. Churches and church vestments need to be dignified and fitting but ostentation should be kept at a minimum. Liturgical reformers have been pointing this out for decades but it has taken a new pope to get everyone’s attention and begin to be properly guided by it.
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With the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935, giving labor the legal right to organize, with the strong support of some churches, most especially the Roman Catholic Church, and with a friendly Democratic administration manifesting itself via the Secretaries of Labor, efforts to unionize working people expanded across the country. By the 1950’s, nearly one-third of all workers were dues paying members of unions. Sadly, that was not to last.
All of that success in organizing gave some labor leaders an exaggerated sense of their own importance and power. In their organizing efforts, they got careless and sometimes inflicted unnecessary harm on private businesses. They began an internal struggle as unions competed with each other to organize particular groups of workers. They began to use a very unfair and destructive tool called “the secondary boycott.” The great strength of unions in this period is that they had successfully trained their members to not cross ANY picket line where some type of labor conflict existed. If they saw Union A organizing a company and Union B felt that this was their territory, then they should have that opportunity to organize there. Union B would then put a picket line up around the company involved and for all practical purposes that company would be shut down even though it had no direct involvement in the labor dispute. It was between two unions, not a union and the company.
This situation was so bad that it could not go on very long. Congress reacted by the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. The results were devastating for unionization and persist to this day. For 60 years, organized labor has had as its goal the removal of the Taft-Hartley Act but when they could not succeed even when they were really very strong, it is obvious that they cannot do it today. Unions continue to exist, continue to improve the lives of millions of its members (non-members as well!) but it is but a shadow of what it was in the 1950’s.
The Taft-Hartley Act placed a heavy burden on labors organizing efforts. It solved the unjust problem of “the secondary boycott” but it put in many other restrictions as well and labor has never recovered.
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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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The Second Vatican Council began in 1961. Nearly 3,000 bishops met in Rome for about 90 days a year for four years. It was an awesome meeting, the first meeting of the world’s bishops since 1870 and a meeting that made the heroic effort to study, evaluate and, where necessary, refresh the structures of the Church.
Americans are notorious for having short memories and not overly interested in history. Everyone who was ten years old at the time the Council ended, should be now making serious plans for retirement. I think that you can see that in the Church today not everyone is as excited about the reality of the Council as those of us who lived through it as relatively young adults. It was a period of extraordinary hope and optimism, a period in which young Catholics felt that the Church was going to open itself up in terms of its structures making room for real influence from the laity. There was no question about giving up the necessary power of the ordained in the life of the Church, but there was hope that the ordained, who controlled the power and authority at every level, would find a more effective way to utilize that power.
Adaptations were made at the parish, diocesan, national and universal levels. More laity were brought in, and the Church has made an honest effort to utilize the wonderful gifts and expertise that the Church needs and can utilize in its capable and generous lay leaders. All of that is very good. Nevertheless, those who remember the excitement, the hope and the optimism of the 1960’s are frequently found to be discouraged and saddened by the fact that those windows that Pope John XXIII wanted to be thrown open in order to allow fresh air into the inner-life of the Church have been not completely closed, but certainly lowered! Structural changes, such as the role of episcopal conferences, efforts at ecumenism, have sadly been downplayed with understandable dulling of hope and optimism for Christian unity. In administrative areas, changes that were brought about by nearly 3,000 bishops publicly debating have been frequently offset by decisions made by a small number of Church leaders operating behind closed doors. This was not the intended thrust of the Council, but this is what we are struggling through at the present time.
I have no doubt that the Church leaders, who have been endeavoring to shut down much of the Second Vatican Council, are sincere. I just believe that they are exercising very poor judgment and if they prevail, the Church will continue to contract at a tragic rate.
I want to be wrong!
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November 13th, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time! Well, we are almost through with this segment of the Church year. Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King and that will ease us into the next segment of the ecclesiastical year beginning with the first Sunday in Advent on November 27th.
Today’s Gospel excerpt is stern. It is a parable about a wealthy and powerful man who delegated responsibilities to some of his employees. The way they handled those responsibilities differed one from another, but those who worked hard to utilize the resources received from the employer were richly rewarded. Those who failed to do so, who did not stand up to their responsibilities, lost out.
That is an important message for all of us but I would rather go to the first reading, which is from the Book of Proverbs. This text stresses how wonderful it is for a man to have a faithful and productive wife. I love the text. It is very complimentary and lists many extraordinary virtues of the ideal wife. The interesting thing is that the authors of the Book of Proverbs failed to make a comparable text on the importance of being a good husband! Here the wife is to be faithful, work hard, be economically productive, be generous and reach out to the poor, and take pleasure in the fact that the men sitting at the city gates praise her great virtues. It was written about 2,500 years ago but an element is still present in the life of the Church as mirrored in the life of women in general, but most especially religious women.
Vowed religious women, “sisters”, do extraordinary things to make the Church effective and to carry out its many and varied missions, but in no way do they ever share in true power or authority. Real power and authority in the Church were always tied in with what we call “ordinary” power. The meaning does not come across clearly in English but it is tied in with the Sacrament of Holy Orders and that a person who is ordained receives “ordinary” power, whether it be the diaconate, the priesthood, the episcopacy or the papacy itself. Ordinary, in this context, does not mean routine or run of the mill. It comes from the Latin root for power as in ordinance depot.
There are probably almost a billion women in the Church today and not a single one of them shares in ordinary power. This was not too much of a problem in the past but in the 21st century, it looms large on the horizon for life within the Catholic Church.
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I really love last Sunday’s Gospel about Jesus coming to the apostles and their being terrified on seeing him approach walking on the water. However, I also love the first reading of last Sunday which describes Elijah being in a cave on Mount Horeb. The Lord tells Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave and wait because he, the Lord is passing by. The rest is simply beautiful and delightful. At first, Elijah hears terrifying sounds – long, powerful winds, crashing rocks, earthquakes and roaring fire but the Lord is not present in any of those. Finally, there is a tiny whisper and Elijah hides his face in his cloak because he knew that in the power of that silence the Lord was passing by.
Does that not happen in our own lives? We see people around us who are bombastic, loud and attempting to be overpowering, but that is usually a sign of great weakness. Then when we deal with a person who talks to us with a very soft and gentle voice, but a voice that contains strength and resolve, the power of God is present in that person. We, ourselves, should attempt to deal with those around us with the beautiful combination of gentleness and strength.
Let’s listen for the messages that come to us in tiny whispers. The Lord is passing by.
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4th Sunday of Easter, May 15th
Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. That is the third great feast day in the Church year. We celebrate it ten days after the Feast of the Ascension and fifty days after Easter Sunday itself. Pentecost may mark the beginning of the Church- in terms of the responsibility for proclaiming the Word of God passing now not from Jesus himself, but to the apostles as his witnesses. However, I prefer the dramatic scene that we see in today’s Gospel. That is, of course, the same text that will dominate Pentecost Sunday but here we have but an excerpt of it.
Peter and the other apostles have been holed up in their secret hiding place for ten days now, when they are transformed by the presence among them of the Holy Spirit. They had kept the doors locked, the windows shuttered, but then suddenly, after receiving the Spirit, Peter tells them that it is time to go forth. Peter then leaves the room, goes out into the city and begins to proclaim the Good News of God’s love for the human family and the redemption that has been accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus. His speech must have had tremendous power. The initial listeners were shocked and concerned about what they should do and Peter gives them very clear directions – Repent and be baptized, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and the result of this would be that their sins would be forgiven. The text merely states rather casually that those who accepted the message were baptized and some 3,000 were added that day! Would today’s preachers be so successful.
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Christians believe that Almighty God is the source of all creation and sustains that creation in existence by His infinite power. If we really believe that, and we do, it follows that we should endeavor to be evermore conscious of the fact that our continued existence depends entirely on our Creator. We also ought to be conscious of the fact that He sustains us in existence because of His infinite love for all of us and for each of us. These two facts together should call to our minds the need for prayer.
God has given us intelligence and free will, and when we become conscious of that fact, not only do we owe everything to God (since our continued existence is, of course, dependent upon Him), we should pray. Prayer is the bond that takes us out of ourselves and enables us to attach our minds and hearts to our loving Creator. The Catholic Catechism states that prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father and is good beyond measure. Prayer unites us with the Holy Trinity and this communion of life is always possible because through baptism we were united with Christ.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple turn towards heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
Let us take a moment now to turn towards our good God.
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Any one with good sense knows that America is an extraordinarily powerful and productive nation. Despite our power and productivity, we are a nation marked with many very serious problems. Those problems are all soluble if we effectively direct our attention to them and were prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. It is those simple facts that make the widespread inane, insensitive, silly chatter so disappointing.
Just listen to what a sizable portion of our population is discussion. Homosexuals are going to destroy marriage? Obama was born on the moon and is a practicing Muslim? Muslims who are American citizens must be blocked from utilizing their property in a manner that they choose? How is Paris Hilton doing these days? Obama hates white people and is trying to overthrow the American way of life? Wow! And on and on.
Because we are so powerful and successful as a nation, we can continue to absorb a high level of foolishness in the citizenry, but it would be much better if we all turned our full attention to the major difficulty facing America – that well over 20% of the country is being very adversely affected by the recession. Suffering is widespread. We need jobs, jobs, jobs. Congress is not moving realistically to deal with this and the national pressure, concentrating as it does on Paris Hilton, and apparently finds the economic development too complex and too tiresome.
Let’s get serious.
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