I mentioned the other day that papal social teaching has steadily responded to the constant changing and the increasingly complex mode of international politics and economics. Pope Paul VI and John Paul II expanded in this field in a very excellent manner but I am especially interested in the last document to which I referred the other day, namely Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth, by John XXIII.
In the fall of 1962, the world was facing the missile crisis and there was a very real chance of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both President Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev made use of John XXIII in a back channel manner. The pope clearly grasped the seriousness of the situation and urged both leaders to choose peace. Until his intervention, there was real risk of nuclear war. Happily, war was avoided and it is then that the elderly pope began to dream of a world that would develop structures that would ensure prosperity, cooperation and, most of all, peace across this planet. Out of his thinking and prayer came the historic document Pacem in Terris.
When we read the daily papers and watch the evening news there is so much information about wars and the threat of war, about killings, about dangers, risk and conflicts that it is hard to imagine that things really are better today but they actually are. The world of 2013 is a much better organized and cooperative and a more peaceful world than was true in 1962. First of all, human rights have surged to the front and negotiations among peoples all over the world. While there is much to be done, the issue of human rights has become a major factor in international law and diplomacy. Many new transnational agencies and organizations have sprung up. A form of global governance has begun and, like Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, who formally played nuclear brinkmanship but now are both pushing for the removal of all nuclear weapons. This new and profound interest in human rights certainly began to strengthen inside the life of the Church in a way that had not been present before 1962.
While Pope John XXIII was supposedly elected as an “interim” pope, he surprised everyone and was one of the most influential popes of the last century. While I write here today about Pacem in Terris, we must not forget that he is the man who had the courage and wisdom to convene the Second Vatican Council. That Council was a great gift to the Church but its work is far from being completed. Speaking just for myself, I pray fervently that Pope Francis will convene yet another Council in the near future.
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I am amazed! I am really amazed. More accurately, I am really saddened. Here we are in 2013 and the Supreme Court of the United States is seriously discussing cutting back the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The arguments for it? Why, the problem has been solved! Voter discrimination has been eliminated and there is no need for this archaic law today!
I assume that the justices on the court were somewhat conscious of the fact that throughout 2012 there was a determined effort in more than 20 states to adjust voting procedures in a way that it would make it more difficult for some citizens, especially the poor and minorities, to cast their vote. Restrictions on voter ID, scheduling and inconvenient polling places as well as other tricks were used to cut back on the voting of these groups.
It is true that in 2013 the evils present in our system before 1965 have been greatly lessened but that is no reason to go backwards. We still see powerful forces that want to limit voting rights. The Voter Rights Act holds them at bay. Let’s keep it that way.
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Most thoughtful observers are conscious of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is a very large organization. It is a large organization with a lot of problems but it also has tremendous resources to do good within the confines of its own organization and in the larger society as well. The Catholic Church in this country also has an extraordinarily interesting history going back to the time that it was a tiny entity located in small communities in half a dozen towns in New England. Today, it numbers probably 70 million members served by tens of thousands of priests and religious working through 20,000 parishes and countless charitable and educational institutions.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time in the Church’s story when not only was it small, but it was struggling to exist in a hostile environment filled with prejudice, hatred and occasionally violent persecution. Confronting such unpleasant realities can help develop strength, willpower and determination. It was in that environment that some extraordinary bishops appeared throughout much of the 19th century. Today, I would like to mention just one of them.
John Joseph Keane was born in Donegal, Ireland in 1839. His family immigrated to the United States and young John entered the seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. Over the next 80 years, he would accomplish many good works in the face of conflict and misunderstanding. As a young priest, he got to know and work with the famous Father Isaac Hecker, the founder of the Paulists. He was appointed the fifth bishop of Richmond in 1878 which covered all of Virginia and, at the same time, was administrator of the Vicariate of North Carolina.
In 1884, the bishops met for the Third Plenary Council in Baltimore. A decision was made to establish a Catholic university. The American bishops chose Keane as founding rector and he did an extraordinary job in getting the school up and moving.
The Catholic Church was growing rapidly with millions of immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other countries. Controversies abounded and Keane was a leader in the so-called “American wing” in the hierarchy, associating himself with friends, such as Bishops John Ireland and Dennis O’Connell on such issues as the defense of the Knights of Labor and a rapid assimilation of Catholic immigrants. He angered some of his brother bishops in arguing forcefully for compulsory education as a legitimate exercise of state authority.
At that time, there was frequent tension between German bishops and the Irish bishops. Later he would sharply criticize James Cardinal Gibbons for not being strong enough in the middle of that controversy. His openness to dealing with Protestant churches generated additional suspicion on the part of many of his brother bishops. In 1896, he was fired as rector of the Catholic University of America by Pope Leo XIII. After being fired from the university, Keane spent three years in Rome and then returned to the United States in 1900 to become Archbishop Dubuque.
This was a very difficult time in American Catholic history because the Holy See launched a forceful attack on a non-existing heresy called “Americanism.” As a side bar, let me mention that Archbishop Keane fought throughout his life on behalf of the temperance movement. One of his proudest moments occurred on Sunday, June 16, 1907 when all the saloons of Dubuque were closed for the first time in 50 years. Thank God for the heroism of Archbishop John J. Keane and may his memory be held in veneration, especially those whose families were disrupted or destroyed by the curse of alcoholism.
I enjoyed going back and reviewing this great bishop’s turbulent life and I think I will do a little more of it in the future. The story of the Catholic Church in the United States is truly a great one and it must not be forgotten.
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There are a lot of Catholics in the United States. No one knows exactly. The Catholic Directory claims to count about 60 some odd million but my guess is that it is closer to 70 or 75 million. It doesn’t matter. I just want to ask you to guess who the most important lay Catholic was in the 20th century. I say lay person because inside the day-to-day workings of the Church the laity don’t get much press. It has been better since the Council but still it is the bishops who get in most of the news, good and bad.
I have a nominee for the title of the best known American Catholic lay person and I will put my nominee up against anyone else for the last century. It is Dorothy Day of New York City. Have you ever heard of her? If you answer is no, you have missed a wonderful story of 20th century American Catholicism. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dorothy Day was and is a saint. She is with God and before the throne of God, I believe that she is interceding for the same people that she worked with so heroically throughout her life.
Beginning as a newspaper reporter, she was a well-known radical and journalist who converted to Catholicism in 1927. She would co-found a small but meaningful organization called the Catholic Worker in 1933. She started a newspaper and opened houses of hospitality in different cities in the nation. Dorothy always went to the slums, the worst slums, lived there herself and drew extraordinarily generous people to join her. Was she a success? There is no way to know. She liked to quote G.K. Chesterton to the affect that, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Working always with the poor, working always with extraordinarily limited resources, she stands out in 20th century Catholicism as the brightest of examples to the total and honest commitment to walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Dorothy was for the poor and she was for peace. At 75 years of age, she was arrested in support of the farm workers and other times she would be arrested because of her opposition to the war, all war.
When I was beginning to consider going to the seminary in the late 1940’s, the priest who was most influential in my decision was himself a follower of Dorothy Day. The ideals that she lived and practiced in the slums of New York City he, on a small scale, duplicated and made real in the inner-city of Houston. I have no doubt that my case can be multiplied by the thousands and thousands.
The Catholic Worker still goes on. There is a very effective one in Houston that does magnificent work for immigrants and homeless people. It is headed by Mark and Louise Zwick, and a small but meaningful operation goes on here in Austin headed by Lynn Goodman-Strauss.
The Houston Catholic Worker can be reached at P. O Box 70113, Houston, Texas 77270, 713-869-7376 and Mary House Catholic Worker of Austin can be reached at P. O. Box 684185, Austin, Texas 78768, (512) 447-0963.
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For most of the last century, the American people and its government have been struggling to resolve a pressing need and an apparent conflict. The need is a very real one and it casts a shadow over life in the United States. The conflict flow from the natural responsibility of a people, whether it be family, tribe or nation, to convey its value system to each new generation and our current inability to do that. Throughout history, all groups have learned to do this and thus preserve their values, traditions and mode of living. The United States does not know how to do that.
All true values are ultimately based on a moral foundation. On reviewing the relationship between religion and public education, the Supreme Court has slipped back and forth several times occasionally creating a small opening for more action, but usually making it ever more difficult. Back in 2007, Texas attempted to deal with this issue by enacting a law allowing public schools to teach bible courses as a separate elective but the law demanded that the courses are required to be fair and unbiased. This is not an impossible goal. The bible is the most important book in the history of much of the world. The bible has had tremendous influence not only in millions and billions of individual lives, but in the flow of history in the public area. The bible has been powerful and often involved conflict and even hatred. This means that since it is such an important book, it would be possible to teach where it came from, what culture influences affected the bible and, in reverse order, what the bible has affected in the flow of history.
The educators had good intensions but their efforts have not been completely successful as yet. Last week, the Texas Freedom Network released a study showing that among the 60 school districts that have taken advantage of this new state law there was widespread failure to comply with the law requiring courses to be fair and unbiased. I am not surprised. It would take a very disciplined teacher to utilize a book that primarily reflects God’s activity in history and not let his or her faith show through in the classroom. In other words, the professor is not to reveal that he or she actually believes the bible, actually holds to the idea that the events recorded in it are really true. I understand that the State of Texas doesn’t want Baptist teachers clearly teaching the Baptist faith or Roman Catholic teachers endeavoring to instruct their public school students in Catholicism. However, I don’t think that the personal faith of the teacher should be a reason for making that person ineligible as a teacher or professor.
Much has been written over the last two generations about the fact that the state cannot endorse teachers supporting one particular faith and I think that most Americans solidly agree with that. On the other hand, is there not a valid question as to whether or not atheism or at least agnosticism have become the established religion of the United States of America. I wonder.
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A large gang of carpenters and laborers are still working hard endeavoring to get the capitol grounds in Washington, D.C. in shape in order to enable the government to continue to do routine business. The hotels are no longer crowded, tons of trash has been removed and getting around the city is no more difficult than usual. The inauguration was both fun and expensive but now the president and the Congress must confront the large number of serious problems, conflicted situations, economic peril at home as well as military and terrorist peril abroad.
The most immediate issue facing the president, and you and I are facing it as well, is the need to deal with multiple fiscal issues within the next few months. The automatic budget cuts raise their head again in early March. The debt ceiling has come back to life. The absence for a federal budget adds to the bitterness between the White House and the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Maybe we should rename the Arab Spring. I think it is more like an Arab earthquake with dangerous and tragic situations continuing in Syria, Egypt and now Algeria. Our relations with Russia and China are less than ideal. All in all, it is a difficult and complex time in American history.
Shouldn’t we all be glad that there is always somebody out there who wants to be the president? Let’s pray for that man and let’s pray for our country.
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Well, the number crunchers, the economists and the public relations people have all been busy trying to figure out how much the November elections cost the people of the United States of America. So much money was spent in so many different races in different parts of the country that no one will ever know. The common figure that most people tentatively agree to is six billion dollars. No, this is not a typographical error. Six billion dollars was spent to choose our elected officials. All of these jobs, whether city councilman or president, are important and almost everyone has a right to contend for one or another of them. But SIX BILLION DOLLARS? Wow!
One of the good things about this election is that many more individuals were involved and made small, reasonable contributions – $10, $50, $200 – but that is not where most of that six billion came. It was the big donors, the people who want something very specific from the government or they want it done a certain way. This has been a problem in our country for nearly 200 years but two years ago the Supreme Court chose to make it much more difficult by coming down with the decision called Citizens United.
In its overzealous desire to not impede free speech in this country (there hasn’t been too much of a shortage of that of late, has there?), it blandly made the decision that the poverty stricken powerhouses in Corporate America were just simple citizens, like Mr. Smith who lives across the street. They have a right to be engaged in politics and there is no limitation on expenditures. They also made it possible for organizations to give enormous sums of money without identification or visibility. It was this change that made the cost of running for election in this country soar so much higher in a short period of time. It frightens me to think about what the cost of elections will be in 2016.
In the early 19th century, America’s leaders fought vigorously to keep corporations out of politics and they were successful until this recent decision. There is a strong move underway to change the Constitution but that is extraordinarily difficult – extraordinarily difficult!
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If there is anyone in the United States that did not know that American politics is a tough, difficult and expensive world, they do now. A two year struggle to choose a president for the next four years is now over. As I said last week, most of us are very thankful for that fact. Will anything be different now?
The last two years were extraordinarily bitter and hostile. It seemed like the government was at a complete impasse. The battle over the debt ceiling took us into a very dangerous situation and was temporarily solved only at the last minute.
I think that we are all happy to note that there are glimmering signs of rationality and a willingness to work together to solve our many and very serious problems. The president’s position is strong and Speaker Boehner has given some indication that he is going to try hard to develop a cooperative spirit in the Republican controlled House. If that works out, it will certainly be a wonderful blessing for the country. We must deal with our problems and continued stalemate, conflict and logjam points us to disaster.
Let’s pray that our leaders are open to responding to reality and that they put the overcoming of these obstacles ahead of their personal views and opinions.
We are reasonable people. Let us move forward and let us move forward together.
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I am old enough to have seen a lot of natural disasters occur in the United States and across the world. At a time that pain and suffering are generated humans suffer terribly and it is a sad and tragic situation. The greater the tragedy the more the sadness. SANDY and its aftermath is beyond comprehension in terms of its suffering. The storm itself was horrible but the next day we began to realize that thousands and thousands of people were trapped in high rise apartments with no electricity. That meant no heat, no cooking, no elevators. It usually meant non-functioning toilet facilities, to say nothing of the danger of those darkened stairways, and immediately began several days of frightening, cold isolation in the dark.
As I write this, we do not yet know what the death toll will be from these terrible circumstances. We do know that the mayors and governors are making extraordinary efforts to deal with the issues. The immediate problem is to get food, clothing and shelter to all those who are suffering. It is a tremendous task but we are well underway. Down the road, we will not be able to avoid the consequences of the extraordinary economic destructiveness. People living in San Bernadino will pay a price for SANDY. We don’t know what that price is yet but the bill will come!
SANDY is a tragic, agonizing disaster for the North East and for the whole country. I would not be so silly as to make much mention of the fact that at least some minimum of good will come from it. However, as an optimist I would like to mention a couple of benefits. They are nothing in terms of the total damage but ought at least to be taken into consideration in our downward spiral.
The immediate efforts at recovery to SANDY’S devastation is a tremendous tribute to the organizational ability of the American economic and political system. What was done immediately and will be done in the immediate future is astonishing and we can thank God that we have the capacity to do this.
The spirit of service, love, cooperation and unity that marked the area of the country that took the hardest hit was a magnificent tribute to the American values that we all share. A corollary response is also being generated around the rest of the country and maybe even the world. Finally, because we are busy little imitators of the beavers and the ants, rebuilding is already underway. When that rebuilding is complete, the North Eastern United States will be a finer area in which to live and work than it was before SANDY came ashore on October 29th.
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Nearly all of us were watching. We saw it happen. On my desk is a picture dated October 16, 2002 which shows President George Bush sitting at a desk signing the Iraq War authorization flanked by smiling congressmen. That is a photograph of a tragedy, a terrible tragedy.
Ten years have passed. We know now what we knew then. There was no credible evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Members from the International Atomic Energy implored the United States to go slow; not to attack until their search could definitively be completed. However, the United States did not heed their cautionary urge.
Countries make mistakes. Big countries make big mistakes and the United States certainly was guilty of an agonizing error at this time. Prior to our attack, political leaders of that area were aware of the fact that a U.S. invasion would almost certainly result in a bloody insurgency, the uncapping of Islamic extremism and terrorism and that dangers increase with extremism and terrorism based on religion on ethnicity. Were we surprised when all of those warnings would come about? The cost of this mistake to Iraq is incalculable – countless deaths, a destroyed economy and a wrecked social structure. The United States had roughly 20,000 deaths of young American men and women and trillions of dollars.
As I write this, we have withdrawn from Iraq but the war, although officially ended, still generates agonizing violence. The war in Pakistan continues unabated and with horror we witness careless talk around the United States about what we ought to do to and with Iran. Remember Paul VI at the United Nation, “No more war. War, never again!”
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