Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Pope?

Those who profit from what harms the earth have to keep the poor out of sight. They have trouble enough fighting off the scientific, economic, and political arguments against bastioned privilege. Bringing basic morality to the fore could be fatal to them. That is why they are mounting such a public pre-emptive strike against the encyclical before it even appears. They must not only discredit the pope’s words (whatever they turn out to be), they must block them, ridicule them, destroy them.

Read More: Who’s Afraid of Pope Francis? by Garry Wills | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Things That Caught My Eye – Week of August 4th, 2014

Here are some links to articles that caught my eye this week.

6 Ways Wall Street Is Hosing Chicago Teachers – Matthew Cunningham-Cook unpacks how the country’s biggest investment firms are endangering the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.

We Need to Fight for Equality – William Spriggs reflects on how the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement must be united.

Catholic Social Teaching and Adjunct Faculty Organizing – John Russo writes about Catholic Universities and the Social Teaching of the Church.

Some Facts That Poverty-Deniers Don’t Want to Hear – Three-quarters of conservative Americans think poor people have it easy. Paul Buchheit shows that they don’t.

Imagine If People Were Paid What Their Work Is Really Worth to Society – Professor Reich imagines.

Films that Debunk Corporate Education Reform – A list of must-see videos from Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

Israel/Palestine FAQ – Who are the Palestinians? Who are the Israelis? Is Folk Singer David Rovics a self-hating Jew? Find out in this FAQ.

Do Palestinians Really Exist? – When he was nine years old, Dean Obeidallah finally learned about his father’s people.

The Center of Hope

Awhile back I became familiar with the Catholic Worker movement. A part of their philosophy involves voluntary poverty, and sharing everything in our lives with people in need. The credo is “if you have a coat on your back, and a coat in your closet, one of them belongs to someone else.”

This is a hard teaching for me.

I grew up in a family of modest means. My father died when I was six years old, so I was raised by a single mom who worked part time. Yet we always had adequate housing, decent clothes to wear and I cannot remember ever going to bed hungry. I now suspect that my mother sometimes did without things that she would have liked in order to provide for me, but I never heard her complain about it, and I don’t recall her ever being in any sort of true physical deprivation. I was afforded every opportunity in terms of education, despite our limited resources, and I was not saddled with the crushing student debt which is so common today.

I have lived “from hand to mouth” at many points in my life as an adult, but I have not yet ever experienced the desperation of poverty that afflicts tens of millions in the United States. At the age of 56, I am not wealthy, but I finally enjoy what might be called a “solid middle class” standard of living.

In short, for most of my life I have thought of myself as one who was struggling to get by, not as one living in relative abundance. Like many who share my status, I felt that I was “doing the best I can” to help others by making regular donations to various charities.

At long last it has occurred to me that it’s not truly “the best I can do.”

Yet, it is difficult for me to imagine myself doing as Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin did in establishing Catholic Worker – forsaking even a modest level of comfort to live and serve among the most destitute in our community. There are, of course, many “practical” considerations involved. What about my wife and daughter, who have not been stricken with such a revolutionary conviction? It would be one thing for me to deprive myself, but I’m not sure that it would be just or proper to require such a thing of them.

Perhaps this is all just rationalization. Suffice it to say that I have struggled and pondered these sorts of questions for many months now. There was a particular moment where the weight of guilt came crashing down on me while hearing this story from the Gospel According to Matthew.

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

During Advent of 2013, at Reconciliation, I broke down in tears while describing this struggle of conscience to the priest. I left the rite with a determination to do more than simply write checks to charities as a way to meet my Christian obligation to others. I decided to find ways to participate directly in meeting human needs. It may not be all that is required, but it is a start.

I met with Sr. Denise, the Pastoral Associate at our church, who prayed with me and gave me information on several organizations in our community working to reduce the suffering of those in poverty. This morning, I worked for the first time at the Center of Hope, a local food pantry. It was ninety minutes of honest work, pushing a broom, mopping floors, helping to unload a truck from the food bank and breaking down boxes for recycling. I met some very fine people. Some of them have been volunteering at the Center for a decade or more. I hope that one day I will be able to look back on as many years of dedicated service.

This post is not written in a spirit of self-congratulation. To the contrary, I feel deep shame at having squandered so much of my life, turning a deaf ear toward the pleadings of the Gospel and a blind eye toward the needs of others. I am also still terribly troubled about the question of my second (and third, and fourth) coat, and all of the other comforts that I enjoy and do not yet share.

Dorothy Day said “I firmly believe that our salvation depends on the poor.”

This morning, for the first time, that statement gives me hope.

The Catholic Labor Network

I was very happy to run across a resource this morning for Catholic unionists and those who are interested in the Church’s teaching on economic justice. It’s called the Catholic Labor Network.

Here’s the description from their Website.

“The Catholic Labor Network hopes to be a place for those Catholics, lay, religious and clergy,  who are active in their churches and in unions to learn about their Church’s teachings as regards to labor issues, pray for those who are working for economic justice and share  information about events and struggles that may be taking place in their area. For over one hundred years, the Catholic Church has been a voice of support for workers, and a conscience to the body politic when it pondered issues dealing with the distribution of wealth and the condition of workers.”

Here are some links.

The Catholic Labor Network: Home Page

Catholic Labor Network Weblog

Catholic Labor Network on Facebook

Bye Bye Burke

From the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has been bumped from the influential Congregation of Bishops — a post that gave him say in the selection of bishops.

Some observers of the Roman Catholic Church said the move by Pope Francis is yet another example of his effort to tone down highly publicized stances on divisive social issues such as gay marriage, contraception and abortion, on which Burke has made strong remarks.

Burke was the one who stated publicly that he would deny Eucharist to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election.

Read More: Pope Francis removes former St. Louis Archbishop Burke from Congregation of Bishops : Lifestyles.

The Culture of Prosperity Deadens Us

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

They’re Gonna Have To Kick Me Out

Quit the Church? Thanks, but no thanks. [E. J. Dionne, Jr. | Commonweal] – Recently, a group called the Freedom from Religion Foundation ran a full-page ad in the Washington Post cast as an “open letter to ‘liberal’ and ‘nominal’ Catholics.” Its headline commanded: “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.” I’m sorry to inform the FFRF that I am declining its invitation to quit. They may not see the Gospel as a liberating document, but I do, and I can’t ignore the good done in the name of Christ by the sisters, priests, brothers and laypeople who have devoted their lives to the poor and the marginalized.

Brian’s Comment: I had much the same reaction as Dionne when I first saw the letter from the FFRF. Granted, it is sometimes hard to be a free-thinking Catholic these days, but the Faith is not merely the institutions and the Church is not merely the hierarchy. Our Catholic Faith belongs to me and to my family as much as it does to the bishops, to the Vatican or to any of the Right-Wing bigots to whom I may be offering the sign of peace this weekend.

Catholic Bishops Investigate The Girl Scouts

Today’s WTF Story:

Girl Scouts under scrutiny from Catholic bishops. [CSMonitor.com] – Long a lightning rod for conservative criticism, the Girl Scouts of the USA are now facing their highest-level challenge yet: An official inquiry by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have numerous parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their alliances.

Brian’s Comment:

Clean up your own power-mad money-grubbing homophobic misogynistic pedophiliac den of iniquity, Bishops.

Leave our Girl Scouts alone.

JFK Speech to the Houston Ministers

On September 12th, 1960, Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy addressed a group of Protestant ministers at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. Many Protestants in the United States (particularly in the South) had expressed concern that a Roman Catholic President would be a mere puppet of the Vatican. Senator Kennedy went into the lions’ den to address the issue directly.

Here is a short excerpt.

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end – where all men and all churches are treated as equal – where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice – where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind – and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe – a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

This speech is getting some attention once again in the 2012 Presidential campaign, as Republican contender Rick Santorum (also a Catholic) has condemned the sentiment in some very strong terms.

Thank you, Rick, but I hold with JFK.

You can watch a video of the entire speech at the following link.

Address of Senator John F. Kennedy to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, September 12, 1960. [John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum]

7 Years of Verbum Domini

On February 7th of 2005, I plugged a microphone into the side of my notebook and began reading the Scriptures for the day. Seven years later, Verbum Domini is the longest-running Catholic Podcast on the Net.

It was actually the second expressly Catholic Podcast. My pal Jayson Franklin began producing The Catholic Cast shortly after Christmas of 2004. Alas, Jayson ceased production in July of that same year.

Father Roderick Vonhögen’s The Catholic Insider came along in April of 2005, and after it a flood of others, including The Saintcast, The Rosary Army Podcast, Catholic Rockers, Tupelo Catholic, Catholic Family and so many more.

In those early days of Podcasting, we still hadn’t figured out precisely what the medium was. Was it broadcasting? Was it blogging? There was a lot of experimentation going on, and issues relating to copyright and licensing were still very much up in the air.

On Wednesday, September 7th of 2005, I received a “cease and desist” email from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. From the beginning, I had been reading from the New American Bible, to which the USCCB held copyright. The permissions page on their Website at the time allowed text from the NAB to be used in radio or television broadcasts, and the Lectionary Readings for the day to be used without license for “one time use.” There was language which required permission for use “in a sound or video recording” but I believed that to mean audio tapes, CDs, DVDs, etc. – not Podcasts. I did comply immediately with their order, using the Douay-Rheims version for a time and then gaining permission from the U.S. Council of Churches to use their Revised Standard Version for Catholics. The ornery side of me still counts is as something of a badge of honor to have received a C&D from the Bishops.

Joel Anderson of A Klingon Word From The Word approached me in October or November of 2005, and asked if I could use some help with the Podcast. He became the first guest lector for the program and has continued reading for it over the years. James Jerskey followed shortly thereafter, then the Sweeney family. Today there are many other lectors who have joined in this volunteer effort to bring the Scriptures to life each day.

In February of 2007 after two years of producing Verbum Domini, I decided that it was time to place it in someone else’s care. There were several reasons for this decision. Part of it was a desire to keep the program independent from advertising. I was going to work for an online media company that appended ads to their content and I thought there might be a conflict if I were to host the program elsewhere. Also, I had already drawn quite a bit of fire from politically conservative Catholics during those first two years over my own left-leaning outspokenness. I did not want that to become a distraction or a hindrance for listeners. My friend Greg Willits worked to bring the program under the auspices of SQPN. It has remained under their care ever since.

It is hard to believe that five years have passed since that time. Verbum Domini remains an important part of my daily devotional life, and to that of thousands of others around the world. I’m thankful to the volunteers who read and produce and coordinate the effort, particularly to David Sweeney who has taken the lead these many years. They remain in my prayers.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to think back on those early days of Podcasting. We didn’t know what we were doing. We were just doing it. We had grand notions that we were changing the world, and it was quite an experience.

There are tens of thousands of Podcasts listed at iTunes these days. Giant old media companies have gotten into the mix and giant new media companies have been created around the technology. Despite that, individuals with something to say can still plug a mic into the side of a notebook – or grab a video camera, or pick up a smart phone – and say it, with the likelihood of reaching thousands and the possibility of reaching millions.

Is that cool, or what?

If It Be Dark

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

But if it be dark with clouds and rain,

Winter is gone, and will not come again.

One of my favorite days of the year, Feburary 2nd is a cross-quarter day, falling between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It brings the hope of renewal, the coming of light. Catholics celebrate it as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. In our tradition, candles are blessed and distributed. In some cultures it also marks the end of Christmastime.

In Celtic tradition, it is Imbolc, the feast of the lactating ewes – again, a celebration of hope for Spring to come.

…and of course it was the Germans settling in Pennsylvania who brought the tradition of Groundhog Day to the United States.

Garrison Keillor offered a succinct history on The Writer’s Almanac a few years back.

It is cloudy and foggy here in East-Central Illinois this morning. Dare we hope that Winter is gone?

UPDATE: Bright sunshine here now…

The Coming of the Bride

Today we celebrate St. Bridget of Kildare, “Mary of the Gael.”

Here’s my weblog entry from four years ago:

Scotsman John Duncan painted this depiction of St. Bridget in 1917. She is the patron of newborns, blacksmiths, milkmaids and poets. Her feast day in the Catholic Church is February 1st, but traditions for “Bridie’s Day” predate Christianity. In Celtic lore, Bridget was the Triple Goddess – poet, smith and healer. She was associated with the Feast of the Lactating Ewes (Imbolc) marking the impending return of Springtime. Bridget is still, to this day, represented by the equal-limbed cross (which symbolized the Sun in the old religions). Candles and hearth are other obvious representations.

Catholic tradition tells us that she had a vision of the Nativity and was mystically transported across space and time to adore the Christ Child.

Whatever your faith or beliefs, this time of year presents an opportunity for renewal – and if ever we could use a fresh start, we could certainly use one now.

Those words still ring true for me.

Today is also, not merely coincidentally, the anniversary of the day that Claudia and I chose for our wedding nine years ago. From the beginning, our marriage has been under Bridget’s patronage. I cannot help but feel blessed to be building a life with my true love, and I am so grateful that she and I found our way to each other. When one considers the seemingly infinite span of possibilities, such occurrences are a wonder.

The Bishops and the Affordable Care Act

At Mass this past weekend, most Roman Catholics in the United States heard sermons or were read letters from their Bishops railing against a recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services concerning implementation of health care reform. My own Bishop, Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, said in his letter that President Obama was “being either dishonest or delusional or he is incompetent.” He also referred to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as a “pro-abortion Catholic.” This rhetoric was apparently typical, as Bishops across the nation characterized the HHS decision as nothing less than an attack on religious liberty.

It being the (sad) case that a dedication to the facts has been lacking in some similar communications from the Church hierarchy in the past, I felt it necessary to investigate the matter myself. It has been difficult to parse, but here is what I’ve learned.

The controversy centers on which preventive services for women will be mandated for insurance plans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which was passed into law by Congress in 2010. The law gave HHS broad discretion to determine which services would receive required coverage.

In the Summer of 2011, HHS announced rules requiring all new private health plans to cover preventive services such as mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks, and childhood immunizations without charging a copayment, deductible or coinsurance. In the Interim Rule announced by HHS in August of 2011, “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” was added to the list of required preventive services. “Religious institutions” were given an exemption from the requirement.

“The administration also released an amendment to the prevention regulation that allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. This regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception.”

– HHS Press Release, August 1st, 2011

So churches would be exempt from the provision, and could legally exclude such services from their employee health plans.

The problem, as I understand it, is that the exemption does not apply to organizations such as hospitals, schools, universities and charitable groups that are affiliated with churches, but only to the churches themselves. The Bishops and other religious groups were in conversation with the Obama Administration during the period of comment for the rules, advocating for a broader exemption. On January 20th, Secretary Sebelius announced that the final rule will allow the affiliated institutions an additional year (until August 1st, 2013) to comply with the law, but will not exempt them from the provision.

Whether this constitutes an attack on religious liberty (or violates First Amendment protections) I do not know. I’m still trying to understand the implications more clearly, and would welcome pointers to more information, commentary and discussions. Clearly at issue is the tension between the rights of faith-based institutions to practice and defend their beliefs, and the rights of individuals and our society to be free from imposition of those beliefs.

I’ll be posting more here as I give the matter additional study and prayerful consideration.

A Few Links

Conscience Protection (USCCB)

Bishop Paprocki’s Letter

E.J. Dionne’s Analysis (RealClearPolitics, 24 November 2011)

CBS New Coverage of the Bishops’ Letters

HHS News Release August 2011

HHS News Release January 2012