Archive for the Social Justice Category

My Birthday Request in the wake of Paris and Beirut

Posted in Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 8.22.27 PMThis is a video expression of my gratitude for all the kind wishes and greetings on my birthday along with a birthday request or plea to join in prayer with not only the victims of the terrorist attacks in paris and Beirut, but also prayers that we do not allow this horrific violence to harden our hearts to the needs of others who are refugees and migrants fleeing violence and unrest. Let us not abandon them, but open our hearts and borders to those who need our love and support. As Thomas Merton notes, drawing on his Christian faith, it is only love that can overcome the fear that is at the root of all war.

The video is embedded below, or you can go to the YouTube channel to watch it here:

Jesus, John Oliver, and the Widow’s Mite

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , on November 9, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

widows-mite2When I hear Jesus in today’s Gospel (Mark 12:38-44), I think about the comedian John Oliver.

The reason I think of him has to do with an episode of his television program Last Week Tonight that aired earlier this year. In August, Oliver and his team did a segment unveiling what began as critique of perceived abuse of the religious tax exemption provided by the IRS. It highlighted the personal wealth that certain televangelists accumulated while ostensibly fleecing their virtual congregants, many of whom were poor and even physically ill.

What we witness in the clips highlighting the practice of wealthy preachers calling viewers to donate their money to them in the name of God is indeed appalling, particularly in light of the stories shared by family members of deceased individuals who refused to seek medical treatment and instead sent what remained of their money to these charlatans using the name of God for personal profit.

The reason I think of John Oliver is because what he identifies by way of his condemnation of this practice is awfully similar to what Jesus does in today’s Gospel, though perhaps Jesus does so with fewer jokes.

As I mentioned some years back in a popular blog post on this Gospel, far too often this passage (and its analogs elsewhere in the synoptics) have been misunderstood or at least misrepresented in way that portrays a very different picture than the one I believe Jesus wants us to have.

Typically, the observation of the widow’s donation of her livelihood in the form of two measly mites (think pennies) is hailed as a sign of complete dedication and trust in the Lord. To be sure, this is certainly the case. From this particular woman’s perspective, we might imagine that this is exactly what she is thinking. As a result, preachers often claim that she serves as a model for us in how we should donate to the church, giving completely from our livelihood and not merely from our abundance. We should give, these same preachers imply, even when it hurts — just like this poor widow.

However, what is far too often not considered in this accounting of the narrative are the lines immediately preceding this observation of Jesus about the poor widow.

In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

How quick we are to forget (or to project our own interests into the Gospel).

The passage begins with Jesus’s condemnation of the religious leaders who benefit from the convincing poor widows with “lengthy prayers” to pass over their livelihoods, their financial resources. In a way, we might imagine those who seek places of honor at banquets and want to be greeted with important titles to be like first-century televangelists (minus the TV of course).

When we read this passage in its entirety, though, we should begin to see a bigger picture and recall that Jesus’s mission is one of justice and peace, announcing the love and mercy of God in word and deed. His condemnation of the religious leaders of his time followed by the observation of this poor woman surrendering all of her resources to the temple treasury should elicit a deep and troubling reflection.

Instead of admiring the poor widow, we should ask ourselves two questions:

  1. How did this woman come to be so destitute in the first place? Jesus notes that she’s a poor widow and that two mites are all she has, at all, to offer. What are the social conditions and structures that allow for such a reality?
  2. Why would she think that God wanted her to give up all that she had?

To the first question, we can look to First-Century Mediterranean culture. Women had very little standing in the deeply patriarchal society. Widows, especially, along with orphans and poor children had little to no recourse and no legal standing. A poor widow is a person facing a dangerously precarious reality, whose very life is always on the brink of complete ruin.

To the second question, the answer is found implicitly in Jesus’s condemnatory remarks. The sin of the scribes and other religious leaders at the time is the predatory practice of convincing the poor and disenfranchised that they needed to give what little subsistence money they had to the religious institutions in order to find favor with God.

This is not something we can simply relegate to the past. It is a practice that exists today, something that is highlighted in the extreme by John Oliver’s exposé of the predatory practices of televangelists. And yet, it happens in so many other ways, too.

Thinking about the systems at work that socialize people to operate against their own best interest for the sake of benefiting a select few. For example, health care in the United States. First, why do we live in a society that hasn’t provided this fundamental element of basic human flourishing to all people? And why do those who go without health care support ideas and even politicians who want to ensure that this is not a universal right?  Or what about the issue of income inequality, the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” the latter people which are encouraged to support and defend the “haves” as heroes without critical reflection on the reason that they themselves have not.

Today’s Gospel is a call not for us to idealize the poor widow who finds herself giving everything she has to the religious establishment, but it is a challenge for us — like Jesus — to identify the scribes and others of our own time who are fleecing the poor and perpetuating the conditions of structural injustice, and then do something about it. Each of us has been given different gifts and skills that can be used in this work of the Gospel. Perhaps some, like John Oliver, may even use comedy. However we proceed, we should proceed for the sake of justice in the name of God.

Photo: Stock

Five Episodes and Counting!

Posted in Laudato Si, Social Justice, Uncategorized, YouTube, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

UnderstandingOver the last month it’s been exciting to share with everybody a new ministry project, a free video series online that introduces Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si by providing theological and scriptural background, context, and explanation in language that is accessible.

The idea for the series arose over the summer of 2015 when I was traveling to a variety of cities around the United States to give lectures and lead retreats. Only a handful of those events were directly related to Laudato Si, but there was nonetheless an increasing interest expressed at each location for more information and easily accessible resources to aid understanding this new encyclical letter. People were fascinated with all the news coverage about the encyclical, but were having a difficult time situating the text and understanding its content (in truth, few are especially inclined to read the whole document). So after some conversation with people in North Carolina and Texas in August, this YouTube Channel was launched with the hope of meeting some of the need previously expressed.

Subsequently, additional videos have been added to the channel and more diverse content related to themes such as theology and spirituality is forthcoming. In the meantime, the primary focus is still on the series “Understanding Laudato Si,” the fifth episode of which was released today! You can find links for all the currently available videos below. At this time, we’re anticipating about 15 videos in total for this series, so there’s still more to come. Each episode of ULS is released on Tuesday, so be sure to subscribe to the YouTube Channel to get it directly as soon each new episode comes out!

Thanks for your support and enthusiasm, which has been tremendous so far! Please pass along your comments, suggestions, and questions. Feedback is very helpful — this whole endeavor was the result of the consistent feedback of people all around the country.

Understanding Laudato Si

Episode 01 — “Models of Creation”

Episode 02 — “Situating Laudato Si

Episode 03 — “What is Happening to our Common Home?”

Episode 04 — “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor”

Episode 05 — “Back to the ‘Beginning'”

Preview Trailer for “Understanding Laudato Si”

Lecture and Discussion about ‘Laudato Si’ in Downtown Boston

Posted in Laudato Si, Social Justice with tags , , , on September 30, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Join us at The Paulist Center in downtown Boston on Thursday October 1 (tomorrow) at 7:00pm for a lecture titled “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor: Introducing Laudato Si with a discussion to follow. Haven’t read the encyclical yet? Not a problem, come learn about it.

Cry of the Earth,Cry of the poor

Initial Reflections on Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Thomas Merton, YouTube with tags , , , on September 25, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Screen Shot 2015-09-25 at 12.24.19 AMThis video was recorded “on location” in the side chapel of the Mercyhurst University Chapel in Erie, PA. Just minutes after Pope Francis delivered his historic address to the joint session of Congress, I had the great honor and privilege to preside and preach at the Mass of the Holy Spirit, which kicks off the academic year at the university. Being a Thomas Merton scholar and admirer of Dorothy Day, I wanted to share some initial reflections right away, so here they are! My apologies for the lower-than-average production quality, but such is the case when on the road. In addition to the initial reflections, there are a few glimpses of the beautiful campus of Mercyhurst University and a time-lapse video of the opening of this evening’s panel discussion on religious life.

Also, here is the full text of the Pope’s address to Congress.



Pope Francis References Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day in Address to Congress

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Thomas Merton, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 24, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

merton_painting_webIn what was already the most widely anticipated speech of Pope Francis’s pastoral visit to the United States this week, the Pope’s references to two American models of Christian living — the renowned author and Trappist Monk Thomas Merton and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day — have surprised many. As a Merton scholar, a three-term member of the Board of Directors for the International Thomas Merton Society, and the author of the recent book The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, I couldn’t be more delighted at the mention of Merton!

Pope Francis highlights how these two giant figures of American Catholicism “offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality.”

Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day knew each other, corresponded, and represent to many Catholics the depth of an engaged Christian spirituality that extends beyond the personal relationship with God to reach the margins of society and respond to the most pressing concerns of our day. Their lives and model of Christian living anticipated what was made universal by the Second Vatican Council and expressed in Gaudium et Spes, that Christians are called to interpret the “signs of the time” in “light of the Gospel.”

This didn’t happen overnight for either figure. For Merton, there was a growing awareness of the need to engage matters of peace and justice in the world that came when his life of prayer and contemplation awakened within him a sense of interconnectedness with all women and men. He recognized an “original unity,” as he put it in one of his last lectures, that was founded on the “hidden ground of love.”

In a letter to Dorothy Day written on August 23, 1961, Merton acknowledges this growing awareness and turn toward the world:

I don’t feel that I can in conscience, at a time like this, go on writing just about things like meditation, though that has its point. I cannot just bury my head in a lot of rather tiny and secondary monastic studies either. I think I have to face the big issues, the life-and-death issues.

This awakening of his conscience led to addressing concerns of poverty, racism, violence, nuclear armament, the Cold War, economic inequality, among other pressing concerns of his day (and, sadly, still our own).

Both Merton and Day, the latter whose cause for canonization is currently underway, have been somewhat polarizing figures over the last half-century. Those who feel religious people should talk about God and prayer and not the pressing or controversial concerns of the time, have dismissed Merton and Day. Some feel that they represent some kind of “liberal” or “progressive” face of Catholicism. Pope Francis’s references help to put down that sort of polarizing image, pointing to them as icons and models of Christian discipleship for all people!

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

God is Not Fair (In the Best Way)

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on August 19, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

winery-vineyard6I’m always struck by the zealous insistence of “fairness” as rule that first appears in childhood when parents pronounce a decision that some child renders unjust: “That’s not fair!” Though this sort of protestation arrives on the scene during one’s youth, the socialization that led to this way of viewing the world began a very long time ago. Sometimes one is in fact not treated fairly and that is certainly an injustice. However, fairness as a rule tends to be more subjective than most of us would like to admit and it’s almost always, at least when invoked by the comfortable or privileged, a cover for selfishness.

The Gospels are replete with illustrations that uncover our selfish impulses, which is usually masked by the ruse of “fairness.” This morning’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew (20:1-16) is exactly this sort of thing.

You will recall how Jesus announces that, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.” This fictive landowner, the usual stand in for God, then goes out periodically throughout the day to hire more laborers. He orders that all the workers be paid the same wage, which provokes the ire of those who were first hired in the morning. We know how it goes.

So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’

The “fairness rule” rears its ugly head in the contestation of the workers who labored all day. Surely, they insist, we deserve more than those who worked but a few hours.

But why? As Jesus’s narration makes abundantly clear, the landowner has cheated absolutely nobody.

‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’

Again, let us look to yet another Gospel illustration, this time from Luke’s account (15:11-32). One of the most-famous parables of Jesus again reveals what’s really at play in our own self-righteous thinking. This is of course the narrative of the “Prodigal Son.” After the younger child wishes his father dead and demands his inheritance, which he squanders, what would be fair is for that son to be dismissed and left for dead. Or, in the best-case scenario, as the son himself imagines, he might be hired as a servant on his father’s estate.

However, what happens in the Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of our base human impulses disguised as “fairness.” The gratuitous father is entirely “unfair” by worldly standards and welcomes the son back without punishment or shame.

Like the vineyard workers who began early in the day in Matthew’s narrative, the older son in Luke’s parable seethes with anger at the spectacle of his father’s blatant unfairness.

What is to be learned here? What does this say to us?

First, God’s sense of what is fair and what is not fair does not, at all, align with our human sense of “fairness,” which again is typically a thin veil covering our own self-centeredness. The Reign of God is marked by everybody having what is necessary. In both parables, God does not withhold anything from anyone. All parties are accounted for and given what is necessary for human flourishing.

Yet, it is a sense of of selfishness and entitlement that drives those who have what is from the outset fair (an agreed upon daily wage or all that already belongs to the father) to feel they deserve so much more. Perhaps this impulse goes all the way back to our mythical parents in Genesis, who were not content with their humanity and desired to have and be even more.

Second, these parables and an awareness of the selfishness that is called “fair” today spawns other narratives that justify real injustice in our world. The wealthy, comfortable, and powerful spin tales of “fairness” that justify their grandiosity in the shadow of poverty and injustice around them. Like the vineyard workers hired in the morning, many justify their greed and desire for more as a comparable reward for their hard work.

But unlike the parables, the landowners and father (or mother) figures are usually not prodigal in their generosity and or love. Most landowners operate according to the logic of those first-hired workers. The rules then get set to benefit a few, while the system and the rhetoric of society explain inequality, abuse, poverty, and injustice as merely a real-world reflection of “fairness.”

It is difficult for many of us to accept the gratuitous love, generosity, and mercy of God. We hold one another accountable to rules of “fairness,” sometimes even baptized in the water of religion, but it is not the radical unfairness of God; it is not the radical justice that is equivalent to God’s infinite mercy.

What our world desperately needs, and that the forthcoming year of mercy may offer, is a serious reconsideration of what we consider to be fair.

 Photo: File

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 936 other followers

%d bloggers like this: