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.
Archive for the Social Justice Category
This 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.
In 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
I’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.
The following is the full text of the homily that was delivered at St. Anthony Shrine and Ministry Center in Downtown Boston on Good Friday April 3, 2015.
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Oh, OOOoohh, Sometimes it causes me to Tremble, Tremble, Tremble.
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Where you there when they Crucified Cecil Clayton?
Where you there when they Crucified Manuel Vasquez?
Oh, OOOoohh, always, it should cause us to Tremble, Tremble, Tremble.
Where you there when they Crucified Walter Storey?
Or Donald Newbury, or Robert Ladd, or Warren Hill, or Arnold Prieto, or Charles Warner, or Johnny Kormondy, or Andrew Brannan?
These are the names of the ten human beings that the Government by the people, of the people, and for the people in this country have executed in several states just since the beginning of January of this year.
What we commemorate this afternoon is a state execution, the death of a man that was viewed as a threat to those in religious and civil authority, a man who was executed by the romans for what was considered “the fomenting of insurrection.” We just heard the proceedings and we recognize the charge.
While we may honestly say that we were not “there,” when they crucified our Lord, we have to ask ourselves on this day when torture, capital punishment, and the death of innocents is front and center – Does the perpetuation of the injustice of the death penalty in our country cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble?
Yes, it’s true, you and I are fortunate to live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a state in the US that has, since October 18, 1984, banned the death penalty. But just down the street at the federal court house in this city, a trial is underway that is moving toward a sentencing phase in which the US government – in your name and mine – will seek to take yet another human life.
If on this Good Friday, you aren’t thinking about Cecil Clayton or, at least, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, then you’re missing a big part of the picture.
One of the big temptations of Good Friday is to confuse “feeling sorry or sorrowful” with “feeling sorry for oneself!” This, for example, is what the film “The Passion of the Christ” so often perpetuates. It was drawn not from good scriptural exegesis or sound theology, but from the gruesome visions of a German nun, whose written idea of what happened on Calvary is what the director primarily used in that film.
The effects of that film, and if you’ve seen it you know, is to play on the emotions that arise from watching obscene torture that makes the films of Quentin Tarantino look like Disney; to make individuals feel horrified and bad.
This is not what today is about! This is not why Jesus was executed!
Taking today as an opportunity to dwell on “how bad we are” such that we stay in the realm of “feeling sorry for ourselves” is not the point. Instead, yes, we should – today and always – reflect on how we need to repent for the wrong we’ve done and the right we have failed to do, but then we are, like Jesus after falling for the first, second, and third times, called by God to get up and move forward!
Pope Francis has talked a lot about Good Friday and the Death Penalty during his admittedly short, but powerful, term as Bishop of Rome. In terms of Good Friday, he has asked us in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, whether or not we are “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Whether we, in other words, use this time of penance, prayer, and conversion to “feel sorry for ourselves,” to go around mopey or gloomy, to be a burden for others; or whether we move toward the joy of Easter, the joy which proclaims that indeed death and sin do not have the last word
In terms of capital punishment, the Holy Father actually today includes a reflection on the injustice of the death penalty in his own Good Friday meditations on the Stations of the Cross – he calls us to work toward ending this evil in our world. It is no accident that he also spent last evening celebrating the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper with prisoners and washing their feet.
Two weeks ago while meeting with a delegation of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis said that, “capital punishment is cruel, inhumane and degrading, and that it does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge.”
Indeed, you and I, as we follow the Lord along the Way of the Cross, bearing witness to the State Execution of the Word-Made-Flesh, should ask ourselves: What good does the Death Penalty Do???
Seriously, what good does it accomplish? What grace, what healing, what contribution to human flourishing does it bring about???
It only brings about more evil. The murder of someone is always still murder – to deliberately take another human life is always wrong, no matter who pulls the trigger or pushes the poison in the syringe.
Similarly, Pope Francis said that, “the death penalty is an affront to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of the human person, it contradicts God’s plan for humankind and society and God’s merciful justice.”
Many Christians fancy themselves as being “Pro-Life,” by which they typically mean that they are “anti-abortion.” Many of these same Christians claim that the difference between abortion and capital punishment is “innocence.” The unborn somehow have an innocent human life, but the inmate on death row has some other kind of life.
But the Gospel and Christ make it clear, all human life is innocent! To say that we have inherent dignity and value as created and loved into existence by God means that there is nothing that can take that away from us. As Sr. Helen Prejean, the death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking, frequently says: “We are all more than the worst things we’ve done!”
This does not excuse horrendous and tragic behaviors, crimes, and actions – no, those things certainly merit punishment. But to say that a woman or man convicted of a crime has somehow lost their right to live is to take God’s judgment into our own hands.
Yesterday was the birthday of the late Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, who was a tireless voice for the Christian prolife movement – he advocated for what is called the “seamless garment” doctrine, which means that you cannot pick and choose which human lives you think are valuable or sacred.
If you are against abortion, then you must be against capital punishment, you must be against euthanasia, you must be against systems of racial injustice, systems that perpetuate poverty, systems of discrimination, anything that threatens the dignity and value of all human life!
Pope Francis has said that, “All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”
On this day when we gather to recall the death of the Lord, his being tortured and executed, let us think of and pray for those who are being tortured and executed in our own day. In a special way, let us begin again in the hope of the resurrection to be Christian women and men who work to overturn injustice, who tell our civil leaders that it is not ok to kill, who stand up for dignity of all lives. Let us break away from any temptation to just feel sorry for ourselves, but instead repent and believe in the Gospel – recommitting ourselves to go out into the world and work for justice!
And let us not forget the names of those who will be put to death on our behalf, for we in fact were and are there when they were crucified, and this should cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Well, it’s been a rather long break on my end, but I’m back after a month off. It hasn’t really been a true break given that, rather than enjoying a vacation as such, I’ve been on the road a lot for academic conferences, Provincial Chapter, board meetings, and speaking engagements, which was the primary reason for the radio silence from the DatingGod.org blog. Thanks to all who have patiently waited and thanks to those who have expressed their support and desire for the return of posting — your wish has come true today.
Ever since Pope Francis was elected Bishop of Rome in the Spring of 2013 his actions and words have captured the attention of millions. Most seem to be struck by the genuine humanity of this man whose primary concern seems to be rooted in the Gospel call to care for those women and men most at the margins: the poor, the disenfranchised, the ill, the disabled, the sexual minorities, and so on.
Yet, in the spirit of Dorothy Day’s prophetic insight — “when I feed the hungry, they call me a saint; when I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist” — Pope Francis has been labeled a communist by various self-styled “right-wing” commentators. The role call of accusers is pretty familiar, including the usual suspects Limbaugh and Beck. However, this week a new voice has entered the mix, a voice that has a far-more-respected reputation: The Economist magazine.
The blogger over at The Economist takes this misguided discourse to a new level, suggesting that: “By positing a link between capitalism and war, he seems to be taking an ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin in his diagnosis of capitalism and imperialism as the main reason why world war broke out a century ago.”
Pope Francis is certainly not the first to make this connection. In fact, I was thinking about former US President and 5-Star General Dwight Eisenhower’s famous admonition to the United States and world about the “military-industrial complex,” which itself presupposes the intrinsic link between military action (war) and industrial/market interests (capitalism). I think many would be hard pressed to caricature Eisenhower as a communist or “one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin.” But that is a digression.
My real interest here is in part to disabuse those who think that “Marxism,” a term thrown around without much actual study or background by most parties already named, is somehow a bad thing. Those who think it is an actual reality are first and foremost disillusioned. It is fair to talk about the historical reality of communist governments, the USSR, for example. However, Marxism is a political philosophy that bears the name of Karl Marx and is likewise tied to a number of other thinkers too.
Some have suggested that “Marxism” (I am using the scare quotes deliberately to suggest the accusatory styling of the term as opposed to the un-quoted, which references the political philosophy) is an evil that is antithetical to Christianity. This is not exactly true. While it is correct that certain strains of Marxist philosophy are represented by self-professed atheists, the principles are what is important to appreciate. Many of these principles, concern for the oppressed, the social structures of sin, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the condition of labor, and so forth, are all deeply Christian at their core.
Pope Francis is neither “Marxist” nor Marxist. He is not a political philosopher nor an economist nor an anarchist. He is, true and true, a Christian and to be a Christian, to take seriously the Gospel, means to hold the views that he expresses and demonstrates. Period.
I am not at all surprised about the backlash Pope Francis has received. The Bishop of Rome is, after all, following in the footprints of Jesus Christ who also received a backlash for pointing out injustices and announcing the Reign of God that sought a different reality for the poor and oppressed — that backlash ended with a crucifixion. Anyone who bears the name “Christ” as a Christian, anyone who is baptized should likewise find herself or himself in Pope Francis’s position. Imagine that, imagine if we all took our baptismal vocations seriously and had to face the criticism of those who either benefit or seek to benefit from the unjust structures of wealth and power.
I suppose that is, in part, what Jesus meant when he told us that we need to pick up our crosses daily and follow him. There are a lot of people standing around with crosses still lying on the ground.
It’s powerful and refreshing to see that at least the Pope has picked up his.
UPDATE: Correction: the quote attributed to Dorothy Day above should be attributed to the late prelate, Dom Helder Camara.
Photo: The Atlantic
I’m sitting in the Louisville airport with not much time before catching my flight to write a full post on the subject of the mass murder in Santa Barbara this weekend. I have been at the Abbey of Gethsemani with a group of Merton scholars on retreat and without regular internet access, so my ability to follow the news was incredibly limited. I have spent some time now trying to piece together what happened and, like The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik, I have been moved and haunted by Richard Martinez’s brief press conference following the murder of his son, Chris.
Martinez is 100% correct. In addition to the particular circumstances that led that individual to kill six people, his misogyny has been identified among other factors, there are general circumstances and responsible parties that make possible the condition for the possibility of mass murder. The LA Times reported that the shooter purchased his semi-automatic handguns legally.
Personally, I am against all firearms. As a Franciscan friar and a Catholic Priest, I cannot maintain (nor would I) any other position. As someone who believes in the truth of the Gospel, I likewise find it impossible to hold an alternative view. Yet, I am also not entirely without a pragmatic side, recognizing the legitimacy of hunting rifles for food and safety in remote parts of this country and the world.
However, there is no legitimate alternative purpose for handguns other than to kill other human beings. Therefore, there is no legitimate right that anyone has to own them. Period.
Martinez’s comment about the responsibility of “craven politicians” and the “NRA” is absolutely correct. I have written elsewhere about the insane tragedy that played out in the wake of the Newtown shootings when the congress could not muster the fortitude to pass overwhelmingly popular legislation on firearm background checks — legislation that did not go far enough, but was something that any rational person could support.
I encourage everybody to read Gopnik’s reflections here: “Christopher Michael-Martinez’s Father Gets It Right About Guns.” He includes links to stories and data about how other, respectable, nations have responded to mass murder tragedies such as what we experience regularly in the US. Stricter laws have made for safer communities.
To handgun and semi-automatic weapon advocating Catholics: take note of Gopnik’s correct statement about the incompatibility of being “pro-life” and “pro-gun.” These days I can conceive of no greater hypocrisy on this subject and in the wake of these tragedies than women and men marching in Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, or other comparable “pro-life” events, with an NRA membership card in their wallets and purses.