Archive for the Social Justice Category

Celebrating Earth Day 2016

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

earthEvery April 22 since 1970 we have celebrated Earth Day, a commemoration and day dedicated to activism on behalf of the environment. Founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, it arose in the wake of the peace and civil rights movements of the late 1960s and Nelson’s own dismay at the pollution caused by an oil spill along the coast of Santa Barbara, CA.

Since its founding, Earth Day has grown to be celebrated across the United States and abroad (although there are also other days internationally that likewise draw out attention to environmental issues and care for creation). Additionally, a nonprofit organization named Earth Day Network was formed to assist in the promotion and organization of this annual event. It has proposed specific, direct action each year, suggesting that people plant trees in honor of Earth Day 2016.

As people of faith, especially in this first Earth Day after the release of Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical letter Laudato Si, we should be particularly attentive to our call to act in solidarity with what the pope has called our Sister who “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (LS no. 2).

Our Christian faith challenges us to be aware of the injustice and sin we perpetuate and for which we are responsible in the harm we cause other-than-human creation by our deliberate actions, our complicity in structures of environmental degradation and climate change, and our sins of omission when we choose to ignore the plight that faces what Pope Francis calls “our common home.”

I encourage everybody to pray, to take action, and to be more aware of our inherent relationship with the rest of creation today.

In terms of prayer, consider reflecting on the prayer Pope Francis offers at the end of Laudato Si

In terms of action, there are many different ways to get involved. For example, tomorrow I’m participating in a road race that is raising money for the World Wildlife Foundation, which is an organization that works to prevent species extinction worldwide. There are also opportunities to engage in political action and gatherings of solidarity. Consider visiting the Catholic Climate Movement or the Franciscan Action Network, both of which are just two of the many Catholic organizations that promote justice and the integrity of creation. There are many, many events around the country and world — consider getting involved in a little or big way.

Finally, in terms of being more aware of our inherent relationship with all of creation, consider reading the Genesis accounts of creation in books 1 and 2 and reflecting on the way, especially in Genesis 2, that human beings are formed from and as part of the earth. We are literally ha-adamah, made “from the earth” or “earthlings.” The natural sciences only affirm this reality, showing that human beings are physically made of the same material as everything else in the cosmos.

As the Franciscan St. Bonaventure acclaimed, all of creation is a “vestige” (bears an imprint) of the Creator, reflecting the presence of God to us. May we open our eyes to see God in our world and recognize the Spirit that gives life to all creation!



Good Friday: A Call to Abolish Capital Punishment

Posted in Evangelii Gaudium, Homilies, Lent, Pope Francis, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

death-penaltyThe 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?

It Should!

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.

Photo: File

Christmas: The coming of the Poor, Refugee, Prince of Peace

Posted in Homilies, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 24, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

flight-to-egypt-iconThere is often a lot of attention given to the “reason for the season” or the admonition to “keep Christ in Christmas,” but far-too-little attention is paid to who this Christ is and what it means for us.

Pope Francis, in his Christmas night homily, explains that we live in a world that is oversaturated with the self-centeredness that comes with an over-busy lifestyle and a way of being in the world that leaves us “drunk” with the need to acquire more without thought about the cost, without concern for others. Pope Francis explains:

In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will.

I believe that the way we come to this strong sense of justice, mercy, and discernment of God’s will is by remembering the one whose birth we celebrate today. The Christ who enters our world as one of us is a poor, refugee, prince of peace!

Christ is poor. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians we are reminded of whose birth it is we celebrate on Christmas day — the birth of the God who empties God’s self to become like us. God surrenders at every turn all that comes with being divine, all-powerful, all-anything to be a vulnerable, humble, child. As we hear in tonight’s Gospel, Christ is born to an unwed young women, a peasant teen whose life was nothing of luxury or comfort. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Christ’s poverty was, in a cosmic sense, voluntary. But in a contextual sense, we was nonetheless born into a world that had no room for him.

Christ’s poverty should call us to remember the suffering of those who likewise are born into this world without the support and care, the resources and privileges that so many of us can give thanks for having. Christ is the one who stands by them. Christ is the one who calls us to do likewise.

Christ is a Refugee. How quickly we forget what we read in the very next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter Two we read about the magi’s visitation and Herod’s call for the slaughter of children (the event we commemorate in just three days, December 28th). Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus seek refuge in Egypt, crossing the border into an unknown land, fleeing the violence and terror of their homeland. Christ is not only a refugee who fled violence, but was also a Cosmic refugee who, as we read in the Prologue to John’s Gospel, was rejected by his own. Elsewhere in the Gospels we hear how Jesus is abandoned, rejected, and dismissed by his fellows including family, friends, and disciples.

Christ’s status as and experience of being a refugee should call us to be mindful of those who, like the infant Jesus, flee violence and terror in our world today. Christ enters the world unwelcome and stands in solidarity with those who are abandoned, rejected, and dismissed. We must welcome those refugees seeking protection and safety in our world today. In a time when political rhetoric in this country has ramped up fear and xenophobia, we should stand as Christians who celebrate the Christ who is himself a refugee and welcome refugees.

Christ is the Prince of Peace. He came into the world bringing, as we pray in the Eucharistic prayer, peace — a peace that the world neither knows nor can give. In the face of violence and fear, Christ always proclaims a message calling the world to “be not afraid,” to “turn the other cheek,” to “love one’s enemies.”  The message of the Christ who enters our world as the Prince of Peace is one that condemns violence and retaliation, who calls us to turn swords into plowshares, who surrenders his life for the sake of others.

Christ who is the Prince of Peace calls us to resist the violent rhetoric we hear in the world today. As politicians and commentators stoke the fire of fear and terror, the message of the Prince of Peace is one that calls us to respond to threats with love, to surrender our thirst for power and control, to be more like Christ who sought only to do God’s will in terms of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing.

This Christmas is a time not only to celebrate with family and friends, but a time to remember whose birth it is that we celebrate and what it means for us to call ourselves “Christians” in turn.

May you have a blessed Christmas and celebrate the coming of the poor, refugee, prince of peace by your words and actions!

Photo: File


Voice in the Desert: Stop the Violence!

Posted in Advent, Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , on December 6, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

635847092891547105-AP-APTOPIX-California-ShootingsThe following is the text of a homily delivered by Fr. Daniel P. Horan, OFM in Boston, MA, on the Second Sunday of Advent (2015).

It may be “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” around town, but it sure as hell isn’t beginning to feel that way. On the one hand, it is extraordinarily difficult to reflect on the season of Advent and the coming of the Lord, the joy of the carols and decorations, and the celebration of family and friends when nearly every day we are confronted with the disgusting realities of violence in our society. Violence, it should be noted, that is the direct result of our collective inaction, our societal indifference, and the ongoing compromise of our political system by money, greed, and the singular desire to be reelected. It’s hard to focus on the season of “hopeful waiting” when our present moment seems continually shattered by the absence of any real interest in serving the common good over protecting the idol of “individual liberties.” The church teaches that the promotion and protection of the common good is civil government’s primary purpose, a teaching that has been reiterated frequently in Pope Francis’s writings and addresses.

And yet, on the other hand, this Second Sunday of Advent presents us with difficult truths and relevant challenges from sacred scripture that speak to us today, I believe, as much as they spoke to the original audiences of their time. In a way that only the Holy Spirit can provide, this Sunday’s reading offer us insights into God’s wisdom for us in our own time.

For instance, take our First Reading from the book of Baruch (5:1-9). Baruch was a friend of and scribe to the prophet Jeremiah, who lived about six centuries before the birth of Christ. Like Jeremiah, Baruch is calling out the sinfulness of Israel, which has abandoned the Covenant with God and stopped following the Law prescribed in the Torah. The interpretation of the time was that the experience of displacement, of exile, was the direct result of the collective community having lost its way.

Baruch preaches a word of admonition and exhortation, of chastisement and hope. But what’s interesting about this particular text, which comes at the very end of the book, is that the final word is not aimed at any particular king or individual politician. Instead, the message is directed at the whole society, all of Israel.

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

The call is for the society to let go of its previous ways, to surrender the mantle of “mourning and misery,” of having it their way, in order to put on the way of God, the life of the Covenant, the structures of the Law.

Further along, Baruch says that in order to return from exile, to reunite as God’s chosen people, concrete action has to be done. This is illustrated with the echoing of imagery found also in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”

When this is done, the people have changed their ways and returned to God, then, “God will lead Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.”

This is not simply an individual call, but a corporate call, a communal call, a societal call. Like Baruch’s ancient audience, we too are called by God to return to way of God instead of dwelling on our own ways and ourselves; to put away our own violence and fear and need for power and control in order to put the common good first; to live in such a way as to reflect our call to be Christians actually striving to live after the example of Jesus Christ, which is a way of nonviolence, peace, reconciliation, and mercy, and not be hypocrites who merely take on the name of Christ but only on our own terms and according to what we find convenient.

Likewise, our Gospel selection from Luke (3:1-6) provides another powerful example of a prophetic voice calling to us from scripture. Deliberately situated in history — hence all the identifications of the leaders reigning at the time — this passage recalls the prophet John the Baptist’s role as the herald of the coming messiah. Yet, unlike the expectations of many of the time, the anointed one, the messiah, the christ was not a military or political leader who would overthrow these tetrarchs and high priests, but God’s very self who came to show us how to live. For this reason, John’s prophetic call is not a call to arms, not an invitation to double down and protect oneself against an outside threat. It is a call to do the exact opposite: to let down one’s arms, to repent and seek forgiveness for one’s sins, to prepare the world for the coming of God’s peaceful and just reign.

Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Baruch, John’s prophecy includes a call to concrete action: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the path for God.

Like his first-century hearers, we too are extolled to repent, to seek forgiveness, and to prepare the way of the Lord in our own time.

In this season of Advent, we must ask ourselves: how are we preparing the way for the Lord? Have we repented? Do we seek forgiveness?

It seems clear that, as a society, we in the United States have done none of these things when it comes to responding to the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Some may think to themselves: “But I don’t even own a gun, let alone engage in shooting others, surely I am not responsible.” But as the church teaches, there is such a thing as “structures of sin” that extend beyond individual acts and implicate entire groups of people, entire populations.

Both in Pope John Paul II’s 1988 encyclical (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis no. 36) and in the official Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 119), both official teachings of the church, we are told that “the consequences of sin perpetuate the structures of sin” and that there are “obstacles and condition that go well beyond the actions and brief life span of the individual and interfere also in the process of the development of peoples.” John Paul II explains that there are two primary ways that this sense of social, collective sin is perpetuated: the “all-consuming desire for profit” and “the thirst for power,” both pursued “at any price” (no. 37).

The gun industry and the political intransigence that exists in our country is reflective of exactly this reality of structural sin. And we are all in part to blame.

That we sit back and do nothing, like the people Baruch and John the Baptist were addressing in their times, implicates each of us in this web of violence, which does not reflect God’s will nor does it prepare the way for the Lord, the Lord whom we name “the Prince of Peace.”

As the New York Times and other outlets have reported, since 1996 the U.S. Congress, in response to pressure from the gun lobby, have prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting comprehensive research into gun violence. Not only have lawmakers after the killing of little children in Newton, to mention only one of the horrific instances of recent gun violence, failed to pass laws to limit weapons of war in the hands of civilians, but for decades lawmakers have refused to allow even the official collection of data and study of these instances of horrendous violence.

If you add up the number of shootings in the United States from the beginning of the year in which four or more people have been killed or injured in a single shooting — there have been more than 355 such events so far this year. If we broaden our view to look at deaths by guns in general, in 2013 (the most recent year we have this data) firearms killed 33,636 people. By comparison, in 2013, 33,804 died in car accidents.

But here’s the thing, driving cars as dangerous as that activity may be, is necessary. And the purpose of cars — at least to my knowledge — is transportation, not murder.

Guns, on the other hand, even non-military-grade firearms designed for animal hunting, are always and everywhere designed to kill: human beings and animals. Period. And by definition, they are not necessary.

Furthermore, and you have a right as Catholic Christians to know this, the church makes it clear that not only is it not an unalienable individual right to own firearms, but that our church’s teaching is clear about the government’s responsibility to actually intervene and control such firearms and weapons. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church highlights this as an ethical imperative:

Appropriate measures are needed to control the production, sale, importation and exportation of small arms and light weapons, armaments that facilitate many outbreaks of violence to occur. The sale and trafficking of such weapons constitute a serious threat to peace: these arms kill and are used for the most part in internal and regional conflicts; their ready availability increases both the risk of new conflicts and the intensity of those already underway. The position of States that apply severe controls on the international transfer of heavy arms while they never, or only very rarely, restrict the sale and trafficking of small arms and light weapons is an unacceptable contradiction. It is indispensable and urgent that Governments adopt appropriate measures to control the production, stockpiling, sale and trafficking of such arms in order to stop their growing proliferation, in large part among groups of combatants that are not part of the military forces of a State (no. 511).

Only the “military forces of a State” have the right “to bear arms,” not civilians. And we can see why! Nothing good comes from guns. Only death, and unlike the western expansion of the 18th and 19th centuries where firearms might have been necessary to protect settlers from wild animals, firearms that were of course never assault rifles or semiautomatic hand guns, we live in a time when there is no practical purpose for the existence of such weapons. And certainly not in the hands of ordinary citizens.

As Advent continues and we move closer to celebrating the birth of the Lord, we must ask ourselves whether we are serious about living the Gospel or not, whether will respond to Baruch and John’s prophetic call or not, whether we are willing to admit that we collectively need to repent and seek forgiveness in order to prepare the way of the Lord or not.

We can do something about this — a call or email to our congressional representative or to the offices of our senators, to say that enough is enough and that they must stand up to the “greed for profit” and “desire for power” of the gun lobby.

If we don’t do something, if we don’t respond to the scriptural call to act concretely, then we have absolutely no business celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace in two weeks.


Photo: via USAToday

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”

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