Do not overlook the “invisible poor”

Do not overlook the "invisible poor"

If you want to hide something that is morally evil, give it a good name. Collateral damage means innocent bystanders who were killed in a military or terrorist attack; expendable refers to lives that may be sacrificed as inevitably necessary to achieve an objective. They are euphemisms for the belief that human beings are disposable.

Such labels let us avert our eyes from the intolerable, perhaps to avoid being overwhelmed by the immensity of a situation that seems beyond solution; or, as a way of sloughing off an evil occurrence as “not my concern” — someone else’s problem. The media talks about the “invisible poor.” Poor people are not invisible. We just avoid looking at them. It is unpleasant to look at the beggar standing at the stoplight, so we look away.

Most of us live in a sanitized culture. We seek to make life less offensive by eliminating anything objectionable, unwholesome, soiled, odoriferous and disagreeable, including, of course, people who fall in these categories.

Pope Francis speaks of this phenomenon as “global indifference,” explaining that, “… 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 they were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.” (Evangelii Gaudium 54). It’s nothing new. The first recorded instance is found in the Book of Genesis, “Then the LORD asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9)

It is overwhelming. Multiply the beggar on the corner, the migrant refugees at the border, the homeless sleeping beneath the bridge by the millions. Then include Syrian refugees by the hundreds of thousands in Turkey, the desperate people clinging to boats that are more flotsam and jetsam than vessels, crossing the Mediterranean seeking refuge and a new life in Europe.

Do not overlook those invisible poor who live around the corner or on the other side of town; those who go to bed hungry every night; those who are abused physically, sexually and emotionally; those who are alone and helpless whose lives are lived in fear.

I pray that you will be moved to help those desperate ones, whether they are Catholic or not, because we are all precious children of God. Give them hope. You may donate online to Catholic Charities Dallas and Catholic Relief Services.   Through these agencies you can not only see the poorest among us but you can reach out your hand in loving assistance in Christ’s name.

Image credit: Janis K. on Flickr

 

Pope Francis is reiterating a long tradition in Laudato Si’

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It is always surprising to hear someone speak of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ as if it were a radical new teaching. It always tells me that the speaker has not read the encyclical, for the Holy Father goes to great lengths to root his encyclical in the teaching of his predecessors, in the tradition of other Christian bodies and on the history of the Church.

Early on he recalls the writings of his patron St. Francis of Assisi, and his belief that “Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically,” (LS10) and in his opening chapter quotes from his beautiful Canticle of the Creatures: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs” aided, the Pope goes on to say, “This sister 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. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” (LS 2)

Then addressing his encyclical to “All Persons Living on the Planet” Pope Francis recalls that Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”.(Octagesimo Adveniens)

He then reminds us that “Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical, he warned that human beings frequently seem ‘to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption’.(Redemptor Homines) Subsequently, he would call for a global ecological conversion.” (Catechesis – 17 Jan 2001)

Continuing in tracing the consistency of Church teaching, the Holy Father recalled that his “predecessor Benedict XVI likewise proposed ‘eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment.'” ( Address to the Diplomatic Corps – 8 Jan 2007)

Then, after stating that “These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities –and other religions as well –have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing.” (LS 7)

Finally quoting his friend and confrere, Bartholomew, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, he writes, ““For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life –these are sins…to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”. (Patriarch Bartholomew’s Message for the Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation – 1 Sep 2012).

The Pope adds that the Patriarch goes on to say that in spite of the consistent pleas to protect our common home, “’Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation’”.

I hope you will join me in pausing on September 1 to join in the World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation and perhaps think of ways you can personally help to maintain and nurture this precious gift from God.

Image Credit: Unsplash.com

Civility and political correctness

Civility and political correctness

There is a difference between civility and being politically correct.

Civility implies respect for others in words and in demeanor. Simply put, it means applying the Golden Rule in our relationships.

Political correctness refers to those whose words and actions are not based on their true beliefs but their desire to tickle the ears of others (2 Tim 4:3). In a real sense it is being untrue to oneself.

Incivility may stem from disrespect for the dignity of others and, for that matter, disrespect for oneself. The uncivil person may be an egoist totally lacking in empathy. Or, such a person may have never been taught common decency.

Ecclesiastes 10:12-13 has some interesting words on this subject:

“Words from the mouth of the wise win favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.
The beginning of their words is folly,
and the end of their talk is utter madness …”

Christian discipleship calls us to love and respect others and to always be true to ourselves and the Gospel.

Image Credit: Niels Linneberg on Flickr

The challenge and promise of a Catholic education

The challenge and promise of a Catholic education

There seems something incongruous about the beginning of the fall semester and a mid-August heatwave, but the opening of school is indeed rapidly approaching. Students will be returning to our Catholic high schools and elementary schools this month. During the summer, administrators and teachers have been preparing for their return.

With the retirement of Sister Gloria Cain, SSND, as superintendent of Catholic schools, a search is underway for her replacement. During the interregnum Sister Dawn Achs, SSND and Dr. Ann Poore will serve as interim co-superintendents, while continuing to carry out their regular assignments.

Once again I commend and thank the administrators and teachers for maintaining such a high level of academic excellence in our schools and complement our parents on the sacrifices they are making to provide a value-centered Catholic education for their children. Thankfully, we are able to offer financial assistance to many.

This year our Diocese of Dallas is observing the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1890 by Pope Leo XIII. Our Catholic schools are even older, dating to 1874 and marking 141 years of educational excellence this fall. Today the need for a value-centered Catholic education to reinforce the example and teaching of parents is greater than ever.

Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, addresses the importance of Catholic education today. “We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data – all related as being of equal importance – and which leads to a remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.” (EG 64)

Our children deserve no less.

Image Credit: St. Joseph Academy, Sherman, TX (c. late 1920’s) – St. Joseph Academy in Sherman was established in 1877 by Bishop J. M. Odin, CM, of the Diocese of Galveston and entrusted to the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. In 1966, the name was changed to St. Mary School when St. Mary Parish purchased it from the sisters. It has been continuous operation for over 100 years. The Sisters of St. Mary continued to staff the school until 1991. Courtesy of Diocese of Dallas Archives

The déjà vu of immigrant bashing

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Times may change, but people rarely do. I have in mind the custom of immigrant bashing. Several thousand years ago the Israelites were told, “you shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” This passage is part of the Covenant Code, one of the most ancient collections of law in the Hebrew Scriptures.

What this tells us is that fear and suspicion of “the others” and subsequent attempts to subjugate or exclude them are nothing new. We Catholics might well be reminded that we “we’re once aliens residing in the land” — not of Egypt but of America. The English penal laws applied in the colonies. Catholics could not hold office, had to pay double taxes and could not worship publicly. Campaigns to mark Catholics as subversive were waged by the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, who maintained that Catholicism was antipathetic to American democracy.

Religion, however, was not the only trigger of immigrant bashing. Nativism, based on protecting American values and traditions from being “mongrelized” by immigrants who were considered inferior mentally and culturally, also was prevalent. Thus draconian anti-immigration laws were enacted against the Chinese. Irish, German, Italian and Eastern European immigrants were vilified as sub-human, ne’er-do-wells and drunkards incapable of productive citizenship. They were considered threats to the well-being of the nation. Among the outspoken nativists were Mark Train, Walt Whitman and Samuel F. B. Morse.

Of course, we are an immigrant nation and those whose parents and grandparents were reviled by Nativists are now our legislators, judges, scientists, academics … and politicians. The ghost of Nativism again prowls our land. The vilifiers and the vilified are different, but the script is the same.

Times may change, but people rarely do.

Image Credit: New York Times ad, 1854 stating “No Irish need apply.” (Wikimedia Commons)

Happy birthday Diocese of Dallas!

Happy Birthday Diocese of Dallas

On July 15, 1890, one-hundred-and-twenty-five years ago, Pope Leo XIII erected the Diocese of Dallas. Because of the July heat and the absence of so many on vacations, birthday celebrations are postponed until the fall and winter. A number of festivities are planned to celebrate the event. Every pastor will set a date to observe the Quasquicentennial in their parish. A diocesan 125th Anniversary observance will take place Saturday, October 3rd at Cathedral Guadalupe. More details on these events will be forthcoming in The Texas Catholic and online at www.cathdal.org/125.

However, the July 15 anniversary date will not pass unobserved. Prologue to the Future, an eBook history of the Diocese of Dallas, has been released at www.cathdal.org/prologue. It is comprehensive and features many photographs, and may be downloaded to your computer or tablet. I hope you will read and enjoy this interesting, chronological history of our diocese.

I was asked to write an introduction to Prologue to the Future. It seems appropriate to first release it in this blog to mark the anniversary of Pope Leo’s bull that brought this great diocese into being.

Every story has a pre-story. Any one moment is but a point on the continuum of time. When Pope Leo XIII declared July 15, 1890, as the moment the Diocese of Dallas would come into being, that event, like all events, was the culmination of a succession of occurrences. When a diocese is erected, it does not establish a new church; rather it establishes a formal ministerial structure for a church that already exists.

In the northernmost reaches of Texas that would become the Diocese of Dallas, from the Piney Woods to the Chihuahua Desert, the Church arrived with the first Catholic. For where there is even one Catholic, there is the Church. We know not where or when the Catholic continuum began that came to fruition with Pope Leo’s Bull, but we do know that, like the mustard seed, it was destined for prodigious growth.

We stand at the convergence of what has been and what will be in the continuum that is the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. As we mark our 125th anniversary, we celebrate the faith of our Catholic forbearers who nurtured the mustard seed that has become the diocese. We are tomorrow’s forbearers. We are those into whose hands God has placed the future of our faith and our children. Let us not be found wanting.

Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage

Catholic Teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision finding same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, some Catholics feel confused and somewhat apprehensive. I would like to make several observations to put the situation in context.

Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage remains as it always has been: marriage is the sacred lifelong commitment of one man and one woman and is about creating new life and the next generation. This requires both a man and a woman. The SCOTUS ruling addresses the civil definition of marriage. It confirms same-sex marriage as a civil right.

The court’s ruling also ensures the First Amendment rights of religious organizations, holding that “Religions and those who adhere to religious doctrines may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere convictions that by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.” (Page 27) The same section confirms our First Amendment rights to the free practice of religion.

Of course, there will be no same-sex marriages in Catholic churches. But, it is important to state that while the Catholic Church can never condone same-sex marriage, the Church makes clear that persons with a homosexual orientation “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Par. 2358) This acceptance of gay and lesbian people must be real and not merely symbolic. The Church, in her mission, is committed to reaching out to all people.

As a result of this action by SCOTUS, we know some are taking it as one more opportunity to characterize the Church and the Catholic faithful as bigots opposed to a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution. This is nothing new. In opposing the abortion rights granted by Roe vs. Wade, the Church is in a similar situation. Of course, we are not alone in our opposition.

There are those who see this as the oft referred to “slippery slope,” foreseeing dark days ahead for the Church in America. The Church has seen much darker days. It is no stranger to adversity. The New York Times (May 15, 2008) described Catholics as “a persecuted minority in colonial New York … denied all religious and civil liberties except for a few years in the 1680s when the Catholic Stuart monarchs ruled England.” The first Catholic parish was not established in New York until 1785.

Lord Calvert’s Maryland colony was composed of Catholics fleeing the English penal laws against the practice of Catholicism. Many German immigrants came to America seeking refuge from Bismarck’s Kulturkampf in the 1870s.

Yet a Christian consensus around biblical morality emerged.

President John Quincy Adams wrote, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” That consensus has been destroyed, first by legislation and adjudication, and later by the recasting of biblical teachings on morality by some religious bodies.

As Catholics, our response to these legal and societal changes is still the same: to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and to witness the healing and forgiving love of Jesus. St. John Paul II pointed the way in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, “The Church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience. To those who for various reasons oppose missionary activity, the Church repeats: Open the doors to Christ!”

Image credit: bm.iphone on Flickr

Examining Laudato Si’: Agenda for a Generation

Examining Laudato Si': Agenda for a Generation

 

Laudato Si’ is unique in many ways. It is addressed to “all people of good will” (No. 62) and Pope Francis states that “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” (No. 3) It is also distinguished by the fact that it is intended to provoke both dialogue and action. (No. 16)

Make no mistake about it this encyclical is not about a “quick fix.” (No. 179) Instead, it sets out an agenda for our time here on this planet, observing that the environment “is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.” (No. 159)

Setting forth a litany of major ecological problems that need to be dealt with the Pope lists: pollution, climate change, water, loss of biodiversity, decline in the quality of human life, the breakdown of society, and global inequality and comments that, “Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.” (No. 25)

“As Christians,” the Holy Father reminds us, “we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale,” recognizing, in the words of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, that we must “look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms.” That will require “replacing consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.” (No. 9)

What the Pope is calling for is nothing less than a change in worldview, a monumental task that must begin with each of us who shares in spoiling our common home. We must acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and accept our share of the blame. The structural causes of ecological disintegration must be acknowledged and addressed collaboratively on a global basis. Unfortunately, as Pope Francis observes, “Politics and the economy tend to blame each other when it comes to poverty and environmental degradation. It is to be hoped that they can acknowledge their own mistakes and find forms of interaction directed to the common good. (No. 198)

“There is no one path to a solution.” (No. 60) There is no magic bullet. Through prayer and dialogue we must collectively work toward a comprehensive solution to save our God’s creation, our common home.

Laudato Si’ is not a doomsday proclamation but it sets out an agenda for a generation. As the Holy Father writes in his closing prayer: “May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” (No. 244)

Image credit: Stephanie Sicore on Flickr