Are we Americans becoming disconnected from our roots?

statueofliberty

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
  Edmund Burke

Are we Americans becoming disconnected from our roots? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal expresses concern that Americans are not learning about their nation’s history. The lead paragraph states that, “A majority of U.S. college graduates didn’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which revolutionary war general led the troops at Yorktown.”

Citing a study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the article notes that of 1,098 four-year colleges and universities surveyed only 18 percent require American History to graduate. Only 13 percent require a foreign language and 3 percent economics. Michael Poliakoff, director of the survey, blamed “the lack of a rigorous core curriculum” for the poor showing, adding “It’s like saying to a lot of 18-year-olds the cafeteria is open, you kids just eat whatever you like.”

In 2009 a study by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that a majority of 2,500 randomly selected Americans (71%) could not come up with the correct answers to 33 basic questions on civic literacy. The average score was 49%…. a solid “F”. A Gallup poll found that four in five Americans (83%) could not name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and that 31 percent were unable to name the current vice president of the United States.

This “whatever” approach to History and current events should be of great concern to us. Our roots, individually and collectively, determine who we are. It also has an economic impact. The Wall Street Journal article points out, “employers complain that graduates are entering the workforce without basic skills such as critical thinking.”

Our knowledge of history and current events not only comes from formal education, it grows with what we read in newspapers, magazine and books. It is enhanced by our engaging others in discussions. It is motivated by an interest and curiosity about the world around us.

If you want to test your own knowledge of history, here are a few questions. The answers are found at the bottom of the page.

  1. During which war was the White House destroyed?
  2. Who assassinated Abraham Lincoln?
  3. In what war was the Battle of Long Island fought?
  4. Which president established Social Security?
  5. What was the date of D-Day?
  6. What countries are members of NAFTA?
  7. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from what nation?
  8. Who was the only president elected to a fourth term”

 

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

  1. 1812; 2. John Wilkes Booth. 3. Revolutionary War. 4. Franklin D. Roosevelt. 5. June 6, 1944 6. U.S.A., Canada and Mexico. 7. France. 8. FDR.

We help because we are Catholic

Catholic Conference and Formation Center

I am sure that some of you have heard the news that Ms. Louise Troh, her son and nephews are now out of the 21-day quarantine period for Ebola. We thank God that they are now and have always been symptom free. You may remember that Ms. Troh was the fiancée of Thomas Eric Duncan, who lost his battle with Ebola on October 8th, and that they have been housed in a “secret location” for the last couple of weeks.  I can today tell you that Ms. Troh and her family found refuge at our diocesan Conference and Formation Center in Oak Cliff where they stayed in one of the casas in a remote corner on the grounds.

I was asked by reporters this morning why I said yes to the request from Mayor Mike Rawlings and Judge Clay Jenkins to offer housing for Ms. Troh and her family.  I told them that I did pause to think of all of the possibilities but that when I asked myself “What would Jesus do?” I knew that we had to help.  Certainly, the Catholic Church has a long history of helping those in need and Ms. Troh and her family were and remain in need.  Another reporter referenced the fact that the family is not Catholic.  I explained that we don’t help because someone is Catholic, we help because we are Catholic and that is what we are called to do.

During the quarantine, we cancelled all retreats and activities at the Conference and Formation Center.  I know this caused a hardship for some of you who had events planned there.   I apologize for any difficulty this caused for those who had to cancel or find other locations.  I hope you will understand that this was an emergency humanitarian aid situation that had to take priority.  I also want to say a special thank you to Deacon Jessie Olivarez, who as Center director did an outstanding job during this period of quarantine.  The city/county have graciously offered to thoroughly clean the facilities and the center has resumed normal operation.

Finally, I will tell you that I visited and prayed with Ms. Troh this morning and she expressed her profound gratitude to the diocese for providing shelter for her family.  I ask that you continue to pray for her and her family as they continue to mourn the loss of Mr. Duncan and prepare to find a permanent residence and move on with their lives.

Thank you for your prayers and understanding.

Screencap courtesy of CBS 11

Support them. Love them. Forgive them. Pray for them.

Priesthood Sunday

Reflecting on the priesthood with a group of priests recently, Pope Francis reminded his brothers in ministry that we are, “Called (by Jesus) to follow Him, to stay with Him, and to bring Him to others.”

Jesus’ call is clear, just as it was to Peter and Andrew, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:20) His call is not only to follow Him but to continue His work, to draw others to Him. It is not a call to privilege, but a call to service. “The son of man did not come to be served but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)

It is also a call to perseverance, to loyalty, to faithfulness. “We priests, too, are immersed in today’s subjectivist culture,” the Holy Father said, “this culture that exalts the ‘I’ to the point of idolatry.” and “can lead to a certain pastoral individualism that is unfortunately widespread in our dioceses.” We must “follow the Lord … not one by one, but together, with our great variety of gifts and personalities; indeed, it is precisely this that enriches the priesthood: this variety in terms of provenance, age, and talents.”

Finally, the Pope reminds us priests that ours is a ministry of going out, of bringing Him to others. We are called to be Christ bearers, missionaries. We are called to be shepherds who bear the smell of their sheep, because we are among them. I like the Holy Father’s image that the Church should be a field hospital to heal those wounded on their journey.

Your priests have answered Jesus’ call, to be his healing hands, to be his forgiving heart, to serve, not be served.

Support them. Love them. Forgive them. Pray for them.

Continued prayers for those affected by Ebola

ebola

It is with profound sadness that we learn of the two Dallas healthcare workers being treated for the Ebola virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson. We pray not only for their recovery, but also for their families and loved ones.

We commend the efforts of Dallas city and county officials for the manner in which they have responded to these serious incidents. We are confident that local, state and national health officials will take the necessary steps to care for the sick and protect the community.

This situation reminds of the countless hours of selfless service that nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals and institutions provide in protecting us and our community. This is a time for our community to respond with calmness and compassion.

Let us continue our support of community efforts and prayers for those whose lives have been touched.

The little things in life bring us happiness

littlethings

It has always seemed to me that in the final analysis the little things of everyday life are what bring us happiness and satisfaction in life. Now there is scientific evidence to support my feeling.

An editorial in America (Sept. 22, 2014) comments on research in The Journal of Consumer Research, reporting that for older people small, quotidian events can provide as much happiness as extraordinary experiences. Of course, once-in-a-lifetime events like a trip to the Holy Land or winning a marathon are unforgettable and can be a happy experience, providing wonderful memories, but they don’t make a life.

It occurs to me that the happiness value of the more mundane and pedestrian life events is what we talk about when a friend or relative dies. Coffee klatches, golf games, family outings, life’s passages, baptisms, birthdays, marriages, graduations, ordinations are the subject of our stories. What do we really enjoy? Dinner with friends, listening to music, reading a good book or the Sunday paper. Why? Because they bring us happiness and satisfaction.

Younger people may look for the “mountain top” experiences, but maturity helps discern that which brings true happiness and satisfaction. America concludes its editorial with a passage from First Timothy, “Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”

Image Credit: “Shoes are not for Reading,” by Angela (Angie) Accarrino on Flickr.

 

2014 University of Dallas Ministry Conference

udmc2014

For me the University of Dallas Ministry Conference has become a wonderful fall tradition and celebration of being Church. It is a time of networking, of growth, of worship and entertainment. It is a coming together of the Church of North Texas and beyond. It is truly an experience of walking in faith together.

An impressive array of speakers of national and international note has been assembled by the UD School of Ministry for the conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, October 23-25. There will be tracks for Catholic School teachers, youth ministers, catechists, parish catechetical leaders and marriage ministers who wish to grow in their ministerial skills and knowledge.

But the conference is also for all who wish to grow in their faith, with workshops in Scripture, spirituality, marriage and family life and the social teachings of our Church. Sessions will be offered in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

In addition to the sessions, the exhibits offer a chance to see new techniques and programs that are available for parishes and schools and see the new offerings from the best Catholic publishers. There will also be liturgical art displays and musical performances.

This year the conference will again be held at the Irving Convention Center, with a direct connection to the DART Orange Line.

I urge all Catholics to take advantage of this opportunity to grow in faith, understanding and ministerial skills. I invite you to visit http://www.udallas.edu/udmc/index.html or phone 972-721-5105 or 972-265-5811 to register or get more information.

Perhaps the UDMC will become your new fall tradition, too.

A course in Reality 101 for Synod Fathers

Synod

At the beginning of each session of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, the Synod Fathers receive some very valuable information. It comes from one of the 12 married couple auditors participating in this Synod who give their perspective on the pastoral needs of families based on their personal experience. It has been a course in Reality 101 for the Synod Fathers as the couples from all parts of the world share their intimate insights of conjugal spirituality, sexuality, birth control, children, including those who have chosen a gay or lesbian lifestyle and the pain of separation and divorce.

It is interesting to compare the approach to pastoral needs of the family at this Extraordinary Synod with the approach taken at the Second Vatican Council. To begin with, unlike the Synod, artificial birth control was taken off the table by Pope Paul VI. In comparison to the Extraordinary Synod’s 12 married couples, there was only one married couple among the auditors of Vatican II. They were Pepe and Luzma Alvarez-Icaza of Mexico City, who were present at the third and fourth sessions and contributed in committee meetings but not to the assembly of Council Fathers.

It would be unfair to imply that the bishops at the Synod had no understanding of the challenges faced by families today, but to hear such frank statements from couples from so many areas of the globe brings the reality of their pastoral need home in a strong manner. It also counters a tendency among many bishops to dismiss many difficulties faced by families as uniquely American.

Council Fathers at Vatican II did address the family, primarily in terms of conjugal spirituality, conjugal love and as primary educators of their children but did little to address the situations that are so pressing today that were not as center stage 50 years ago.

To his credit, Pope Francis asked for candor. It appears he is getting just that from the auditor couples. Please join me in continuing to pray for the success of this very important Synod.

Image Credit:  CNS photo/Paul Haring

Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family

Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family

What is happening in the Vatican is both unique and traditional. The Synod of Bishops that began this week reflects the ancient tradition of discerning the will of God that began with the Apostles when the question of Gentile converts was discerned at what is sometimes referred to as the Council of Jerusalem in the 15th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Under the leadership of Peter, the leaders of the young church prayed and after much debate discerned what should be required of Gentile converts. Peter confirmed and announced the results as, “The decision of the Holy Spirit and of us…”

It is unique in that the Synod Fathers will have a much more open structure with open discussion than has been true in the past. In addition to the bishops, married couples and other lay persons are participating. This ancient process of discerning the Spirit was recalled by the Holy Father when he addressed the opening session of the Synod. Pope Francis called on the Synod Fathers to speak freely and openly and to listen to others with humility. “Therefore, I ask of you”, the Holy Father insisted, “these two attitudes of brothers in the Lord: speak with parrhesia and listen with humility. And do so with great tranquility and peace, because the Synod always takes place ‘cum Petro et sub Petro’ (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is a guarantee for all and a protection of faith”.

In a blog last May I remarked on the Pope’s use of the term “parrhesia”. “It comes from the Greek παρρησία which means to speak with freedom.” It is used 31 times in the New Testament, where it means to speak boldly and fearlessly with courage and without ambiguity. Pope Francis spoke of the “parrhesia of the Holy Spirit.”

He also used the term “cum Petro et sub Petro” which is an ancient expression of collegiality. We recall the passage from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. 22, “Just as by the Lord’s will St. Peter and the other apostles constituted one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff as the successor of Peter, and the bishops as the successors of the apostles are joined together.”

We must keep in mind that the Synod is a discerning body, not a legislative one. Its purpose is to reflect on how to apply the teachings of Jesus to contemporary pastoral situations. The fruits of this extraordinary synod will provide input for the ordinary Synod in 2015.

Please join me in prayer for the Holy Father and the Synod Fathers as they seek the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit.

 

Image credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring