Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's Finally Feeling Like November, and....

Now this looks like NOVEMBER! (Finally, on the last day of November.) Gray skies and rain on bare branches.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dorothy Day and the Politics of Mercy

Dorothy Day often joined the picket lines of workers who sought to secure just wages from their employers and recognition of their dignity. Once she was asked what this public protesting had to do with her work of serving the poor and spreading God's mercy. She said, "I am doing the works of mercy right now: instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners."

On November 29, 1980, Dorothy Day came to the end of her very unconventional earthly pilgrimage. Today marks the anniversary of her death, and is therefore a special day to remember her singular witness.

During her long life, the founder of the Catholic Worker devoted herself to the practice of the works of mercy on the margins of an America that many of us today look back on with nostalgia. We see it as a time of innocence and decency.

She didn't.

Dorothy Day was deeply critical of American society in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s (and then, of course, the 1960s and 70s too) in ways that are often beguiling to both "conservatives" and "liberals" in this country. Her passionate convictions defy all the standard classifications.

Some of us would like to see Dorothy beatified for her heroic work with the poor, while setting aside her judgments about the society around her as naive and idiosyncratic. "Saints can be wrong, or not well informed. They are not infallible," we say.

Fair enough. I certainly wouldn't argue that all her particular judgments were correct, or that all the causes she supported upheld justice the way she thought they did. What interests me is the position from which she looked at secular society. Her judgment on society flowed from her concrete adherence to the Person of Jesus Christ in the Church, especially His presence among the poor.

She was thus neither a "right winger" nor a "left winger." Nor is it sufficient to explain her views by saying she was "liberal" on economic and social justice and "conservative" on liturgy, sexual morality, and fidelity to Church teaching.

What must be said is that she judged the society of her time (even in its political structures) from her experience of belonging to Christ in the Church. She was radical in the sense that her whole life came from "the roots," from the Person of Jesus in the communion of the Church.

She transcended the dialectic of the "leftist ideology" and "rightist ideology" that constantly battled against each other and fed off each other. Her politics was what Brent Bozell the elder called "the Politics of Mercy."

This "politics of mercy" is based on respect and love for the human person created by God and redeemed by Christ, the human person whom Christ identifies with himself--"You did it to me." It involves the work of building a community of persons, building the relationships of love that bring persons to their fulfillment and that can also really shape the structures of social and even economic interaction.

Building a real community of real human persons whose dignity is fully valued is the hardest thing in the world. And even though we must begin with people "wherever they are," acknowledge them as our brothers and sisters, and respect the real mystery of how and where God is working in their lives, we know that this community is impossible without Jesus Christ.

Dorothy Day had a vivid awareness of this fact. Jesus is truly the One who calls each human being to his or her destiny and who brings us together on a common road in this world, a place where day by day we journey toward him whether we know it or not.

Practical arrangements, dialogue, respect for freedom, inclusiveness... all of these are important. Still, Dorothy Day's witness calls us Christians to recognize that Jesus Christ is at the heart of all of our actions on behalf of society. It is the experience of being loved by Jesus that opens us up to loving others and to serving them concretely, in works of mercy, all of which tend toward the communion of persons.

Love does not coerce anyone. It trusts, rather, in the Infinite Love of God who works in the very depths of the freedom of every person. Christians are called to bear witness to this Love through solidarity and humble service to every person, especially those in need.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude or resentful. Love does not insist on its own way. It does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

This is what is at the heart of the "politics" of Dorothy Day. The more we enter into this heart, the more we realize the profound inadequacy of the twentieth century secular world and its powers in their attempts to propose (and impose) human community.

In the 36 years since her death, we have seen great developments of resources and technology and a vast global communications network, opening new possibilities for so many good things. Nevertheless, the essential drama has only intensified. All of this power remains in our human hands, expressing the deep ambivalence of our souls, accomplishing much good but also amplifying the division between our aspirations and our selfishness, and deepening our alienation from one another.

Dorothy Day's criteria for judgment are more relevant than ever. Today, our society continues to lose its increasingly thin veneer of ritual civility, and shows itself more and more to be openly brutal, factional, and violent. We are beginning to discover that the most meaningful "political" posture for a Christian is a radical loving adherence to Jesus and a compassion that serves Him in every person who is suffering.

We will find that Dorothy Day has much to teach us about this adherence and this compassion, about the practice of the politics of mercy.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Building Bridges For a Culture of Encounter

"Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter, which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experiences, to break down walls and to build bridges. The Church in America, as elsewhere, is called to “go out” from its comfort zone and to be a leaven of communion. Communion among ourselves, with our fellow Christians, and with all who seek a future of hope" (Pope Francis, Message to the U.S. Bishops, November 2016).

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord

   "In days to come,
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
   shall be established as the highest mountain
   and raised above the hills.
   All nations shall stream toward it;
   many peoples shall come and say:
   'Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
   to the house of the God of Jacob,
   that he may instruct us in his ways,
   and we may walk in his paths.'
   For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
   He shall judge between the nations,
   and impose terms on many peoples.
   They shall beat their swords into plowshares
   and their spears into pruning hooks;
   one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
   nor shall they train for war again.
   O house of Jacob, come,
   let us walk in the light of the Lord!"

   ~Isaiah 2:1-5

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Remembering Tables With Empty Chairs in This Holiday Season

We are approaching the end of this most unusual year. As Thanksgiving Weekend gives way to Advent's preparation for Christmas, we note that many people are enduring new depths of sorrow over the loss of loved ones during the course of 2016.

As always, families have said goodbye to parents, siblings, children, and friends. Some left suddenly, others more slowly, but all are missed in a poignant way. This year, however, there is a special pain that all of us feel.

The wave of violence from the past summer has shaken us all. It is not simply a matter of numbers; it is the ruthless, visceral, and at the same time obscure, virtual anonymity of the killings that force us to confront a disease long festering in our society whose symptoms can no longer be hidden.

Rather than become desensitized further to casual murder in our streets and public places, we must resolve to become more vigilant in finding and rooting out the ugliness and cruelty that infect our society and that have taken up spaces within our own hearts.

Perhaps we can begin to serve peace by remembering to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. The many who have lost loved ones to violence have been lacerated with dark wounds that remain open. God hears their cries. Let us find how we can stay close to them, if only by keeping their sorrows in our memory and our prayer, and by our determination to struggle against injustice and seek deeper conversion of our own hearts to the ways of God's peace.

Of course, we also very much want to remember people who are mourning the loss of family members and friends who died this year from illness, accidents, or other causes. Even when faith sustains and consoles their sorrow, people can't help missing the ones they love. Their absence from family festivities in this season changes the lives of those who remain, and no one will ever fill their empty chairs at the family table in this life.

Let us weep with those who weep, so that together we can grow in the hope of all of us being gathered, finally, at the glorious feast that will never end, when death will be no more and when every tear will be wiped away.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016


Just what you wanted to see: Thanksgiving Dinner Pictures! But I must share a few of these. This is only some of the feast. You can see one of the pies, and also the turkey on the plate, home made stuffing (with sausage included), mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts with bacon, and string beans and mushrooms. All fresh and yummy!

And, of course, the beverage. I don't know what the Pilgrims drank, but we drank wine! There's got to be something Italian about our Thanksgiving!

As you probably already noticed, some serious baking also went on over here in these days. Not only pumpkin pies, but fresh apple pies too with homemade crust.

They're not gone yet! 

Eileen and my girls are truly amazing. I know a lot of love went into this meal, and I am so grateful for it. I never want to underestimate the tremendous blessings that God has given to me and to our family.

Thank you, Lord, for all your gifts and your mercy. Have mercy on us and on the whole world, especially those who are in need, who are suffering, who are missing loved ones, who are destitute, enslaved, in prisons, in refugee camps, in the midst of war, and those who are alone and forgotten.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

We Have Forgotten How to "Live Well"

Life seems to have become increasingly frantic, artificially intense, rude, agitated, and shallow lately. I don't know if this is your experience, but it has been mine in many ways, and others can probably relate. Sometimes we put ourselves under so much pressure that we forget to live our human lives in the real way that they are being given to us each day.

We forget to live well.

The present problem, I think, is an intensification of a more widespread social illness in which even the most simple and often joyful aspects of human life are marginalized or entirely forgotten.

Human beings need a variety of activities: we need to read and study and think. We need to talk and to listen. We also need to eat, play, dance, make music, breathe deeply, walk, run, plant things in the ground, explore, and laugh. We need to share life with companions. We need to look at beautiful things. And, of course, we need to sleep.

We need to lift up our minds and hearts and bodies to the One who gives us life, the One who loves us and draws us to Himself. We need to pray. We need to love, and to let ourselves be loved.

We move our bodies and we also move our minds. A healthy human life encompasses this variety in an organic way. It's not healthy to obsess about anything, and especially it's corrosive to our humanity to fixate on an ideology or an emotion like anger or discouragement and allow it to distort our perspective on everything we encounter in the real world.

Even if our ideas are true (which is the case precisely because they conform to reality) we can distort their meaning by subtly withdrawing these truths from an engagement with our real lives, and turning them into an ideological system in the service of our own interests and power. Instead of entering more deeply into the mystery of life, we try to reduce it and manipulate it according to projects we invent with our own narrow desires.

This leads to various forms of violence: physical, verbal, psychological, emotional violence in which real human persons are subordinated to deformed, confused, exaggerated projects that unfold according to the logic of power. These fixations lead to apparent successes and apparent failures, social patterns of dominance and exclusion, human lives measured by external success, superficial wealth, or even by "being right," by "winning the ideological war," while others stoke their resentments into the desire for revenge. All of this perpetuates the cycle of violence. Violence begets more violence.

And nobody is happy. Life becomes inhuman.

It doesn't have to be this way. We are called to live as human persons, to engage life, to be constructive, to discover and fulfill our responsibilities, to love God and love one another, to be good stewards of the beautiful world that has been given to us, to enjoy being together, to help one another in our struggles, to work and also to rest.

We are called to do everything we can for the good, and then to beg God to respond to the depth of the need for more that we continually discover within our hearts, to trust in His mercy, and to receive His peace as we continue our journey.

We can get so caught up in our projects that we forget to pray with patience and trust. We can get so caught up in trying to change the world that we exhaust ourselves and do violence to the persons nearest to us, the persons whom we are especially called to love. We have forgotten how to grow as human persons, how to live well.

Instead, we vacillate between distraction and obsession with our own desires, plans, and the distorted perception of reality that inevitably weighs heavily upon us. This is what's killing us. It is, literally, killing us.

We think all there is to life is found in our crazy projects, our ideas, and our constructions. It's not surprising that we are overextended, drained, angry, and desperate about the future. Our frantic sense of urgency is drawn out of a deep fear that we are alone in defining the meaning of our existence and that we must succeed in measuring up to criteria we have imposed upon ourselves (individually or as a group). This seems like an overwhelming task, and no matter how much we pretend to have expertise or control, deep down inside we don't know what to do!

But we are not alone. We are never alone. Our lives are in the hands of the One who gives us everything in every moment, who gives us our own being, sustains us, shapes the very freedom by which we become capable of giving ourselves.

Certainly we must work very much. We must shoulder our burdens and help to carry one another's burdens, but we must not let ourselves be crushed by them. He calls us to Himself to give us "rest," and to remember that His yoke is easy, His burden light (see Matthew 11:30).

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Song Carries On

A good way to end Saint Cecilia's Day: listening to the music of a young woman of our own time who loved Jesus and who sang and who gave everything...

Christina Grimmie (March 12, 1994 - June 10, 2016).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saint Cecilia's Day

Saint Cecilia's Day. Another heroic young woman who loved Jesus and gave everything for Him, she is the third century Roman martyr who praised the Lord in song. She is, in the presence of God, the friend and helper of all musicians and singers.

"The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life" (Isaiah 38:10).

Monday, November 21, 2016

The King Who Rules Through Love and Makes Us Free

Jesus on the cross with aureole in the image of a crown. Ivory and metal, Kongo (Central Africa), 19th-20th century.

"Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever."

~Collect, Feast of Christ the King

The Jubilee "Year of Mercy" came to an end yesterday with the final Sunday of the Roman Rite liturgical calendar, celebrated annually as the Feast of Christ the King. It is good to remember in faith that, whatever evils may be happening in the world, the ultimate victory has already been won by the Love that has overcome death.

The Kingdom of God is inaugurated in the Risen Jesus, and it marks its "beginning" as a transforming power in the history of human persons through baptism. Christ's kingdom is "not of this world" because it journeys the roads of this world on a pilgrimage. The Church is God's People living in this world, helping one another to attain the fullness of Christ by dying in Him so as to rise in Him to eternal life.

This does not mean, however, that Christ's kingdom has no connection with this world, with all the vast range of human problems and human aspirations of individuals, cultures, and societies. Insofar as they truly follow Christ in their Christian vocation, God's people embrace the depths of their own humanity in all of its vitality, with a capacity to appreciate the real meaning of things. Insofar as Christians are faithful to their calling, their lives in this world become a witness to the fact that at the heart of every real human interest and human longing is the Mystery revealed and given and triumphant in Jesus Christ, who is drawing all things to Himself.

Jesus "draws all things" in a way that is beyond our mind's power to comprehend in this world, which is why we walk herein by faith and trust. In particular He works within the heart of every human person on this planet by the grace of His Holy Spirit, with unfathomable mercy and love. But Love does not force Himself, or manipulate, or replace the human freedom that must allow itself to be loved and enter into a relationship of love.

We bear witness to Christ's Kingship with our preaching of the gospel, and also with our joyful conviction and our sharing of the vital experience of our own lives as they are being changed by Him. We must love our neighbor with all the vulnerability of a love that is personal, that is confident in the mystery of God's love for each person, and that does not reduce, coerce, or manipulate their freedom and dignity (recognizing that this is the "sacred ground" wherein God's most secret work of love unfolds itself). We must ask Jesus to manifest through our lives that He brings beauty and fulfillment to everything human, and that He overcomes our own sins and weakness and lifts us up even in the deepest darkness and most profound suffering.

Pope Francis addressed these points in his homily yesterday:

"The grandeur of [Christ's] kingdom is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things. Christ lowered himself to us out of this love, he lived our human misery, he suffered the lowest point of our human condition: injustice, betrayal, abandonment; he experienced death.... 
"Our King went to the ends of the universe in order to embrace and save every living being. He did not condemn us, nor did he conquer us, and he never disregarded our freedom, but he paved the way with a humble love that forgives all things, hopes all things, sustains all things. This love alone overcame and continues to overcome our worst enemies: sin, death, fear. 
"Dear brothers and sisters, today we proclaim this singular victory, by which Jesus became the King of every age, the Lord of history: with the sole power of love, which is the nature of God, his very life, and which has no end. We joyfully share the splendor of having Jesus as our King: his rule of love transforms sin into grace, death into resurrection, fear into trust."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

All Our Wounds

People are suffering a lot in the present time. They are expressing their fears and anxieties in all sorts of different ways. These are human persons, children of God, whose pain cannot be dismissed and must not be mocked.

When suffering people try to express what they are undergoing, we should listen with compassion and respect, recognizing that we have much to learn from them. We must be willing to be provoked, even when their expressions are strange or inadequate, or they use terms that require more consideration or that are too easily misunderstood.

Often they don't know how to say what they really mean. Let us listen, respond from the heart, and try to help, to be constructive, to stand in solidarity with suffering people and to foster healing.

Of course, we will find false voices and opportunists in any group of human beings. There are those who are putting on a show, or exacerbating problems with ideological interpretations or false solutions, or trying to use the suffering of others as a pretext for violence. Realism requires a discernment that gives attention to each person in the places of their pain, and a patience that does not allow compassion to grow cold.

Suffering people are easily manipulated, because they are weak.

Some people have suffered in silence for a long time, and perhaps have felt that no one cares or understands their problems. They want to be heard, but they are also wounded, and sometimes wounds can make people lash out at others who, they think, are to blame.

People who are afraid and in pain are driven, by their fear, into conflict with one another.

What is hardest for me is when I find myself seemingly "in the middle" of such conflicts. I am pulled in all directions, and feel so overwhelmed that I don't know what to say to anyone. If I am quiet for periods of time, it's because I am at a loss. It's an excruciating silence. I don't have words not because I think I can somehow stand "above the fray" but because it's tearing me apart.

What's next in the days, weeks, and months ahead? There may be a moment of calm, but I hesitate to believe that any "lull" represents an improvement in the situation rather than a further retrenchment. This is a conflict that has poured over us all year, wave after wave after wave in this awful drenching storm of the year 2016. For me, personally, it has often been overwhelming.

But my desire is to stand in solidarity with those who are in pain, whatever may be the sources of that pain and however difficult it may be to comprehend from my own point of view. My own experiences and struggles have taught me what it's like to have suffering that people don't understand or don't take seriously. We are all afraid of the "strangeness" of one another, and I am no better than anyone in this regard.

I'm sorry that I don't have words to express this more adequately.

It's too dark and I'm too fragile and broken by my own weakness and smallness of love. I don't know what to do except suffer this weakness, and try to bring my wounds and all our wounds to Jesus.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Like One Who is Dead...

"Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress
my eye wastes away from grief,

my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
affliction has broken down my strength
and my bones waste away.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, 'You are my God.'
Save me in your steadfast love"

(Psalm 31:9-10,12,14,16).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"In Sickness and in Health": When We are Weak, He is Strong

In twenty years of marriage, my wife and I have been made very aware of one part of the marriage vows that can be quite challenging: "in sickness and in health." So far, I have been the sick one but the suffering is shared. This is a dimension of being "one flesh" that is very real and very humbling.

I'm quite certain that the presence of Another--of Christ Himself through the sacramental bond of marriage--has been the source of grace that holds us together and holds our family together.

The nourishing food of marriage is Jesus Christ. He gives and sustains this bond that has been spiritually and physically consummated, this real human bond that exists to build up the human community, this supernatural bond that builds up the Church through new members of Christ's Body that are entrusted to our care, and that opens up a vocational path for us as persons who learn to grow in love through innumerable ordinary daily challenges to give of ourselves.

Jesus is the source of the strength of married life, especially when we feel weak and helpless in front of each other. Nothing in life turns out "the way we planned," because ultimately it's bigger, it's greater than anything we can understand. What unites us is His love, and He communicates that love through the married vocation according to the ways of His infinite wisdom.

We both know that this is true.

His ways can entail many sacrifices and much suffering, but the marriage bond is strengthened through these lived circumstances, even (especially) when they are hard, when we are made poor, when it becomes clear that we can't "save" each other or our children by our own power, that we can't make each other "happy" by our own power.

And we have a "good marriage." God has blessed us in so many ways and given us so much strength in our relationship, and with our kids, and with the support of family and friends. He has taken care of us abundantly. Even within this whole crazy-up-and-down-experience, how much joy there is, and how many surprising fruits. We are so grateful to you, O Lord!

We also know that we must do our best, we must use every human and Christian resource, we must always struggle to give more. We have gratitude, and we work, and we pray, and we trust in Jesus step by step.

And yet, still, on this road we continually discover "limits"--spaces in life where we just don't have the power to do anything. When I'm sick, it's a bracing, intensive reminder of these spaces that are the limits of every day: limits in ourselves, limits in each other, and--above all--limits that seem to be within life itself, because in so many ways life seems to be slipping away.

Love has promised us "forever" and yet time and suffering bring us to the recognition of our own poverty in front of this promise, our own utter weakness.

But in our weakness He is strong. The grace of Christ in the sacrament is here. Right here is where hope lives, and where love beckons us to go forward together into something beyond all our expectations and power to control, something greater, a greater love, His love....

We are, after all, living something that is "a great mystery..."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Welcoming the Person of Jesus

Today many have a limited understanding
of the Christian faith,
because they identify it
with a mere system of beliefs and values ​
and not so much with the truth of God
revealed in history,
eager to communicate with man
face to face,
in a relationship of love with Him.
In fact,
the foundation of every doctrine or value
is the event of the encounter
between man and God in Christ Jesus.
Christianity, before being a moral or ethical value,
is the experience of love,
of welcoming the person of Jesus.

Benedict XVI, November 14, 2012

Monday, November 14, 2016

Suffering With Us

"Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus's Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love"
(Benedict XVI, encyclical Spe Salvi, 39).

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Our Salvation Comes From Hope

Pope Francis made a point in a recent homily that is worth remembering as we try to discern our priorities. Our salvation is not gained through external spectacles. It is not found in following the latest trend, being among the 'in' crowd or on the latest winning team, or going from one superficial distraction to another. He uses the image of 'fireworks,' but we could just as easily speak about making money, winning the argument, becoming a celebrity, or gaining power.

As Christians we do not place our hope in these things. Nor do we lose our hope when our earthly expectations are not realized, when we have to deal with fears or dangers, nor (above all) when we face the apparently uninteresting and unexciting moments of almost all of our days.

This is not to deny the range of our human joys and sorrows, but to put them in perspective, and to remember that we attain the fulfillment for which we were created by patience, endurance, and perseverance on the road toward God, the road of hope.

"The Kingdom of God is not a 'show' religion: one that is always seeking new things, revelations, messages. God spoke through Jesus Christ: this is the last Word of God. The ['show' religion] is like fireworks that lit you up for a moment and then what is left behind? Nothing. There is no growth, there is no light, there’s nothing: just an instant. And we have been tempted many times by this 'entertainment religion' of seeking things that are extraneous to revelation, to the meekness of the Kingdom of God that is among us and which grows. For this is not about hope, this is about the desire to have something in our hands. Our salvation comes from hope, the hope of a man who sows the seed or the woman who makes the bread, mixing yeast and flour: a hope that grows. Instead, this artificial brightness only lasts an instant and then it dies away, like fireworks: they are not needed for giving light to a house. It’s just a show" (Pope Francis, Homily of November 10, 2016).

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Beyond Election Day: Learning the Way of "Solidarity"

It is Election Day for President in the United States of America. Regardless of who they are voting for, many Americans have low expectations, if not outright fears and disgust, for both major party candidates. We are tempted to regard the next four years with a helpless and morbid cynicism. But we must remember that our political responsibility does not end when we leave the voting booth.

We have a commitment to upholding the dignity of every human person over the whole course of life from conception to natural death. We must be active in building up our families, communities, local institutions and environment, and all that has been immediately entrusted to us. At the same time, we must not close in upon ourselves into tightly sealed bubbles of fear. With due regard to the legitimate needs of safety and order, we must also cultivate the magnanimous habit of hospitality. We want to build our own communal places with such strength, confidence, and generosity that we are free to welcome others--especially those among our brothers and sisters who are most desperately in need.

We may also want to take up new initiatives and begin to take steps that could lead to changes in the dysfunctional political culture that has brought us to the awful impasse of the 2016 election year circus.

Above all, we need a new cultivation of political virtue in America, in a way that will enable us to judge and act more effectively for the good in our own society and in our relationships with peoples and nations in the rest of the world.

Nearly thirty years ago, Pope Saint John Paul II gave us some very specific magisterial teaching that remains vital and relevant today. He stressed the particular virtue that we need if we are to be political protagonists in the third millennium--the virtue that is essential for an interdependent world in possession of historically unprecedented kinds of technological power.

The great Pope called this virtue "Solidarity."

To cultivate this virtue and allow it to change our way of thinking and relating to one another is a special political task that me and my countrymen need to take up anew in this time, regardless of who becomes President after today. We must have the courage to enlarge our horizons and recognize the responsibilities that correspond to the power and wealth that have been entrusted to us. We need to recognize that the interdependence of our world is a human reality--an interdependence of human persons--that has implications for our lives. These implications, these human realities cannot be dominated, controlled, or suppressed by our power. Neither can they be ignored or pushed away as insignificant. They are real human needs that cry out to us, problems of people in our own communities, our nation, and the world that are inseparably connected to our own needs and problems. They must be lived and judged in varying circumstances with realism, proper criteria, wisdom, generosity, and love.

The United States of America will not be able to grow and mature further as a nation in the 21st century unless we learn the way of solidarity, unless we learn to practice the virtue of solidarity.

Saint John Paul II says it much better in the excerpts below. His words, though not always easy to understand, are worth the labor of our prayerful reading, study, and consideration. I dare say, we ignore him and his successors at our own peril, and the world's peril.

It is above all a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world, in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a "virtue," is solidarity.
This is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.

[The political forces of domination that degrade the human person for profit or power] are only conquered--presupposing the help of divine grace--by a diametrically opposed attitude: a commitment to the good of one's neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to "lose oneself" for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to "serve him" instead of oppressing him for one's own advantage (cf. Mt 10:40-42; 20:25; Mk 10:42-45; Lk 22:25-27).
The exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons. Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess.
Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity, should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all. The intermediate groups, in their turn, should not selfishly insist on their particular interests, but respect the interests of others....

The same criterion is applied by analogy in international relationships. Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces through the processing of raw materials, with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all....
Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences.
The economically weaker countries, or those still at subsistence level, must be enabled, with the assistance of other peoples and of the international community, to make a contribution of their own to the common good with their treasures of humanity and culture, which otherwise would be lost for ever.
Solidarity helps us to see the "other"-- whether a person, people or nation -- not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our "neighbor," a "helper" (cf. Gen 2:18-20), to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God. Hence the importance of reawakening the religious awareness of individuals and peoples. Thus the exploitation, oppression and annihilation of others are excluded....
The goal of peace, so desired by everyone, will certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and international justice, but also through the practice of the virtues which favor togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity, so as to build in unity, by giving and receiving, a new society and a better world.
~Pope Saint John Paul II, Encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis 39, 40.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Minds On Fire

"It's not fire on the rooftops that threatens us. It's fire in the minds of men" (Dostoevsky, The Possessed).

Friday, November 4, 2016

Love and the Road of Sorrow and Hope

God has revealed His love for us. God is Love.

God has revealed that Love is His infinite glory, His infinite mystery. But after 20 centuries of Christianity, the words "God is Love" can sound merely sentimental. They are repeated in an effort to make us feel accepted and "safe" -- but often at the price of ceasing to have any clear significance.

We need love, but we are also afraid of real love, because real love changes us and takes us beyond what we already know. We are thus afraid of love, but still we cannot even imagine living without it. So we invent half-hearted substitutes, resemblances of love that are facile and shallow, that don't really respond to our solitude but merely distract us, for a time, from our loneliness.

Therefore we want "love" to remain trivial, but in this way we make God trivial too. We consign Him to the superficial places, to the margins of life. We keep His love at a distance, as though it were some vague comforting story.

We do not want to think about real love, because it is so fundamental and mysterious, because it encompasses sacrifice, and because our human experience of real love is so often one of failure, limitations, and disappointment. 

And even when we truly give ourselves in love, when we brave its risks and fight its battles, when we do all the hard work investing ourselves, moving beyond ourselves, building a relationship that changes us and renews us--even then love seems to be, at the end, a long road to sorrow.

We love someone, and then they die.

How can we bear this? Where is the person we have loved so truly and so much? Death is the final "unknown" in a relationship, where we are not only blind but also unable to find any footing in front of us that would allow us to remain with one we love.

We have "lost" them.

We look to our ideas and imagination, our understanding of religious teaching, our intuitions, our wishful thinking. They must be somewhere, resting in peace. Perhaps we envision a hazy "afterlife," strange and inaccessible, or else we allow them to attain some higher purpose by merging with the universe or disappearing into a kind of supercosmic nirvana. All this may bring some measure of solace and acceptance.

But does it satisfy us? Is it enough, for real love? Or does it still leave us without hope on the road of our own loneliness?

How can we ever have hope again? In life we knew a human person, someone we could walk with, with real feet firmly meeting the ground beside us. Here is our great sorrow: we want to walk again with the person we love. We want to see two pairs of feet, and instead we only see one. We walk alone.

And then, a stranger appears on the road to sorrow. Or, rather, we begin to notice the stranger who walks hidden and silently here, always going on ahead, to the vanishing point of all our loves, and beyond them.

He walks with us. We don't know who the stranger is, but hope is awakened within our hearts. The stranger is human, and hope discovers in his face a glimpse of all the ones we have loved.

Are we willing to follow that hope, and take the stranger into the home of our hearts? Or will we let him pass by?

Only if we let the stranger in will he open our eyes. He will show us that he has all the deep wounds of our sorrows. He has them.

But there is no easy way to learn this. We have to let the stranger in. We have to let Him show us His humanity and let the fire of hope burn in us.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

We Depend on One Another

With the U.S. Presidential election less than a week away, tensions continue to rise, and Americans have dire forebodings about the future regardless of who wins. Meanwhile, the news from all over the world is dominated by a desperate litany of violence and intractable problems. The year of 2016 seems like one long dystopian nightmare. Will anything good come out of all this mess?

Perhaps we are going to learn in a more immediate way how much we all really do depend on one another.

The "human family" is not a cozy, tame little idea. If someone hurts, we all hurt. It's not really true that 2016 marks some radical departure from normal human experience. In fact, the human family always shares a profound bond of suffering. We all share a common affliction.

We also share a common hope.

We share a source of unity that is greater than everything that divides us -- greater than every fear.

In the days to come, we would do well to pray and "fast" -- i.e. voluntarily embrace some sacrifices within our daily routine -- so that we might remember our common suffering, our existential poverty, our dependence on God, and the mysterious bond that unites us in our journey to Him and sustains us in a posture of compassion for one another.

We must beg the Lord to change our mentality and transform our way of looking at the world and all of the problems and the dangers, and all the evil that has already been judged and vanquished.