Sunday, October 30, 2011

A crisis in moral leadership

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
30 October 2011
Daily Readings

The Church dared to scold Wall Street this week.  It's not that the Holy Father appeared in Zuccotti square as an occupier.  You would have heard about that, I'm sure.  No, a little Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice put out a note for discussion.  Most of the world didn't see it.  If you did, it was probably a media headline like POPE SIDES WITH OCCUPIERS or CHURCH AGAINST CAPITALISM or CHURCH WANTS UNITED NATIONS TO RUN THE ECONOMY none of which accurately describe the discussion the note was trying to foster.  The Church is better at putting out notes than at being a spin doctor.

The note reminded Wall Street and the world economy of two important things from the Church's 2000 year history of thinking about justice.  Those two things that every Catholic should know about are solidarity and subsidiarity.  The document simply says that when these principles are ignored, the economy will be unstable.  The document explores the creation of an authority that might make these principles universally respected in the world economy.  The note realizes that such an authority is only a distant possibility.

The Church herself is no expert in how to run an immensely complex international world econom.  Yet she can observe with her traditional wisdom that even as free trade and the explosion of financial transactions leads to the creation of great wealth, that every trade and transaction that can be made should not be made.  The Church cautions the world that the word 'should' is more important than the word 'can', that knowing the good is more important than knowing the possible.  What is problematic is that a few players in the economy can take immoral risks that endanger the economic fortune of billions, while always landing on their feet themselves.  The Church sympathizes with occupiers who see that Wall Street lacks solidarity with the poor in the real economy, and reminds Wall Street that the principle of subsidiarity which puts real economic decisions at the local level is being constantly violated.  Jesus for his part railed against the Pharisees who were far removed from their fellow man and who would not lift a finger to help them.  The principles of solidarity and subsidiarity in the economic realm correspond to Jesus' commandments to love your neighbor as yourself and to love one another as I have loved you in the moral realm.

Communism and socialism themselves are perhaps more evil that immoral capitalism.  They are failed experiments of the government playing Wall Street, and stifling growth of the real economy that relies on the private interest of real people making accurate local economic decisions for themselves.  St. Paul out of love for the Thessalonians worked day and night so as to not be a burden to them, and might well have joined the tea party when he admonishes Christians that those who do not work should not eat.  The solution suggested by the Church's note is not a government that runs the economy, but one that promotes the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as the bedrock of an economy that can work for all people.

The note is a point of discussion, and the Church's contribution to justice.  The Church's greater contribution to society, as we should know, is not as mediator between occupiers and tea partiers, or between socialist and capitalist nations.  The Church exists not to be moderate, not merely to broker compromise, although she might at times bring people together.  The Church exists primarily to produce saints.  The Church is a radical institution not formed by men but borne from the side of Jesus Christ to produce men and women of heroic virtue.  The Church is useless if she is not producing men and women who love God with all their heart, mind and soul, and engage with God in the untiring pursuit of the goodness, beauty and truth that leads to real human flourishing.  Saints are those who not only know how to do things, but are experts in showing the world the one necessary thing that must be done.  Saints are interested not merely in an economy that works, but in a society where man has a chance to realize his highest asperations of giving and receiving love.  Because saints love not money or politics but God above all things, saints show the world that in pursuing goodness, truth and beauty that alone makes man ultimately happy, knowing what should be done is more valuable than knowing what can be done.

The prophet Malachi in tonight's first reading rails against priests who have scandalized their vocation by using a vocation of service to selfishly serve themselves.  Jesus gets after the scribes and Pharisees for their pathetic moral leadership, and tells us his disciples to look for people who are worthy of the title teacher, father and master.  Jesus in telling us to call no one on earth our teacher, father or master, exposes a vacuum of moral leadership in religion, law, business and politics that must be filled.  Those of us who are disciples of Jesus should want to fill this void, knowing that if we become the saints we desperately want to be, we will affect the world more than Wall Street or Hollywood or the UN or NATO ever can.  Jesus reminds us not to be idolatrous, but only to follow with our heart and mind and strength, those leaders who are worthy of God, who alone is true and good and beautiful.  May we accept his invitation to become saints, and to become the teachers, the fathers, and the masters of heroic virtue that our world desperately needs.  Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

a take on the recent statement by the vatican regarding the global economy

Today the Vatican weighed in on the crisis in the global economy.

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace


Vatican City


Here are some of my thoughts after speed reading the document:

  • the Church continues to emphasize that the economy will remain unstable as long as technological growth (the growth of how to do things, the growth of information) outpaces ethical growth - the knowledge of what is good for man.  There is a difference between what man can and ought to do, and when this is violated, instability results.
  • the principles of subsidiarity (the larger serving the smaller) and solidarity (looking out for an interest larger than our own) are continually violated in the world economy.  Man is too often seen as a means to an economic end, and decisions are taken away from the smaller man by the larger economy, and man too often looks after his own interest and ignores the common good.  These violations can be made by individuals, national economies, and international alliances.
  • if the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity can be agreed upon and respected, it would be possible to build an international body that looks after the world economy can be erected, and such a body is needed because economic possibilities in the international economy are growing much more quickly than actual wealth.  Such a body will only be possible however if it is able to convince member nationas that the body itself will live by the principle of subsidiarity, the larger serving the smaller
  • true wealth in the end is a spiritual good, not a material good.  the economy is at the service of the spiritual good of man, not vice versa
After reading a few economic experts who disagree with the statement by the Holy See, here are some more thoughts

  • because this document is not about faith and morals, and is issued by a Pontifical Council not the Holy Father, it is not morally binding, but is meant to be a discussion peace before the upcoming G20 summit
  • economists have faulted national banks and their monetary policies for much of the current crisis, and some have little hope that an international central bank would know what to do to regulate the international economy; furthermore, few developed nations have any cash whatsoever to contribute to such a bank
  • many economists say the economic problems come from those with wealth being able to take extraordinary risks, unreasonable ones, without in the end having to suffer the consequences of bad decisions; bad economic decisions fall disproportionately on the poor, and that is one of the reasons the Vatican is issuing this statement

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tea partiers and occupiers can agree on this

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
23 October 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Are you a tea partier or an occupier?  Are you patient with Turner Gill or ready for a change?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about our country and the world?  Are you excited about the new changes to the Roman Missal coming up, or does it not matter to you?

Whatever your opinion on these and the myriad of things big and small facing our church, our university, our country and the world, the readings for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us that if we dare to call ourselves Christian, there is one thing that is non-negotiable for us.  There is one thing we must all think and do.  We must grow in love for our neighbor.  This is more than tolerating them or being nice to them.  We must grow in love for our neighbor.  We must love them as we love ourselves. 

This love of neighbor is actually a corollary to the first commandment given by Jesus - that we must love God with all our heart and mind and strength. When asked for the one greatest commandment, Jesus gives two, reminding us that all the 600+ commandments of the Torah are valid because they all interpret each other.  But in a simpler, more perfect way, these two great commandments interpret each other.  We can evaluate our love of God by how much we love our neighbor, and we can evaluate how much we love our neighbor by how much we love God.

Without love of God first, love of neighbor is always at risk of being incomplete, is always at risk of running out.  God is love.  He is the source of love.  Without him there would be no one to love. So unless we connect ourselves to this unending fire of love, by loving him with all our heart and mind and strength, we are always at risk of our own human, calculated love growing cold.  That is why a couple wanting to get married should work on their relationship with God first, always desiring him to be the center of their love, always desiring to love him more than they love each other, knowing him to be the source of their love and seal and guarantee of their marriage.  What is more, loving God first means that we will approach loving our neighbor respecting the love with which they were created.  We will love not only the person, but the image and likeness of God that is essential to the dignity of every person. Loving God first corrects us from hideous errors like believing that killing an unborn child is the more loving thing.   Loving God first means that we will strive to know and love persons as God knows and loves them, that we will be especially attentive to the words of Jesus to love one another just as I love you.  St. John says that this is how we know what love is:  Christ gave up his life for us, so we too must give up our lives for our brothers.  On this World Mission Sunday, missionaries like Mother Teresa are the model for every Christian.  It is a great call and privilege as a Christian to be more like her, who in loving God with all her heart and mind and strength, found everyone to be her neighbor not by geography but from the inside out.  A true Christian, then, does the biggest disservice to his neighbor when he fails first to love God with all his heart and mind and strength, for it is God's perfect love alone that can fully redeem a human person.

Yet perhaps what is more remarkable about Mother Teresa is that when her own relationship with God ran cold, and her faith was being tested, her love for neighbor remained.  She remained true to her mission to love because she understood that to grow perfect in love is not to grow perfect in feeling, but to grow perfect in obedience to the will of another.  Thus, Jesus on the cross fulfills his two-fold commandment to love God and neighbor perfectly, by handing himself over to his enemies and to his Father's will simultaneously.  It only takes a simple glance at the cross to remind us of what love and happiness really is.  It is the freedom to abandon ourselves to a mission that is bigger than ourselves, one that goes beyond feelings, so that Jesus can feel both abandoned by the Father and hated by his enemies, and still love them both perfectly.  On the cross we see why when asked for the greatest commandment Jesus gives two commandments, for internally to him they are one, and externally on the cross we see the two commandments fulfilled simultaneously.  Mother Teresa  too was guided in her later years not by her feelings, but by taking up her cross and following Jesus.  She was faithful to the end because she was faithful not to a feeling, but to a beautiful mission, and she was ready to love God for his own sake, and for her love of God to be measured by how much she loved her neighbor.

It is the great privilege and responsibility for every Christian to everyday be able to see Jesus Christ and ourselves more readily in our neighbor, to be more ready to believe their lives are as real as our own, and be more ready to show that we love God more completely by growing in love for our enemies.  A Christian who truly loves God in the end does not know anyone to be an enemy, for our greatest enemy is always ourselves, and does not know anyone who is not a neighbor, for the greatest evil is always to be alienated from ourselves by losing God.  We should be shamed as Christians always when humanitarians do more for the most vulnerable than we Christians do, for we have our relationship with Jesus Christ as both inspiration and sure guide for us.  We should want to meet a higher standard, the highest standard, because Christ has first loved us.  God reveals clearly to the Israelites, all of us should be willing to be judged by how the poorest and most vulnerable are doing in our midst.

There can be legitimate difference in prudential judgments between tea partiers and occupiers about how best to promote justice and the common good.  Most of us fall between the extremes.  What we cannot be moderate about however, is our responsibility to fall deeply in love with God and our neighbor.  If the world is getting more contentious, and there are plenty who think things need to get much worse before they can get better, the one thing we cannot allow to happen is for this rancor to become more important than our love of God, our mission given by him in this life, and our eternal salvation. Amen.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Christians not trapped by politics

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
16 October 2011

Politics.  Taxes.  Religion.  A toxic mix.  Always has been.  Perhaps always will be.   But Jesus doesn't get down in the mud.  He doesn't stoop to the level of his accusers, those trying to trap him with a soundbyte that they can play back against him over and over.  He turns an either/or question on its head.  Rather than avoiding the question, he shows that the question is full of malice, and challenges his accusers to ask a better question.

Politics.  Taxes.  Religion.  They are ways to get people fired up.  They are not always the most pleasant topic at cocktail parties.  Yet in a successful society, the landmines must be navigtaed. and a fruitful discourse must be had in a spirit of seeking the truth in love.  The Church for her part, while heeding Jesus' wisdom to not adulterate religion with politics, still takes an intense interest in the welfare of her children, who are members of political society.  Being a Christian, as our Church reminds us often, is being in the world without being of the world.  Yet out of concern for the common good of our neighbor, Christians must because of their religion be more involved in politics, must care more about the good of the state, as a joyful duty given us by God.

The Church must never be political in the sense of advocating a theocracy, where the laws of a society are directly gleaned from the data of revelation.  Jesus is clear on this.  Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God's, keeping in mind that ultimately Caesar is also beholden to God.  The data of revelation is primarily for the sanctification of the human person, and for fostering his intimate friendship with God, who sends His spirit to elevate the hearts and minds of his beloved children.  The data of revelation is first for the formation of man's conscience, a conscience which then makes political decisions about how society should be ordered for the common good.  The Church does not become political as far as taking sides; she is an expert only at the formation of consciences.  A priest, for example, cannot run for public office.  His responsibility is not to take sides, but to form consciences.

Even though the data of revelation is not primarily for the establishment of a government, God's revelation in Jesus Christ does shed light on the nature of man, and the natural law that should be the basis of any good society.  When society makes decisions that are contrary to the natural law, the Church which desires both the temporal and eternal good of man must speak up in support of laws that respect and promote human dignity and flourishing.  We see this today as the Church cannot be silent regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, and the conscience rights of citizens.  The Church in knowing the person of Jesus Christ of course enjoys a special light that can reveal when society misunderstands the true nature and dignity of man.

The Church must speak up despite her own sinfulness.  The evil one enjoys a second victory when because of the weakness of her members, the Church becomes private and abandons her mission to teach and to evangelize.  This homily is being given as indictments against Bishop Robert Finn in Kansas City, Missouri regarding child endangerment are on the front page of the national and local press.  While embarrassing for every Catholic, this sad situation cannot cause us to abandon the mission given to us by our Lord.  That mission is to heal the world from sin, to reach out to those who are forgotten, to promote full human flourishing by fidelity to God's commandments and his promises.  The current spotlight on the sins of the Church cannot make us abandon those whose faith is weak, to stop believing in our mission to heal the world, nor allow the world to live without the light of the Gospel. 

When faced with an either/or dilemma, Jesus finds a both/and response.  Let us not allow ourselves ever as Christians to be captured by the trappings of this world, but be detached and free to live in the world and to love God and one another in imitation of Christ, who has first loved us!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Go into the streets and gather all you find.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time A
9 October 2011
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

Evangelization.  The new evangelization.  It is a buzzword of John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.  It is new because it must find new ways to present Jesus Christ, the hope of the world, to a world who is too ready to ignore him.  It is new because it is a re-evangelization, a re-presentation of the joy that comes from following Jesus Christ and from accepting a deep, intimate friendship with the one who loves us more than we love ourselves.  It is a re-evangelization to those parts of the world who once sent great missionaries to the end of the world, but now are faced with the reality of having more lapsed and lukewarm Catholics than fervent Catholics.  Indeed, right here in our midst, the two largest Christian denominations are Catholics, and fallen-away Catholics.

Many of the reasons why Catholics have fallen away can and should be fixed.  Catholics Come Home is a national outreach to remind Catholics that they are invited to the best wedding banquet there ever was or ever will be, the holy Mass, and to welcome them home to the biggest and most beautiful family the world has ever known, the Catholic church.  Some Catholics do not come to Mass because they are able to rationalize that the Mass is not that relevant, and that they have something better to do, a forgetting of who has invited them.  If the Lord Jesus has invited us to his banquet, and he is surely present there, as he is in every Eucharist, there can be nothing better nor anything more important than our attendance.  Sometimes we forget what our role in the Church is, how much others are counting on us.  Sometimes a past hurt or misunderstanding of the Church makes us openly hostile, and a re-catechesis and a personal outreach are needed to heal these wounds.  All of these reasons are present in today's Gospel, when those invited did not come.  Some even killed the servants who invited them.  We see the same today, when 70% of Catholics do not regularly attend Mass.  A re-evangelization, a new evangelization is needed.

Yet it is remarkable that the king in today's parable does not cancel the banquet.  In a dramatic shift, he goes and invites new people, for those invited were not worthy to come.  The Gospel is a reminder to us as Catholics that our church's strength is not found so much in maintaining our membership, but in reaching out to the good and the bad and inviting them to the banquet.  The world is not our enemy, its people are our patients, those whom we are called to gather at the Lord's banquet, a feast that is a real participation in the eternal joy and salvation that the Lord desires for his people.  The new evangelization is about a new zeal for souls, something Catholics are especially bad at.  We do not feel the pain that we should that souls are being eternally lost, and there are so many who because of our lukewarmness do not have a chance to enjoy divine friendship with Jesus Christ, which brings so much depth, and meaning and happiness to life.

We will not have this zeal for souls, nor a willingness to go into the streets and gather all we find, unless what we receive on Sunday in the Holy Eucharist is of paramount importance to us.  When we come to Mass, we do not do so in a relative way; as the parable says, we must wear our wedding garments, our baptismal garments, to ensure that we are truly participating in the Mass in a way that completely changes our lives, that advances us on the road to sanctity and conversion.  By sincerely repenting of our sins, by going to confession, and by preparing ourselves for the most powerful hour of our week, the Sunday Eucharist, we have no other option after the Mass then to go into the streets and gather all we find.  This is the only response of one who has been truly filled with the grace, mercy and peace of the Holy Eucharist.  Amen.