Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Working Catholic: Stories Are True by Bill Droel

    Mike Houlihan is a raconteur of Chicago neighborhoods and a columnist for Irish American News. One column wisely begins: “A good story never really ends. Maybe you’ve heard a few from me before, but like the story of our lives, it continues to unravel in directions we never imagined.” Another column, as found in his collection More Hooliganism Stories (Book Bullet, 2014), advises us that “this story is true, only the names have been changed, as well as the embellishment and complete fabrication of all the actual facts.” Although teasingly phrased, Houlihan’s sentence is worth pondering.

We moderns presume that something is either a phony myth or a verifiable fact. We moderns thus have difficulty appreciating the meaning of life because it really resides somewhere in between fantasy and the scientific. We moderns have trouble with faith because it is supposed to be true but it cannot be proven; so maybe it is false. Or, maybe faith is somehow true if it can be sequestered from tangible daily life in the classroom, the office, the legislature, and the community at large.

Despite the modern dualism of absolutely false vs. demonstrated fact, there is a large and significant realm of life that resides in between fairy tales or legends and the pages of scientific journals. It is a true realm, though not one given to laboratory experiments. It is a realm held in tension and often accessed by way of story. It is the realm of true marital love, of patriotism, of family loyalty, of shared symbols, of long term friendship, and of authentic, engaged, relational, active faith.

The Eucharist is a true story; a love story; a revealed word. The Eucharist, like all good stories, is set in all time. It is existential; although it refers to a historical reality, it is freshly present for those who participate in its story on Sunday morning and during the week as they attend to job, family and community responsibilities.

We moderns don’t fully get into the Eucharist because during the week we are oblivious to the stories and meaning embedded in our routines and our institutions. And consequently on Sunday the Eucharist is not all that compelling, which is why many people make it a low priority—or no priority at all. So maybe the Sunday worship would be more attractive if it could be connected to our everyday work and relationships. Maybe it is possible that, let’s say through a regular, small support group, the hour of Sunday Eucharist could be informed by week-long job decisions, community action, and the juggling act of family life.

The Riddle Song is a 15th century English lullaby. One of its riddles goes like this: “I gave my love a story that has no end… How can there be a story with no ending? …The story of I love you never ends.” And that story, at least to me and again despite the modern dualism of fallacious vs. verifiable, is proof of heaven. And again at least to me, the Eucharist—Sunday through Saturday—is a story of heavenly love.  I've invested so much in the story already that it will not end at the funeral parlor. And, by the way, God has invested so much more.

As the Psalmist says, “Day unto day takes up the story and night unto night makes known the message.” (19:2 Grail Psalms)

Droel is the author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9 pre-paid includes postage).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


You know how to read the face of the sky, but you cannot read the signs of the times. Mt. C. 16, V. 3
   The Thomas O’Meara and Paul Philibert book, Scanning the Signs of the Times, provides sketches of seven French Dominicans who contributed the theological base for Vatican II.  (see blog posting-1/28/2015)  One important question that a reader might ask:  is the French Saulchoir Dominican Studium also the incubator for Gustavo Gutierrez’ Liberation Theology?  The O’Meara Philibert book, Scanning, notes Gustavo Gutierrez was one of the ‘important theological personalities’ that studied at Le Saulchoir. (Scanning  – p. 22)

   After he finished his studies Gutierrez followed the path of the Saulchoir worker priests to live and work in a slum area of Lima, Peru.

   A look at two themes of Liberation theology shows the influence of Le Saulchoir.  Let us consider the locus of theology and liberation.

The Locus of Theology

   The Scanning article on Le Saulchoir founder M.D. Chenu states,

          Chenu had come to understand that the locus of theology, the            place where theological reflection emerges, is the convergence between the living faith of believers and their confrontation with the changing world. (Scanning p. 38)

What is the ‘locus’ for Liberation Theology?  Gustavo Gutierrez in, A Theology of Liberation, quotes Le Saulchoir professor Yves Congar:

          Seen as a whole, the direction of theological thinking has been     characterized by a transference away from attention to the being per se of supernatural realities, and toward attention to their relationship with man, the world, and with the problems and affirmations of all those who for us represent others.  (A Theology of Liberation,  p. 7)

Gutierrez explains: 

          There is no horizontalism in this approach. It is simply a question of the rediscovery of the indissoluble unity of man and God.     (Ibid.p. 8)  

The conclusion is “…the very life of the Church appears ever more clearly as locus theologicus.”  (ibid. p. 8)  “Theology follows, it is the second step…Theology does not produce pastoral activity; rather it reflects on it. (ibid p. 11) Gustavo Gutierrez, the student of Le Saulchoir explained the role of theology as expressed by fire of faith and revolution in Latin America. 


   Le Saulchoir Dominican Luis-Joseph Lebret, who had a dominant influence on the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, was asked by Paul VI to help with a new encyclical on development. (Scanning, p.73) Lebret agreed and the new encyclical was known as Populorum Progressio.  The encyclical signaled an important change in Catholic Social Teaching in that it encompassed global problems of poverty and the responsibility of the rich countries to the poor.  Development in the poor countries was advocated.  Some were dissatisfied with the term development since it seemed to sanction the system that brought about poverty.  All that was needed was some adjustment.  But why should poor countries look to the rich countries as a model?  The rich countries also had their poor; are bourgeois values really the answer?  

   Gustavo Gutierrez replies,

          The encyclical Populorum Progessio is a transitional document. …ultimately it addresses itself to the great ones of this world to   carry out the necessary changes.  … The outright use of the         language of liberation would have given a more decided and   direct thrust in favor of the oppressed, encouraging them to break with their present situation and break with their own destiny.         (A Theology of Liberation, p. 34-35)

   When and where did the notion of liberation enter the discussion.  The Saulchoir Dominicans were Thomists but open to other philosophical viewpoints on freedom.   Gutierrez knew Kant, Hegel and Marx.  But what about liberation; where did this term appear?  Congar’s work, Chistianisme et Liberation,is cited three times in Gutierrez’ book,  A Theology of Liberation.  Is this the source for the theology that dramatically changed Catholic Social Teaching?

    But scripture is the base for the construction of liberation theology.  The prime importance of scripture is from Le Saulchoir.  Scanning … reports, that Le Saulchoir produced scripture scholars Benoit and deVaux, who achieved fame for their work at the Ecole Biblique, which was founded by Marie-Joseph LaGrange, O.P. of the Toulouse province. (p. xvi & p. 22)  Gutierrez built the foundation of Liberation Theology on the book of Exodus.  Gutierrez explains,

          The Exodus experience is paradigmatic.  It remains vital and contemporary due to similar historical experiences which the people of God undergo. (A Theology of Liberation,   p. 159)

Also consider Gutierrez statement in: the post Puebla Conference book, We Drink From Our Own Wells.

          Liberation is an all- embracing process that leaves no dimension of      human life untouched, because when all is said and done it expresses the saving action of God in history. (p. 2) 

 A Theology of Liberation, offers a further explanation to keep in mind.

          The liberation of Israel is a political action.  It is the breaking away from a situation of despoliation and misery and the beginning of the construction of a just and fraternal society. (p. 155)

Gutierrez references Le Saulchoir scholors Congar (Christianisme and Liberation, (p. 181) and deVaux (p.224) to support his position.

  We can easily trace Vatican II and Liberation Theology (also M. Fox’ Creation Theology) back to Le Saulchoir, but Le Saulchoir faculties of theology and philosophy closed in 1974, a sign of the times.  What is the future of theology the struggle for social justice and its understanding through the eyes of faith?  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Working Catholic: Community Colleges by Bill Droel

President Barack Obama is a champion of community colleges—not only in his recent State of the Union address, but regularly since the first days of his administration.

            Tom Geoghegan, a labor lawyer here in Chicago, is not convinced. College, especially community college, “is not a sure route to the middle class,” he writes in Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). The context is all wrong. There are hardly enough stateside manufacturing jobs to sustain our service/knowledge economy. The U.S. trade deficit is over the top. Authentic worker participation in decision-making is rare. Plus, students carry too much debt on their credit cards and need education loans. Then, there is the high dropout rate—a topic to be examined in a future Working Catholic column. For these reasons and more, says Geoghegan, a push for more college does not automatically make us better off.

The conversation about young adults has things out of order. In a section of the book provocatively titled “Democracy or Education,” Geoghegan details why a stable working class is a prerequisite to any upward mobility by way of college education. Oh yes, those who graduate from an elite university will likely do fine—barring any major setbacks in their personal life. But those graduates, with some exceptions, already come from successful families. The sluggishness in our economy remains if enrollment numbers are jacked up without first or simultaneously building a culture and economy of steady work at a family wage. “Increasing income equality is a way to get more college” not the other way around, Geoghegan concludes.

To Obama’s promotion of community colleges and specifically to his idea for free tuition, Geoghegan says: “Mister President, let it go.” Tuition or no tuition, most young workers will not get through community college, much less obtain a bachelor’s degree. Thus, what Obama and others really communicate to young adults is that “there’s no hope for you.” Their only alternative proposal for these workers is a minimum wage increase to $10.10. In effect, Geoghegan concludes, society says: “It’s too late for them and they’re toast.”

Droel is the author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity [2015], PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $9 includes postage). He is a 33-year veteran teacher at a community college and intends to modify Geoghegan’s analysis in a future column. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

‘Worker Priests,’ where did they end up?

A BOOK REVIEW: SCANNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES – French Dominicans in the Twentieth Century by Thomas F. O’Meara and Paul Philibert, ATF Theology, Adelaide, 2013.

   Patrick Marrin wrote an excellent review of Scanning the Signs of the Times in the National Catholic Reporter.  I enjoyed the review and would like here to emphasize the work of two of the seven Dominicans considered in the book.  The Dominicans were from the Saulchoir Studium in Belgium which later moved to France.  Marrin’s review was comprehensive and covered all seven Dominicans whose theology provided the backbone for Vatican II.

   I would like to emphasize the work of Luis-Joseph Lebret, O.P., and Jacques Loew, O.P.  They had significant impact on Catholic Social Teaching concerning labor.

Luis-Joseph Lebret, O.P.

    The Vatican II document, Gaudium et Sp,s and the Paul VI Encyclical, Populorum Progressio, represent an important advance in Catholic Social Teaching.  Luis-Joseph Lebret had a determining influence on both documents.  He brought a world-wide economic perspective to Catholic Social teaching which is evident in Populorum Progressio. He deals with trade issues and neo-colonialism. 
   The corporate model of economics advocated by Catholic Social teaching was modified by Gaudium et Spes, declaring that workers had not only the right to organize but also to elect their own leaders.  Lebret insisted on reversing the top down approach to politics as practiced by communism, capitalism and fascism.

   The ‘worker priest’ movement was a result of Lebret’s experience- driven sociology and analysis.  ‘Justice for the worker’ – the people - was a key to achieve peace.  The age of anxiety of the 50’s and 60’s was the result of an apocalyptic challenge to humanity.  Lebret stated in his book Le Drame du Siecle first published in 1960:

People are now playing while atomic war or the revolution of the rest of the world threatens them with total extinction, invasion or occupation.  (English edition: The Last Revolution, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1965, p. 164)

Lebret understood the urgency of dialogue and the importance of Vatican II for the world.  Scanningco-author Paul Philibert states that the “voice and influence” of Lebret is clear in #83 of Gaudium et Spes:

If peace is to be established, the first condition is to root out those causes of discord between people which lead to wars especially injustice. (Scanning… p. 73) 
Peace through justice was the hope expressed by Vatican II.

Jacques Loew, O.P. (Religious name – Marie Reginald)

   Jacques Loew was ordained a priest in 1939 – the beginning year of WW II.  Loew was, like his mentor Lebret, a sociologist.  Both had background studying the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas in the Dominican Studium of Saulchoir.  The realism of the Aquinas tradition legitimized the study and practice of sociology for the solemnly dedicated religious.

   At Lebret’s suggestion, Loew went to Vichy-controlled Marseille in 1941 and became one of the first ‘worker priests.’  (Vichy – France deported thousands of Jews to extermination camps in Germany during WW II, Loew and Lebret thought if you want to understand the proletariat you had to be part of it.  Statistics were not sufficient.  Loew wrote:

Social mixing is a thing of the past: The teacher who instructs you, the doctor who prescribes for you, the priest who absolves you, all come from outside with their services or blessings. (M.R. Loew, Mission to the Poorest, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1950, p. 83)
  The ‘worker priest’ had to be involved in the union movement. But increased wages to “create a bourgeois worker would scarcely be a gain.” (Ibid. p. 118)  Education of workers was required. (‘Concientizaciรณn’ is the term used in Latin America)  Economic and political structures could and should be changed from the bottom up.  Like Lebret, Loew had a world vision.  Solidarity needed to be international.  He wrote:

The emancipation of the people by its own leaders has given birth to heroes, martyrs and saints.  Re-read the story of the Chicago martyrs, who in 1887 (actually 1886) originated May Day. (Ibid. p. 94) 

Remember by 1945, the date of the English translation of this book, May Day was labeled in the United States as a communist holiday.  In 1955 Pius XII inaugurated May 1st as the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker to counter May Day celebrations considered communist.  Loew continued:

Take up again the recently published letters of the militants – believers and atheists – shot during the Occupation (German occupation of France) … ‘There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (p. 94)   
He mentions the German occupation, the unity needed to fight the invaders, but what about the Jews?  There is nothing about the holocaust in the Scanning narrative which covers the WW II years.  The book reports that Yves Congar, O.P., a prisoner of the Germans during WW II and one of the seven covered in Scanning, contributed in writing the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate which successfully fostered dialogue with non Christian religions – including Jews and Muslims but especially with Jews. (Scanning, p. 50)  Another of the seven Dominicans considered in Scanning was Marie-Alain Couturier who collaborated with the Jewish Artist Marc Chagall on the art work at a church, Notre Dame de Tout Grace, in Plateau d’Assy in the French Alps opposite Mt. Blanc. (Scanning. p. 130) 

   The ‘worker priest’ movement promoted by the Dominicans of Saulchoir was in dialogue with the world, even the communists, before Vatican II.  The attempt was to form a united front for justice to achieve peace. The backdrop of Vatican II was the Cuban missile crisis.  Dialogue did achieve a reprieve from nuclear destruction.  Pius XII squelched the ‘worker priest’ movement in 1953, but the momentum of the Saulchoir Dominicans was re-invigorated by John XXIII.   Vatican II was effective but, unfortunately limited.  The post Vatican II Roman Catholic Church did produce important documents on justice for workers and moved forward in dialogue with non-Christian religions, but did not succeed in moving forward in transforming the role of the priest. 

     Today, the Roman Catholic priest is a male with the magical power to physically bring a Roman Catholic Christ into our midst.  Only such priests have the ultimate authority in the Church.  Again we face a crisis of existence – France, Syria, Nigeria and the U.S.  A Roman Catholic hierarchy frozen in dogma will be of no help. Where will the momentum for dialogue originate?

                     Pre-Vatican II         Post-Vatican II

WORKER PRIEST                           HOCUS POCUS
Cartoon by Liam Gima Lange

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Working Catholic: Too Much Sentiment, Part I By Bill Droel

“A Christian worldview can exist in writing that is not necessarily Christian,” asserts Lisa Ohlen Harris in the February 2015 issue of a terrific evangelical publication, Books and Culture. Meanwhile, she continues, “our own [Christian] literature often lacks the bite and angst our worldview ought to embrace.”

Harris has in mind most of the novels in the “Spiritual” or “Christian Fiction” section of many bookstores—though there are not so many bookstores these days. She doesn’t like all the sweetness and sentimentality. “We do the same with Bible stories, sanitizing and simplifying them,” she says. “The story of Noah becomes a sweet means of counting by twos instead of a story of apocalypse.” Life, she reminds us, is not tidy. Most tensions are not resolved in a moment during which we “receive Christ” and shout “yes and amen.”  Indeed, many tensions are never totally over.

Harris draws upon a 1957 article by Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) that appeared in America magazine: “The Church and the Fiction Writer.”

“Sentimentality is an excess,” says O’Connor. It is “a distortion of [proper] sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence.” Writers who traffic in sentimentality do not respect the limitations of their craft. Fiction can “reinforce our sense of the supernatural,” but only when it stays true to its nature and is grounded “in concrete observable reality.” Grace builds on nature.

Christian art does not need to overtly reference Christianity; in fact, the artist may not have Christianity in mind at all. God wants art with all its teeth.

What is true of artists is also true of those in crafts, in the trades, in education or in journalism. For example, high-quality bloggers who appeal to a Christian audience (perhaps like your Working Catholic writer) are not compelled to hammer home any Christian message, nor even mention religion as such. It is enough to report accurately on a human condition, to write thoroughly and to trust that an engaged reader will see some thread of the mystery of cross and resurrection in the report, if she or he is so disposed. Puff and fluff, sugar and cinnamon, banal pleasantries and hallow compliments, or noble intentions and laying it on thick—all undermine what their purveyors presumably think they are accomplishing.  

Of course, cultural comment like in this column makes generalities. There are complexities and exceptions. But the flood of sweetness in our culture, albeit sincere, is ruining our public life.

Why does sentiment appear where it doesn’t belong? Why is it a common default position? What are its side effects? What can be done? To be continued…

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


   When we were in Guatemala last spring we visited a group called NISQUA a U.S. NGO that accompanies court witnesses as international protectors from assassination.  I asked the NISQUA representative about the cause of violence and repression in Guatemala expecting she would say – capitalism.  No – without hesitation she said – RACISM!   Racism can pervert any system or political – economic structure.  Racism in the U.S. is different than in other countries in the Americas, but at its core it is the same.  It is the refusal to grant the status brothers and sisters to certain people because of color and/or social class. The Jewish Bible calls them the ‘anawim.’  Today it’s the low wage workers – the unemployed – the indigenous – immigrants and African Americans shot and killed by police and neighborhood lawlessness.

   A popular Christmas tale is the story of the Three Kings found in the Gospel of Matthew. (Mt. C. 2)    The author of Matthew attempts to adjust the Jewish messiah myth and refer it to Jesus.  Jesus is presented as a special child born in poverty but a king destined to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.  He will be called out of Egypt as stated in Jewish Scripture.   The homilist at our San Francisco parish, before a packed church of over500 of the faithful, noted that the story is metaphorical but pointed to the truth of the story which is a matter of Faith.  The kingdom of non violent peace is here for all but only insofar as we are people of good will.  That means people of Faith committed to bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven – not just Christians but all people for all people.  Our homilist exuded the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’

    But Matthew’s story relates that King Herod slaughtered all the children in Bethlehem under two years old to protect his position in the Roman Imperium which promises the ‘Pax Romana’ to the world but through violence.  We’ve moved to Roman Imperial horror.  It was easily dismissed by our San Francisco homilist with a short comment – then, after all it is just a story.  But what does it remember?  What does it point to?

   If you relate the gospel story to the current news cycle, the slaughter of innocent children is present in full force especially in Milwaukee but also in San Francisco.  The sound of Rachel crying is clear once again.

“Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In R’ama there was a voice heard in lamentation and weeping and great mourning.  Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted for they were no more.” (Mt. C. v. 17-18)

    We have to ask why and what are we going to do about it?  Faith includes imagination and commitment.  A beginning would be an all inclusive discussion by Faith communities about racism with a goal of stopping the political, economic and military violence against God’s chosen ones – the ‘anawim.’  The joy of the Gospel is in co-creating the Kingdom of Heaven despite the opposition of the seeming ever present Imperium.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Working Catholic: Workers’ Participation by Bill Droel

Catholicism opposes collectivist or state-controlled economic approaches. At the same time it opposes an unregulated market and rejects magical economics, as implied in metaphors like rising tide, invisible hand and trickle down. Throughout the industrial era and now in our post-industrial times, Catholicism draws upon its principles of participation and subsidiarity to advocate for an occupational order or solidarism. This concept is known in France as corporatism, in Belgium it is called delegates for personnel or in Germany it is co-determinism or works councils. In the United States Catholicism translated solidarism as industry council plan. (When I say Catholicism, I mean that Catholic doctrine includes economic principles. That doctrine is derived from Scripture, natural law and experience and it is available to all people of good will. However, I admit that few Catholics have ever heard about their social doctrine.)

Tom Geoghegan argues for an occupational order in his latest book, Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). He draws upon the successful German economy and thus uses their terms: co-determined boards and works councils. In a previous book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? (The New Press, 2010), Geoghegan mentions the Catholic influence on the German model; though in this latest book he leaves out that connection.

Members of a company’s works council are elected from among shareholders and employees. Shareholders always are in the majority and a shareholder is always the chair. In Europe the employee members belong to a union, but this union factor is not essential to the solidarism model. A works council is more than an employee suggestion committee; it has some authority. The council is not involved in setting wages, pensions, health benefits and the like. It concentrates on day-to-day operations like scheduling, departmental flow and improvements to the production process or to delivery of services. The result is a more motivated workforce with lower levels of discontent. Of course, not every works council is perfect. However, the standard model of company directors detached from the actual work space is, as the economic collapse of 2008 amply taught us, flawed in practice and, says Catholicism, flawed in theory.

Geoghegan is not observing our scene from a reclining chair. He can be seen every day in a Chicago courtroom, a neighborhood luncheonette, a train station, a union hall, a community theater or a church basement. Geoghegan is aligned with many causes and charities around our city. His book seeks something that relieves government of some regulatory impulses yet at the same time something that puts brake shoes on ragged laissez faire capitalism. It comes wrapped with several provocative ideas:

§  That under proper conditions unions might be better off not representing everyone in a workplace.
§  That a college degree may not be the ideal for most young adults if our economy remains as it is.
§  That nurses are uniquely poised to make our economy more inclusive.
§  That credit card consumption cannot possibly lift our economy absent a prevailing wage for all families.
§  That the Chicago Teachers Union is a positive influence (a topic of controversy around my city).
§  That clumps of fast food workers and others who walk off the job for a short time put meaningful pressure on the Democratic Party and, to a degree, the Republican Party to address family life issues.

Geoghegan loves our country and its legal, economic, political and educational systems. His ideas are the subject for a subsequent Working Catholic column.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.