Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Working Catholic: Theology of Work by Bill Droel

It was in post-World War II Poland that a positive turn occurred in the theology of work.

For centuries Catholicism, with some important exceptions, gave pride of place to worldly abandonment, including a degree of disdain for normal work. In the prevailing Catholic understanding a saint-worthy spirituality meant intense contemplation which required a retreat from ordinary workaday obligations. This attitude was derived in part from Hellenistic and Gnostic influences. It was also partially a byproduct of too close an association between the church’s princes and royalty. 

 Poland was in ruins following World War II—industries destroyed, cities demolished. During six years of war, over six million people died. Poland, with a long history of aristocracy, was now receptive to a Marxist ideology of work. In this context Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981) wrote a remarkable retreat manual, Duch Pracy Ludzkiej (The Spirit of People’s Work). This relatively unknown book was translated into English in 1960 and published in Dublin, simply titled Work. In 1995 a New Hampshire publisher released it as All You Who Labor and also as Working Your Way into Heaven. This year it appears again in the United States by way of EWTN Publishing in Alabama, titled Sanctify Your Daily Life.

In recent months several U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a program or campaign to revitalize the church in their area. These efforts focus on under-utilized buildings, a relative shortage of clergy, low participation of young adults in liturgy and insufficient funds to maintain important ministries, especially Catholic grammar schools. Wyszynski approaches the revitalization project differently. Instead of starting with the church’s own internal difficulties, he mulls over the rebuilding society by way of a Christian vision of work. (As an aside: The U.S. publishers of Wyszynski’s book reflect our country’s individualistic self-help culture with titles and subtitles like Your Way and Your Life. The original thrust is more about improving society or perhaps the synergy between social renewal and virtuous Christians.)

 To develop his theme Wyszynski must first heave aside a common but mistaken reading of Genesis that says work is a punishment for original sin. “Even before the fall,” he writes, “people had to work, for they had to dress paradise. Work is therefore the duty of people from the first day of life. It is not the result of original sin; it is not a punishment for disobedience.”

Work is participation in God’s ongoing creation. God’s command in Genesis to “fill the earth and subdue it,” is a call to mobilization, Wyszynski writes. “When God announced the summons He saw the earth as it would become through work. God saw [all of us] who would go through the world in submissive service to Him, adding ever more perfection wrought by His power in work, to what God had made.” 

And then Wyszynski gives brilliant insight into a new theology of work. The perfection of things through work perfects the person doing the work, he details. Embedded in the very process of work itself is a prior plan. Workers can find a set of virtues in the work process, varying with the type of work. Thus good work requires that we follow and respect work’s own strict and binding rules. It takes the practice of various virtues to “bring our will into conformity with the laws and techniques of work,” Wyszynski concludes. All work has an interior spiritual aspect.

Wyszynski’s book includes meditations on several work virtues. Work well-done perfects society and each worker. Good intentions or exquisite management theories do not somehow spiritualize shoddy work, much less exploitation.  

In summary: Work serves as a mirror to our true self and to the real character of society. “Without external work, we could not know ourselves fully,” says Wyszynski. In our work “we discover the good and evil in ourselves” and in itself work is a spirituality.

U.S. Catholicism has challenges. Absent a thorough theology of work that relates to real jobs, to actual family life and to neighborhood sidewalks there will be insufficient attraction between Catholicism and young adults. Repositioning parishes and adopting new pastoral language is not enough. A spirituality of work that is accompanied by methods for social improvement has a chance of displacing our culture’s vacuous sloganeering, its impersonal work environments and its mistreatment of so-called economic losers. Is anyone thinking about a U.S. Catholic theology for work? Does anyone have a pastoral program for young workers?

Droel is the editor of Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5). It continues this consideration of Poland’s contribution to work theology.

Saturday, May 26, 2018


   In 1945 Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged for participating in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.  Bonhoeffer went to the gallows as his final act of Faith for Justice in a world engulfed by evil.

   Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Faith led him to believe in the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth – day laborer - crucified by the Romans and later symbolized as the Christ of the second coming.    
   This belief did not restrict his Faith in salvation but expanded it to salvation and justice for all.  He wrote  poetry from the German jail:  

God goes to every man when sore bestead,                                        Feeds body and spirit with his bread;                                                        For Christians, pagans alike he hangs dead,                                             And both alike forgiving. (Prayers, p. 26)

   Belief in the Christ also did not relieve Lutheran Pastor Bonhoeffer, member of an aristocratic German family, of connection with the community or from responsibility.  He wrote:  

…a human being necessarily lives in encounter with other human beings and this encounter entails being charged, in ever so many ways, with responsibility for the other human being. (Ethics, p. 220)

   Where did Bonhoeffer find hope?  Founder of Liberation Theology Gustavo Gutierrez in his book - The Power of the Poor in History  

(p. 231) quotes the Lutheran Pastor:

It is an experience of in comparable value to have learned to see the great events of history of the world from beneath: from the viewpoint of the useless, the suspect, the abused, the powerless, the oppressed, the despised – in a word, from the viewpoint of those who suffer.” 

Before the war and after receiving his doctorate in Theology, Bonhoeffer spent time at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  The liberal theology of Barth, Tillich and Bultman were in vogue, but the modern bourgeois understanding of Faith did not impress Doctor Bonhoeffer.  

   At the suggestion of a colleague Bonhoeffer attended the Abyssinian  Baptist  Church in Harlem.  The preaching, and the music nourished his Faith.  Can you hear the choir?   

When Israel was in Egypt land – oppressed so hard they could not stand – Let my people go.                                                                                                   Go down Moses – way down to Egypt land – tell old Pharaoh                           Let my people go.

Pastor Bonhoeffer recognized his responsibility to return to Germany and join the resistance against Hitler.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, 2005, Augsburg Fortress

Bonhoeffer,  Prayers from Prison, 1978, Fortress Press
Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History, 1983, Orbis Books          

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Working Catholic: Public Friendship by Bill Droel

     Let’s say there is a society in which everyone honors contracts—formal ones and implied promises. Managers and their employees abide by their collective bargaining agreement. Car dealers transparently present their vehicles; customers pay their loans. Real estate agents advertise “open housing” and then do not discriminate. Tax returns contain accurate figures. Civil courts are the rarity. Yet, says Pope Pius XI (1857-1939), such a utopia may disguise alienation. All the rules can be followed, but that society can lack friendship or alternately what Catholic social thought calls public charity, neighborly love or solidarity. “Justice alone,” Pius XI writes, “cannot bring about a union of hearts and minds.”

The collapse of great societies is about the decay of relationships, writes Robert Hall in This Land of Strangers (Greenleaf Books, 2012). All of our major issues, he details, are really about weak relationships—homelessness, struggling families, addiction treatment, misuse of the internet and even economic downturns. Even our daily commerce suffers under a paucity of open relationships.

The big concept in business today is “marketing the brand.” A company may have several flavors or models or instruments or services. According to the brand theory, customers, employees and stockholders will stay connected to a successfully marketed brand, no matter the specific product or service. Yet, what is actually happening? There is high employee turnover and “an ocean of employee distrust” in many sectors, Hall writes. Managers too distrust the corporate executives while those executives lose touch with the original aspirations of the company. Stockholders are fixated on quarterly returns, not on a company’s future. Customers are loyal until a competitor runs a commercial that promises the next flavor, model, service or instrument. And all the while Wells Fargo spends lots of money on their “Rebuilding Your Trust” campaign.

Society goes along treating “relationships as if they were optional,” Hall continues, even though plenty of research documents the benefits of relationships. Those with many friends and colleagues are “prospering emotionally, socially, academically and economically.” Those who have few friends and colleagues are also those who lack confidence and resiliency, who fall behind in school, and whose finances are sliding backward. What holds for individuals and families also holds for companies and non-profits. Those with only tentative ties to a small number of stakeholders have or soon will have a grim financial picture.

Has alienation run its course? Will relationships be a priority in the days ahead? According to Hall, “the small group is the unit for transformation.” Neighbors or like-minded people unite around a local concern. They get to trust one another and, over time, expand their social capital to include other concerns and other small groups. Lots of encouraging energy comes about as people connect with other members of society in new and exciting ways.

There’s the Me Too movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s fresh energy in the movement for responsible gun ownership. Fresh relationships are building around local electoral campaigns. The durability and effectiveness of these movements and of other civic endeavors, however, depends on what is occurs between people, one-to-another. Does it begin and end on the internet or is there genuine face-to-face exchange? Hash tag groups and flash mob events do not in themselves contribute to a relational society. In fact if cyber-connections are overdone, there is risk of greater isolation.

Strong cultural forces make genuine relationships seem superfluous. Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017) calls those forces liquid modernity. It favors episodic and temporary attachment and fluid identity. The culture suggests that strong attachments are potential hindrances. The fickleness goes further. Views of reason and good sense change with conditions, Bauman writes. There is little assurance that what an individual holds to be true at sunset will be what that individual prefers tomorrow. Modern culture puts too much emphasis on the individual, who is quickly overwhelmed with choices in the “realm of self-fulfillment and calculation of risks,” Bauman continues. In a liquid culture, strangers and weak ties are the substitutes for “the feared fluidity of the world.”

Movements, churches, unions, civic entities and more continue to use too many shortcuts. They resort to the strategy of “better presence on the web” and spend far too much time and energy on impersonal marketing, on the color of the brochures, the advisability of TV or radio promotions and the like. They attempt to catch people on the fly–people who might attend a grand opening or a rally, people who are fond of clicking like or don’t friend.

Effective solidarity or neighborliness requires the opposite. Public friendship is grounded in virtues, beginning with amicability. It treasures finesse, attention, subtlety, forbearance and perseverance. A person’s practice of civic friendship proceeds with calculated vulnerability in a humble and sincere manner. Public virtues are nourished in small groups, but not those given to mixing-up, shifting, exiting and entering, randomly meeting, starting late, jumping around, endlessly in crisis over collective identity and disbanding over and over.

Please send along your experience with small groups to the address below. Droel’s booklet, Public Friendship, is distributed by National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

Thursday, May 3, 2018


Milwaukee, May 5th 1886, Bay View Massacre

     Remember the 5th of May,

Governor Rusk and his nefarious day;

   “Shoot at will,” he said.

Soon nine workers and a boy were dead.

   Mark the calendar spot

 It’s a tragedy not to be forgot.

Puebla, Mexico  May 5th 1862

Remember the 5th of May,

   For the people a glorious day.

Mark the calendar spot,

  The victory of Puebla should not be forgot.

Waukesha, Wisconsin  May 1st 2018

Imam Noman Hassan, Masjid Al-Noor, ISM West, Brookfield, WI:

“We will build sanctuary communities in every county in Wisconsin to reject efforts to take on an immigration role and instead promote policies that foster welcoming communities.   We will organize statewide support to restore driver licenses for immigrants and U.S. Citizens who are also disenfranchised and criminalized.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2018



This year Voces de la Frontera’s May 1st March will be in Waukesha for a good reason.  Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson, in an attempt to expand his power, wants his department to function as an immigration agency.  In protest and to publicize this power grab, Voces will stage its May 1st March in Waukesha.

The International Labor Day Marches promote labor rights and are a memorial for those who died in the May 1st  uprisings in 1886 in Chicago and Milwaukee with workers demanding the eight-hour day.  In Chicago several were killed in what has been called a “Police Riot.”  The next day in Bay View, Wisconsin  several were killed by the National Guard in their attempt to break up a march to the Bay View Rolling Mills.  ‘Remembering the past’ is an important animating force in the present struggle.  The experience gained is important in plans for action and a coherent explanation of goals.

Remember the 5th of May - Governor Rusk’s nefarious day
Fire at will he said – and soon 9 workers and a boy were dead
Mark the calendar spot – it’s a tragedy not to be forgot.

   Waukesha has some important connections to the May 1st Labor Day celebrations. In 2006 Waukesha’s congressman, James Sensenbrenner promoted anti-immigrant legislation that caused community outrage.  The response in Wisconsin was the first May 1st March in many years.  It was the largest in the country with an estimated 70,000 participants.  Large May 1st Marches have been held in Milwaukee every year since.

   After the police rioting in Chicago labor leaders were arrested.  Albert Parsons escaped to Waukesha and stayed with the Daniel Hoan family.  (Daniel Hoan Jr. was to become the future mayor of Milwaukee.)  After a few weeks, Parsons turned himself in to face trial with his comrades.  Eight labor leaders were convicted of murder; seven were sentenced to death.  Lucy Parsons (ne: Lucy Eldine Gonzalez) said goodbye to her husband:
My husband, I give you to the cause of liberty. I now go forth to take your place.  I will herald abroad to the American people the foul murder ordered here today at the behest of monopoly.  I, too, expect to mount the scaffold.  I am ready.” LPAR p. 104

Lucy Parsons was evicted from her apartment in Chicago so she left her son with the Hoan family in Waukesha and her daughter with other friends while she traveled to several cities on a speaking tour.  

Ms. Parsons traveled the country advocating workers rights until her death in 1942.  She did talk about her husband’s unfair trial and hanging but she emphasized the rights of working people and pointed to the disgrace of hunger and unemployment. The basis for her talks was the Pittsburg Manifesto of the International Working Peoples Association written by a group including her husband Albert Parsons.  The Manifesto demanded equality of the sexes and:

Establishment of a free society based on cooperative organization of production. LPAR p. 44

Immigrant workers struggling for Justice continues with the International Labor Day parade - May 1st,  2018, 10:00 a.m. starting in Cutler Park in the city of Waukesha, 321 Wisconsin Avenue.


Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery, Eric Metaxas

The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, ed. Phillip S. Foner AHM

Black against Empire, Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Eric Metaxas

The End of Work, Jeremy Rifkin

Goddess of Anarchy, (Lucy  Parsons) Jacqueline Jones

Laborem Exercens,  John Paul II

The Labor Movement in Wisconsin, Robert W. Ozzane

Labor’s Untold Story, Richard O. Boyer, Herbert M. Morais LUS

Lucy Parsons = American Revolutionarty, Carolyn Ashbaugh LPAR p.104

Martin Luther,  Eric Metaxas ML

The Making of Milwaukee, John Gurda  MM

May Day – A Short History of the International Workers Holiday, Phillip S. Forner S. Forner MD

Movie: The Long Shadow, Frances Causey, film maker and investigative reporter

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Working Catholic: Right to Work by Bill Droel

      The pastoral teaching of Catholic bishops in our country has “consistently supported the right of workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining,” wrote Anthony Picarello Jr. to the Supreme Court this past January. Picarello is the bishops’ general counsel in Washington, D.C.

Bishop John Carroll (1735-1815) became the first U.S. Catholic bishop in 1789, following a stateside election. (That is another story.) From that day until now, no U.S. bishop has ever compromised our Catholic doctrine by supporting a so-called right to work measure — neither for public sector nor private sector workers. Quite the opposite to expressing support, explains Picarello, bishops have “been very inimical to right to work laws.”

Why does Catholic doctrine support the right of workers to organize and specifically why does it oppose right to work measures? Because those measures, Picarello continues, represent a “general concept of freedom that [is] too absolute and extreme.”

Put it this way: A Catholic cannot be a libertarian. Freedom is precious. In Catholicism freedom means freedom to exchange views with others, freedom to associate with others, freedom to worship with others without coercion, freedom to participate in electoral campaigns, freedom to engage with lobby organizations, freedom to join block clubs, hobby clubs, community organizations, professional associations and, to our topic, labor unions. In libertarian terms—an awful philosophy that is infecting our beautiful society—freedom means freedom from; it means doing one’s thing, freedom from an encumbered lifestyle, freedom from obligations in order to be left alone, freedom from social responsibility except as an individual option but not letting society hinder one’s acquisition or accumulation of money or pleasure. The libertarian picture results in rugged individuals on one end and big companies and/or big government on the other end. The Catholic picture has a multiplicity of people’s groups in between those extremes.

Open shops at a union company or right to work measures undermine solidarity, threaten social cohesion and ultimately and surely are unhealthy— physically and spiritually—for the person. (Doctrine does not change merely because many U.S. Catholics, including those who identify as libertarians, do not always adhere to one or another matter of Catholic doctrine.

The Catholic doctrine on labor relations, derived from our dogma of the Trinity and from Scripture’s revelation about God’s plan for work, has 12 or 20 corollaries, but here are its main points:

1.) Workers decide for or against a union with no paternal or maternal interference from managers. Workers likewise can later decertify a union that displeases them. No specific company is obliged under Catholicism to have a union nor does our doctrine endorse or oppose any necessary fit between a particular company and a particular union. The workers decide.

2.) People flourish best–again physically and spiritually—in a vibrant civil society, not under oppressive government (totalitarianism) and not in atomistic arrangements (libertarianism). A vibrant civil society must have some labor unions with honest collective bargaining.

Picarello referenced three Chicagoans in his written testimony to the Supreme Court: Cardinal Blasé Cupich, our current archbishop, Bishop Bernard Sheil (1888-1969), a former auxiliary, and Msgr. George Higgins (1916-2002), a long-serving advisor to Church officials and union leaders.

This column gives Higgins the last word, by way of a quotation from Msgr. John A. Ryan (1869-1945) of St. Paul. Higgins thought this early 1930s quote well summarized the matter:

   “Effective labor unions are still by far the most powerful force in society for the protection of laborer’s rights and the improvement of [their] condition. No amount of employer benevolence, no diffusion of a sympathetic attitude on the part of the public, no piece of beneficial legislation, can adequately supply for the lack of organization among workers themselves.”

Droel’s publications on labor doctrine include Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions plus Pope John Paul II’s Gospel of Work, available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8.50 prepaid for both).

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Working Catholic: Public Housing by Bill Droel

St. Frances Cabrini, MSC (1850-1917), the first U.S. citizen to be canonized, is the patron of immigrants. William Green (1873-1952) was for 28 years president of American Federation of Labor (before the merger with CIO). A notorious public housing project in Chicago was named for these two.

             Ben Austen takes us inside that housing project in High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing (Harper Collins, 2018). The project started in 1943 with several row houses in an area once called Lower North Side, and previously called Little Italy. In 1958 the high-rises appeared; first 15, then eight more, then others—three were 19 stories, and then others up to 23 stories. Eventually the project came down; demolition completed in 2011.

Originally, Cabrini-Green, like other public housing, was meant to temporarily assist working families; to provide a way station between unemployment and upward mobility. It was also an effort to address slum conditions in the area and to create jobs in construction and administration. Cabrini-Green, a case study in unintended consequences of social policy, failed all three of its original goals.

Austen intersperses the chronology with the stories of select residents. He follows Dolores Wilson, a longtime resident who remains attached to her family and neighbors. There is Kelvin Cannon who, despite potential, soon affiliates with a gang and is convicted of crime. Willie J.R. Fleming likewise shows potential; moves away from Cabrini-Green; yet returns to its danger. He eventually displays organizing creativity, but neither he nor his followers have enough sustaining discipline and power. Annie Ricks comes to Cabrini-Green following a fire in her home. She makes a stand there for the sake of her eight children.

Austen refrains from moralizing. He is also light on analysis; certainly implying the wrongness of some decisions, but not targeting villains. Austen thus challenges readers to draw their own conclusions. His policy narrative is complex enough and his characters are complicated enough that fair-minded readers must put stereotypes aside. Yet, from the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968 followed by riots in Chicago and elsewhere, it is obvious that Austen’s book and Cabrini-Green itself will not have a “happily ever after” conclusion.

Are there any heroes in Austen’s book? No super-heroes. But some Cabrini-Green residents manage as best they can, by participating in improvement efforts and especially by keeping their children in school and in some cases finding better opportunity for their families. High-Risers also mentions “friends of Cabrini-Green,” who exhibit constancy in assisting families and young adults there. For example, Brother Bill Tomes (and his handful of disciples) provide a small measure of good example to young people. Marion Stamps, who once lived in Cabrini-Green, is a savvy advocate. She is such a fixture that she can with credibility call-out gang members and politicians alike. The leaders at Holy Family Lutheran Church and at other churches never tire of providing services to residents and eventually, with LaSalle St. Church and others, develop alternative housing. Austen names two police officers who excel in dealing with young people at Cabrini-Green. Jesse White, who is still Illinois Secretary of State, assists many Cabrini-Green residents over the years. His Tumblers group, designed for Cabrini-Green youngsters, still performs at many parades and other events.

Austen includes Ed Marciniak (1918-2004) in his bibliography. Marciniak was involved in race relations and with public housing for decades. As early as 1951 he warned the housing authority not to build high-rises in the Lower North Side/Cabrini-Green area. Over the years Marciniak started a tutoring program for Cabrini-Green students, raised money for scholarships there and served on numerous committees and a few federal judicial panels dealing with Cabrini-Green.                                                                                                          

For the last 20 years of Marciniak’s life, I was honored to be his assistant. We spent many hours walking the rim of Chicago’s Loop, often including the area in and around Cabrini-Green. We talked with lots of people—sometimes by appointment, sometimes informally. Here, out of a list of about 20 conclusions, are three in abbreviated form.

1.) The government does a reasonably good job delivering assistance that is not means-tested, specifically Social Security and Medicare. In all other programs the delivery of social services needs to be mediated by smaller, closer institutions. Housing assistance requires partnerships of non-profit entities like churches and community development corporations along with government, plus community-minded, for-profit entrepreneurs, construction companies and management teams. A sufficient number of local institutions need to relate to those in assisted housing—good schools, stores, social service, youth agencies and more.

2.) There has to be a certain quantity of well-managed assisted housing in a target area so that families are not dumped into an otherwise downward scene. At the same time there has to be a limit on assisted housing units in a target area so that the new residents do not inundate the area with poverty. Again, the target area has to have as many local institutions as possible.

3.) Poverty, we also concluded, is not simply about income. An older type of poverty assumed upwardly mobility was possible because a sufficient number of factory jobs in assembly or manufacturing were available. That is no longer the case, as Austen repeatedly mentions. The new poverty includes lack of useful social connections, a lack of proficiency in the requirements of the knowledge-sectors, a loss of marriage and family life as a buffer in one’s daily struggle and more. To impose the expectations of the old immigrant story onto the new urban (and more recently suburban) poverty only leads to blaming people when supposed remedies fail. On the other hand, urban pessimists are wrong to presume that the new poverty is an unbeatable inter-generational sentence and that therefore “those people” deserve to fend for themselves without any assistance.

Marciniak’s book on Cabrini-Green is Reclaiming the Inner City (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5.50). Droel edits NCL’s print newsletter on faith and work.