Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Emperor St.Constantine and his mother, St.Helen.
"In This Sign You Will Conquer"

   Heraclitus said that you can’t step into the same river twice – change is constant.

  Why the concern about the changes in the identity of the Roman Catholic Church?

The Catholic Church is constantly and dramatically changing. This has happened throughout its history and the changes have been controversial.  The current controversy is how the church’s members identify and function as Catholics.

    Here are some examples of this constant and dramatic change.  Christianity began as a Jewish sect in resistance to Roman Imperialism - then became an anti-Jewish religion that supported imperialism.  Roman Christianity appeared with the takeover by the Emperor Constantine and changed from monotheism to monotheism that tries to explain why three gods are really one God.  (One of the gods was human as well as divine.) Violence under imperialism is and was considered a legitimate path to peace. The Reformation of the 16th century challenged the theology of belief. The interpretation of basic teaching of Christianity – the kerygma -  has always been in flux, in constant change.

    N.C.R. writer Sean Winter looks at the 1967 Land o’Lakes convention of Catholic Universities as a cause of the current Roman Catholic identity crisis. (“Catholic Identity lost?” N.C.R. Nov. 17 -30, 2017)  The convention attempted to separate Roman Catholic Universities from Vatican control thus freeing theologians to discuss the topic of evolution, and with time, the morality of birth control, abortion, women’s rights including the right to ordination, and LGBTQ rights.    

   Sean Winter quotes the Vatican II document Guadium et Spes:

If by the authority of earthly affairs is meant the gradual discovery, exploitation and ordering of laws and values of matter and society; then the demand for autonomy is perfectly in order:  it is at once the claim of modern man and the desire of the creator.

   In other words it is reasonable not to condemn what you don’t understand.  The Vatican responded in 1990 with an apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, to regain control of the universities.  Because of pressure from Milwaukee’s Archbishop, Jerome Listecki, Marquette University was not allowed to hire a gay woman as Dean of the school of Liberal Arts.  

   But the core of the present identity controversy is Vatican II, 1962 – 65.

   The cold war threatened world annihilation.  Pope John XXIII responded by calling for an ecumenical council - a world council.  Peace through justice was the theme.  The opening message of the Council was released on October 20th 1962, two days before the Cuban missile crisis.  The statement was addressed to all humanity.  It emphasized the urgency of peace through social justice. John XXIII issued two relevant encyclicals - one on Social Justice, Mater et Magistra 1961, and one on Peace – Pacem in Terris 1963.

    Vatican II recognized the Laity as a crucial force in the church. Dialogue was prioritized among various Christian denominations, non – Christians, and atheists (read communists) to present a unified front to promote peace.  But almost immediately in 1968 the windows were shut, mold formed, and the unreasonable was once again declared as reasonable.  For example, birth control validated as moral by a papal commission of the Laity was pronounced as immoral by Paul VI with his encyclical Humanae Vitae. Here is where we find the core of the changes that is causing the identity crisis for Catholics.  The Laity is in disagreement with the official church yet the Laity is said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit in the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
   Within the Laity and the hierarchy there are disagreements each with a preferential dogma supported as they interpret scripture and tradition.  

   Because of the current U.S. administration, the threat of nuclear war is again on the horizon, and the anxiety of the 50’s has returned.  Pope Francis has demanded the elimination of nuclear weapons.  Teaching the early Christian Gospel of Peace through justice and non–violence, as opposed to the Roman Imperial Gospel of Peace through military victory, (NIKA) is crucial.  The Gospel of Peace is a worthwhile identity mark for the faith community and the Catholic Church. A strain of Catholic theology has emphasized realism and reason. Such theology as a Catholic identity could help refine and explain the ancient kerygma of resistance and non-violence as a path to peace.  

Prince of Peace, born in a stable

   The Christmas story and the angel’s revelation to the shepherds, “fear not … peace to those of good will,” is not historical, simply a cherished myth, but it is relevant today and points to truth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Working Catholic: Christmas So Soon?

       The grocery store was more congested than usual this morning because Christmas has taken over two aisles—miniature lights, extension cords, wreaths, decorative boxes, greeting cards and wrapping paper. Plus there are several gift displays at the front and back of several aisles—trays of chestnuts/hazelnuts/pecans and holiday sausage plus winter ale, which I bought for Thanksgiving and which I’ll get more of later. My regular grocery cashier, who is also a floor manager, mentioned that she spent her first hour in a Christmas meeting: How to adequately staff for these next weeks, how many turkeys to order, etc. I had to also stop quickly at the drug store where the same items are prominent. (Yes, my drug store sells festive beer.) There is a radio station in Chicago that from November 3rd exclusively plays Christmas music until 11:59 P.M. on Christmas Eve.

Who started all this? Who invented Christmas?

One correct answer is Our Blessed Mother Mary. Another answer might be St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who is credited with inventing, or at least popularizing, the Christmas Pageant. But Christmas in the sense of shopping, office parties, mounds of presents and the like is less than 175-years old.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was into a major writer’s block in 1843. His last three stories were duds and he was in debt. Walking the streets of Manchester that fall, Dickens thought about children and Christmas. Back home in London he wrote A Christmas Carol in a fury. The publisher didn’t like it. Dickens decided to pay for the publishing, thus increasing his debt. Of course, it took off and many editions and adaptations followed. The 1992 Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite.

Dickens didn’t exactly invent Christmas. But Dickens “played a major role in transforming a celebration dating back to pre-Christian times, revitalizing forgotten customs and introducing new ones that now define the holiday,” writes Les Standiford in The Man Who Invented Christmas (Crown, 2011). Dickens “complimented the glorification of the nativity of Christ with a specific set of practices derived from Christ’s example: charity and compassion in the form of educational opportunity, humane working conditions and a decent life for all.” Dickens’ influence links “the birth of a holy savior into a human family to the glorification and defense of the family unit itself.”

Obviously, the themes of Christmas associated with the original Bethlehem setting, with St. Francis’ pageant and with A Christmas Carol can be lost in the frenzy of shopping. It is silly, however, for Christians to wage a culture war on behalf of our holy season. For example, no one needs the permission of President Donald Trump to greet anyone in friendship by saying “Merry Christmas.” Instead of grousing about commercialism, why not use the weeks of Advent to implement Christmas themes in the neighborhood, in the workplace and in one’s family? In particular, why not—as many people already do—use these days to fight poverty, even with small gestures? Pope Francis declares November 19, 2017 as World Day for the Poor. Each of us can make an anti-poverty resolution on that day, and evaluate our effort on January 6, 2018, the Epiphany.

For a booster shot of the Christmas theme, read again A Christmas Carol. There is a decorative edition with an introduction from pastoral theologian John Shea available at Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; $14.95)

Droel edits a newsletter on faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)
by Bill Droel for Catholic Labor Network (www.catholiclabor.org)

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017


An important event on our School of Americas schedule this year was a memorial service for Fr. Jerry Zawada, O.F.M.  Jerry was the strongest advocate for peace I ever met.  He said that he lost count of the number of times he was arrested for peace protests after the 150th time.  I was thinking of Jerry as we protested at the border wall in Nogales, AZ - Mexico and participated in workshops that raised our political and faith consciousness.


   Nogales is now the site of the demonstration to close the S.O.A.  The reason for the change from Fort Benning is:

 …”to join alongside allied groups to denounce militarized U.S. foreign policy as a principal root cause of migration, as well as the devastating impact U.S. security and immigration policy has on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant families, across all borders.” (S.O.A. program, P.1)

   Just before we left for Nogales I received an alumni fundraiser P.R. magazine from the Dominican high school I attended in Oak Park, Illinois.  I was shocked.  The glossy red, white and blue cover featured photos of Fenwick H.S graduates who had served in the military over the years in the many wars since the school’s founding in 1929.  A headline on the cover proudly stated – “Fighting Friars Defend Our Fenwick Shield and The American Flag.”   What!   War is not a high school football game; war is hell itself.  A lamentation for the dead, wounded – those with P.T.S.D. would be appropriate not a glorification of mechanized slaughter.  Veterans marched for peace in Nogales.

    Our pilgrimage to the wall in Nogales included a stop in Tucson to visit a “streamline court” where immigrants are deported in bunches ignoring “due process” and appeal for asylum.  We also protested at a privatized detention center for immigrants located in the desert near Tucson.

  From the hill overlooking the U.S. Nogales and the Mexican Nogales you could see the valley, the river and a steel polled wall separating the communities of similar people and a common landscape.  Psalm 82 came to mind.  “Rise God, dispense justice throughout the world, since no nation is excluded from your ownership.”

  Besides praying and protesting at the wall we attended workshops.  One of them was about working with Trump’s restructuring of NAFTA.  In my opinion, moving from neo-liberalism to neo-mercantilism still maintains workers in slave-like conditions.  Workers on both sides of the wall must be guaranteed the right to organize unions and to be protected by enforceable laws.    

   The protest to close the SOA has a long history.  The School of the Americas (S.O.A.) is in Fort Benning, GA.  It is where Latin American soldiers are trained to enforce, sometimes by torture, U.S. control in the Americas.  Friar Jim Barnett, O.P. was one of the early supporters of Maryknoll Roy Bourgeois, the founder and leader of the protests for 27 years.    

   From Nogales we headed again to Tucson for a memorial service for Franciscan Jerry Zawada who died in Milwaukee last summer.  Fr. Jerry served three six-month prison sentences for protesting at S.O.A. demonstrations in Fr. Benning, Georgia.  He spent two months in prison for protesting torture training at Fort Huachuca near Nogales.

   When Jerry was a pastor at St. Michael’s in Milwaukee he accompanied me to the picket line at the 1987 Patrick Cudahy strike.  We delivered donations of food to the strikers and marched in the picket line.  The program for Jerry’s memorial service had a union bug.

   Jerry Zawada preached the Gospel by his everyday life.  Peace through justice and non-violence was the basic Gospel teaching  of the early Christians as opposed to the Gospel of Rome - Pax Romana – peace through military might.  Thanks Jerry for reminding us.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Working Catholic: Health Care by Bill Droel

Larry Keogh, a fellow teacher at our community college, began each semester by telling his students: “Life is not fair.” He used various techniques and examples to make this point.  To master his course (social science) our students needed this maxim, Keogh believed. They likewise needed it to navigate their careers and their personal lives.
Atul Gawande is a surgeon in Boston and author of best-selling Being Mortal (Picador, 2014). He recently interviewed a couple in his Ohio hometown. The 47-year old wife had health problems since high school graduation. She had a medical discharge from the Army because of fatigue. Doctors were not getting at her precise ailment. They prescribed opioids for her joint pain. She became addicted and had to start withdrawal treatment. Then her liver began to fail. Finally, doctors at the famous Cleveland Clinic named the problem and found effective medication. This woman, Gawande reports, “got her life back.” Meanwhile her husband fell and was out of his job as an electrical technician for six months.
The couple has “amazing insurance,” says the wife. Maybe so, writes Gawande in The New Yorker (10/2/17). But their policy has “a $6,000 deductible and hefty co-pays and premiums.” During their setback, the annual health care costs to the family reached $15,000. They did not tell their extended family that they had to file for bankruptcy; which brings us to the curious part of this story.
  Bankruptcy is “a personal failure,” says the husband, even though medical costs caused the bankruptcy. “Everybody should contribute for the treatment they receive,” the husband says. His wife is ambivalent about the Affordable Care Act, but she does not think adequate health insurance is a human right. “I work really hard,” the wife says. “I deserve a little more than the guy who sits around.” For this couple, any articulation of a right is accompanied by unwanted government regulation and allocation. They are also convinced that many people cheat the government. They have anecdotal “evidence.”
This couple’s “feelings are widely shared,” says Gawande. Many people in our country are uncomfortable with human rights talk. They are adverse to government programs. And in a defining characteristic of their thinking, these people make a distinction between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.
Modernity teaches that hard work leads to success; failure is at least partially related to a personal defect. For example, John Calvin (1509-1564), one of modernity’s influential leaders, wrote in a typical Scripture commentary: “Adversity is a sign of God’s absence; prosperity of his presence.” This thinking is deep in our culture. TV talk show hosts, preachers, self-help writers, political candidates, technology entrepreneurs, sports stars, education gurus and more, all tell us that we are responsible for the outcome of our lives. Life is what we make of it, or don’t make of it. Some people might experience an unfortunate, temporary setback. They deserve help. But others create their own misery. They do not deserve help.
It is common in a bar, a barbershop, a neighborhood restaurant, a church club, a family gathering to hear in so many words: “Being charitable is important to me but I don’t owe assistance to anyone. Some people need a handout, but my taxes should not go into assistance programs.”
Is health insurance a corollary to the right to life? That is, something that is unalienable and not hinged to one’s social status or lifestyle. Or is health insurance a privilege, something that some people deserve more than others?  That is, health insurance is not unalienable and is only begrudgingly extended to the careless. Is life fair?

Droel’s booklet, What Is Social Justice?, is available from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Working Catholic: Shop Talk by Bill Droel

Lousy writing is intentional, insists George Orwell (1903-1950). Shoddy writers may not be aware of their bad intentions. But our writing “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish,” he continues. And “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

I was a teacher at a community college for nearly 33 years. I tried to help students be better writers by presenting Orwell’s virtues and vices of writing. I would then ask students to correct phrases and sentences contained in memos from administrators. I did not save those memos for a subsequent semester. Plenty of new ones regularly arrived in my faculty mailbox.

Here are some tips. Keep in mind that we write poorly because at some level we don’t want to communicate. Though also keep in mind that acquiring a discipline for clear writing improves our virtues and decreases our vices.

Be concise. It comes from self-confidence and its regular use will increase confidence. Conversely, verbosity is related to insecurity. One discipline for conciseness is to chop off all false limbs like to the effect that or in order that or to serve the purpose of.

Eliminate jargon. In a medical setting, for example, get rid of all the buzz words and most of the acronyms. Jargon is pretentious. Simple nouns and verbs are related to humility and the desire to connect.

Avoid clichés. The virtue here is originality or creativity. The vice is laziness.

There is a sports program on cable TV during which the hosts replay an interview with an athlete beside their “cliché counter.” The other evening a baseball player used 11 clichés within 65 seconds.

A terrific example comes from the 1980’s movie Bull Durham. “It's time to work on your interviews,” says veteran player Crash Davis to the younger Nuke LaLoosh. “You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: We gotta play it one day at a time."

Got to play... it's pretty boring,” says Nuke. “Course it's boring, that's the point. Write it down,” commands Davis.

One more tip for now: Use the active voice. This is the virtue of responsibility. The passive voice betrays a writer’s cowardice. For example, a workplace memo says: “It has been decided…” In other words, the memo writer wants to hide responsibility for the decision.

What pertains to writing is also true of speaking. Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth (Penguin, 2018), keeps a list of executive nonsense phrases. For example, his boss constantly used the phrase “You need to square the circle.” Haden did not alter his behavior because he didn’t “know what this is supposed to mean.” The boss, we can assume, didn’t either. Thus both the employee and the boss stuck to behavior as usual.

Also on Haden’s list: “We’re in the middle of a paradigm shift.” To Haden this means: We “have no idea what the hell is going on.” I recently participated in a church meeting where the chairperson said: “It is of paramount importance that a significant step in contextualized hermeneutic be taken.” I got up for more coffee.

“We need to focus on adding value,” is another on Haden’s list. This too means nothing. If anything at the company is not adding value, a deep question arises: Why the hell are we doing it?
One more example of nonsense: “It is what it is.” To Haden this means “I’m too lazy to make it different.”

The point here is not simply to bash administrators or the boss. All of us can improve writing and speaking. We thereby improve our character and—believe it or not—make our company, our college, our hospital, our community group and even our sports team more efficient. Responsible workers grow in an environment of clear writing and clear speaking. Good use of language reinforces clear thinking which informs efficient behavior.


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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


N.F.L. players are criticized as unpatriotic because they take the knee for the National Anthem; Trump spokesperson Sara Huckabee Sanders says it is inappropriate to question the veracity of a four star Marine general even though the video tape proves he lied.  Who is our God?

Psalm 82:  God stands in the divine assembly, among the gods she dispenses justice.
Let the weak and the orphan have justice, be fair to the wretched and destitute:

But ignorant and senseless the gods carry on blindly,
undermining the very basis of earthly society.  

The god of U.S. capitalism does not consider all to be equal.  This has been the divide in the U.S. since the beginning.  A civil war and Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg did not settle the issue.  For example, health care is not a 'right to life' issue, but a privilege of those who pay.  Football players taking a knee for the National Anthem could have promoted dialogue – Do Black lives matter?  The discussion quickly shifted to – Why do the players refuse to respect the god of capitalism that pays their salary?  

We honor the soldiers who died, but not the General who lied.  The 'General' represents the 'god of war.'  Our God is the God of justice and mercy.

Psalm 82:  Rise, God, dispense justice throughout the world, since no nation is excluded from your ownership.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Working Catholic: Theology of Work by Bill Droel

Death is the penalty we pay for Eve and Adam’s disobedience. How do we know? Because that is what our religion teacher said. Also, it is mentioned now and then in sermons. It is, however, fake news. Take a look at Genesis 3:4. Who explains things to Eve? It is the Prince of Lies who links mortality with Eden’s special fruit tree. In Genesis 2:18 God names a relationship between the fruit tree and death, but God never promises immortality to the residents of Paradise/Eden. This whole business about the fruit tree, by the way, is something Eve heard about second-hand.

 Well then, work is the penalty for Eve and Adam’s disobedience. Again, fake news. Look at Genesis 2:15. Adam is already working, even before the snake incident.  And after that episode, in Genesis 3:21, God too is working; this time as a clothier.

Admittedly there is a strong note in Catholic tradition that regards work as a penance for original sin or maybe a necessary evil or possibly a negative prod to make people pray and obey. During the Middle Ages some monks gave work a positive spin, but only as a backdrop to contemplation and other prayer. And Martin Luther (1483-1546) certainly knocked against the idea that ordinary work is beneath those so-called higher-ups, those round-the-clock spiritual types. Yet with some exceptions, work was not regarded as integral to the spiritual life, at least until recent times.

Not to overlook the French worker-priest movement and the writing of Fr. Marie Dominique Chenu, OP (1895-1990), it can be said that a decisive turn toward a Catholic theology of work took place in Poland. It was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981) who heaved aside erroneous interpretations of Genesis. “God set Adam and Eve down in paradise and commanded them to dress it and to keep it,” he pastorally writes in a 1946 book, Duch Pracy Ludzkiej. “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.”

In hundreds of talks and sermons, in poems and in his writings, most thoroughly in his 1981 On Human Work, Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) develops a spirituality of work which he considers normative; its basics “should be a heritage shared by all.” It is through work, John Paul II says, that we are co-creators with God, participating in God’s plan for a renewed world, a new Eden.  Further, says John Paul II, our work is participation in Christ’s on-going redemption. This elevation of human work is not heresy, unless you are willing to say that our faithfully departed pontiff is a fake saint.

Just when a theology of work enters the Catholic mainstream, some people are echoing the Prince of Lies: Work only brings death. Today, asserts James Livingston in No More Work (University of North Carolina Press, 2016), “most of our labor has…little, diminishing or no value in the labor market.” Work does not contribute to “self-respect, self-discovery and social mobility,” Livingston continues. So, knock off the romanticism, take off the rosy glasses, and put away any spiritual spin. “Work means economic impoverishment not moral possibility.”

Well yes, romanticism has to go. After their disobedience Adam and Eve were told that work is entangled with toil. The Pharaoh’s hardness of heart caused work to be miserable for his slaves. So too, disregard for the innate dignity of each worker pervades some companies today. Those formerly enslaved in Egypt wandered in a desert without meaning. They lost their solidarity; their connections. So too, many workers now ask: “Is God in our midst or not?”

Yet work, with all the blemishes of sin, is good and in itself capable of contributing to the spiritual life. Thanks to some well-grounded thinkers, a Catholic theology has been sketched. It remains for more theologians in dialogue with loads of workers (executives, janitors, lab technicians, civic leaders, retail clerks, food processors, homemakers, solar panel installers, computer scientists, engineers, students and more) to flesh out a full pastoral theology that pertains to what 99% of Catholics do most of the time. Without a theology for and by workers, Christianity—hate to say it—is more fake news.

Droel is the editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)