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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014



   It was a long time ago but I remember as a kid listening to passionate discussions about politics and labor at the family Christmas celebration.  The men would retire to the kitchen to do their part and wash the dishes after a sumptuous meal prepared by my grandmother assisted by dutiful aunts.  The discussion in the kitchen was loud and contentious but my grandmother would not allow vulgar language or racial epithets while we kids were within range.  They were union men, class-conscious, and well aware that union activity made sumptuous meals possible for the family.  We were Roman Catholic and my Dad, for one, knew of the social encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI that supported unions. 

   Perhaps this is why it is so painful for me to realize that support for unions by the hierarchy and by liberal Church faithful is minimal.  How is it possible that liberal Roman Catholic publications such as Commonweal and NCR do not use Union printers?  Contemporary Catholics are more educated than the men in my grandmother’s kitchen so they probably feel above the struggle for just wages and an effective voice for labor.   But I do sense some guilt in laity, priests, bishops who have risen to a status above their immigrant fore-bearers and who ignore the crucial importance of labor unions.

   There is an excuse – not valid – but it’s there.  It goes back to the disputes between Paul and Jesus’ brother, James the Just.  Those Catholics that do not support unions could claim, but not legitimately, a ‘Pauline Privilege’ as a balm for the conscience.  

   When Christianity was a fringe sect of Judaism, Paul after a vigorous discussions with James and Peter, was able to get an agreement that gentiles could become part of the community without adhering to Jewish dietary laws and circumcision.  But another dispute, over faith and works was unresolved and appears in the letters of the self-designated Apostle Paul and James, Jesus brother, not an Apostle but a leader in the Christian community of Jerusalem.  

   Paul and James had different backgrounds.  Paul was from the Roman city of Tarsus and was well educated.  He spoke Hebrew and Greek and has been categorized as a ‘Hellenistic Jew.”  James the Just, Jesus’ brother, was from impoverished Galilee, was probably illiterate and probably spoke only Aramaic. Paul was more of an idealist and James a pragmatist.  Their differing views provide a tension that lasts to this day in the Christian community.  Both are considered Christian martyrs.  Paul was killed in Rome and James in Jerusalem.

   Justification by faith was key to Paul’s theology.  He wrote in his Epistle to the Romans, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Romans, 5:1)  Balm for the conscience, don’t worry about labor unions. 

   In response James the Just wrote,

          If a brother of sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the    day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works is dead.’ (James, 2:15-17)

    Joanne and I host the family Christmas celebration this year.  I will make a point of saying that the just wages our parents fought for through the union movement made our ‘sumptuous’ dinner possible.  However, the ever growing income gap and the well financed anti union movement make it seem that history is in reverse.  But low income and immigrant workers are on the march.  Those of us who have benefited from the union movement need to join the battle once again.  Prayers to James the Just wouldn’t hurt.    

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Working Catholic: Service Projects by Bill Droel

Milwaukee's St. Ben's Community Meal, guest and volunteer.

This is a sign of the times: Thousands of Catholic young adults now participate in service projects and even in a year-long volunteer corps. These volunteer opportunities are not only offered through Catholic schools, religious orders and agencies. Other denominations and secular institutions also have service projects in which Catholics serve along with others. Volunteerism is hardly new in our country, though service requirements in school, mission trips in college and post-grad volunteer corps are recent developments—at least in their current scope. In the old days young adults more or less sought out volunteer opportunities on their own, for mixed motives: to change society, to learn from a charismatic leader, or (in my case anyway) to meet women. Today’s young adults, their program leaders and the service agencies are all to be applauded.

Michael Laskey of Camden, writing in U.S. Catholic (11/14), wonders though if “the default approach [to young adult volunteering] is out of whack.” He is all for service but, he asks, how many young adults really form a relationship with those they serve? Like most North Americans, Laskey admits to a “preference for the quick fix.” Volunteering often becomes a one-way effort to get the job done, Laskey finds. Do young adult volunteers, he concludes, ever “confront any suffering or ask difficult questions about the world” or about themselves? 

Celebrating 20 years of service
                             CapCorps Midwest Volunteers celebrating 20 tears of volunteerism

At one time Laskey’s own forays into volunteerism were premised on tackling “solutions to injustices.” He came to think that maybe it is better to “start with relationships.” His acquired approach, he says, seems more in harmony with Pope Francis’ themes of going to the peripheries to build “a culture of encounter.”

“Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world,” writes Pope Francis. “Often it is better simply to slow down, put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others.”

Francis intends to encourage people and so admits that some might feel “offended by my words.” Yet, he continues, the dominant culture likes “the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional.” Christian service, by contrast, should first be about encounter—not “simply an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of charity a la carte.” And second, it should “make an impact on society” by “working to eliminate structural causes of poverty.”

Marquette University's Service Learning Program
It is hard to create bridging relationships, says Paul Lichterman in Elusive Togetherness (Princeton University Press, 2005), his case study of nine volunteer and advocacy projects that explores the tension between lending-a-hand service and partnering.  The less fortunate can seem inscrutable, Lichterman admits. So the best-intentioned volunteers often proceed with partial understanding, unconcerned with the larger map of the culture and civic world around the needy. The volunteers complete the task, yet have loose connections to the less fortunate and even to one another—not only in direct service projects but in policy campaigns, like for example those concerned with a living wage or with eliminating trafficking.

Service Learning
Service learning project at Mount Mary University, Milwaukee

Young adult volunteering is a marvelous development. Its graduates are included in the powerful 2%. But their project leaders and the young adults might reflect on their experience with an eye toward the public arts of encounter: How will this experience carry over into my career and family life? Does this experience, perhaps in synergy with Catholic tradition, suggest any principles that can be used on my job or in my own culture? And did I develop an appropriate public friendship with my fellow volunteers and those we tried to serve?

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES, a newsletter about faith and work. Get INITIATIVES and Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ fuller thoughts on a culture of encounter, from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $10 pre-paid).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


   Vatican II provided hope and was successful in contributing towards the avoidance of a nuclear holocaust, however, war and rampant injustice continued at a rate more intense than any other time in history.  The Roman Catholic Church suffered divisions and the demarcation lines are difficult to trace.

   The NCR story begins in October of 1964.  The anniversary issue notes important stories of the NCR over the past 50 years. The editorial states:

If this booklet tells a history, it isn’t the history of a newspaper; it is the history of the American Catholic Church over the last 50 years.  

In my opinion there were some important omissions, but overall NCR does a good job.  U.S. American Roman Catholics are much better informed because of the NCR and are in a better position to advocate reform for justice and peace beyond Vatican II.  My criterion for comments on the anniversary issue is – the focus on social justice through non violence in reference to the alienated – including labor and the poor.  I will refer to the social encyclicals plus official church documents promulgated by bishop’s conferences which advocate structural change to serve all.

   The first edition of NCR (10-28-64) noted the promulgation of ‘Lumen Gentium,’ ‘the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.’   The document began with a discourse on the ‘people of God’ and that the Spirit dwelt in them, but also reaffirmed Vatican I and the ultimate authority of the Pope and hierarchy in communion with the Pope.  This was a bait and switch document which few recognized including the NCR.  Hierarchical exclusivity is an important cause of the pedophile scandal, but escapes analysis even in the NCR.

    During its fifty years NCR provided valuable information on the civil wars in Central America and the struggle for justice in all of Latin America.  Correspondents Gary MacEoin and Penny Lernoux deserve special credit and should get notice for their in depth reporting.

   It is on record thanks to NCR!  The anniversary issue reports on the 1979 Latin American Bishops’ conference in Puebla, Mexico.  The article emphasizes two crucial points. 

1 – Pope John Paul II endorsed liberation theology and the recent deliberations of the Latin American Episcopal Conference.
2 – During their Jan. 27th –Feb. 13 meeting, the Latin American bishops, caretakers of the only institution with sufficient power to speak out in a continent dominated by repressive military regimes, issued documents on the church’s priority commitment to the poor, religious life, and the economic and political realities of Latin Americas. (p. 20.)

But the first official church statement on ‘preferential option for the poor’ is from the 1968 conference in Medellin, Columbia; the conference is not mentioned in the anniversary issue.
   The NCR anniversary issue noted the church martyrs in Latin America but did not cite Medellin as a cause.  NCR correspondent, Penny Lernoux wrote in her book –Cry of the People:  

Medellin was a red flag waving them into action…Priests formed left-wing organizations in seven countries, some doing so in open support of radical parties or governments. (Penny Lernoux, The Cry of the People, Penguin, 1991, p.43.)

However, those martyred were for the most part not members of any political party or group but involved in pastoral care – ‘preferential option for the poor.’  Such ministry was and is considered political.  The anniversary issue cites the four Church women in El Salvador and others.

   The anniversary issue did not cite the revolutionary ‘preferential option for the poor’ proclaimed by the Medellin document, but also left out the first time it was mentioned in a Papal document – Sollicitudo Socialis Rei.  There was an editorial about Sollictudo Sociali Rei in March of 1988 emphasizing the Encyclical’s fundamental concern for the environment.  The editorial opens:

Sollicitudo Socialis Rei, Pope John Paul II latest encyclical, will be remembered as the church’s first encyclical on ecology.”  Sollicitudo Socialis Rei is mentioned in the anniversary issue with the headline: “Superpowers target of the encyclical’s wrath.”

   Coverage of the radical encyclical Laborem Exercens was not mentioned in the anniversary issue.  Neither did the special issue commemorating John Paul II which underplays his social encyclicals. (NCR, 4-15-2005)  Did ‘liberal’ church concerns super-cede labor issues for NCR?  Laborem Exercens stating that “labor unions are indispensible” and “labor is prior to capital” might be too much for a publication that uses a non union printer.

   On the other hand the NCR covers the important Latin American story better than any other publication concerning the massive migration of unaccompanied children to the United States. Sadly it is not noted that the Honduran papal adviser, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, supported a military ‘golpe del estado’ in 2009, and the ‘golpe’ further militarized Honduras increasing the violence in Honduras which is now seen as an important cause of the children migrating.

   NCR covered in depth major Catholic events in its 50 years such as income inequality, the pedophile scandal, women’s ordination, the church and homosexuality, racial equality and environmental concerns. NCR covered the Father Groppi marches in Milwaukee for fair housing, but the controversy on racism continues. Groppi exposed the tip of the iceberg.

   The peace movement, countering the horrible wars in Vietnam, Central America and the Middle East, was covered better by the NCR than any other publication. NCR took a stance against the wars.  Immigration reform was given comprehensive consideration with the exception of the New Sanctuary Movement. The anniversary edition notes some of these stories.  An NCR article authored by former Sandanista government official, Xabier Gorostiaga, S.J. in 1995 was one of the first articles in any paper or magazine on the growing gap in income at the end of the 20th century, a gap that has continued to widen.  There was no mention of this article in the anniversary issue.

   A photo of Dorothy Day stands out in the anniversary issue. (October 27, 1972-October 19, 1973)  The caption reads:

Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, seated on a golf chair, faces law officers as she talks to fellow protesters in the United Farm Workers picket line in July 1973.  Day ultimately was arrested, along with 3,000 striking farm workers and supporters, including 60 priests, nuns and brothers.


The anniversary issue (’95 -,’96) notes that NCR was sued for 30 million dollars by Briggs & Stratton, Milwaukee for an article claiming  that Briggs’ executives were defying Catholic Social principles in their treatment of workers.

‘Editor Tom Fox called the lawsuit an attempt by Briggs & Stratton to muzzle its critics and to intimidate the press.’ 

It was a slap suit and was thrown out of court in 1998.  But did the slap suit, in fact, intimidate the press? 

   If anything, faith demands authenticity.  Both publications, Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter combined 140 years advocating for social justice is compromised with the probability that neither uses union printers. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Two great liberal U.S. American Roman Catholic publications celebrate anniversaries this year Commonweal (90th) and The National Catholic Reporter (50th). 

   I am now approaching the finish line for the eightieth year of my Roman Catholic life so I have lived many of the stories the publications relate. I feel a need to comment –I knew and know many of the news makers.  They influenced my life as well as the Church itself. Let us consider Commonweal from its beginning in 1924 to the National Catholic Reporter’s start in 1964.  Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day would be a link.  She was introduced to her Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin by a Commonweal Editor. (Anniversary Issue, October 24th, 2014, The Commonweal Catholic, p. 16)  In 1932 Dorothy covered a Hunger March in Washington, D.C. for Commonweal.  Dorothy Day’s struggle for justice and peace continued after Vatican II until her death in 1980.

                                                  Dorothy Day, 1916

Commonweal anniversary issue, ‘90 Years of Debate,’ provides a launching pad.  Years of ‘debate’ – why – isn’t the Pope infallible? (see Authoritative & Ignored, p. 20)  The Commonweal editorial explains,

Liberal democracy, very much in retreat between the last century’s two world wars, received little encouragement from the church in its struggle with authoritarian forces.  Yet Commonweal refused to abandon its belief in either democracy or Catholic truth, consistently arguing that in the modern world the health of one was very much related to the health of the other.

This is a unifying statement that anticipates a certain understanding of Faith itself.  The split that debate tries to bring together is expressed by this statement of the editorial:

Two Faiths … The editors (founders in 1924) insisted that a certain religious piety-an outlook rooted in a larger transcendent hope not only with democracy’s celebration of the common man, but crucial to forging consensus about the common good in a pluralistic society. (Anniversary issue – p. 5)

Commonweal was very important in this debate, but why didn’t the anniversary issue or website mention Thomistic philosopher Mortimer Adler of the University of Chicago?  Adler, who was Jewish and not a Catholic, contended that the political theory of Thomas Aquinas supported 20th century democracy.  Adler expressed his opinion during the ‘in between’ period of the two world wars when it was not clear that U.S. Catholics would join the fight against fascism. (Mortimer J. Adler and Walter Farrell, O.P., “The Theory of Democracy,” The Thomist, Sheed and Ward, Baltimore, MD, July, 1941, pp.397 – 449.)  In March of 1939 Adler had an article in Commonweal entitled – ‘Education and Democracy.’  He wrote several other articles for Commonweal. (Also see –Adler, Mortimer J. Philosopher at Large, Macmillan Publishing, N.Y. 1977, p. 390.)

   But the debate was not just over democracy it was also about going to war.  In December of 1940 Paul Kalinauskas and Ed Marciniak wrote a piece in the Chicago Catholic Worker pleading the case for conscientious objection.  During the Korean War, December 20, 1950, Dorothy Day wrote in her diary:

Wrote an answer to Commonweal editorial, ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears.’  The footnote explains:  Dorothy was critical of a Commonweal editorial supporting national defense. (Dorothy Day, Duty of Delight, Marquette Press, 2008, p.149 )

Since Catholic Social Teaching has been swept under the rug, it is not surprising that another regrettable omission in the anniversary edition and website was the father of U.S. American Catholic Social Teaching, Rev. John Ryan.  Ryan advocated for independent democratic labor unions with participants of all faith denominations as well as atheists and agnostics.  He said that strikes, when the last resort, were legitimate.  The Vatican was not supportive of labor on these issues until Vatican II.  Ryan was an advisor to the National Catholic War Council – predecessor to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  The founding editor of Commonweal, Michael Williams, also worked for the National Catholic War Council. (Commonweal, October 24, 2014, p.5)   The 1934, April 13th, edition of Commonweal featured an article by John Ryan entitled ‘The New Deal and Social Justice.’ Father Ryan would be disappointed that no union logo was found in the anniversary issue indicating that Commonweal does not use a union printer.
   Commonweal was not blinded by ‘liberalism.’ The change of attitude brought about by Vatican II is indicated by articles written by Jordan Bishop, O.P. for Commonweal warning of a crisis in Latin America because of U.S. imperialism.  Through the years Bishop wrote many articles for Commonweal.  For example, Bishop wrote in 1967 about the French journalist Regis Debray who was captured in Bolivia with Che Guevara:

(Debray has two premises) “ … the first, is that a real revolution leading to some sort of socialism as yet undefined and liberation from the North American colonial empire is an evident necessity shared by such diverse elements as Fidel Castro, the Young Christian Democrats … And some would contend by Paul VI of Populorum Progressio.”  (Commonweal, Nov. 1967)

 Why publish these articles? The founders of Commonweal had faith in democracy and opposed communism, but were open to ‘debate.’
        Let’s move to consideration of the National Catholic Reporter with the onset of the watershed point of Vatican II.  But first, NCR published a special edition on the 50th anniversary of the Council with many important articles.  None of the articles pinpointed the ‘why’ of Vatican II as well as Cathleen Kaveny, Boston College theologian, in the 90th anniversary issue of Commonweal (p. 13):

Catholics were appalled by the carnage of the Second World War and the unimaginable evil of the Holocaust, and they were horrified by the possibility of a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. Questions about moral presumptions of the modern state including the United States had to be asked.  Catechism-trained Catholics had participated in the Nazi horrors, often with blind obedience to authority.  The goal of post-Vatican II Catholic catechesis was not to foster obedience but to cultivate responsible men and women who were shaped by the Catholic Christian vision, sensitive to the debt to the Jewish people, and independent enough to stand up to injustice, even if sanctioned by church or state.

Next posting – a commentary on the 50th anniversary issue of the National Catholic Reporter

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Working Catholic: Thanksgiving Images by Bill Droel

Our image of Thanksgiving Day is influenced by famous paintings, including from 1915 The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Ferris (1893-1930) and from 1943 the still popular Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). These images serve a purpose even though they compress history and though celebrations in most homes are not as serene as the paintings.

The Statue of Liberty is second only to “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of our beautiful country. It is also a fitting image for Thanksgiving even though again historical facts about the statue have been compressed.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the son of Italian immigrants to France, was involved with a circle of people who considered the French movement for liberty to be their gift to the United States and they raised money to donate a statue symbolizing that gift. A preview of the gift appeared at the Philadelphia Expo in 1876, but it took until 1880 before a complete statue was delivered to the U.S. embassy in Paris. The French circle wanted the gift to keep moving in the sense that the U.S. should support and sustain liberty among freedom-seeking movements around the world.

It wasn’t until 1886, however, that the statue was dedicated in New York’s Upper Bay. In the meantime a private fundraising campaign in our country was needed to secure the statue’s site, particularly to finance its pedestal. Part of the fundraising was the auction of a 14-line sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). Her ancestors were Jewish-Russians who emigrated here before the Revolutionary War. At the time her poem was commissioned, Lazarus, sufficiently known in literary society, was volunteering at Emigrant Aid Society on the Lower East Side. The poem was mostly neglected but in 1903 it was written on a bronze tablet and only in 1945 was it mounted on the statue’s pedestal. The poem and the statue came to represent the thankful generosity of our country’s residents. So thankful, in fact, that we could open our hearts to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The statue’s symbolism of thanksgiving is, of course, reinforced by its proximity to Ellis Island. (I’m biased toward my home state of New York. But for the record, Ellis Island is mostly in New Jersey and Liberty Island itself is in New York.)

From 1892 to 1954 thousands of immigrants (including my grandmother), having just passed by the Statue of Liberty, gave thanks on Ellis Island for their arrival to our land of opportunity. Each generation of arrivals enriched our country with creativity, social capital, culture and faith—gifts to subsequent generations. Thus the table prayer on November 27, 2014 is not only one of thanks for God’s bounty, thanks for the privilege of residing in this country, thanks for the family and friends gathered, but also thanks for our ancestors and for those new arrivals who keep the gift moving.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Working Catholic: Gifts That Keep Moving by Bill Droel

This is the season for gratitude. First up is our national day of Thanksgiving on which we express gratitude to God for our beautiful country and for our relatives, even those who are a tad rowdy at the day’s get together. Thereafter begins three and a half weeks of giving gifts at Christmas parties and at a family reunion or two.

Unfortunately, some essential features of gratitude have been lost over the years. First, a true gift must be given with a generous spirit. Not allowed are feelings like: “If I get him one, then I suppose I have to give her one even though she doesn’t…” Or, “I wish they’d have Christmas only once every ten years so I wouldn’t have to bother with shopping for and wrapping all this junk…” In other words, a true gift must not be the result of any coercion, including subjective feelings of guilt or resentment.

Second and yet at the same time, a gift is different from a monetary trade in that it imposes a non-quantifiable obligation on the recipient. A true gift is implicitly reciprocal and its essence is lost if the gift is not re-gifted. 

Take the phrase Indian Giver. It is offensive, like the name of the NFL team in our nation’s capital. But specific to our lesson here about gratitude, our understanding of the phrase is also historically inaccurate.

Those who know something about the beginning of our country know that Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) was a wealthy merchant in Massachusetts, loyal to the British occupation. He was perhaps the first to put the phrase Indian Giver in writing. Given his cultural assumptions, Hutchinson and many others thought that Indians take back a gift as soon it is given. Indians, Hutchinson wrote, put gifts in the category of monetary trade in “which an equivalent return is expected.” The next thing you know, Indians will expect the settlers from Europe to give back the country to them.

Anthropologist Lewis Hyde of Kenyon College in Ohio explains that Native Americans had a profound notion of gratitude and that a phrase for someone who abuses a gift might better be Settler Giver.

Hyde sets a scene in his book The Gift (Vintage, 1979). A Puritan visits an Indian lodge. In hospitality the Indians invite the visitor to smoke a peace pipe. Upon leaving the lodge, the Indians give the red stone pipe to the Puritan. He displays it at home for awhile and then, so impressed with its decorative carving and feathers, he sends it to a museum in England. Later, other Indians visit the Puritan settlement and are astonished to learn that not only do the Puritans have no intention of giving them the pipe, but that it is now stagnating in a museum. The custom, not understood by the Puritans, is that every gift contains a spirit of generosity and that gifts circulate from tribe to tribe or house to house in order to symbolize mutuality. From the Indians’ point of view, the Puritans were the stingy, uncivilized ones.

“A cardinal property of the gift,” Hyde says, is that “whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away, not kept.” Given away not given back. “It is better if the gift is not returned [to its original donor] but is given instead to some new, third party,” writes Hyde. In a sense, giving is about passing around some useless thing. The power is in the circle of beneficiaries/givers. The action of the circle is “the container in which the gift moves.” Once a gift is treated like a market commodity, Hyde concludes, it only strengthens the negative spirits of selfish individualism and clannishness. To be continued….

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Working Catholic: Gifts That Keep Moving by Bill Droel

Thanksgiving, Part I

This past summer Oracle, Arizona reflected back to us two defining cultural images.

Oracle with a population of about 4,000 is 40 miles north of Tucson and it is slightly more than 100 miles north of Mexico.  It was founded in the late 1870s as a mining town. It seems that Albert Weldon from New Brunswick, Canada took a ship, named Oracle, around Cape Horn and made his way to the Santa Catalina mountain area in Arizona. Two other immigrant prospectors joined him: Jimmy Lee from Ireland and Alex McKay from Scotland. They found gold and named their mine Oracle, in thanksgiving for a sturdy ship and for their discovery. By 1880 about 70 mines were staked in the area and a post office named Oracle opened to serve the workers.

  The first image from this past summer is of an ad hoc ecumenical group called 'Heart To Heart' that extends assistance to refugee children. This first image also includes donors to Catholic Community Services who have filled storerooms with food and clothing for the children. It includes about 100 people from South Side Presbyterian Church and other groups standing along the road in Oracle with signs greeting the children; signs in Spanish like Friends, don’t be afraid. Finally, this image includes leaders from Pima County Interfaith Council who are circulating a petition. Its provisions stress the need for each refugee child to have a specific attorney for a time, the need for access by pastors to detention centers or shelters and the need for a maximum one-year refugee card to ease a child’s anxiety while waiting out the refugee process.

 The second image is of a Tea Party group, perhaps 60 people, standing alongside an Oracle street, shouting insults at refugee children. Adam Kwasman, a 31-year old member of the Arizona House of Representatives, was among the protestors. As Amy Davidson in The New Yorker (7/28/14) explains, Kwasman and company made two mistakes. First, the bus that the protestors harassed was filled with quizzical YMCA children (not refugees) on their way to a camping site. Second and contrary to the protestors’ claim, refugee children are not “illegal,” under the Wilberforce Act. Signed by President George Bush in 2008, the law stipulates that children, except those from Canada or Mexico, must have a judicial hearing before their immigration status is determined. From the time they come to the U.S. until a judge renders a decision, those children are legal. 

So, those are two salient images of U.S. culture—the first an image of gratitude and the second an image of resentment.

Gratitude is the recognition that everything, including life itself, is ultimately a gift from someone, somewhere. For most people in our country, that someone is God. In the example at hand it is the recognition that nations must have borders and have clear, enforceable immigration policies. It is also, however, the recognition that no one in this country, except for Native Americans (who are .9% of the population; 4.6% in Arizona) has prior ownership of land or resources. Further, it is the recognition that our beautiful country enjoys freedom and opportunity because its laws and its culture have always attracted and retained immigrants.

Resentment is the opposite of gratitude. It is the feeling that: #1. I have made it, to a degree. And I have made it through my own hard work; and #2. That a group just below me is getting ahead undeservedly.  And further that the group below is somehow getting ahead at my expense.

There is an unarticulated side-effect to resentment, explains Fr. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). It is a murky fear or a dragging suspicion that “you have made yourself totally dependent” on something you cannot name and a feeling of powerlessness over the dependency. Resentment “is a smoldering passion preventing us from asking forgiveness.” 

Each November our country pauses for an entire day to bring the first image of thanksgiving to the fore. Perhaps we need to institute a day of forgiveness for our resentment, a national Yom Kippur.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


   It could be claimed that ‘preferential option for the poor’ is a consistent dogma for Catholic Social Teaching since the beginning, (Rerum Novarum, 1891) but concern for the poor is quite different than the ‘preferential option.’

   Jesuit economist Perry Roets, S.J. wrote in 1991 that his mentor, renowned economist Bernard Dempsey, S.J., would have had trouble accepting the radical ‘preferential option’ dogma.  Roets described Dempsey who died a couple of years before Vatican II:

Dempsey never really understood the powerlessness of ordinary people forced to remain poor for extended periods.  …It would be interesting to see Dempsey wrestle with the emphasis given recently by both the Church and his own Society of Jesus to this  ‘preferential option for the poor.’                                                                                                      (Roets, Perry J. The Economic Ideas of Bernard W. Dempsey, S.J., Marquette University Press, 1991, p. 38)

Bill Brennan, S.J. (1920 – 2014) lived “Preferential Option for the Poor.”

He is pictured here holding a cross at an S.O.A. protest at Fort Benning, GA.  The cross bears the name of Luis Espinal, S.J. martyred in Bolivia. 

But even more than fifty years after Vatican II Thomas Massaro , S.J. cautions:

In one sense, the notion of the preferential option for the poor is relatively new to Catholic social teaching, as this phrase appeared in no papal social encyclical until 1987 and in no official Church documents at all until 1979.                                                                     (Boston College C21 Resources, Fall 2014, p.32)

Massaro is referring to the John Paul II Encyclical of 1987 Solicitudo Rei and the Latin American Bishops (C.E.L.A.M.) document for the Puebla Mexico conferences in 1979.  Massaro fails to recognize the revolutionary document that first officially expresses the Church’s ‘preferential option for the poor.’ The document from the 1968 C.E.L.A.M. conference in Medellin states:

El particular mandato del Senior de ‘evangelizar a los pobres’ debe llevarnos a una distribucion de los esfuerzos y del personel Apostolic que de preferencia efectiva al los sectores mas pobres y necesitados y a los segregados por cualquier causa, alentandoy y accelerando las iniciativas y studios que con ese fin ya se hacen. Translation: The specific command of the Lord to bring ‘the Good News’ to the poor ought to raise us to use our forces and our Church personnel to give effective preference to those most poor and segregated for whatever reason, raising and accelerating those initiatives and investigations which actualize the           ‘Good News.’ (Documentos Finales de Medellin, 1968, XIV, 3.2, p.176)

This is a value statement that challenges the modern guide of political policy ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’ The ‘greatest good’ should include all people, and let us first consider the poor who have nothing. The statement goes beyond       Vatican II’s concern for the poor and moves us to a revolutionary criterion.  

   The Bishops of Latin America witnessed poverty caused by political and economic structures.   With reference to Jesus who denounced the poverty caused by Imperial Rome, the Medellin Bishops declared that poverty was not of God and that the Reign of God was present only in so far as justice for the poor prevailed.

   Francis, the first American Pope, emphasized ‘preferential option for the poor’ in his message, The Joy of the Gospel. Francis quotes John Paul II:

          Without the preferential option for the poor, ‘the proclamation of      The Gospel which is itself the prime form of charity, risks being        misunderstood or submerged by the ocean of words which daily engulfs us        in today’s society of mass communications.’ #199

Francis continues following the lead of Medellin: ‘The need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed.’ #202  The Apostolic exhortation Joy of the Gospel resurrects Jesus’ claim to radically overthrow oppression by insisting that ‘the last shall be first’ and preaching this ‘Good News’ to the poor.

   Pope Francis has witnessed the political and structural suppression of the poor in Latin America and pleads for preferential solidarity with them.  It is not just the poor of Buenos Aires or Chicago or London; what about Africa and Asia?   Roman Catholic Social Teaching has had a global range, but especially since the 21st Ecumenical Council of Vatican II.  Francis’ message is political and crafted for the Faith community; it is not designed for isolated individual choices. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Working Catholic By Bill Droel

Image result for Public domain images Saint Francis          Relevant Saint? 

   October is a great month for saints: St. Therese Lisieux (the Little Flower), St. Boniface, St. Damien of Hawaii, St. Teresa Avila, St. Luke, St. Jean de Brebeuf of Canada, St. John Paul II and several more. And October is also the month for the second most popular Christian ever, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). But is St. Francis relevant?

No, not unless the goal is for young adults to quit their jobs, abandon their cell phones, roam about begging and maybe repairing a church building here or there. All the while dressed in a long hooded jacket.

Wait a minute: young adults do wear hoodies. Back in the old days a hoodie was called a capuche. St. Francis never picked a standard color, sometimes appearing in black or dark green. He didn’t intend to establish a uniform for his friends and he hardly was making a fashion statement, even a counter-cultural one. Eventually one group among his followers picked a standard color that reminded people of coffee mixed with foaming cream. That type of coffee, now popular with young adults, was called cappuccino. Thus, that group of followers were then and now called the Capuchins.

St. Francis never did anything; he never launched a project; he had no four step program. Instead, he spent his career extending gestures. And for some reason, the young adults of his time thought he was interesting. So much so that hundreds joined him, creating the Francis movement.

His gesture toward the latest innovation in town summarizes all his others. You see, before the 13th century few people needed any time-keeping device other than direct observation of the sun. But when the mercantile economy emerged in Europe, people wanted to keep appointments. So a clock tower was installed in the public square. St. Francis turned his back to the clock to remind people that a life fixated on clocks (be they now a cell phone app) and tight schedules and transactions is not ultimately satisfying.

It was the same message he tried to impart by disrobing in front of a church tribunal that was mediating a dispute between St. Francis and his father, a prominent clothier. St. Francis took off all his clothes. Fashion, ornaments, car accessories, and mansions are all ultimately unsatisfying.

St. Francis once made a courageous anti-war gesture. It was during the Crusades. He and a friend decided to walk across enemy lines and meet with Malik al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt. In a surprising return gesture, the sultan conversed with St. Francis during an entire week. The gesture did not dissuade the so-called Christians from continuing their wrong-headed attacks. But once again, many young adults saw an alternative to senseless war.

Young adults today are understandably disenchanted. Star athletes betray their profession by abusing other people and by cheating in the very nature of competition. Prominent business leaders engage in pseudo-commerce, peddling products that are unhealthy and some that don’t even exist. Bishops cover-up the egregious behavior of some employees. Politicians needlessly stoke resentment and racism.

To be disenchanted means to be away from the magic. Who wouldn’t be jaded when it comes to the magical or miraculous in daily life? Disenchantment is a fixed by-product of modern life. People assume that modern culture will provide meaning, but in its drive for efficiency our culture must dispel enchantment. We are left with, at best, an upbeat and vacuously positive approach to life, otherwise known as self-help.

Science and technology and individuality are gifts that come wrapped within the modern and they are to be cherished. But we need also to be caught up or taken up or drawn in. Enchantment means to be aware of the alluring and mysterious; to be awake to hues, shades, dialect, mood and gaps in sequence. Enchantment is outside of clock time. It is a belief that the so-called past is existentially present and that the current moment has a future.

St. Francis was enchanting to many young adults. We need him today.

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