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.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


    Joanne and I recently made a presentation to a local Protestant Church looking for renewed support for Voces de la Frontera’s Sanctuary Movement.  

    We are working with the possibility of moving someone – or a family into Sanctuary in response to Congress’ and the President’s unwillingness to act.

   It seemed out of context but a question was raised about Voces’ support for immigrant workers in the recent Palermo Pizza strike.  The best response was given by a congregation member, a professor of history at Marquette University, who noted the importance of protests in U.S. American history.  He cited the Civil Rights movement as an example.  A neighboring Protestant church was remembered as being part of the Underground Railroad before the U.S. Civil War. Coincidently the homily for the liturgy which preceded the discussion emphasized the Christian tradition of challenging authority.  
   Of course the Church agreed to support us, but the discussion triggered some thoughts on Faith and about Faith in action.

   Despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church in Milwaukee refused to support the immigrant workers at Palermo, it could be argued that the right to protest – the right to strike is basic to Catholic Social Teaching, but this was not always the case.  What changed? 

  The first American Pope, Francis, in his proclamation The Joy of the Gospel cites the need to properly explain the ‘deposit of faith.’ Changes in the doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching could provide a model.  Francis quotes John XXIII from his opening remarks for the Second Vatican Council, “The deposit of the faith is one thing  … the way it is expressed is another.” (The Joy of the Gospel, IV, para. 41)  Let us remember that explaining Faith is the role of theology. 

   What is the ‘deposit of faith?’  Leo XIII in 1899 wrote an Encyclical – a letter to Cardinal Gibbons – called ‘Americanism.’  Leo feared heresy in the U.S. Church.  Pope Leo quoted Vatican Council I, (Const. de Fid.  Cath., c. iv).  Among Leo’s problems with the U.S. were 1890’s labor protests – e.g. the Pullman strike and the demonstration in Washington of Coxey’s Army. (Documents of American Catholic History, Ed. John Tracy Ellis, Bruce Publishing, Milwaukee, WI, 1956, p.524)

          The doctrine of faith which God has revealed is not proposed like a    theory of philosophy which is to be elaborated by the human      understanding, but as a divine deposit delivered to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly declared … That sense of sacred dogmas is to be faithfully kept which Holy Mother Church has once declared, and is not to be departed from under the specious context of more profound understanding. (Leo XIII, Encyclical on Americanism, Jan. 22, 1899)

‘Deposit of faith’ appears to be a particularly Roman Catholic term but could be related to 2 Timothy 1-14 but that is more than a stretch.  The Roman Catholic ‘deposit of faith’ would include the social encyclicals.  Note that Francis’ view and John XXIII’s understanding of the ‘deposit of faith’ is quite different than that of Leo XIII.

   Let’s look at perhaps one of the most important changes in Catholic Social Teaching, the doctrine on the right to strike.  Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno establishes the notion of a state governed by “corporate economics” and proclaims: (1931)

Strikes and lockouts are forbidden. If the contending parties cannot come to an agreement, public authority intervenes.      (Q.A. #94)

 More than 30 years later Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) changes the teaching:  

Even in present day circumstances, however, the strike can still be necessary, though ultimate, means for the defense of workers own rights and fulfillment of their just demands.  (G.S. #68) 

Before Vatican II, U.S. ‘labor priests’ such as John Ryan also stated that strikes were legitimate as a last resort.  (The Church and Labor, J.A. Ryan and J. Husslein, N.Y., The McMillan Co. 1920, p. 287 and p. 298.)
   The Vatican II pronouncement was significant in that it indicated a break with the corporate economics of the past.  Instead of viewing society as a body where parts are significant but need to be controlled by the head, the church recognized labor unions as independent. 

Vatican II Gaudium et Spes went further.

Hence the workers themselves should have a share also in controlling these institutions, (labor unions} either in person or freely elected delegates. (G.S. #68)

This statement indicated that the fascist style ‘corporate economics’ of Portugal, Austria and Spain considered ideal before W.W. II were no longer acceptable.

   The political acumen of John XXIII made the change possible.  He was not locked into dogma but considered the common good of all people as his criterion.  For John XXIII peace depended on justice.  The reasonable course of action was first of all to respect the freedom of people to determine their own mode of existence.  Subsequent Popes have emphasized the rights of workers in the realm of economics but have created a wall of hostility between dogma and politics.  The refusal of the Milwaukee Archdiocese to support the immigrant workers at Palermo indicates that the money of wealthy donors and the convenient cover of dogma have had a blinding effect. 

   This article only considered one dramatic change in the social encyclicals, but there were others as well.  Changes in Catholic Social Teaching were based on a consideration of the common good and a reasonable response to the times.  Dogma was at best secondary.  As Benevolent Dictator, Pope Francis, using the social encyclicals as a model, could quickly change the Church to be inclusive and practical.