Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Working Catholic: Stories Are True by Bill Droel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


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

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

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

The Locus of Theology

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

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

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

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

Gutierrez explains: 

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

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


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

   Gustavo Gutierrez replies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Working Catholic: Community Colleges by Bill Droel

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

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

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

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

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