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Posted by on Mar 8, 2012

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

"Grrrr!"

Conflict on individual, interpersonal, and larger societal levels seems to be a common experience of humans around the world. As the world has gotten smaller and contact made between members of  industrialized societies and hunter-gatherers in ever more isolated jungle settings, it has become increasingly clear that any sort of Eden in which everyone lives in harmony with each other, with nature, and with God simply is not to be found on planet Earth.

In the industrialized world, the airwaves are filled with voices of broadcasters and their guests “cussing and discussing” the issues of the day. How big should government be? What is the proper role of (women, men, government, church – insert noun here)? Who is responsible for the economic (crash, success, recovery – again, insert noun here)? How much wealth should one person have? Should wealth be redistributed? How should that be done? Who has a right to private property, health care, life, liberty, …? Why do some children not do well in school? Why are some neighborhoods more dangerous than others? Who should raise our children? If people can’t work, should we make sure they get to eat and have a roof over their heads?

On social media sites, coffee shops, school parking lots, family dinner tables, etc., the conversation rages on. “Did you hear about the person who did …..? Isn’t it awful? … There ought to be a law!” “I’ve always said that if we allow …  we’ll all end up in the gutter.”

Half-truths, statements taken out of context, down-right lies repeated until they take on an aura of truth, and even honest misconceptions get tossed into a pot with legitimate differences of opinion, cultural interpretations, and contrasting visions of an ideal society to create a smelly stew of controversy that poisons civil conversation. Everyone begins to speak loudly and with great conviction about what is RIGHT, without really stopping to listen deeply to what their opponent is trying to convey – the deeper concerns and fears that underlie seemingly simplistic notions of what might be needed to create a livable society for all of us.

During these middle of Lent days, let’s just stop for a moment and look at our interactions with others. Are we behaving like children on a playground? “He got more turns with the ball than I did.” “She got to start jumping first last time.” “I don’t like the way he looked at me.” “Mary told Kate that I don’t like Jane and Kate told Jane. But that’s not true. Now Jane is mad at me and I just don’t think it’s fair!”

One fundamental  key to creating and sustaining conflict is to divide individuals into groups of Us and Them. Classic examples are seen in wartime propaganda. Names used for the enemy are shortened to pejorative forms. Ethnic stereotypes are invoked to arouse fears of atrocities that will befall Us if They are victorious. Classic war movies from the World War II era provide abundant examples of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, this tactic is not limited to wartime. It is all too commonly used in politics and our social conversation, generating lots of heat and not much light in the process.

Perhaps we could fast for a few days from this diet of conflict and controversy that poisons our interaction with each other around the world. Let’s take some time to listen deeply to the concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams of people whose approach we find contrary to our own. Listen to their stories respectfully. Don’t make fun of them or call them names. Give them credit for being God’s children too and genuinely concerned about what is right and what is wrong. We may not end up agreeing with each other on national policy or religious interpretations, but at least let us respect each other as sisters and brothers — fellow humans who have also struggled with the difficult issues of our times. Then maybe, just maybe, we will become bearers of Christ’s Peace to our world, leading by example in the unveiling of God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

 Image by Petr Kratochvil – Public domain

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Posted by on Feb 15, 2012

Light or Heat in the Controversy over Guidelines for Implementation of Health Care Reform

Much ink has been spilled in the past few weeks about the “war on religion” and the purported White House campaign to force people of faith (and specifically Catholics?) to have abortions, use contraceptives, and/or pay for others to do so. Far too much of this conversation is taking place in both figurative and literal shouting matches. Much heat … very little light!

Opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) see the most recent guidelines regarding preventive services for women as a specific attack against the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic hospitals, universities and charitable organizations. Proponents of this law, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), point out that no one is in fact forced to use any of the preventive services covered. They note that exemptions are in place for churches, but they insist that to the extent that religious groups are employers, do not exist primarily to teach religion, serve non-members of that religion, and hire non-members of the religion, those groups are subject to employment laws just as other employers are.

The administration has moved to defuse this issue by ruling that the new preventive care services recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine and now mandated as benefits for women will be provided by insurers with no collection of premium from employers or employees. While many of those employers who will be impacted expressed initial support for this solution, some did not, so the controversy continues to rage.

Some of the comments I have heard on this subject indicate a broad lack of knowledge of basic facts about the PPACA and its provisions. Two specific issues seem to be causing the majority of complaints/upset among the general public: 1) coverage/support for pregnancy and 2) misidentification of contraceptives with abortifacient drugs.

Since so much heat is being generated on the topic, I did some research on them myself. This is what I found.

  1. Maternity care and newborn care are classified as “essential health benefits” under PPACA. They MUST be covered by all insurance plans by January 1, 2014.

Currently, at least in California, most policies do not offer this coverage at any price and women who have non-maternity policies and become pregnant, are considered to have a pre-existing condition that prevents them from moving into a policy that offers maternity care. This will change in California effective July 1, 2012. However, at least one major insurer will require that women be covered for at least 12 months before maternity care will be covered with no exclusion period. Women who have not been covered for at least 12 months prior to becoming pregnant will have a six month exclusion period for their maternity care, thus increasing the risk of birth defects and complications of pregnancy for those who get no care or minimal care during the critical early months of pregnancy.

Nationally, coverage for maternity care will be required in all policies effective January 1, 2014. Requiring coverage for maternity care can be expected to reduce the number of birth defects, complications of pregnancy, and even abortions, because low and middle income women will not have to bear the entire cost of their prenatal and delivery care.

  1. Abortifacients are not covered drugs under the new preventive care guidelines regarding provision of women’s health care services at no cost to the woman.

One other serious misconception I’m hearing is that the Catholic Bishops are opposed to the Obama administration and its policies in general. This is also false.

 

Here are the articles I found and the links for your own research and other questions regarding:

1) the relationship of the Catholic Bishops and the Obama administration

2) PPACA’s guidelines and implementation.

 

Information about the position of the Bishops and the administration – quoted from an interview by John Allen, Jr. with Archbishop Dolan of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.

From: National Catholic Reporter

“Bishops are not ‘Obama haters,’ Dolan insists”

By John L. Allen, Jr. on Feb. 14, 2012

“Do you believe that Obama is waging a war on religion?

I don’t want to believe that. I find myself agreeing with many of President Obama’s policies. I find myself believing him when he assures me that he has the highest regard for the work of the church, especially in health care, education, and works of peace, charity and justice. I want to believe him when he says he wants this administration to do nothing to impede that good work, and that he considers the protection of conscience and freedom of religion to be one of the highest calls that he has as president, to protect the constitution. I want to believe him. I have to say that sometimes he makes it hard to believe him, but I will not place myself or my brother bishops in the camp of Obama-haters, because we’re not.

Anybody familiar with the history of the Catholic church knows that with every single President of the United States, we’ve applauded some things that he’s done and we’ve sat on our hands for others. It’s no different now. This may be one of the more well-oiled and effective protests that we’ve waged to something a president has done, which is why it’s getting attention, and I’m glad it is. But that doesn’t make us bullies who are now trying to impose our beliefs on the rest of the country, and trying to utilize the offices of the federal bureaucracy to do that. I would say that we’re not the ones imposing anything here. We didn’t start this battle, and I’m kind of uncomfortable with it. I don’t like battles. I know it has to be part of our ministry. I’m going to be reminded on Saturday that sometimes we have to do battle at the cost of blood in defense of the faith, but we’d much rather be conciliatory. We’d much rather be cooperative.

When I went into the Oval Office in November, the first thing the president did is to say, ‘Archbishop Dolan, let’s rehearse the areas in which my administration and the Catholic community in the United States is cooperating.’ He went into a litany of about ten minutes, and all I could do was nod my head in agreement. I also added a few more he had forgotten. It’s not like there’s total conflict, and I want to get that out. Strategically, we do not need to be painted into a corner where we’re some bully, obstinate bishops who do not want to dialogue or have any posture of openness to this administration. More importantly, it’s factually not true.”

To read more, see:

http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/bishops-are-not-obama-haters-dolan-insists

Regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) – These three excerpts provide specific information on requirements of the act.

From: Health Reform Whitepaper: Employer Impact of PPACA

6/28/2010  Health Law Monitor  – Jackson Kelly PLLC

“What precisely constitutes ‘essential health benefits’ is to be more fully defined by future guidance. But PPACA lists the following broad categories of essential health benefits: ambulatory patient services, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care [emphasis added], mental health and substance use disorder services, prescription drugs, laboratory services, preventive and wellness and chronic disease management, and pediatric services (including oral and vision care). Note that oral and vision care for adults are likely not essential health benefits.

Group health plans may place lifetime and annual dollar limits on benefits that are not “essential health benefits” (i.e., PPACA does not affect non-essential benefits).

Effective Dates. This provision is effective for plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010, except restricted annual limits on essential health benefits will be allowed until January 1, 2014. For plan years starting after 2014, annual dollar limits on essential benefits are prohibited entirely. Also applies to grandfathered plans.”

For the entire article, see:

http://healthlawmonitor.jacksonkelly.com/2010/06/health-reform-whitepaper-employer-impact-of-ppaca.html

A chart is included showing changes required for all employer paid health plans and those for non-grandfathered plans only.

Note: many plans are grandfathered; their benefits remain unchanged for the most part. Only if an employer or covered individual changes plans do the non-grandfathered provisions take effect. However, some changes are required for all policies and most of the beneficial reforms of the new law are in favor of the insured!

From: Affordable Care Act Rules on Expanding Access to Preventive Services for Women – Healthcare.gov

“Additional women’s preventive services that will be covered without cost sharing requirements include:

  • Well-woman visits: …
  • Gestational Diabetes screening: …
  • HPV DNA testing: …
  • STI counseling & HIV screening & counseling: …
  • Contraception and contraceptive counseling: Women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. These recommendations do not include abortifacient drugs. [emphasis added] Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives. Family planning services are an essential preventive service for women and critical to appropriately spacing and ensuring intended pregnancies, which results in improved maternal health and better birth outcomes.
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies & counseling: …
  • Domestic violence screening: …”

For more information, see:

http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/2011/08/womensprevention08012011a.html

From: Song Mondress PLLC

October 2011 – Bulletin: Recent Developments in Employee Benefits Law

New Guidance Related To Health Plans & Health Care Reform (PPACA)

“New Women’s Preventive Care Guidelines Issued

HHS recently issued guidelines setting forth additional types of women’s preventive care under PPACA’s preventive care requirements for non-grandfathered health plans. These additional types of preventive care must be provided with no cost-sharing, effective as of the first day of the first plan year beginning on or after August 1, 2012. The guidelines are available at http://www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/. New types of required preventive care include, for example:

  • FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity. (Abortifacient drugs – e.g., RU-486 – do not qualify as contraception.) [emphasis added ] Group health plans sponsored by religious employers, and insurance coverage offered with respect to such plans, are not required to provide this care.
  • Breastfeeding supplies, support and counseling.
  • HPV testing every 3 years, beginning at age 30.
  • Annual HIV counseling and screening for sexually active women.
  • An annual “well-woman visit” to obtain all appropriate preventive services, and additional well-woman visits if the patient and her provider determine the visits are necessary.

As with other types of preventive care, plans may use reasonable medical management techniques in providing the care described in the new guidelines. For example, plans can continue to impose cost-sharing for brand-name drugs if an equally safe and effective generic version is available.”

For the entire report see:

http://www.songmondress.com/Articles/Bulletin-Recent-Developments-in-Employee-Benefits-Law.shtml

 Reprinted with permission from Advanced Knowledge Resources.com

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Posted by on Nov 19, 2011

“The Poor You Always Have With You …” – So We Don’t Have to Do Anything About Poverty?

As the fallout from the Great Recession drags on, with high unemployment, a depressed housing market, high numbers of foreclosures, greater demand for food stamps and Medicaid, and the other woes we’ve seen in the United States over the past few years, the debate over what, if anything, we as a society can or should do to alleviate poverty has moved from theoretical discussions in ethics or political science classes to  the front lines of policy-making in our governmental institutions, as well as to our streets and family gatherings. In a recent Doonesbury cartoon (October 30, 2011), reporter Roland Hedley begins his report on poverty in America saying: “Jesus said, ‘The poor you will have always.” He goes on to speak of the American poor as “pampered”  because they are not as poor as people in Third World countries such as Bangladesh. He specifically mentions that many of our poor have dishwashers and cable TV. They are overweight, so he assumes they have plenty to eat, and he notes that medical care is available through the emergency room, so no one starves or bleeds to death here – both statements patently untrue.

If this were just a comic strip character speaking, I might not bother to address the issues raised. However, this character’s statements parallel those of other real-world individuals, including Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation who noted that, based on federal surveys, most poor Americans have air conditioning, microwaves, TVs, adequate housing, nutritious food and about half even have personal computers. His point is that based on new ways of measuring poverty, “The overwhelming majority of poor people, not all, live in conditions that the average American wouldn’t recognize as poverty.” (The San Jose Mercury News, Oct 4, 2011, pA6). Both statements left me wondering if the speaker were advocating some sort of means test by which landlords would have to remove air conditioning and dishwashers from apartments rented to low income persons?!!!

But then I get serious again. All too often, that quotation from Jesus is used as a means to defuse efforts to draw attention to the reality of poverty and its impact on people all over the world. Poverty does not have to be life threatening to do great harm both to individuals and to nations. There are very real economic reasons why we should not join a race to the bottom in terms of how many people are left to live in dire poverty. However, since the door to consideration of religious implications of poverty gets opened through this commonly misquoted, misapplied and misunderstood quotation from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 12:8), the religious implications have become fair game and I will address them here.

As I am not a theologian and do not speak or read the Koine Greek in which the gospels are written, I asked a theologian friend, Dr. Megan McKenna, to explain the quotation and how it has been understood by the Christian community from its earliest years. Her response was longer than I want to quote here, but I’ll summarize it.

Jesus’ actual statement was, “The poor you always have with you, but me you will not always have.” It was made in response to a complaint by Judas Iscariot that an expensive ointment used by Jesus’ friend Mary to anoint his feet should have been sold rather than wasted on his feet because the proceeds could have been given to the poor. John notes in an aside that Judas was not particularly concerned about the poor, but rather used to help himself to the common purse.

According to Megan, Jesus’ statement was taken by the early church to mean “that whatever you want to do for me, you can do for the poor – and I will take it as done to me… a version of Matt 25: Whatever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters I take it that you did to me, and whatever you ignored or refused to do to the least of my brothers and sisters I take it you ignored me and refused to do it for me.”

She notes: “In the early church there was a saying: ‘See how those Christians love one another [the part they like to quote, the second part of the sentence being] there are no poor among them.’” Christians lived in common and shared what they had because they recognized Christ’s body as being no longer in the tomb but rather having become the Christian community. “What makes one a decent human being and the basis of Christianity is justice – and people deserve justice in all the basic necessities of life – food, water, clothing, shelter, education, health care, dignity, a job, freedom from harm and violence, etc. The rights of justice are listed in the first part of Pacem in Terris – and poverty is an insult to the God of Life who proclaimed that he had come that all might have life, ever more abundantly (here and now).”

Megan’s final point is that “love your neighbor as yourself” is not just a Christian concept. It comes from Jewish theology. “In the Old Testament if you were wealthy and didn’t share, you were considered violent and not a practicing or good Jew. Their understanding is that you are only worth what you give away and share with the poor, no matter what you actually have.”

I find it intriguing that those who are seemingly so concerned about the United States being a Christian nation, who would happily re-criminalize abortion and possibly outlaw birth control, who will spend hours debating and passing legislation re-affirming that the motto of the United States, printed on our money, is “In God We Trust,” would so cavalierly, almost in their next breath, speak of cutting unemployment, food stamps, and health care benefits for the millions of children, their unemployed or underemployed parents, senior citizens, and disabled Americans in order to balance the budget, rather than considering ways to increase revenues.

We as a nation have to decide which way we’ll go. We’ve got to come to an agreement on our social compact and how to fund the infrastructure and human capital development that will be necessary to keep this country and its ideals of freedom and justice for all in a position to lead by example as other peoples in the world reach for the prosperity and freedoms we enjoy. We’re all in this together. We’ve got to make hard choices and sacrifices. But the folks with the fewest resources, even if they have more than those in Third World countries, cannot bear the brunt of the sacrifice or we will all ultimately pay the price. And while that  may have nothing to do with religious beliefs or imperatives, for people of faith, Followers of the Way, Christians, those imperatives speak loudly and clearly and are ignored at our peril!

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Posted by on Aug 15, 2011

The Assumption of Our Lady, the Human, and Creation


This reflection is based in part on a presentation by Fr. Thomas Berry (1914 – 2009) – Philosopher, Cosmologist.


The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead,
so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
and through him to reconcile to himself all things,
whether things on earth or things in heaven,
by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. – Colossians 1:15-20

 

There is a dimension to all feasts of Our Lady that highlights God’s involvement with the physical –  the material dimension. Mary’s assumption into heaven is a very tangible sign of the new creation in Christ. In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul is addressing those who do not believe that Jesus was truly human. In this type of Platonist thinking, the feminine is seen as being prototypically associated with the earth and the physical is far inferior to the spiritual, celestial, male principle. The celebration of Mary, Mother of God, in the apostolic churches, acclaims the feminine as the means by which God makes all things new. Mary is the model, the example of what we are supposed to become.

God’s redemption of all creation is the setting for our own restoration of our fallen nature. Caring for creation is today a key obligation for us because of our recently acquired ability to reshape ecological systems on a global basis.

For more on Thomas Berry please go to http://earth-community.org.


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Posted by on Jan 1, 2011

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

World Peace and Freedom of Religion

(Credit: Hiking Artist Cartoons – Used with permission)

This New Year’s post and my resolution comes from Fr. Cyprian Consiglio’s homily today at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz, California. Fr. Cyprian is a Camaldolese monk, musician, and student of world religions.

A liturgy with Fr. Cyprian is always a wonderful experience. His homily was based on the theme for today’s observance of World Peace Day.

Pope Benedict XVI focused on Freedom of Religion as the theme for this New Year’s Day of Peace 2011.

Religious freedom is not the exclusive patrimony of believers, but of the whole family of the earth’s peoples. It is an essential element of a constitutional state; it cannot be denied without at the same time encroaching on all fundamental rights and freedoms, since it is their synthesis and keystone. It is “the litmus test for the respect of all the other human rights”.[8] While it favours the exercise of our most specifically human faculties, it creates the necessary premises for the attainment of an integral development which concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension.

In his homily, Fr. Cyprian reflected on the number of groups which observed peace vigils New Year’s Eve and that the growing number showed, perhaps, an increase in consciousness and enlightenment. He went to some pains to point out that many of the groups from diverse traditions did not agree on everything and probably never would. However, it is only through the free exercise of religion and the building of bridges of good will that these tensions can be recognized, managed, and appreciated.

In fact Fr. Cyprian’s life as a troubadour of peace has bridged many of these divides through the dialog of contemplation and world music. (For wonderful and challenging reflections, subscribe to Fr. Cyprian’s blog.)

The unspoken lesson: Become the Peace You Want.

YouTube – CyprianConsiglio’s Channel.

For a brief but deep meditation on peace, tune into the chants Benedictus, Namo Janitre, and Awakening performed by Fr. Cyprian and Dr. John Pennington for a truly happy entry into this New Year.

Fr. Cyprian Consiglio and Dr. John Pennington

I highly recommend Fr. Cyprian’s blog and Dr. John Pennington’s website.

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Posted by on Nov 11, 2010

A Time for Gratitude and Caution

November 11 is the day Americans know as Veterans Day. It was originally called Armistice Day, the day the War to End all Wars simply stopped – brought to a close by the signing of the Armistice between the Allies of World War I and their German enemies. It was neither a treaty nor an unconditional surrender, but it did mark the total defeat of Germany and her allies in the war. The war stopped at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The peace treaty that officially ended the war was not signed until January 1920, but the fighting ended November 11, 1918.

Negotiations to end the war began in late September and continued through October and into November 1918. Even after agreement on the armistice had been reached, the armies continued to fight – each hoping to be in the best possible position should the hostilities resume. A total of 2,728 men died on the last day of the war, including one German soldier killed minutes after 11 a.m. by American soldiers who did not know the war was over. He was an officer approaching them to tell them his troops would be vacating the houses in which they had been billeted. The last American who died was killed as he was charging the German line 60 seconds before the fighting was to stop.

We look at these kinds of historical facts today and shake our heads. How arbitrary it all seems. What a waste of lives.

Yet human history is replete with tales of wars, conquests, roaming warriers, warlords, robber barons, etc. Why do they do it? Why do we do it? Do we do it ourselves, at home in our own little worlds?

I’m afraid I’d have to say that Yes, we do commit similar acts ourselves within our small circles of family and friends. We may not do it physically, but our words and actions can be ruthless and cut deeply.

When I was in high school, I was part of an experimental program in which we had a “block class” that included instruction in English and Economics/US Government. One of the portions of the class included the class becoming a city. We were all citizens of this city and had to deal with issues that cities and their citizens face. That included having elections to select our leaders. We were divided into differing socio-economic groups. Certain areas of our city were prosperous and others were not. Some of the challenges involved how to provide the services needed for the health and well-being of city residents without breaking the budget.

I ran for Mayor and won. It was the last office I expect ever to try to attain. I had no idea how difficult it could be to meet the  needs of so many different people fairly. My hat is off to those folks who are willing to struggle with these issues on local, state and national levels. It’s a thankless job, despite the prestige one gets.

A few of us from the Block were selected to participate in another “game” at a local college. In this game, we were divided into two nations sharing a common border. As fate would have it, a skirmish broke out on the border. Each team/nation was given a set of information about the skirmish – what had happened, who had fired first, how many had been injured, where the troops were currently located, etc. Some were designated as the military who were engaged in defending our borders. Others were part of the political and diplomatic teams who were supposed to find common ground and get the war ended.

I was one of the persons sent to the United Nations to try to settle the issue. We had been told that the other nation had started the war. They had moved onto our territory first and we were simply defending ourselves. So I argued that they were the agressors. We were the innocent victims. They should withdraw and pay compensation for the cost of the war, etc. To my surprise, my counterpart from the other side had exactly the same argument! As the “game” drew to a close, we were informed that both sides had been given exactly the same information. The actual facts of the case would never be known by any of us. We had all been making speeches and arguing our cases based on information that had a 50-50 chance of being untrue.

I learned something from those two games played as the Vietnam War raged outside our classroom. Nothing is as clear-cut as it seems. There is always the possibility, indeed the probability, that at least part of the information on which a course of action is to be based is incorrect. Whether those providing the incorrect information are doing so knowingly or not does not change the fact that it is incorrect. The culpability for causing harm to others, of course, depends on the degree to which one is aware that the information is not true and spreads it anyway. However, it doesn’t hurt to assume as a general rule that at least some of what I “know” is not really true! If nothing else it lends a bit of humility to the equation.

That doesn’t mean that individuals should not take stands supporting basic human rights or not call a spade a spade when governments or others in positions of power are abusing their power or harming the innocent. That’s part of the call to prophetic witness within our Judeo-Christian tradition. However, we are called to do so recognizing our own complicity in the system and knowing that there is always more to any story than at first meets the eye.

On this Veterans Day, may we be filled with a sense of gratitude for the efforts and sacrifices of those who have given their lives to ensure that life would be better for those who came after them. May we thank those who went to war and returned alive for the gift of freedoms they have protected. May we be grateful to those who serve in other ways than militarily to foster human rights and protect human dignity. May we reach out to those whom we consider to be enemies and to those who consider us to be enemies, hoping to find common ground on which we can move forward in peace. And may we respect those who dissent when those around them call for aggressive action or war, recognizing that there may be realities about which we are unaware that would lead to totally different conclusions if they were known.

Most importantly, may we be peacemakers – ever willing to listen, to seek common ground, to build a sturdy foundation for the future. As sisters and brothers sharing one earth, as human beings, we can do no less and be true to our calling as children of the Most High.

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2010

Who is Zacchaeus in Our Lives Today?

The Gospel reading for today, the 31st Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle C, is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus lived in Jericho. He was despised by the people of the community because he was a tax collector. Being a tax collector in those days meant that he was free to extort as much as he could get from the people and had only to send a portion of it to the authorities at higher levels of government (ie, Jerusalem and Rome). He was the chief tax collector, taking money from all the tax collectors under his supervision and from his own work as well. The gospel notes that he was a wealthy man.

Now Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus and when he heard that Jesus would be passing through town, he went out with the crowd to see him. We do the same today when celebrities come through our own towns. However, Zacchaeus had a problem. He was a short man and there were lots of people in front of him. So he climbed a tree to get a better view.

Jesus saw him in the tree, stopped and called him by name to come down, saying that he (Jesus) would dine at the home of Zacchaeus that night. The people were horrified and scandalized. They asked if Jesus really could know who Zacchaeus was, that he was a terrible sinner? But Zacchaeus was touched by the healing love of Jesus in that moment and volunteered that he would return fourfold all that he had stolen and give half of his possessions to the poor. Jesus told all “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19:1-10)

This story got me to thinking. Who is Zacchaeus in our lives today?

It’s easy to point the finger of blame at celebrities who are promiscuous or who drink too much or who use illicit drugs. It’s easy to look at politicians who misuse their power. It’s easy to say that those who provide or seek abortions are great sinners. It’s easy to scapegoat people whose sexual orientation does not match our own.  It’s easy to gloat when a minister is caught in some sin he or she has denounced from the pulpit.

But I don’t think that’s the lesson we need to draw from this account. We need to look at ourselves and see the areas in which we fail. We need to ask ourselves who we cheat, from whom do we steal, whose hearts do we break? To some extent each of us is Zacchaeus.

Then I suggest we go a step further. Who are the people in our lives whom we blame for what is wrong in society? Who are the people we would choose to block from access to the goods of life? To whom would we deny education, health care, food, clothing, shelter?

Do we blame undocumented immigrants and seek to exclude them and their children from the goods and services they need to live full, healthy lives? Do we suggest that the children of the undocumented who are born here should not be citizens by birth, thereby denying them the protection of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution? Do we look down on the laid off teacher, the unwed mother,  or the disabled worker who receive unemployment, food stamps and Medicaid? Do we insist that people who can’t afford health insurance should just not get sick and/or need preventive care services? Do we say that only the well-to-do should be able to stay home with their young children and that mothers in poorer families should have to put their children in day care for long periods of time and work at minimum wage or less trying to earn enough to cover rent, food and childcare? Do we assume that all children of minority groups are probably gang members? Do we expect that the poor are somehow less intelligent and deserve to live in poverty?

I suggest that perhaps Zacchaeus takes many forms in the United States today. Some people we treat as if they were public sinners (Zacchaeus) because they are less fortunate or have made poor decisions in their lives. Somehow we are inclined to believe that those for whom all is going well are holy and specially rewarded by God for their good lives and that the opposite is true for those in difficult circumstances. Some of us are Zacchaeus in our world because of choices we have made that hurt others.

The good news is that Jesus came to bring salvation to us all, in whatever way we may personally be Zacchaeus and to whomever we treat with scorn or exclude as if he or she were Zacchaeus.  And why does Jesus come to bring this salvation? Because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” and because the Lord will “overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” (Wis 11:23)

Good news indeed. May we be open to receive that salvation ourselves and to support others whom we might otherwise push aside as unworthy of the grace and blessings of the Lord.

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Posted by on Oct 29, 2010

Hearing the Cry of the Poor

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor, Blessed be the Lord.” (Psalm 34)

We hear and sing these words from Psalm 34 at various times throughout the year, but I wonder how often we really heed them.  We are too easily tempted to focus on eternal rewards and happiness after death for those who suffer poverty here in this life – the rich man and Lazarus, for example. Such a focus may give some comfort to the suffering. It allows the one who may not be able to change the social realities to rest easier, assuming all will balance out in the end. But I don’t think that’s what it’s all about!

The psalm doesn’t say, “The Lord will hear…” It says, “The Lord hears…” That means here and now. Somehow I can’t believe that the Lord is very happy with folks who allow children to go to bed hungry or to die of illnesses that could be prevented with basic health care.

Structural factors in societies create barriers that effectively deny people the opportunity to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Those without boots don’t have bootstraps on which to pull.

One simple exercise  (called “The Scramble”) that makes the reality of structural inequalities tangible goes this way. Take 100 pennies and scatter them on the floor. Three groups of people then have the chance to pick up as many pennies as they can. The catch is that only a few of them can use their bare hands. A larger group wear mittens on their hands. The third group, the largest group by far, must pick up their pennies with a spoon.

You can imagine which group will collect the most pennies and which the least.

Something of this nature is going on in countries all over the world. Emmanuel Saez, winner of one of this year’s MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grants,” has studied the relationship between tax policy and income in the United States. He notes that the top 1% of Americans earn 24% of all income. The earned income of the top one-tenth of 1% of Americans (approximately 310,000 people) equals that of the bottom 120 million people.   Yet those high earners only pay as much in taxes on their income as ordinary workers pay.

Folks caught on the middle and lower economic rungs are unhappy about today’s economic realities. Those paying the larger proportion of taxes wonder if they’re getting their money’s worth. Tea Party slogans ring true to many of these folks.

Economists tell us that economic gains, including reduction of the unemployment rate and recovery of the housing market, following the Great Recession will remain slow through 2011. There’s not going to be a quick fix for the situation in which we find ourselves.

As we Americans go to the polls to vote in this mid-term election, I hope and pray that we’ll remember that as hard as economic times are for people at all levels of income, they’re more desperate for those on the lower rungs of income and the unemployed. No matter what we do, it will take time to move back to prosperity. We must not forget or refuse to care for the poor, the children, the less fortunate among us.

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor…”

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Posted by on Sep 27, 2010

A Chasm Was Fixed Between Them

In the Gospel for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31).

A rich man lived sumptuously, with everything money could by at his disposal. We don’t know how he came to have his money. Probably he was not a bad man. He was, however, a man who was not overly concerned with the plight of the poor of his community. We can assume this because a poor man called Lazarus lay on the doorstep of the rich man day after day, covered with sores, and the rich man did not take care of him. Even the dogs paid more attention to Lazarus than the rich man did. They came and licked his sores.

Now, in defense of the rich man, there were lots and lots of poor people around. Lots and lots of sick people. Maybe even some people who didn’t work when they could have worked to support themselves. Jesus doesn’t tell us what the rich man was thinking or why he didn’t stop to help Lazarus. He just notes that Lazarus was hungry, sick, and licked by dogs.

As Americans, the idea of having a dog lick one’s sores is not appealing, but it was even worse in those days. Dogs were not the much loved pets that they are for us. Dogs worked for a living or they were strays that fended for themselves. In many countries, dogs that were not working (tending flocks or guarding something/someone) were considered fair game as food by the poor. So here is Lazarus, lying sick and hungry at the door, having stray dogs licking his sores and unable to chase them away. Not a pretty picture.

As happens in life, Lazarus died. The angels of God swooped down, picked him up and took him to Abraham. Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, welcomer of all who came to him, welcomed Lazarus as well. He cared for Lazarus as one of his own.

As also happens in life, the rich man’s turn came to die. He died and was buried. But he did not find himself with Abraham. He was alone and in torment. He could see Abraham. He could see Lazarus with Abraham. He longed for a single drop of water to ease his pain, so he asked Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water for him. Note well —  he didn’t ask Lazarus for forgiveness or for the gift of a drop of water. He asked Abraham to send/order Lazarus to bring the water.

Abraham reminds the rich man of the relationship that had existed in life between the two men. He also tells the rich man that there is a great chasm fixed between them, one that neither side may cross freely.

I had always wondered about that chasm. Why would a loving God set up a barrier that would keep those in His presence and company (Heaven) from reaching out and helping those who were not (Hell)? Wouldn’t those who were united with Love and in Love be so overflowing with love themselves that they’d want to help those who were separated from Love?

Our homilist this Sunday, Fr. Ken Lavarone, OFM, addressed this question. Fr. Ken pointed out that the chasm between the two men was one of lack of relationship. Lazarus could not come to the aid of the rich man because there was not a relationship between them. The rich man had always stepped over Lazarus or ignored him. Even after death, the chasm remained. The rich man spoke to Abraham, not to Lazarus.

Jesus’ story continued. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers of the fate that awaited them – sort of like in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Abraham responded that the brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn him, as the rich man himself had had. When the rich man noted that the brothers wouldn’t listen to Moses and the prophets, Abraham retorted that those brothers would also not listen to one who returned from the dead.

These final lines of the story are of huge import for us as well. They were directed to the religious, church-going folks of Jesus time and of the early Church. Jesus returned from the dead. Affirming the message of Moses and the Prophets, Jesus said we are to care for the poor and helpless among us. How we do it will vary. Some will have monetary resources that will be shared. Others will have talents that can help make life more bearable for their less fortunate sisters and brothers. Some will only be able to offer a smile and a kind word — a recognition that the other person is also human and worthy of respect. Each of these responses is a way of entering into relationship with the other person. Each of these bridges chasms that would otherwise keep them apart.

In Jesus’ story, both men were children of Abraham due to their identity as Jews. Today, we know that we are all children/descendents of one woman who was a member of a group of people who lived in Africa around 200,000 years ago — a woman known as “Mitochondrial Eve.” We all have a responsibility to each other. We all can give the gift of a smile that raises another’s hopes and heart. We all sometimes turn away from the circle of community of God’s children. The good news is that someone did return from beyond the grave with a reminder that we can turn back at any time. We just need to remember that care of God’s little ones (the poor and the powerless) comes first when we choose our elected officials, design our social safety nets, vote for funding of community services, and allocate our personal resources of time, talents and treasure.

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Posted by on Sep 9, 2010

“Love your enemies” does not equal “Burn their holy scriptures!”

Today’s Gospel reading is from Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Plain. It’s the section that begins, “To you who hear me, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28)

The reading spoke loudly to me today because of Pastor Terry Jones’ announced plan to have a burning of the Qur’an ceremony on September 11, the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon, a date that this year also coincides with the feastive end of the penitential season of Ramadan. The plans sparked protests from believers of all faiths, leaders of Christian and Jewish faith communities, and governments around the world. Reports are that the burning has been cancelled because plans to build a mosque near the “ground zero” site in New York have been cancelled.

Both the threat to burn the Qur’an and the opposition to the construction of a mosque, a place of prayer, near a site of unspeakable tragedy for people of all faiths speak to me of a huge lack of faith among us as Christians. How can we possibly reconcile “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” with the idea that all members of another faith are enemies because a few of their number carried out acts of terrorism? And even if all members of that faith were our enemies, we would not be justified in responding in kind if we are to be faithful to the new command given by our Lord.

The kind of spouting of hate filled rhetoric that we have seen in recent weeks is not consistent with the love of God. It comes from the Deceiver, who whispers coyly to us about how we have been wronged and how others can only be trusted to harm us and how all members of another community wish us harm or are evil. It all sounds so smooth and reasonable, especially when we see wars being waged and combatants couching their actions in religious language overlaid with centuries of injustice and misunderstandings.

The desired effect of the Deceiver’s whispering has already been attained, even without a single text being burned. People all over the world are stirred up. Protests are raging. Hatreds are reignited. It matters not a whit that leaders of the United States and of all major religious have condemned the plan. Extremism doesn’t deal in facts or the distinction between truth and falsehood, regardless of which extreme is in question. I can just imagine the delighted smiles on the faces of the evil spirits involved in this huge deception.

The example of St. Peter Claver, whose feast we celebrate today, speaks to us still today. Working in Cartagena, during the early 17th century, caring for the slaves who arrived from West Africa and serving as their advocate with their new owners, Peter Claver did not ask people about their religious beliefs before ministering to them. Once their illnesses had been treated, their wounds healed, their needs for nutrition and shelter addressed, he spoke to them of the love of Jesus and many became Christians because of the love he and his helpers extended to them.

The slave trade itself was “justified” by a series of Papal decisions based on the ongoing conflict between Christians and Moslems. Basically, the reasoning was that peoples living in areas of the known world where they might have had the chance to become Christians but did not do so could be enslaved as punishment/consequence for their failure to accept Christianity. Moslems were the original target of these rulings, but they were extended to include the peoples of the entire continent of Africa on the assumption that missionaries might have reached them. The peoples of the Americas eventually were specifically protected from enslavement for the same reason. Missionaries had not reached them before the voyages of Christopher Columbus and the Europeans who followed him.

Peter Claver and his helpers rightly reasoned that it didn’t matter in the least whether a slave was a Moslem or a beliver in a tribal religion or a believer in no religion at all. That individual was a human being, a brother or sister who deserved care and respect. Through that outpouring of love, care and respect, God reached out and touched thousands of people.

May we have the courage as people of faith to do the same.

St. Peter Claver, pray for us.

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Posted by on Apr 15, 2010

Tax Day 2010 – We’re All In This Together

April 15 is the deadline for Americans who have received income from any source in the prior year to pay any taxes due on that income. Needless to say, it is not the favorite time of year for most people. Generally there is a certain amount of hullaballoo about the whole thing. People complain about how much is taken from their wages, how people who don’t work still get help from the government, that they never personally agreed to the taxation, that people should be responsible for taking care of themselves, that some other generation is not doing its share or being appropriately responsible finacially, and so forth. The list of complaints goes on and on.

I’d like to offer a quick thought about the whole issue of taxation.

I seem to recall stories from our Judeo-Christian tradition in which the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” arise in one form or another. Again and again, the response from God has been, “Yes, you are.”

From the earliest days of our tradition, through the Law and the prophets, to the days of Jesus and the early Church and up to the present day, we hear again and again, “We are all in this together.” We are to look out for each other. Yes, we are to do our best to take care of ourselves and those personally entrusted to us (spouses, parents, children, siblings), but we are also to take care of the widows and orphans among us (i.e., those who don’t have family or identity within the society). That means we are responsible for those who can’t work, even if they seem able-bodied, those who may not have proper legal documents allowing them to be here but who have had the misfortune to get sick or injured, those whose parents can’t earn enough to buy food, clothing, books, or health care for them, those elderly who have no children with whom they can live or who could afford to pay for shelter, food, and medical care for them, those for whom there is no job. Again, the list goes on and on.

We also share responsibility to pay the cost of keeping our communities safe, our roads, buildings and bridges safe, our educational systems safe and effective, our environment healthy, and those whose work is to serve the larger community paid a decent living wage, with access to health care and time off to renew their spirits and raise their families.

Some of us have been blessed with more resources. Some of us receive money for work done by others (parents, grandparents, etc.). Some have investments that provide income without the necessity of doing any physical or mental labor. Some have barely enough income to keep simple shelter overhead and food on the table. Some have enough for a comfortable lifestyle, without much left for the frills.

Whoever we are, whatever our circumstances, we are all responsible for each other. We’re all in this together.

So let’s pray for the grace to be willing to give of what we have. Some will receive more than they have paid in taxes as a refund this year. Believe me, when that happens to an ordinary family, they really need the money. They haven’t had a great year financially. It’s truly a gift from God to have enough income to have to pay taxes. There are so many deductions from taxable income, so many credits to help families and business owners, that if we still owe some tax, generally speaking, we have been blessed. It doesn’t always feel that way, but in the big picture, we have been blessed.

So today, as we send in our checks and our forms, let’s ask a blessing for ourselves and each other, a blessing for our country and our world, and a word of thanks to the Lord for the rich blessings of opportunity, environment and loving community that we have received.

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Posted by on Aug 20, 2009

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

All a Big Game?

cheerleading

About a year ago I had dinner with a lovely couple who happened to be members of a different political party than I. It was not long before the 2008 election, and the handwriting was pretty much on the wall that it was not going to go well for their candidate. It could have been a tense experience, but it wasn’t. I grew up in a family whose politics tend to be quite different from mine, so it doesn’t surprise me that some people of good will think differently on a variety of issues than I do. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time together talking about many things!

At any rate, as the conversation went forward during the evening, the question of how one might choose a candidate arose. It was at this point that I was surprised. In my family and experience, candidates are chosen based on their stand on the issues and their record. At least that’s what most of us would say publicly. It’s definitely conceivable that a vote would go across party lines, though not common. We tend to be pretty independent even when we are members of a party.

However, the gentleman with whom I was dining expressed a totally different idea. He described politics as if it were a game. The analogy he used was of rooting for a college football team. In college football, the record and beliefs of the team members don’t matter. If one is a fan of, say Cal Berkeley, one cheers for Cal Berkeley. If one favors Stanford, then Stanford receives the cheers and allegiance. (These were not the colleges mentioned at the table, but to protect the innocent I’ve changed the names!) In his opinion, politics is also a game. If my team doesn’t win this round, the next starts tomorrow and I’ll do anything in my power to make sure my team wins next time.

I’ve been watching with dismay the controversy over the proposed reform of the health care system and I find myself wondering if it’s become part of the “game” of politics for some. 

There are many complicated issues that must be addressed, many differences of opinion about what services should be offered and to whom, many challenges regarding funding and affordability. Most are not being addressed. Instead, some opponents of the reform bills are circulating outright lies about the proposed reform bills and repeating them at the top of their lungs. They’re out to frighten rather than enlighten middle America. And, I hate to say it, but they seem to be succeeding. Fear wins out over reason every time!

It happened again one morning this week as I was reading the morning paper and its comics page (sacred reading in my book – generally sets the day off to a happy start). Our paper has both conservative and liberal strips, as well as the general funnies and serials. The conservative strip showed a caricature of President Obama saying that he is determined to get rid of people’s clunkers and has him holding a picture of an elderly woman. Talk about fear-mongering and outright lies! I was furious. Nothing in any of the bills comes anywhere close to proposing what the comic strip implied.

The same newspaper, the same day, included an article in the news section reporting on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (about as conservative as they come). According to the article, so called “end-of-life counseling” improved the mood and quality of life for cancer patients. The study was not done anticipating the current controversy, though it’s an example of the types of studies of outcomes/best practices that are proposed in some of the bills under consideration. What is the best way to care for the ill, the elderly, the young, etc.? The author of the study, nurse practitioner and researcher Marie Makitas, noted: “They [cancer patients] seem to feel a whole lot better knowing there’s someone who’s looking at the rest of them and not just the tumor.”

Isn’t that what quality care should include? Isn’t that an issue of personal rights to decide on important questions such as who will make decisions for me when I no longer can? It seems pretty conservative and pretty obvious to me. Yet critics keep shouting words that frighten rather than discuss the deeper issues and challenges we all face.

The only way I can make any sense of all this to think that for some very powerful people, it’s either just a big game or they have a financial stake in keeping the status quo as it is. Maybe it’s both.

It’s certainly not a big game for the family that lost the rental property they expected would help support them through retirement when their son, through no fault of his own, sustained a major closed head injury in a car accident while in his early 20s. The driver who injured him was not insured and he was between health insurance policies, so his parents ended up paying full price for his care.

It’s not a big game for the woman who is battling ovarian cancer and is concerned that the company for which she works may go out of business, taking her health insurance with it. She would qualify for coverage through the HIPPA program, but it costs more and offers fewer benefits than she currently gets. If she’s out of work and/or medical leave, she’d have to find a way to pay the entire cost of the plan.

It’s not a game for the woman who doesn’t have insurance now because she has a pre-existing condition but can’t get help because there’s a small trust set up with her as beneficiary. No state or federal help for such people!  Her only option is a high risk plan sponsored by the state that offers only $75,000 in total benefits per year and costs 3-4 times what a normal, healthy woman her age would pay for $5 million in coverage!

It’s not a game for the family whose new baby will cost them over $300 per month to insure on his mother’s insurance plan. Dad’s unemployed and Mom has to return to work 6 weeks after his birth so she can keep her job. (Fortunately for that family, the baby qualified for a “big government” program – Medicaid. Thank heavens for “big government” and the vision of those who fought for Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.)

It’s not a big game for the family whose employer had to reduce costs and so changed the company insurance plan to a high deductible plan that requires the family to pay the deductible before they receive any real benefits from the plan.

It’s not a big game for the thousands of people who find their employers no longer offer health insurance or their doctors no longer accept their insurance plan.

In over 30 years of working in the health care arena, including design of services and facilities, translation of patient informational materials, comparative studies of rates and costs of providing services, and many other assignments, as well as over 10 years in the insurance industry, I’ve seen a lot of cases in which the existing system has not lived up to the promises and claims made for it. We’ve come a long ways towards providing care for all, but we still fall far short and the system is too expensive to be sustainable as is. It’s not a game for too many people.  

Perhaps those who are in favor of health care reform need to know that for at least some of their opponents, it may all be a big game or a question of ratings or of who will win the next election. It may not have anything at all to do with economic realities or morality or social justice or even good patient care! Is it really all just a big game?

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Posted by on Jul 13, 2009

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

Saint of the Day: St. Henry of Germany, Holy Roman Emperor

7_13_henry2Holy Roman Emperor = Saint  – Is that even possible? Apparently so.

St. Henry of Germany was born to the Duke of Bavaria (in south Germany) on May 6th 973. He was educated by St. Wolfgang, the Bishop of Ratisbon. In 995 Henry succeeded his father as Duke of Bavaria.

Emperor Otto III of the Holy Roman Empire was Henry’s cousin. Upon Otto’s death in 1002, Henry seized the royal insignia from Otto’s companions. His succession was strongly contested, but with the help of the Archbishop of Maniz, Willigis, Henry secured his royal election and coronation on June 7th, 1002. Henry was not crowned Holy Roman Emperor until 1014. He was the fifth and last emperor in the Ottonian dynasty.

As king, Henry worked on consolidating his power. He led successful campaigns against Poland and Italy. He became King of Italy in 1004, and established a lasting peace with the Poles in 1018.

Henry was convinced by Pope Benedict the VIII to make another campaign in Italy. In 1022 Henry set out to counter the growing Byzantine Empire. His objective was to capture the Byzantine Fortress of Troia in southern Italy. Henry used three armies in this campaign, but none of them were able to take Troia. One army, led by Pilgrim, Archbishop of Cologne, captured Pandulf IV, Prince of Capua and extracted oaths of allegiance from the principalityof Salenro and Capua. Henry sent Pandulf IV off to Germany in chains and put Pandulf of Teano in his place as prince. Although Henry failed to take his main objective, he was satisfied in knowing that western imperial authority still extended into southern Italy.

So, how much money did Henry have to bribe the Ministry of Magic with in order to become a Saint? (see Harry Potter for reference). Seizing royal insignia, arranging his rise to power, campaigning, all hardly seem to be Saint-like activities.

But Henry was not all about war and power. Henry was a prayerful man and was very generous to the poor. In fact, in addition to strengthening the German Monarchy, he also worked toward making a stable peace in Europe and helped to reform and reorganize the church. He strongly enforced clerical celibacy, but this was also for his own benefit, so that the public land granted to the church would always return to him upon the death of the cleric and not pass to an heir. This also ensured that the Bishops remained loyal to him (for he was the one to give them their power), which provided protection against ambitious nobles. Henry established multiple monasteries and arranged care for the poor. He built the Cathedral at Bamberg, which became a center for scholarship and art. Along with St. Odilo of Cluny and the other monks at Cluny (in France), Henry supported many religious reforms.  

At one time, Henry came down with an un-named illness and was miraculously cured at the Benedictine Monastery in Monte Cassino. From then on, Henry was very active in promoting Benedictine Monasticism.

Henry was married to St. Cunegund. They had no children and it is said that they had a mutual vow of chastity.

Henry died in 1024 and was canonized in 1146 – the only German king to be canonized. And no, he did not have to bribe the Ministry of Magic. A combination of securing and spreading Faith, caring for the poor, reforming the church, and remaining celibate and prayerful, Henry became a saint through his own actions. He is the patron of the childless, the disabled, Dukes, Kings, people rejected by religious orders, the handicapped, sterility and of the Benedictine Oblates.  

 

P.S If you  have not figured it out already, this post was not written by Kathy, but by her daughter Rosie 🙂

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Posted by on Jun 5, 2009

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

The Feast of Pentecost and the Age of the Holy Spirit

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Pentecost

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter. Pentecost was originally a celebration of the first harvest and people came to Jerusalem from all over the known world to celebrate the feast.

For people in northern climes, the thought of a first harvest celebration in Spring may sound strange. After all, the snow has barely melted and crops are nowhere near ready to harvest. Even early crops like strawberries and lettuce aren’t ready yet. Nevertheless, in the Middle East, and by extension in that general latitude around the globe, many crops have already been harvested. Just go to a grocery store and you’ll see the fruits of our fields waiting for your table!

Within the Church, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – men and women who had been friends, family and followers of Jesus. This outpouring of the Spirit of God, the God Who is Love, gave birth to the Christian community that endures to this day. Jesus’ friends and followers were transformed from frightened “mice” into fearless “lions” who proclaimed boldly that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that He is the long awaited Christ, that God has made Him both Lord and Savior, that a new age has dawned and the Kingdom of God has begun.

These early disciples wasted no time in putting their beliefs into action. They shared what they had. They cared for and healed the sick. They took care of widows and orphans – the powerless ones of their society. They recognized the gifts of women who were leaders in their communities. They spread the Good News of the Lord to all who would listen. And they struggled to understand the implications for themselves and their society of the Good News and the freedom of God’s children. Who were God’s chosen ones? Who could be followers of the Way? What parts of the Law were non-Jews required to obey? How can the pastoral needs of the community be met? Who will look out for the powerless ones in our own communities? How do we choose leaders for our communities? How should Christian family members behave with each other?

For nearly 2000 years we have dealt with these issues as a community. Today we still face many of them, though in a much wider context, as a global, international community that includes peoples of all cultures. More than ever we must count on the continued outpouring of the Spirit to guide us and make us bold witnesses to the Good News.

Much of what we take for granted today is the result of the work of Christians who actively put their beliefs into practice and stepped out to make their part of the world a better place. Institutions such as hospitals, schools for poor and even middle-class children, education for girls, social safety nets, and many others have resulted from the Christian insight that God cares about all humans, even those who traditionally have been excluded.

The Christian belief that all receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation also leads to the understanding that all are responsible to share the gifts they have received and bear fruit in their lives. Together we listen to the Spirit and share in the development and shaping of both our Church community and the world.

As we move through these days following Pentecost, we face many challenges. It’s a time of global financial challenges. Governments are moving quickly to try to minimize the harmful effects of the banking crisis on their people. Social service agencies and churches are struggling to offer aid to the increasing numbers of people coming to their doors. Here in California there’s talk of dismantling all state funded social services, including health care programs for children of low income families and the welfare to work programs that helped so many families keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables.

What will we as children of God, brothers and sisters, do to address these challenges in our communities, states and countries? Will we say, as so many do, “It’s not my responsiblity to care for the children of the poor. Why don’t their parents just go get jobs?” Will we say, “Don’t ask me to pay more taxes. I shouldn’t have to cut back my lifestyle to pay for other people’s mistakes.” Will we sit in judgement of people who are losing their homes because they lost their jobs? Will we smugly assume that we’ve saved enough money to keep us safe if we get ill or lose a job? Will we criticize the people who lost their savings to the stock market when the money should have been somewhere safer? I hope not.

This year the time from Pentecost onward can be a time in which we truly listen to the Holy Spirit’s call to build up the Kingdom by caring for the poor, the powerless, those who are ill and who are losing their security (whether as a result of their own errors or those of others). It’s a time to trust that if we give of what we have, share from our abundance or our need, God will make sure that our needs are met. Our ethic of life must include not only the unborn but also those who are here and in need. Womb to tomb includes all those days in-between as well. Let’s not forget that as a Church community.

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Posted by on Jun 2, 2009

Who Can I Blame for the Mess We’re In?

Late Term Abortion: A Mother’s Story

parents

Robin Young of National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” interviewed one of the patients of murdered late-term abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller.

“We speak with a former patient of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita, Kansas doctor who was murdered on Sunday. She explains why the procedure was so necessary for her.”

Abortions past the 20 week “age of viability” are difficult to justify by pro-choice advocates. How could the loss of one of the three physicians who performs these procedures, which are less than 1% of abortions, represent any moral or clinical loss? The implications for the physical and mental health of families becomes evident in this interview. The values presented in this story are about the desire and wonder of having children, the anguish of carrying a doomed child, the inability of doctors to present the couple with any real alternatives.

An earlier ban on late term or “partial birth” abortions provides an exception for the health of the mother. Aren’t these just cavalier acts of barbarism by selfish women?

What would you do with a child that you wanted very much but who would not survive birth? What would be the most loving and caring thing to do? This is a very compelling story that should give us pause when we want to throw the first stone.

My Late-Term Abortion
President Bush’s attempt to ban partial-birth abortions threatens all late-term procedures. But in my case, everyone said it was the right thing to do — even my Catholic father and Republican father-in-law.
This article provides another instructive example from 2004 published in the Boston Globe.

In this second case, the situation seems to be less clear cut since the birth of this child would have meant a short and very unacceptable quality of life for the child as judged by the parents.

In both cases there were voices which opposed the choices made by the parents. Reviewing both cases is useful in terms of gaining a more nuanced perspective on the ethical and moral issues involved and the struggles of these couples.

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