Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Real American Idol - Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Lent

‘Is eating well and dressing swell a ticket to hell?’ Not exactly, says Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph Chancellor Monsignor Bradley S. Offutt. But this Sunday’s readings do have something to say about the American obsession with perfect bodies. See what in the Scripture reflection from this week’s paper edition of The Catholic Key:

The Real American Idol

By Msgr. Bradley S. Offutt

Many years ago I completely gave up on network television. Scenes like an angular young cowboy marking his territory with beer from a bottle, poured in a careful circle around his chosen buxom beauty, are what did it for me. And it’s not that I am so thoroughly sanctified, it’s just that such messages are so far from what I have discovered to be true about love and beauty that they are not even worthy of my fantasies, let alone my conscious attention. To put it another way, I guess I just got to where I found the chronic focus on toned body parts and sexual innuendo phony and tedious. So, I quit the networks. I haven’t missed them.

Trouble is, it’s looking like I might have to give up on the rest of the TV too. It has dawned on me again, of late, that so many commercials I encounter are for some exercise machine promising weight loss, or some miraculous lotion promising hair gain, or some “male enhancement” potion promising, well, I’ll leave you to decipher it. I don’t think I want to because it is beyond ugly. It’s even beyond offending my sensibilities. It’s just stupid. I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but whatever happened to sweet Janie hawking potato chips for Milgram’s and “See the USA in your Chevrolet”? Man, have we fallen fast! Fallen into a civic puberty, an abyss of bodily preoccupations.

And it is not that our bodies are unimportant. No, quite the opposite. Our bodies are precious God-given vehicles through which we encounter the majestic Truth of time and eternity. Your body is a veritable canvass upon which you paint statements about your values, style, art, and history. The body is a clock and a roadmap. It is a fantastic sign of our time and our place. Our bodies are exciting in the opportunities they enable and the sheer beauty they convey. But, of course, no one really disagrees about the importance of the human body. It is just what is most important, and most lovely, and most provocative; that’s what we disagree about.

Like Tarzan standing on a jungle limb, yelling and beating his bare chest, Saint Paul begins today on a loud, curious note. He pulls his pen right out of his pocket and writes the Philippians, Join with others in being imitators of me. Perhaps the Apostle had to be so brazen to get the attention of his audience. He goes on to make a careful point with the eloquence of a meat cleaver. He writes, Many. . .conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is their destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is their “shame.”

Do not be lulled into the too easy trap of interpreting this passage as Paul’s sermon against those who like to over eat. He is talking about much more than gluttony. The Apostle is addressing those who like to eat too much and those who like to diet too much. He is lecturing those who suffer daily addictions to what is oh so properly powdered, perfumed, primped, poised, pumped, and put on. Paul is writing even in tears to all of us when we make idols of our body.

Now, lest I paint myself into a hopeless corner, I hasten to say the Apostle’s message is not a call to be primitive. It is an admonishment, not a prohibition. So, is make-up bad? Is exercise evil? Is eating well and dressing swell a ticket to hell? No. I do not believe we can legitimately infer anything like that from this passage. Instead Paul means that our walk through the world is a talk with the Lord. As we walk and talk God registers the lessons of life in the evolving contours of our body. Healthy, faithful people prayerfully strive to understand and accept this dialectic of embodied life, not habitually outrun it or supplant it.

Finally, the Apostle directly addresses the revelation of God written upon our flesh as he writes, (Jesus) will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. Do you suppose this change Paul mentions is reserved for some abracadabra instant in the precincts of the netherworld? No. This change is happening every single day of our life. The dimming of our eyes and the broadening of our mind indicate it. Did you catch that fleeting glimpse of grandma in the mirror not so many mornings ago? It is a sign of the Truth that whispers in your ear even as it claims us all. That Truth always wins the race of time. Saint Paul would have us endorse Its victory and share in it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Missouri Considers Taxing Catholic Schools, Killing Kansas City

Normally I’d be enthused about a tax simplification scheme, but a proposal being heard in the Missouri Senate this week is simply stupid. SJR 29 would seek to replace all corporate and individual income taxes with a state sales tax on all products and services sold in Missouri. The tax would apply not only to traditional retail items, but to services like private and parochial school tuition, apartment rentals and the purchase of new homes.

The Missouri bill is modeled on a national proposal called the “Fair Tax” which has more merit if applied on a national scale. But since Missouri is the most bordered state in the union, the effect of a Missouri-only Fair Tax would lead to a massive exodus of retail spending from the state, and in places like Kansas City, a massive exodus of citizens.

Beyond these depressive effects, there is a central injustice in the proposal – charging parents who sacrifice to send their children to private or parochial schools a sales tax on the tuition they pay. The tax is initially pegged at 5.11 percent, but could go significantly higher if it does not achieve the revenue collected under the current system.

Parents who send their children to private and parochial schools are a tremendous benefit to state coffers. Even while they pay the property taxes to send the children of others to public school, they themselves do not take advantage of those schools.

Depending on the school district, every child that does not take advantage of public school education saves the state between $9,000 and $15,000 per year. Children enrolled in schools of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph saved public school districts at least $138 million last year. And each of those parents are paying the same amount for public school education through property taxes as are parents who actually use the public schools. Why would the state then penalize people who are already paying for a service they do not take advantage of? It is fundamentally not fair.

And it’s not smart either. Kansas City has seen a steady drain on its population for the last 30 years with over 100,000 residents fleeing the city. No small part of that exodus has been related to the perceived quality of Kansas City public schools. Young parents deciding where to live in the Kansas City metro certainly consider school options and many choose to simply move across State Line Road to Johnson County, Kansas where they can take advantage of one of the nation’s top performing public school districts.

I live in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City – literally two blocks from Kansas. A huge percentage of the middle class tax base of Kansas City is similarly situated near the border with Kansas. There is no bridge to cross. The streets are on the same grid on both sides of the border. The population density is the same. The only thing to alert a traveler to the fact he’s crossed into Kansas is the relative absence of pot holes and the proliferation of speed traps.

One of Kansas City’s saving graces staunching the bleed of citizens into Kansas is the presence of several excellent Catholic and private schools. If retail prices are going to be higher on the Missouri side and school tuition is to be taxed, there is nothing but a pig-headed Missouri pride to keep people from shopping, or indeed living, a few blocks west in Kansas.

Proponents of the Fair Tax claim that the elimination of all other forms of income tax and tax pass-throughs, as well as a sales tax rebate up to the federal poverty level makes the Fair Tax transparent, efficient, progressive and ultimately good for the economy, incomes and tax revenues. I’ve read those arguments. I actually find them persuasive enough to consider seriously. But those arguments were developed for a proposal at the federal level. They are null and void where the Fair Tax is applied in a single state bordered by eight other states and while federal taxes and pass-throughs remain unchanged. It has all the negatives and none of the positives.

And no Fair Tax system should ever incorporate the grave injustice and insult of taxing people more NOT to use public schools.

SJR 29 has already passed a Senate committee and will be debated by the full Senate as early as today. Please contact you State Senator today and let him or her know that you oppose the unfair tax on Catholic School tuition. If you know your Zip plus 4, find your Senator using this form. If you do not know your Zip plus 4 use this form at the post office to find it and then return to the Senate site to find your Senator.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

200 Couples Renew Vows on St. Valentine's Day

On St. Valentine's Day, more than 200 couples from around the Kansas City metropolitan area renewed their marriage vows at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during a Mass for World Marriage Day. Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Kansas City - St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn concelebrated the Mass which also honored the 40th Anniversary of Marriage Encounter. Following is Bishop Finn's homily:

Dear Archbishop Naumann,
Dear brother priests, deacons and esteemed Religious,
Dear Married Couples and Families,
Friends in Christ All,

Each Spring since I have been here, I have had the joy of gathering at the Cathedral with Jubilarians, husbands and wives celebrating significant anniversaries of marriage, particularly those noting 50th anniversaries and longer. The church is always full – usually more than 200 couples attend. Other couples who are not able to be with us often send us notes expressing gratitude to God for their vocation, and the grace of health and perseverance. It is always a touching moment for me to see these husbands and wives, and how powerfully God has worked in their lives and homes.

For the first time – at least for me – we have come together for World Marriage Day. What a blessing that Archbishop Naumann and I have been able to do so many things together as neighboring dioceses. I know I speak for him when I say it is a beautiful sight to behold you as couples and families. God has done great work in calling you and holding you together, blessing many of you with children, calling all of you to be living signs of Jesus Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. It is right that we say, YOU are sacraments for us and for the world. You make Jesus Christ present – full of love and life. Thanks be to God for His call, and for your response which His grace makes possible.

It is so important – today perhaps more so than at any other time in our lives – to give witness to, and to be outspoken witnesses of, God’s plan for marriage. The life-long, mutual and exclusive fidelity of wife and husband, open to children, is the foundation of our whole human society. Family is the human core of the Church. Your love is an image of the life and love of the Most Holy Trinity. There are other vocations, but clearly, priests and Religious come from families where faith is taught and nurtured.

Therefore, we must never stop telling the world about the magnificence of God’s plan in marriage. It is clear in the order of nature: in the physical and psychological complementarity of male and female, man and woman. It is clear in the revelation of God’s Holy and Eternal Word in the Old and New Testament; and it has been and must always be upheld in the law of our society.

Yours is a wondrous calling from God which He has made powerful, both in the way it fulfills and completes each partner, and also in your participation in God’s masterpiece of creation. The work of procreation and the education of children, so singularly dignified and primary in God’s purpose for marriage remains under attack, particularly since the introduction of modern contraceptives. How important it is that we persevere in maintaining the inseparability of the unitive and procreative ends of marriage. How vital it is to your complete self-giving; how wonderfully it shows your complete filial trust in God’s providential love. The prophetic teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae remains a valuable source for our formation as witnesses to God’s design for marriage, and as an antidote to the cynicism of our age which sometimes treats pregnancy as a disease and so readily regards children as expendable inconveniences.

Family life brings both inestimable joy and significant challenges. This life with its challenges and rewards is our path to holiness. The love of Jesus Christ that we see reflected in the eyes of spouse and children, those with whom we are privileged to share everything, sustains us and gives us hope. What a gift!

Particularly after love has been tested and matured, we come to see its supernatural breadth and depth. When we have experienced each others’ shortcomings and have acknowledged our own failings, we discover more and more how our married friendship is meant to rest in Jesus Christ. In today’s first reading, Jeremiah warns us against placing all of our trust in what is merely human. Our lasting strength, he says is not in flesh, or in material things, but in the Lord. “Blessed is he who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.” In the New Testament, Jesus establishes and blesses marriage as a sacrament, a moment of meeting God, and a relationship that brings two together as one in Him. Prayer and the life of the sacraments, therefore become the foundation of all we attempt. We live differently because of God. Our poverty, our hunger, our sorrows, need not be obstacles to the fruition of married life. They are, rather, the “Beatitudes,” the moments of holiness and even happiness. With Jesus Christ at the center of your partnership, nothing need diminish your faith, your hope, your love.

Many of you here today, have had an enriching experience in Marriage Encounter, and today we mark also the 40th anniversary of Marriage Encounter as an instrument of renewal and evangelization for marriage and family. I myself encountered M.E. as a theology student and then as a young priest. I remember well in my first assignment how, for several years, I would gather each month with three married couples. One couple was married only five or so years, another for about 15 years, and the third for more than 25 years. You know the process: We would pray, “write and share” our responses, have a good talk and usually share a snack. I am convinced that my participation was a formative grace of my priesthood. I received so much. Some of those friends have died. I think of them often and sometimes have occasion to hear from them and their families. I believe it is true, dear friends, that as we all grow older, we know that our lasting home is in heaven: this is our vision and our ultimate goal. As spouses your vocation is all about getting there, and getting each other and your children to heaven.

Today is Valentines’ Day, a day we often offer affectionate gifts or express the love of abiding friendship. Throughout our two dioceses, we have a wonderful opportunity for us to thank God for Holy Matrimony: the vocation and the sacrament which enriches the world. We entrust our individual families and the institutions of marriage and the family to Mary and Joseph, God’s chosen pillars for the family, and the husband and wife to whom He chose to entrust His eternal Son the Savior of the world. With the help of their prayers, may all we do in fulfillment of authentic marriage give God glory and build up His kingdom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bishop Finn Tells Educators - 'You are the Teaching Christ'

The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph held a School Teachers Catechetical Day, February 12, at Archbishop O’Hara High School in Kansas City. Following is Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn’s homily given at a Mass for teachers that day:

Dear Fellow Teachers,

Our recent celebration of Catholic Schools’ Week has given us all an opportunity to express our gratitude to the parents and families, pastors and parishes who entrust to us the privilege of teaching, and sharing in the Church’s teaching mission. They are good supporters of our work, and with them we share the weighty responsibility of bringing children to Jesus Christ; and bringing Jesus Christ to our children.

During these special days, I hope that you as administrators, teachers and staff, have also heard the appreciation of God’s people for your vital work. You are the teaching Christ. You are participants in my work as bishop, shepherding our young people. You are close co-workers with the parents. You love these children and spend so many hours with them, not only instructing them, but forming them in mind, heart, body and soul. You listen to them and correct them and encourage them. Sometimes you toss and turn at night because of them.

Thank you, dear teachers. Thank you for answering God’s call – fulfilling not just the contractual obligations of a job, but carefully and prayerfully responding to a vocation. When I was at one of the schools a week or so ago and asked the students what they were doing during Catholic Schools Week, one young boy answered that they were going to have a teacher appreciation day. He whispered to me that exactly what they were going to do was a secret. I hope you had received many signs of thanks and affection from your students

I always thought, during my days of teaching high school, that we didn’t get as many hugs and “special days” as it always seemed to me that elementary school teachers got. They told us our day to day gratification as a teacher was something much more “internal” rather than external.

One of the things I did after I left schoolwork was serving as the editor of the weekly diocesan newspaper. After I had been doing that for a year or so, I happened to meet some teachers who had served with me at the high school. We talked about “things,” and one asked, “So how is it being editor of the paper in comparison with school work?” I said that one of the bad things was that, when you made a mistake in the newspaper, about 100,000 people can see it. But there is this, I said, “Every week we send the paper to press and the next day we get it back – a finished product. It’s very satisfying to see that work. When I was a teacher I almost never saw the finished product. To be a teacher is an act of faith day after day. You just have to do your best and hope that something sticks. Maybe, maybe twenty years later we might see this child all grown up - a fine woman or man - and think, ‘Wow!, I had something to do with that.’”

When the School Office asked me what readings I wanted to use today, I thought we should just use the readings of the day. I must admit that when I saw this first reading from the Book of Kings about Jeroboam and the division of the Kingdom, I thought maybe I should have given this more thought!

But it is really a story about long range hope and the faithful love of God even in the midst of our failures and shortcomings. When the kingdom is being scattered by the disobedient sons of Solomon the prophet uses twelve pieces of his cloak to symbolize twelve tribes. He says to the rebellious Jeroboam, “Take the ten pieces and go your way. But the Lord says, ‘One tribe shall remain. I will preserve one portion for the sake of David my servant.’” No matter how difficult the challenge, God gives us something to hold onto. He does not withdraw His love. In the New Testament, we see that this piece that God saves aside for the sake of the love of His people is the shoot of David. From it would come the Messiah, the Savior, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Our Redeemer, Our lasting Hope, and the source of our life.

Being a teacher always includes being an apostle of hope. Sometimes the “problem kid,” takes all our time. Sometimes he or she nearly drives us to the limits of our patience. But who is he? Who is she? But God’s beloved. Therefore we keep at it. We always try to find a way to make it work.

We know that we are not the final determiner of this or that child’s future. We are not so bold as to think it all depends on us. But in our Catholic schools we have a wonderful opportunity and context of faith to say, “Each person has infinite dignity and immeasurable worth. This person’s value is not determined, finally, by what they accomplish or even by the grades they get: Their meaning comes from God.” And you and I are privileged to be God’s co-workers and instruments for finding the good, affirming it, helping it to grow. Once they leave our classroom or school, we may never see the student or hear from them - this side of heaven. As teachers we give from the good we have received. We give it freely in love – for love of the child and for love of God. How wonderful to be able to speak about this in every activity in our Catholic school; to pray openly and appeal constantly and openly to our faith, even as we teach our core curriculum with expertise second to none.

So, thank you teachers, my fellow teachers, for that. I admire you and appreciate your dedication. I pray that this catechetical day will provide you, first, some time to be with each other as valued colleagues, and that, in the presentations you hear today, you will enjoy some renewed insights into the meaning and direction of your constant work.

May Mary and Joseph, who had the privilege of teaching the young Jesus, never cease to encourage you in this holy work.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cool Video from March for Life - I was Born

This arrived in my inbox today with the message 'Please do what you can with this.' So here it is. It's a short video from this year's March for Life filmed and produced by student from Franciscan University. The top comment over at YouTube is "Now that is a Pro Life Video!! This should have been shown during the Super Bowl..." Agreed:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Shallow End - ABC's New Hip Young Lawyer Show Reviewed

Santiago Ramos reviews ABC’s new lawyer show and doesn’t like it a bit:

The Shallow End

The Deep End
Thursdays on ABC

Review by Santiago Ramos

The unsteady stack of clichés that is ABC’s new lawyer show The Deep End can only be described in comparison to the other shows it steals its ideas from. That’s just the problem. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot: good writers borrow, great writers steal. Bad writers imitate, for ratings.

Three episodes in, we can list the imitations. The Deep End tries to do for the hip young lawyer what Scrubs does for hip young physicians—but without the dreamlike humor, and without the satire. The show tries to reproduce the machine of a sophisticated, 21st century profession, like The West Wing or Mad Men. But even though it indulges in walk-and-talks (a camera/dialogue technique developed in The West Wing), it lacks the intelligence and patience required to construct a believable law firm. Its characters are too superficial even for soap opera-melodrama—but lacking expertise in the genre, I’ll cede this argument to my readers.

There is one comparison, however, that is particularly illuminating: The Deep End is Entourage with a slight case of guilty conscience. Entourage (for those without HBO) is a show about four friends, one of which is a movie star, who “make it big” in Hollywood. “Making it big” entails: 1.) Fame; 2.) Money; 3.) Meaningless sex with many good-looking women. The show deals almost exclusively with acquiring, losing, and re-acquiring these three idols, and never does a character rebel against his own impoverished ambition, against his blindness before, say, love or art. (To be fair, there once was a character who loved art more than money—the indie filmmaker Billy Walsh—but he was written off the show after a few seasons. He suffered a nervous breakdown.)

But not everyone can be a movie star. Some are forced to pursue 1, 2, and 3 through the regular professions. The Deep End centers around the lives of five ambitious first-year associates at the law firm of Sterling, Huddle, Oppenheim, & Craft who are doing just that: Addy Fisher (Tina Marjorino), from Case Western law school, a wholesome, quirky middle-American; Beth Branford (Leah Pipes) a Stanford grad from a family which endowed a chair at the same university; Liam Priory (Ben Lawson), our representative from Down Under; Dylan Hewitt (Matt Long), the most altruistic of the bunch, clean-cut, polite, and hardworking; and Malcolm Bennet (Mehcad Brooks), perhaps the only interesting character on the show due to the fact that, because he must take care of his orphaned 13-year-old brother, he has less time to hang out with this fellow first-years in the sundry LA hotspots that they patronize every episode—the same poolside parties and swanky clubs that we can see on Entourage. Apart from Malcolm, however, all of these characters, despite their different backgrounds, are fundamentally the same.

They also all work all the time and still find the leisure for the well-earned cocktail at the end of the day. In a sense, they are expected to be there, and they all expect what they are expected to expect—they are never unique, they never desire something unique, something beyond the limited horizon of their class. Their bosses attend even swankier establishments. But there is another aspect of their superiors that is more ambiguous: At the beginning of the pilot episode, a power struggle develops between the bosses. Sterling, who is the head partner in the firm, has returned after a leave of absence. Huddle, who is the calculating, ruthless, and conscienceless lesser partner, is reluctant to return the reigns of the firm to the more moral and pro-bono-loving Sterling. This struggle between conscience and naked ambition is supposed to be the backdrop against which our five young lawyers are developing their character.

But not really. Really, the essence of the show consists in the celebration of glamour and ambition, attenuated by flashes of charitable spirit. But this charitable spirit manifests itself in bromides and saccharine talk such as: “That’s what I’d like to change about the system: it’s all about rules and not about justice.” The “bad guys” that first-years fight against are often government agencies, such as the DEA or “Immigration,” also known as Homeland Security—in other words, the bad guys are the parents, the authority figures.

This is because the first-years are really children—with the exception of the close-to-interesting Malcolm, who is forced into a sort of fatherhood. But the rest of the cohort merely dreams the dream that we sometimes tell ourselves, that we can float into the empyrean realm of success by being a little nice along the way, and without having to suffer through doubt, sacrifice and—gasp!—poverty. This is a show about the struggles of a people who don’t have to struggle.

But there is no need to stay on the shallow end of the dial. Not in our privileged time of great television drama—not in the age of The Wire or Mad Men.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Pro-Life Super Bowl Ad - By Google

I’m not sure how effective Google’s Super Bowl ad was last night as advertising. It consisted solely of text, and most Super Bowl parties are not conducive to everybody quieting down so you can read the television. That’s the way it was at my house, anyhow, and I missed it.

Someone forwarded me an email from Troy Newman of Operation Rescue today where he suggests the spot by Google was the most pro-family and pro-life ad of the night. Writes Newman:

All good advertising must mirror everyday circumstances. And who hasn't used Google to make travel plans, find restaurants, or define an unknown word? But Google's ad went a step further than just random searches; it told a love story that surprised me by its overt pro-life message.

With the popular Google search engine as the sole backdrop to the story, a man looks to Paris as place to go to school, and by way of an Internet search, he finds a café near the famous Louvre. A French girl tells him he is cute, but of course the expression of amore must first be sent through Google for the English conversion. But the language of love is not lost in translation.

After a quick Internet search for chocolates and poetry, the long distance relationship culminates with wedding in a French church - yes church!

But wait! There's more.

After a proper courtship, and a Christian wedding, the Internet surfer looks for a way to assemble a baby crib, and the commercial ends with the quick cooing of a newborn baby.

I don’t know that I’d make the same judgment, but I’ve watched it a few times today and I’m struck by the innocence and normalcy of the spot (something Newman also touched on). Anyhow, here it is in case you missed it.



Friday, February 5, 2010

Main Problem for CCHD - Community Organizing Involves Lying

Around 2003, I was invited to cover a mayoral candidate debate in San Francisco sponsored, I was told, by a number of Catholic parishes and other congregations which had formed together as the Bay Area Organizing Committee (BAOC). When I got to the forum and found myself among a sea of purple jackets, I realized that BAOC was really SEIU.

One of the guys in a purple jacket took the mike for a pep talk before the candidates arrived and paraphrased for the assembled a lesson from Saul Alinsky, “Power is power, but the appearance of power is also power.”

The “debate” which followed consisted of candidates being read a list of union demands to which each candidate was allowed to answer only “yes” or “no”. They all mostly answered “yes,” with the exception of former police chief Tony Ribera who kept trying to insist that the questions involved were more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”. He was repeatedly and firmly instructed to stick with a one word answer. There was one collar on the stage, but it was clear the debate was not organized or attended by disinterested “parishioners” from neighborhood parishes. This was pure SEIU.

I subsequently covered numerous activities of San Francisco area community organizing groups and these were far less odious. In fact, reporter duties aside, I would usually be personally supportive of the aims these groups sought to achieve on a local level. But a common feature of all these groups made me recoil a bit – It was that lesson from Saul Alinsky I heard in my first interaction with an organizing committee - “the appearance of power is also power.” It is a brilliant thought in its veracity and application, but its employment as a tactic involves lying.

The lie works like this. A community organizer will invite a pastor or parish leader to join a coalition in the pursuit of some worthy, and generally innocuous, local cause – say the installation of a stop light at a dangerous intersection. The coalition gets their stop light, and the pastor and few parishioners who were involved are surprised that they were able to get something done at City Hall. So they join the organizing committee.

Now the dishonesty begins. In every subsequent action of the organizing committee, the group will say that they represent the total number of registered families in the congregations which have joined the committee. So, for instance, the San Francisco Organizing Project (SFOP) claims to represent 40,000 San Franciscans through 30 different Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations.

But only a very small number of parishioners from each of those congregations have had any involvement with SFOP. Many will have no idea that the organization exists and most would be surprised to know that, by virtue of their parish membership, they are among the 40,000 people who make up SFOP.

So the claim of a broad-based representation is false, but it is also absurd upon analysis. There is no likelihood that all the members of a particular parish would be united on any given political issue. There is no reason to think they wouldn’t be divided in the same proportion as the rest of the populace on many issues. And how likely is it that the members of a relatively conservative Catholic parish in western San Francisco would share the same political goals as the members of a progressive Reform synagogue in the Castro? Yet each and every member of each congregation make up the 40,000 people SFOP claims to represent. Frankly, this is a form of lying.

(I should note here that I’m not intending to single out SFOP, a number of whose initiatives I’d been supportive of over the years. It is the method I’m objecting to which is shared by all community organizing groups founded on the Alinsky model.)

Now the deception gets even bigger. Your local organizing group is an affiliate of a larger organization which lobbies on the state and national level. Examples include IAF, PICO, Gamaliel, Center for Community Change (CCC) and ACORN.

SFOP for instance is a member of PICO. PICO now aggregates all the congregations and people SFOP claims to represent with the numbers their other affiliates claim to represent. So when PICO goes to Sacramento or Washington, D.C. to lobby on budget and tax priorities, they claim to represent “one million families from over 1,000 congregations nationwide.” Again, the likelihood that they represent in budget and tax matters even the small number of people who signed up to get a stop light installed is slim. And they certainly don’t represent one million families. Only a tiny fraction of that amount has ever heard of them.

There has been much in the news lately as to whose interests these national groups represent and I’ll leave that to other commentators. Affiliates of all these groups have and are being supported by grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. CCHD has dropped ACORN affiliates. Now, CCC affiliates are under the microscope. But regardless of what one thinks of the aims of any particular community organizing conglomerate, should the Catholic Church be involved in any group whose central organizing tactic is lying about who they are?

CCHD makes two kinds of grants – for community organizing groups and for economic development projects. The economic development grants I’ve covered over the years have all been outstanding and actually do do the work to help the poor help themselves out of poverty. A smart and honest way forward for CCHD would be to sell itself on economic development and ditch community organizing. The dishonesty at the heart of community organizing has tarnished not only CCHD, but the moral authority of the conference itself.

As always, unless stated otherwise, posts here represent only my own thought.

Monday, February 1, 2010

'We are Nazareth,' Cardinal Schonborn Declares of Europe

Reflecting on the Gospel of Luke when the adulation of Christ by his hometown, Nazareth, suddenly turns to a desire to throw Him off a cliff, Vienna Archbishop Christoph Cardinal Schonborn said, “Sometimes I have the impression that what we are living now in Europe is exactly described in this scene. We are Nazareth.”

Cardinal Schonborn’s remarks came during a Jan. 31 homily St. Benedict’s Abbey Church on the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. The Cardinal had been invited by Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann. While there, Cardinal Schonborn visited with a new foundation of the Little Sisters of the Cardinal3Lamb of which he is episcopal patron and gave a major lecture at Benedictine College. The executive editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church also received the Cross of the Order of St. Benedict from Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis. (SEE UPDATE BELOW)

While Cardinal Schonborn’s homily began with a dark vision of the state of faith in Europe, it ended citing signs of hope springing up there and in the New World, including Benedictine College where, he said, the Church is “blossoming again.”

We are Nazareth

“We have to listen to Jesus,” the cardinal said. “We have to meditate: every single gesture, every single word, his behavior, his attitude . . . And then ask the Holy Spirit” to help us understand.

“It’s not easy,” Cardinal Schonborn said. “Often I want to ask Jesus ‘Why? Why do you shock people instead of being kind to them?” Cardinal Schonborn said that what Jesus did in the synagogue in the day’s Gospel “is so contrary to all P.R. rules.”

The people of Nazareth “are fascinated by Him. They are amazed how gracious his words were,” he said. Yet Jesus “doesn’t use that enthusiasm. To the contrary, he hurts them and we must ask ourselves, ‘Why Jesus? Why do you hurt your own people . . . with whom you have lived for 30 years, worked with, prayed with?’”

Not only does Jesus perform no miracles in Nazareth, Cardinal Schonborn explained, but “Even more shocking . . . before they even ask for a miracle He says, ‘You will probably ask now for a miracle. Don’t expect a miracle from me.’”

After explaining how the people were hurt by Christ’s words and then rallied to kill Him, Cardinal Schonborn said, “What shocks me and what gives me to think about the abyss of human hearts – my heart, your heart – is how rapidly things can change from enthusiasm to hatred, from acclaim to rejection. It is so close.”

Cardinal Schonborn explained that Jesus performed no miracle in Nazareth, because He was “expecting faith, not adulation.” Christ did not want to be “a show man . . . the star of his village,” rather He “wanted their hearts, their faith.”

Recounting the Gospel, Cardinal Schonborn said that when the people tried to kill Him, “He passed through the midst of them and went away. And He never came back to Nazareth.”

Cardinal2 “Sometimes I have the impression that what we are living now in Europe is exactly described in this scene,” the cardinal said. “We are Nazareth. . . We are tired of Him. With all our beautiful Cathedrals and monasteries . . . and the great witnesses of sanctity, we are tired of Him. We are looking for Buddhism, for all kinds of strange ideas, or simply secularism.”

Cardinal Schonborn said he is sometimes frightened by the vision of Christ going away from Europe. “Lord do not abandon us . . . Do not leave the Church in Europe,” Cardinal Schonborn said. “We have been so enthusiastic about you through all the great ages of Christianity in Europe, but then we have become tired about your words, about your requirements . . . We prefer the mainstream, the politically correct. . . We are tired of your Gospel.”

Cardinal Schonborn asked the congregation to pray that Christ would not “go away” from Europe, even while we want “that He reaches all countries of the world, all people of the world.”

The Cardinal then noted that the abbey church where he was celebrating Mass was built by monks from Bavaria and that the Holy Father was also from Bavaria. “So at least two good things come from Bavaria,” he joked, “And beer.” But he wondered whether the “great mission adventure” of Europe to the rest of the world had left Europe, itself, exhausted. Again, he asked the congregation to pray that “Europe will not become like Nazareth in the Gospel today.”

Signs of Hope

Jesus’ promise to “be with us always” is also “valid for Europe,” Cardinal Schonborn said. “There are real signs that the Lord is present . . . Signs of hope.” He cited the foundation of the Little Sisters of the Lamb in Paris and many other new communities founded precisely in places where the Church has seemed to go “down and down and down.” These communities arise as “a sign of life”.

Cardinal4 Cardinal Schonborn said he was very pleased that the first home of the Little Sisters of the Lamb in the U.S. is Kansas. “I’ve heard that they say it’s in the middle of nowhere,” he joked. “It’s certainly not true.”

He also pointed to Benedictine College as an example of a place where the life of the Church is “blossoming again”.

“If there is true love for Jesus,” he said, “then there will be life.”

Another great sign of life is the vitality of the pro-life movement in the United States, the cardinal said. “I always hope that this vibrant commitment for life, for the beauty of life . . . will come also to Europe, that together we will commit ourselves to the love of life.”

The Cardinal ended praying that the U.S. and Europe “stay together,” not for political or economic reasons, but for faith. “We need each other,” he said. “Every time I come to this country, I return to Europe encouraged in faith.”

Following Mass and lunch, Cardinal Schonborn gave a lecture to a standing room only crowd at Benedictine College. His lecture focused on Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture, which he said would one day be regarded as one of “the great texts.” Much of his lecture focused on how nominalism has shrunken both faith and reason. We’ll post on that later. Tom Hoopes has some good take-aways from the lecture over at National Catholic Register.

Beyond receiving the Cross of the Order of St. Benedict from Benedictine College, Cardinal Schonborn also received a belated (by one week) birthday cake and was sung Happy Birthday in both German and English.

UPDATE: Benedictine College has posted video, pictures newslinks and iTune downloads of Cardinal Schonborn's homily and lecture at their website.