Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In the End, It's All About Joy

 Wood Engraving by Ade Bethune
Today is the thirty-sixth anniversary of the death of Servant of God, Dorothy Day.  In pondering with gratitude her life and witness, it is easy to forget that for her, following Jesus, and a lifetime of doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy were, in the end, not a penance or a burden but all about joy. 

She wrote:"You will know your vocation by the joy that it brings you.  You will know.  You will know when it's right."  

Of course, the hardships she endured were real and painful enough.  She lived with loneliness, disappointment, doubt and criticism, with the daily struggle to face her own faults and failings and sins.  She was misunderstood by many, including some of those who admired her the most.

But it was the friendship of men and women on the edges of society, the poor and forgetten, the ones who are of no account in this world, but who are closest to Jesus, who brought her close to Him.  It was with them that she found joy, for it was with them that she found Christ, our joy, our hope and our peace. 

Dorothy Day, Servant of God, pray for us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Land and Water Are a Gift From God, Not a Commodity

Indigenous Protesters at Standing Rock 

"... it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.  They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principle dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.  For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values.  When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.

Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture."
                                                                                              Pope Francis  no.146 Laudato Si

Standing Rock Demonstrators

"Even as the quality of water available is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market.  Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights."

                                                                                               Pope Francis  no.30 Laudato Si                  

Monday, November 21, 2016

This Deliberate Tactic of Cruelty

Children from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo

While Americans argue about how best to protect ourselves from the marginal risk posed by giving asylum to Syrian refugees in our country,  the catastrophic war against civilians in Syria continues.

Today the United Nations Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Aid, Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council that 974,080 people in various parts of Syria are now living under siege.  (Just six months ago that number was 486,700.)  He told them, "Civilians are being isolated, starved, bombed, denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance in order to force them to submit or flee."

He pointed out that this "deliberate tactic of cruelty" was being "mostly perpetrated by the Syrian government forces against civilians."

It's atrocious and intolerable but the Syrian and Russian forces continue to act with such brutality and disregard of international law and humanitarian norms.  It seems futile to pray for an end to the war, for the deliverance of those under siege and for the continued safety of those who have fled their devastated country as refugees.

But it is within our power to intercede in prayer for peace in Syria and so we must,

If you are so moved please give generously to those working so hard inside and outside of Syria to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.   Here are three, out of the many humanitiarian aid groups that I recommend.

Medicins Sans Frontieres www.msf.org

Catholic Relief Services www.crs.org

Oxfam International www.oxfam.org

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Priority of the Poor and the Vulnerable

Today is the feast of St.Elizabeth of Hungary, the 13th century Hungarian queen, who with her German husband Ludwig, ruled over the kingdom of Thuringia.  During her brief life (she died at age 24) she was notable for her constant conern for the poor and the sick (she also gave birth to three children, lost her husband to the plague and became a Third Order Franciscan.).

But it was the personal priority that she gave to the poor and those who were hungry or sick that made her life so exemplary and so Christ-like.  She established hospitals and shelters for the indigent, selling her jewels and sumptuous clothing to provide the sick with food and medicine.  But she wasn' t just a benefactor at a distance.  Rather, she tended the sick and fed the hungry herself, daily, when she was able, with her own hands.  

Depicted in this relief print is one incident from her married life, when she shared her bed with a patient she was caring for who suffered from leprosy. Her husband was (understandably) alarmed to discover a leper in their room and in their bed.   He was quite upset with her until he had a vision, in which he saw his wife caring for Jesus himself.  

In this year grace, 2016, and as we move forward, it is the poor, in all of their distressing, frightening or seemingly hopeless circumstances, who must be the priority for Christians and people of good will.  Seeing our neighbors, even those we, in our frailty and weakness, resent and fear, as the beloved sons and daughters of our God, who is the loving, merciful and compassionate Father of us all.  

St.Elizabeth of Hungary, pray for us!

Monday, November 14, 2016

And Now the Hard Part Begins

The Execution of Marshall Ney by Jean-Leon Gerome (1868)

Pondering the election Tuesday of Donald Trump and the defeat of Hillary Clinton and her progressive coalition, seems to me like another chapter (a dark and dangerous one, to be sure) in the contest for ascendancy between those who support self-described progressive spiritual, social, political and cultural revolution that began in the 1960's (or 1860 or 1789 or even 1517, depending on how far back you want to go) and those who oppose the overthrow and destruction of a spiritual, social, political and culture order they cherish and believe in.

In another bitterly divided society, following the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo , the exiled Bourbon monarch Louis XXVIII and his supporters took power and proceeded (not suprisingly) to exact revenge on those who had supported the French revolution and then the self-styled 'Emperor' Napoleon.  Marshall Michel Ney, who had rallied to Napoleon when he briefly seized power in 1815, was convicted of treason on December 6th, 1815 and executed by firing squad near the Luxembourg Gardens the next day.  He was the most prominent of those who were executed or forced into exile after the Bourbon restoration.

Talleyrand, commenting on the restoration of the Bourbons famously said: "They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing."  Our new President is not Louis XXVIII and our outgoing President is not Napoleon, but for the side which is ascendant comes the temptation to remember every insult, every slight and every injury and punish those believed to be responsible.  The temptation for the side which is now subordinate is stop listening and refuse to face up to the weaknesses and failings that led to their defeat.

This may be the way of the world, but is not the way of the Gospel. As Christians we must work together for justice.   Of course we must be adamant in our unconditional repudiation of racism and of hatred of immigrants and Muslims, our unflagging defense of the creation and our solidarity with those who are impoverished, vulnerable and on the margins.  

But Gospel teaches us that only the love of Christ, made incarnate in this fallen world by our admittedly imperfect magnanimity, forebearance, forgiveness, humility and mercy, has the power to truly transform our lives and this world, whether we find ourselves as his disciples (temporarily) in power or out of power, politically, socially or culturally.  

It is easy comfort to recognize and denounce the blindness, failings and offenses of  our neighbors.  It is much more difficult and humbling to try to see one's own blindness, failings and offenses against our neighbors and repent of them.  

That's the hard part.