Dolan channels O’Connor

I was and remain a big fan of Cardinal John O’Connor, who was archbishop of New York from 1984 to his death in May 2000. There was a time when I put a lot of work into writing a biography of O’Connor, including conducting dozens of interviews with his family, friends, and co-workers throughout his lifetime. (Unfortunately, I put the project on hold when I had difficulty finding a publisher and have never gotten back to it.)

One of the beautiful and inspiring things about his personality and ministry was the striking indignation he felt at instances of disregard for human dignity. He was not afraid to express this indignation plainly and oftentimes poetically (for the man was a great writer and speaker).

One of my favorite examples of this was a time when he had announced that he would donate all of his social security income as a retired U.S. Navy admiral to a fund for the education of black youths. He apparently received some strongly objections to this from at least a few outspoken conservatives (whom, one might say, represented the “base” of those who most often supported a lot of what he did).

From the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral one Sunday morning, O’Connor read a bit from one letter he had received on it. The writer threatened to stop making his weekly contributions to St. Patrick’s and, in a sort of protest, throw black buttons into the collection basket instead. The Cardinal then commented, basically saying that he was sorry the writer felt that way, but that if his support for the education of young black people is what caused the black buttons to come in the collection basket, then he would wear those buttons on his cassock with pride.

Anyway, I thought of this yesterday when I came across (thanks to a link from Michael Sean Winters) a recent blog post by O’Connor’s successor, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In it, Dolan commented on the negative reaction of some Americans to recent flood of tens of thousands of refugee children from Central and South America. He specifically cited an angry mob that turned back a busload of children in southern California, yelling “get out!” while shaking their fists.

Dolan writes:

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane. It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothing gangs in the 1850’s, and KKK thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago. Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants. I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

He then compared the mob to the crowd of folks in McAndrews, Texas, who recently welcomed a similar busload of refugees, in this case offering the kids “a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.”

I loved reading the post and admire Cardinal Dolan’s intention to remind us of what we’re supposed to be about, not just as Catholics, but as human beings. His strident indignance at the failure of some to recognize the human dignity of those around them is inspiring and calls out the best in us — in me, anyway. His words are a welcome reminder to me of the wise leadership of his great predecessor, Cardinal O’Connor.

Regarding these young refugees, by the way, Minnesota Public Radio offered a fine report yesterday, explaining “Who are the kids of the refugee crisis?”


Categories: human dignity, people | Leave a comment

On the road

My full time work at Liturgical Press has had me on the road more often than not over the last six weeks, which is one reason for the infrequent posts here lately. Since the beginning of June, I’ve found myself in San Diego, London, South Bend (my recent Veritas in Caritate anniversary reflections were posted from there), and St. Louis — and a 10-day family vacation in Pennsylvania also happened during that time!

It’s all been good and invigorating (and also tiring, as travel can be), but I’m glad to be back home in Minnesota now and ready to get back to the office on Monday morning.

The most recent trip was to the National Association of Pastoral Musicians convention in St. Louis. During those days, I did this interview with Nathan Chase — currently the moderator of the Pray Tell blog, which broadcast live from the convention floor — about several new and exciting books from Liturgical Press. Have a look.



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He can’t wait

I was just looking again at this homemade video of Pope Francis’s roadside stop in Calabria, which Rocco posted the other day. I’ve been moved each time I’ve watched it, by the simplicity and joyfulness of the moment.

But the thing that keeps popping out at me comes at about 00:13 on the timecount. When the Pope’s car stops. What I keep noticing is that the Holy Father does not wait for someone to come around and open the door for him; indeed, he barely waits for the car to stop before opening it himself. I can picture the driver saying, “Damn, let me stop the car first!”

He was not stopping along the road there out of some sense of obligation. That much was obvious anyway. But that door bursting open while the car was still in motion — it says he was sort of busting to get out of there, to get with the people, to be with his flock.

God bless him. And Lord, make us worthy of him.

(Part II on Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate tomorrow.)

Categories: Pope Francis | Leave a comment

More good news!

Faith Meets World coverThis is exciting. Faith Meets World has nabbed a third place award in the 2014 Catholic Press Association awards, announced last night at the Catholic Media Conference in Charlotte, NC. My book won in the “Popular Presentation of the Catholic Faith” category. (And the fact that I share the third place award in this category — there was a tie — with the remarkable Brian Doyle actually increases its weight, in my mind, rather than lessens it!)

To see all of this year’s CPA award winners, see the CPA website here.

And remember, Faith Meets World also won First Place in the General Interest in the 2014 Excellence in Catholic Publishing Awards (from the Association of Catholic Publishers) and it was a U.S Catholic Book Club Selection. That’s a nice little collection of recognitions, so if you’re looking for some good reading to take along of your vacation this summer or something good for the adult faith formation program at your parish this fall, consider Faith Meets World: The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching.

Categories: my books & articles | 1 Comment

Groody and Gutierrez’s The Preferential Option for the Poor beyond Theology

Someone who wants to learn about the Church’s teaching or theology on preferential option for the poor will find plenty of good choices today of books and other resources. (In fact, there’s a pretty good chapter on it — if you don’t mind my saying — in a little book called Faith Meets World: The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching.) Presentations and explorations of the doctrinal, scriptural, and theological aspects of the option for the poor are plenty – thank heavens.

A new book edited by two highly regarded authors on the topic – Gustavo Gutierrez and Daniel Groody – tries to go in a bit of a different direction, and so offers some great new insights that you don’t find in a lot other such resources. The Preferential Option for the Poor beyond Theology (from University of Notre Dame Press) offers, as the title suggests, a different perspective. Actually, a collection of different perspectives.

The book is a set of essays by people who are not professional theologians or church leaders, but who have made serious and successful efforts to integrate the preferential option for the poor into their professional lives. Through the course of the book, we are offered the compelling witness of how the principle has been integrated into the professional lives of lawyers, politicians, scientists, college professors, movie producers, medical professionals, and health policy officials.

The authors make clear that important as it is to give money to agencies that directly help the poor or to volunteer at these agencies – and note, those are things we mostly do outside of work hours, in whatever time we have left over – there are all kinds of real, concrete, and effective things we can do at work, while doing what we do every day.

Lawyer Robert Rodes, Jr., for example, points out that “the burdens of the poor are being fashioned in the major law firms faster than they can be relieved by the public interest offices…. We can serve the poor at least as effectively by confronting and challenging power on their behalf as by exercising it on their behalf.” He does not just offer pie-in-the-sky reflections to say that’s what lawyers ought to do; he offers, towards the end of his career, a personal account of ways that he managed to do it.

Similar things can be said of the other people who contribute chapters to this book. All in all, the book leaves no question that Catholic social teaching is not a set of vague aspirations and unrealistic principles. Social justice is not what scholars write about; it’s what people do, day in and day out. It’s a lesson that all that we have – not just our money, but our education, skills, gifts, opportunities – is given to us for the good of all, to be shared, and shared especially with people who are poor.

Along the way, we also get a compelling warning against the kind of thinking we too often use to fool ourselves and dull our consciences, a warning of how inadequate and dangerous to the poor are approaches to poverty that are limited to charity and even efforts at development. For example, try reading this without feeling first guilty and then inspired:

It is easy to believe that we live and prosper under a basically beneficent system, that the misfortunes of those who, unlike ourselves, fail to prosper under it are either the result of their own improvidence or the inevitable consequences of an imperfect world, and that if we tinker more than incrementally with the system unimaginable disasters will ensue. The belief sometimes takes the form of a global methodology – cost-benefit analysis – or of a jurisprudential theory – law and economics. In other cases it simply fuels opposition to a particular reform. If we free the slaves, they will all starve. If we give women the vote, families will be destroyed. If we make employers hire blacks, all their white workers will quit. If we pay workers a living wage, we cannot compete with manufacturers based in Guatemala or Thailand.

Against any manifestation of this argument, the preferential option for the poor prevails by virtue of the maxim fiat justitia ruat coelom, let justice be done though the skies may fall.

If I could offer one criticism of this book, it’s that it limits its scope to professional life. It pushes readers to consider carefully how they can do justice to the poor at work, whatever that work happens to be. But I’d love to have seen at least a chapter on what it means to live the preferential option in one’s personal life, in a typical middle-class marriage, through parenting and family life. These too are central aspects of many people’s lives, and so shining the light of the book’s insights in that direction would have been equally helpful.

Still, I highly recommend The Preferential Option for the Poor beyond Theology. It is a witness of God’s claim upon our entire lives, including all the ways we encounter him in the poor – or the ways we could encounter him if only we were willing to.


Categories: books, option for the poor | Leave a comment

Program getting minority kids to college

I listened to a fascinating report on Morning Edition this morning about Detroit’s Christo Rey Catholic high school system. It seems to have found a creative and effective recipe for getting at-risk minority kids motivated, educated, and into college.

The schools work in cooperation with local professional places of business — hospitals and law firms, not McDonalds and gas stations — to place the kids in internship-type positions one day a week. This gives them first hand experience of professional work environments and also some important contacts for things like letters of recommendation and college/career advice. Sounds like they’re having some good success with it, and the number of kids trying to get into the schools is now far outstripping the programs’ capacities.

I ended up sitting in my car before coming in to my office so I could hear the report all the way through. It’s here and worth the 5 minutes it’ll take to listen. The Detroit Christo Rey system website is here.

Categories: poverty | Leave a comment

Good news!

Faith Meets World coverFaith Meets World: The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching has nabbed first place in the General Interest category for the 2014 Excellence in Catholic Publishing Awards! These are awarded annually by the Association of Catholic Publishers.

When I had seen the other finalists in the same category a few weeks ago, I was certain my book had no chance. Brother Mickey McGrath’s Go to Joseph, in particular, is a remarkably beautiful book. So I’m not only excited, but also surprised and — though it sounds hokey maybe — a bit humbled by this.

Thank you to the folks at the ACP and also to my friends at Liguori who publish and support Faith Meets World.

The ACP announcement, with all of t his year’s winners, is here.

Categories: books, my books & articles | Leave a comment

To my thousands of O’Hare Airport friends

ORD 5.13.14I want to offer a word of congratulations, respect, and gratitude to the mass of humanity with whom I shared space yesterday at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

What turned out to be a minor problem at a radar facility located in a Chicago suburb closed down both O’Hare and Midway Airports for a few hours yesterday. A “ground stop” is what they called it. No flights going in or out for several hours (incoming flights were diverted to other cities). At one of the biggest, busiest airports on the planet, a few hours of that sort of thing causes a hell of a traffic snarl, not only there but around the country.

Anyway, that all started around noon. As it happened, I had landed at O’Hare at around 11:30 am for a layover, expecting to get on a connecting flight home to Minnesota about 90 minutes later. That flight was cancelled, of course, and I was unable to get on another until about 10 pm. (I was lucky. Some folks ended up staying overnight at the airport.)

Especially once flights started coming in with people who all needed new connecting flights, O’Hare was a crowded, teeming mass of tired and inconvenienced people throughout the afternoon and evening hours. You can see a photo I took with my phone around suppertime up there on the right.

And I want to tell you: man, was I impressed with how everyone handled it. I can say that throughout the 11 long and taxing hours I was at O’Hare, I saw only one airline employee snap at a customer and, on another occasion, only one customer get cranky with an airline employee. But that was it. I was among literally thousands of people crammed into that space for those long hours, none of them particularly wanting to be there like that. But with the two small exceptions I mentioned, everyone was kind, respectful, and, more often than not, cheerful.

I saw people offering seats to one another when there were absolutely no free seats to be found in that terminal. I saw people sharing cell phones with those around them whose own phones had dead batteries. I saw people who were standing in very long customer services lines, waiting to reschedule cancelled flights, chatting and sharing food and passing around airline phone numbers to each other so others could call from cell phones rather than stand in line. I overheard two middle aged women, who I’m almost sure did not know each other, joking that maybe they could make a stop at a bar together, have a few drinks, and then find someplace in the airport to get tattoos together. I saw one woman pass another woman going in the opposite direction and shout out, “Hey, I love your hair!” (which clearly delighted the recipient of the comment). I heard a crowd of people gathered in one of the airport bars loudly cheering a basketball game together.

Around 9 pm, I saw one guy approach a gate from which a plane had just left, realizing he had missed his flight because – and I know this because he began to get irate and let everyone in the area know why he had missed it – because he’d been misinformed about the departure time from one of the airline agents. Just as he was really getting going with some loud expletives, a stranger came up to him with a smile and began commiserating and looking over the now-useless boarding ticket. I swear, after a minute, the stranger’s hand was on the guy’s shoulder, and a few minutes later they were laughing together. A few minutes after that – again, I swear this is true – I watched the guy who’d missed his flight walk away from there talking to his wife with a smile on his face.

Oh, and here’s one of my favorites: I saw a crowd of people waiting in a very, very long airline customer service line sing “Happy Birthday” to one of the people in line with them.

For what it’s worth, I’m also happy to mention that I was flying United Airlines this time, and their employees were – both at the airport and on phone as I tried to make new arrangements to get home – nothing but patient, cheerful, helpful, and quick to try to get things back on track. In the midst of what must have been an onslaught of customers wanting new flight arrangements, I was able to talk to a human being within three minutes of dialing their customer service number and had a new flight scheduled within another five minutes.

And so, humanity, or the portion of it who found themselves stuck with me at O’Hare yesterday, here’s to you. I was impressed yesterday. You did good!

Categories: people, solidarity | Leave a comment

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