500 years ago this month: the conversion of Bartolomeo de las Casas

Here’s an anniversary worth noting before August 2014 passes into history. I’ve been intending to do a more substantial blog post about it all month, but things have just been too busy. So I want to at least point it out before the anniversary is gone.

We have just passed the 500th anniversary of the conversion of Fr. Bartolomeo de las Casas. Las Casas was the 16th century Spanish Dominican friar who came to “the New World,” participated in the atrocities committed by the Spanish against the native Americans, and later opposed these atrocities vehemently.

Las Casas came to the Americas as a lay man. He was 18 years old in 1502, when he arrived with his father, who was a merchant, in what is today Cuba. They were among the first European settlers in the Americas. He obtained a plantation and bought slaves. But he soon decided to become a priest, and in 1510, he became the first European to be ordained a priest in the Americas. In 1513, he served as chaplain to Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, the Spanish conquistador, in his mission to take control of the island of Cuba from its natives. In this role, he witnessed even crueler treatment of native Americans than he had seen (and committed) previously.

It was in August 1514 — 500 years ago this month — that the most significant conversion of Las Casas’s life occurred. He was studying a passage from the book of Sirach in preparation for a homily. It was Sirach 34: 18-22 (here is today’s New American Bible translation): 

Tainted his gifts who offers in sacrifice ill-gotten goods!

Mock presents from the lawless win not God’s favor.

The Most High approves not the gifts of the godless,

nor for their many sacrifices does he forgive their sins.

Like the man who slays a son in his father’s presence

is he who offers sacrifice from the possessions of the poor.

The bread of charity is life itself for the needy;

he who withholds it is a man of blood.

He slays his neighbor who deprives him of his living;

he sheds blood who denies the laborer his wages.

The words dug into his conscience. He prepared a special sermon about the treatment of the Indians for the feast of the Assumption, August 15. He set free his slaves and began preaching frequently that the other colonists should do the same. Las Casas went on to become one of the foremost voices in defense of the human dignity of the native American peoples — which was mostly, unfortunately, ignored.

Five hundred years ago this month: the conversion of Fr. Bartolomeo de las Casas, who raised his voice with courage in opposition to what would become one of the most tragic offenses against human dignity in history.

Categories: human dignity, people, racism, saints | Leave a comment

“We may not be murderers, but we are inheritors.”

“To Be White and Reckon with the Death of Michael Brown,” a new piece by columnist Courtney E. Martin at the On Being website, is a fine one. It all leads up to a powerful closing paragraph:

The only way to honor Michael Brown and his family, to honor all Americans who reckon with the scourges of racism every single day, is to own that we may not be murderers, but we are inheritors. We must talk to our ugliest ghosts. We must work on strategies to dismantle structural racism. We must express our outrage at what is happening out there — in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in Oakland. But, we must also investigate what is happening in here, inside every one of us — our own unexamined privilege, our own patronizing cure-alls, our own fears. We are not bad. We are not good. We are part of the tragic story and the opportunity for transformation.

Categories: racism | Leave a comment

Was Bonhoeffer gay?

Two tweets from Fr. Jim Martin today:


Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer gay? According to this superb biography, which I just finished, very probably: http://religionandpolitics.org/2014/07/30/the-life-of-dietrich-bonhoeffer-an-interview-with-charles-marsh/


And does it matter if Bonhoeffer was gay? Yes, it does. Because it reminds us that gay men and women can be holy–very holy, even martyrs.

Categories: human dignity, people, saints | Leave a comment

“An exquisitely timed act of nature”

Let’s face it, in our information- and news-soaked culture, we learn a lot of startling things on a regular basis. It takes a lot to surprise us. But this morning’s broadcast of NPR’s Morning Edition had me muttering “holy shit” as I listened on the way to work.

That came when I heard Elizabeth Shogren’s report on an “intrepid” (her adjective, and a good one) species of bird and its annual migration — get this — “from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic and back every year”! Yes, that’s 9,300 miles of flying.

But its long distance flight is not all that’s amazing about this creature. It is one actor is a complex and remarkable happening — what Shogren aptly describes as “an exquisitely timed act of nature.” Shogren reports:

Tens of thousands of red knots stop to refuel in the Delaware Bay just as the world’s largest concentration of horseshoe crabs arrives on the same beaches to lay eggs…. By the time the birds get to Delaware’s shore they’ve been flying for five days straight — and they’re starving….

The birds come here because this is where the strange, prehistoric-looking horseshoe crab comes to lay its eggs.

“There isn’t anything better for these birds to eat,” says Kalasz. “These little tiny horseshoe crab eggs are just packed full of fat,” he adds, holding a cluster of thousands of tiny greenish balls.

At high tide, thousands of these crabs, each the size of a salad bowl, cluster along the water’s edge. The gentle surf is foamy with the males’ sperm. As many as ten male crabs compete to fertilize each female’s eggs.

The superabundance of this nutritious food is essential for the red knots, which double their body weight in about 10 days of gorging, before heading north.

But herein lies a warning, yet another reminder of the myriad ways we are allowing climate change to upset our planet’s delicate ecological balance. Shogren:

The crabs and the birds have to arrive at the same time if the birds are going to make it to the Arctic to nest, and warming water temperatures could prompt the crabs to lay eggs before the birds arrive.

“In a number of years, we could lose this very special place,” he says. “And if that were to occur, I’d feel a tremendous sense of loss.”

The changing climate is creating other risks for the red knot along its migration path, including in the Arctic where it nests.

A tremendous loss indeed.

The report, both text and audio, are here.

Categories: environment | 1 Comment

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 strong 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 | 2 Comments

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.



Categories: books | Leave a comment

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

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