“Especially the voiceless”: OMI’s mark 200 years this week

This week the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate mark the 200th anniversary of their founding by St. Eugene de Mazenod. Here’s my new article in Our Sunday Visitor marking the occasion. It takes a look at St. Eugene himself, as well as at the admirable work that the OMI’s do here in the U.S. today.

Congratulations, OMI’s!

“We are called to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous”

I love this passage from Pope Francis’s Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square yesterday:

Today Jesus also tells us that the measurement is not the quantity but the fullness. There is a difference. It is not a question of the wallet, but of the heart. There are heart diseases that lower the heart to the portfolio. To love God “with all your heart” means to trust Him, to trust in His providence, and to serve him in the poorest brothers and sisters without expecting anything in return. Faced with the needs of others, we are called to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the necessary time, not only what remains extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or our own group.

Allow me to tell you a story that happened in my previous diocese. It is about a mother with her three children.  The father was at work and the family was at table eating veal cutlets alla Milanese.  Just then someone knocked at the door and one of the children – the young one who was five or six years old – the oldest was seven years old – came and said, “Mom, there’s a beggar at the door who is asking for some food.”  And the mother, a good Christian, said, “What should we do?”

“Give him some food,” they said.

“Ok.” She took the fork and knife and cut each person’s cutlet in half.

“Oh no, Mom! Not like this! Take something from the refrigerator!”

“No, we will make three sandwiches like this!”

And thus the children learned that the meaning of true charity means that you give not from what is left over but from what we need. I am certain that that afternoon they were a bit hungry, but this is the way to do it.

The Jesuit martyrs: 25th anniversary

This Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter at the University of Central America by members of the El Salvadoran military. It happened November 16, 1989.

The Jesuit website, Jesuits.org, offers an excellent two-part article this week on the event. Part one is here and part two is here.

Author William Bole identifies the murders as “one of the most glaring and brazen human-rights crimes of the late 20th century.” He opens by describing the event:

In the predawn hours of November 16, 1989, an elite battalion of El Salvador’s military forced its way into the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America, or UCA. The university, led by its president, Father Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ, had become a stronghold of opposition to human rights abuses committed by the U.S.-backed military.

On that night, soldiers dragged five priests out of their beds and into a courtyard, made them lay facedown on the grass, and fired bullets into their heads. They went back inside and killed another Jesuit. Then, searching the residence further, they found a housekeeper and her teenage daughter crouching in the corner of a bedroom, holding each other. The gunmen shot them too.

Boles helps us understand who the victims were and who their killers were. He explores the roots of the killings and their fallout, both in terms of government policy and Jesuit ministry.

The second article includes a moving account of a telephone conversation between El Salvadoran President Alfredo Christiani and Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, just after the killings. Christiani — who knew his military was responsible for the deaths, but had publicly blamed leftist rebels immediately — told Kolvenbach, “Father, I hope that this sorry situation won’t lead you to withdraw the Jesuits from El Salvador.” Kolvenbach replied to the president, “Mr. President, you don’t understand. We asked for six volunteers to take the places” of those priests murdered at the University of Central America, “and more than 100 Jesuits asked to be sent.”

The articles are worth the time it takes to read through carefully in full.

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.

 

“Do you want to honor Christ’s body?”: St. John Chrysostom on liturgy and care for the poor

I’m busy wrapping up my work translating Goffredo Boselli’s The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy, set for publication by Liturgical Press in the fall. It’s an exciting and beautiful book in many ways, one of them being Boselli’s rich appreciation of the theology of the early Church. The book draws from many of the greatest thinkers and pastoral leaders of that era in fruitful ways.

Here’s a great passage from St. John Chrysostom that Boselli quotes at some length in chapter nine, which is on “Liturgy and Love for the Poor”:

Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Do not neglect him when he is naked; do not, while you honor him here with silken garments, neglect Him perishing outside of cold and nakedness. For He that said “This is my body,” and by His word confirmed the fact, also said, “You saw me hungry and you did not feed me” and “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” This [the body of Christ on the altar] has no need of coverings, but of a pure soul; but that requires much attention. Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honor Christ as He Himself desires….

For what is the profit, when His table indeed is full of golden cups, but He perishes with hunger? First fill Him, being hungry, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Do you make for Him a cup of gold, while you refuse to give him a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Do you furnish His table with cloths bespangled with gold, while you refuse Him even the most basic coverings? And what good comes of it?

And these things I say, not forbidding munificence in these matters, but admonishing you to do those other works, together with these, or rather even before these. Because for not having adorned the church no one was ever blamed, but for not having helped the poor, hell is threatened, and unquenchable fire, and the punishment of evil spirits. Do not therefore while adorning His house overlook your brother in distress, for he is more properly a temple than the other.

That’s from a homily that Chrysostom preached on the Gospel of Matthew (not my translation, but one that’s more than a bit outdated; I cleaned up some of the most archaic style). Chrysostom was archbishop of Constantinople at the beginning of the fifth century.