Early Christians didn't enjoy the benefits that come with the modern day Church. In fact, it was quite the opposite; to admit that you were a follower of Jesus in many Roman cities was to become a martyr. Probably the most interesting part of this whole history lesson is that the very word 'Christian' was actually used by secular powers to describe this sect of Judaism that acted so different that they required a new name other than 'Jewish'. The first known reference to the word was in Antioch - "It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians." (Acts 11:26) - which is interesting because Antioch was a city that was severely divided into social and racial boroughs by walls. But these so-called 'Christians' (literally, Christ-followers, or 'little Christs') came in and mixed it all up. They believed that there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, and as such, they believed that all were welcome and met with anyone who wanted to hear this new Gospel. The poorest and weakest were exalted, and Christians would often chastise the powerful and rich for their mistreatment of these Blessed. And so, when the powers in Antioch used this word 'Christian', it was not a name of honor. On the contrary, it was somewhat of a slur, a pejorative, a name given to attack and insult this group of people who were threatening the good way of life in Antioch.
Often in history we find the use of pejoratives to take something unique and true about a people and twist it into an insult. Nigerian slaves, our Jewish brothers, various Asian races, and even people with differing political opinions, addictions, or physical characteristics and desires have experienced all kinds of slurs and names given by those who want to somehow diminish their value and dignity as human beings. What this accomplishes is more about the conscience of the oppressor - if I take someone's God-given name away from them and replace it with something generic and stereotypical, then that person, freed from his or her true name, is no longer a person with an individual identity, feelings and cares. Now, I can treat them as I would any enemy or animal and my conscience is subdued.
Moreso, using a pejorative allows us to take everything that a people are and turn it into something that is abhorred and cursed.
The 'Wide Awake' movement is one of these examples. Adopted by supporters of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860's, his Republican party cultivated the use of the term 'Awake' to oppose the spread of slavery. Of course, there is a strong Biblical connotation to this idea of 'staying awake' that Jesus asked of His disciples in many of his final teachings, in the Garden of Gethsemane and later used by Paul to describe the call to "awake from sleep" and receive salvation (Rom 13:11). In the Bible, 'Staying awake' is to follow God's commandment to love Him and neighbor, to not fall into a worldly rhythm of accepting things as they are, and to be aware and acknowledge what is around you as right and wrong instead of using what benefits 'me' the most and discarding the rest. The early Christians were certainly considered 'wide awake' to the suffering of people who weren't accepted for who they were, and this was the reason they were heavily persecuted.
This same idea of being 'Awake' continued to be used in the freed-but-persecuted African-American community throughout the 1900s, though in the vernacular, they would advise one another to "Stay Woke". It wasn't until the 21st century that this idea became more mainstream, meaning (much as in the 1860s and in the first century) to be alert and aware of social and racial discrimination and injustice. It was a call for social justice, to be aware of the suffering people around you. Recalling again those first Jesus followers, Merriam-Webster defined the expression 'Stay Woke' as someone who is "self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better".
As history repeats over and over again, the past decade has shown us the all-too-common backlash, where this people who are seen as different and controversial are now a pejorative. All of this history, people, and progress since Abraham Lincoln can simply be labeled and slurred so that anyone who believes in racial justice or social justice or the dignity of a persecuted group are now just 'Woke'.
Have there been poor choices made in the name of 'Wokeness' that can be trumpeted and paraded as examples of this name? Sure - no people, no organization, no institution, no Earthly idea is perfect. But, absent of adequate racial justice in our world, we should not be so lazy as to dismiss a people simply because someone can use a pejorative to insult them. In fact, if I reflect on the example of Christ, I can find a lot of similarities in Jesus' call to "stay awake" (Mt 25:13) and His care for the rejected (Lepers), the outcast (Samaritans), and the persecuted (sinners). We do not know when He will come to us as the outcast; woe to me if I simply tell Him "Sorry, I'm not Woke." (c.f. Mt 25:46)
by Jason Wilde
In his film Silence, Martin Scorsese tells us the story of a couple of Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan to rescue Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira, who was at the time a great missionary, the superior of all Jesuit missionaries, and the first to renounce his faith under torture.
In this story, we find that these missionaries have their dreams of martyrdom for the sake of their superior shattered by the revelation that Ferreira was now openly questioning and prosecuting suspected Christians, even encouraging them to apostatize (renounce their faith by symbolically stepping on an icon of Jesus or Mary called a fumie). Instead of a bold and daring rescue operation, the Jesuits find themselves the subject of a plot to have them apostatize as well, with the Japanese using their superior Fr. Ferreira as an example of honor.
Now, here comes the spiritual plot twist. It is said that Fr. Ferreira apostatized in a prison camp where many of his Christian converts were tortured by hanging with their heads in a pit of excrement, slowly bleeding from a cut in their scalp so that they would remain conscious for the many days that it took them to slowly die. One hand was left unbound so they could signal their defeat and apostatize, and yet few did so. It would have been a horrendous death for these Japanese converts, neither quick nor honorific. But, instead being tortured to death, Fr. Ferreira found himself holding these suffering lives in his own hand, for if he were to apostatize, they would all be released. He renounced his faith in the end to save these lives.
This situation opens some hard questions for believers. Which is worse - to watch as potentially hundreds of Christians are brutally tortured until they either renounce their faith or die as martyrs in order that their shepherd prevails as an unstained image of perfection...or to have that shepherd publicly renounce his own faith - a spiritual death - in order to save the lives and souls of his flock? When Jesus says that it is better to lose one's own life than to give his soul, what if the life is not your own? Can we use St. Peter's own denial of our Lord and Savior as an example of penitent denial for the greater good? Is there such a thing as spiritual martyrdom? Did Jesus succeed by dying on the cross?
In Scorsese's retelling of the story, one of the returning missionaries is captured and lives the same fate as his superior. He hears the screams and cries of countless souls in torture from his cell and asks 'Why, Lord?', 'Where are You?' He prays through intense lamentations, and he hears nothing - Silence. And, as days turn to weeks and months of hearing these screams and cries - and silence from the Lord - he still refuses to step on the face of Jesus as more and more Japanese Christians die.
We could dive into the moral and theological ramifications of this situation. In fact, I could make some strong parallels between this kind of situation and what has happened as churches are forced to make decision to limit or close services over the past year. But, there is a very important and crucial moment in this story that I want to focus on. It is at the climax when this missionary is bound, standing in front of an image of Jesus. He looks down and hears a gentle voice say “It’s OK to step on Me.”
Our Christian Faith is reflected in this statement. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemene and Peter drew his sword to mount a defensive attack against the temple guards, it was Jesus who instructed Peter “Put your sword into its scabbard. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?” (Jn 18:11) Peter expected Jesus to tear down the thrones of rulers and bring peace and he was ready to fight for what he thought was a just cause. Jesus, however, knew that in the end, God’s plan was for Him to be put to death in a most brutal way, and though He even begged for deliverance from this fate, He knew the Father’s will and was obedient to it.
We often don’t understand or trust God’s will, and our response is very much the same as Peter in the Garden of Gethsemene, or King Herod when whispers of God’s prophesy circled around - we take selfish control, often resulting in drastic consequences. Rather than follow Jesus’ example of prayer, supplication, and discernment, our human minds allow us to think only in the moment, or possibly in some abstract future that God will only laugh at. We scoff at the power of the Holy Spirit and desire instead to control it and make it conform to our will.
The Holy Spirit just called, and It wants It’s Church back!
I heard this proclamation at a healing conference, and it has stuck with me, becoming more and more relevant as I find my mission in my home country. We are a diminishing Church, losing followers at rates that would make most membership clubs think about closing shop, and yet we act as if we can somehow keep doing what we have been doing for the past 50 or 100 years, oblivious to the promptings of the Spirit, ignoring anyone asking questions, and persecuting those who wants to do something a little differently. Our Church is militant about protecting centuries-old rites, ancient songs and buildings, and placing God in a time capsule that very much represents the religious institutions that Jesus spoke most vigerously against. We obsess over the observance of laws and traditions that make us feel like we are in control of our own spiritual fate, akin to the Pharisees, scribes and the heretic Christian Palagians of the 5th century.
In so many ways, we have taken the Church away from its groom and have instead groomed it to be something that I want; something that reflects the desire to control my fate and not very different from how our world tells us that we can hypercontrol everything in our world down to the degree in our passenger seat of this life.
Fr. Dave Pivonka (TOR), known for the Wild Goose series on the Holy Spirit, described our treatment of the Holy Spirit as how we like to treat one of Its most recognizable symbols - fire. We love candlelit vigils and ceremonies, the smell of incense, and the romantic glow of a flickering flame around the altar. But, our affinity for fire only goes so far - only as far as we can control it. I remember watching a couple light a symbolic unity candle at their wedding amidst beautiful flowers, decorations, a full church, and a melodic refrain singing “Our lives are in your hands...” Satisfied that the large white candle was lit, the couple blew out their respective tapered candles and placed them back in their holders, turned around (Maid of Honor hurriedly moving the train), and walked ceremoniously back to their spot in the center aisle. Little did they know that as soon as they had crossed in front of the ambo, the small flame had flicked around and caught the decorative lace surrounding the unity candle, and the large tongues of fire were just about to jump over to the tabernacle cloth before an astute woman in the front row noticed it and quickly ran to smother the flaming lace.
I only recently recognized the significance of this out-of-control flame that was supposed to symbolize a couple’s sacramental joining in some very well-controlled and predictable manner. But, the Holy Spirit makes things messy, destructive, and often hectic; much less than perfect in our human minds. So, we put in place more controls and insurances against anything that might get out of hand. We smother the Holy Spirit and remove any chance of it spreading.
This is all fine until the Spirit places us in a situation that we cannot control, or that has no definitive moral answer. This is what Scorcese tried to show in his direction of Silence. There was no perfect answer or solution to the situation those missionaries were placed in, just as we didn’t have a lot of perfect solutions to deal with limitations placed on our society by COVID-19. When this happens, our conscious self defaults to narcissistic self-preservation or tribalism; values that are more closely linked to political or commercial ideologies than to God, or some kind of fundamentalism that offers a single closed-minded way of thinking. None of these defaults is conducive for a truth that can come from discernment in the Spirit.
So, what would a Spirit-led Church look like?
First of all, the Spirit wants to break out of the physical building that most of us call a ‘church’ and asks us to go outside of ourselves. This means not only recognizing that God is present in all Creation, but also that we are called to be a Church everywhere we go, work, live, and play.
It means praising the Lord and praying at all times, not just when we feel obligated or when it is the appropriate time, or when it might outwardly show that we are Christian.
We are called to find God in every person and treat them as we would the Son of God that we proclaim. The Spirit wants us to be poor and walk with the poor.
The Spirit reveals to us our own hidden vices and addictions so that we may have mercy on those who have visibly sinned.
It teaches us that salvation is not something that we achieve through pious or charitable acts, rather we desire to be a part of such acts because we have hope in a Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven and so we want to celebrate and glorify the King in anticipation of the end of times, when all will sing out.
We must resist the urge to divide ourselves or judge! The Spirit does not judge what may seem different from our own way of thinking because the Spirit is different in every way imaginable...just as different as Jesus was in His own age because He turned the world upside down and asks us to look at it differently! In the words of Dallas Jenkins, director of The Chosen, we must “Get Used to Different!”
Finally, a Spirit-led Church is also one that attracts because of the excitement and joy that it radiates, charisms and miracles that it encourages, and the love that it shares.
It is one that resists saying ‘No’ and instead asks ‘How?’
At times, it will be uncomfortable. This is the Spirit moving! If we believe that rules, mandates, or traditions will keep the Church alive, then we have learned nothing from the New Testament.
And we should be always praying and reflecting on God’s Word as this is the most direct way that the Spirit talks to us.
As today is the formal day of Epiphany, I want to end with a little reflection on how the magi followed the Spirit without knowing exactly what they’d find. They didn’t have any answers, but only knew one thing: This star was important, a spark of excitement and hope. But, with only this spark, they set out and endured a long journey. This is how our journey as Christians and as a Church should be. We cannot know what our journey looks like and we have very little control over the fruit or trials from it. But, we set out, guided by the Wild Goose that is the Majestic Holy Spirit, crazy and unpredictable at times, and often uncomfortably in your face.
What amazes me about these wise magi is that they were not seeking reward for themselves. They were men of great knowledge and power, and yet they knew that this was only a gift for them to seek something higher - a revelation that would be far more valuable and important than all the kings and nations of the Earth. There is no mention of complaint or selfish interests or protection in the Gospel accounts - only curiosity and docility.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Matthew 2:2)
In this modern age, we often like to complain about trials, struggles, or issues that hinder our expected path. Twelve days ago, I listened to several Christmas homilies and reflections that lamented about how we are not as free to say Merry Christmas as we’d like. Yet, in the eleven days since Christmas Day, I cannot say that I’ve seen or heard many Christians celebrate and proclaim that we are in the Christmas season; on the contrary, I’ve witnessed those elaborate decorations and positive expressions of love be taken down at an alarming rate - well before Epiphany, the day when the Christ-child was made known as King and Lord of all the Earth - and have been replaced by arguments, dissension, idolatry of worldly issues, powers, and personalities, and a looking forward to the next milestone. We have already turned back in on ourselves and want to control the Spirit of Christmas so that we can get on with our lives of passivity to the Holy Spirit. We are anxious to blow out the fire that was only lit twelve days ago - a fire that we attempt to use only as a self-preserving weapon and not as a flame of personal conversion in heart.
The magi, however, did not cement their plans or ideas that the Spirit had laid out for them. They did not give in to selfish interests by returning to Herod, who would have rewarded them greatly for information on the Messiah. These men exhibited great docility in their journey, and when told to, they avoided Kind Herod, “departing by another way” (Mt 2:12).
Let us all use this Christmas season to change our hearts, listen to the Spirit, and depart by another path into this new year so that our Church may see that we are people of sacrifice and docility to the Holy Spirit that enlivens and magnifies our lives.
by Jason Wilde
How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor.
I remember reading this quote from Pope Francis’ speech back in 2013, days after he was named as the next successor of Peter to the Catholic Church. At the time, I don't think I got it, or even agreed with it. Our family had always been privileged to be part of large megaparishes that were always in need of more space, and the consistent message before each capital campaign was that our population would continue growing beyond capacity unless we did something to expand. And so, in my mind, it didn't make sense to be a poor church when we already had to show up 20 minutes early for Mass so that we could secure a seat.
Two years later, my wife and I sat in a dark basilica in Asia that didn't even turn on the electricity until seconds before the entrance hymn. This church was visually impressive, and yet it didn't have much. It was a poor church. Still, they ran a much needed soup kitchen for the poor in the courtyard just outside the open walls. And when I say poor, I mean that this may have been the first time that I actually saw not just poverty, but real destitution. How could this church that barely kept lights on afford to serve in such a generous manner?
Fast forward two more years, and we had just returned from a mission trip where we physically encountered, ministered, and served the poorest people I have ever befriended. We came home to our parish and were on fire to keep serving.
The response was depressing. After meeting with various secretaries in the parish office, we were simply told "we don't let families do this sort of thing. Your kids are free to contribute to a rice bowl donation box, though!" The revelation that my church was incapable of allowing its own parishioners to actually encounter the poor brought me back to this quote from Pope Francis, but now it had a completely different meaning. I was focused so much on the 'poor church' part that I had completely missed that it should be 'for the poor'.
It was like putting the cart before the horse. Without an attitude of service and encounter that is preferentially for the poor, we cannot begin to understand why we should be poor ourselves. 'For the poor', didn't just simply mean obligatory tithing, but "embracing all, those who are weak, vulnerable, and most in need (who) deserve preferential concern" (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 2017). I kind of felt like Jesus must have when He entered the temple at Jerusalem and saw all kinds of markets and money changers who made profits from God's temple, and yet, there were still poor and vulnerable children of God who could only afford to give a few coins, their "whole livelihood" (Lk 21:4).
Now, many will point out that the Catholic Church is one of the most charitable institutions in the world, and yes, it is an important caretaker of the poor in so many ways: schools, hospitals, homes, and soup kitchens among the short list of charities. But, can we in good conscious say that our church at the parish level is 'for the poor'? Or is it merely an institution that spends resources to care for the poor?
The Church...is not a relief organization, an enterprise or an NGO, but a community of people..."
What exactly does this mean to be 'for the poor'? Let's start by not focusing so much on merely on those with a lack of adequate financial resources and broaden the definition to "a more profound kind of deprivation, a denial of full participation in the economic, social, and political life of society" (USCCB, Economic Justice for All, 1986). When our family lived in rural Costa Rica, we befriended quite a few people who had migrated from Nicaragua but did not have official documentation of their place of origin. Because of this, the Church did not recognize their status, politically and sacramentally. Some couples had lived in the same house for years but could not be married, while others could not even be baptized because the requirement for this sacrament was a birth certificate (which they did not carry with them to Costa Rica).
As a result of this and other social ills that had been set up, it was difficult to encourage a Nicaraguan to attend Mass because they felt denigrated by locals. It was common to find a separate congregation of people who did not feel welcome and would stand outside the back wall of the church during Mass. Some who did come inside would be visibly outcast.
In this community, there was grave sacramental poverty that resulted from deprivation of full participation in the social life of this society. The Church, both lay and clergy, was not on their side; there was no preference given to these poor, and so this is an example of the Church not working for the poor. While we could serve the physical needs of this segregated community, we were prohibited from fulfilling their sacramental needs, and this in turn prevented them from participating fully in the community. Turning back to Pope Francis' definition, we felt kind of like an NGO.
I was reminded of this kind of poverty earlier this year when churches were forced to close because of COVID-19 concerns. It was somehow spiritually fulfilling for my family to live in solidarity with these friends who could never receive sacraments. We gained blessing by living "poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3). But, as churches slowly reopened or found ways around local ordinances, we began to notice the same path of segregation from our community. My wife, because of two long and painful years with the after-effects of cancer, is in multiple 'at-risk' categories, and so we discerned and were told by multiple doctors to just stay home. We actually received a call from our parish in the first few weeks of closure asking how everything was going, and at the time, we really had no complaints, spiritually or physically.
But, after a few weeks, life moved on for most of the Church, and slowly we began reading and hearing statements in our local Catholic media, social media, and parish communications that denounced local orders to prevent the spread of the virus. Clergy were often seen without masks and telling people that it was more important to risk one's life than to miss sacraments (never mind that it usually isn't one's own life at risk). This, in turn, evolved into a spirit of defiance among the lay community who would encourage in-person only events with no practical protection against virus spread.
Even worse for my children’s spiritual health, we have not been able to attend to their formative sacramental needs that have been in-person only because “children are not at-risk". We have been told that we are endangering the health, minds, and souls of our children for staying at home since early March. If we even dare to speak up, it is quickly refuted with “well, I’m not at risk”, “masks are a political issue”, or “our freedom is more important.” And so, the pandemic rages on. When I play back the various judgments, accusations, and assertions made about my own family for not attending Sunday Mass or any other parish event over the past months, none of them help me to feel safe enough to walk into a church. We are now part of a segregated community not very different from the one I described in Costa Rica.
Sherry Weddell presents a comprehensive review of the reasons why Catholics leave the church in her book Forming Intentional Disciples. In particular, 71% of Catholics who have migrated to a Protestant church say it is because “My spiritual needs were not being met” (pg 16). Even more shocking, however, is that pastors and leaders had many other reasons why their flock was abandoning the Catholic faith, but not this reason actually given by those who have left. “It is all too easy to project our own passionately held theological and ecclesial convictions upon people who are motivated by entirely different questions and concerns,” Weddell asserts.
This is the Church not being 'for the poor', but instead judging the poor.
In many ways, I can draw similarities between how I feel and the countless victims of sexual abuse who have had their trust in the Catholic Church shaken or completely shattered. In no way is my suffering anywhere close to those who have had their personal dignity stolen from them in such a way. But, this mistrust that I feel about how our shepherds care for the life of my family is real. Even worse, it doesn’t just end at the highest level of leadership - it seeps far deeper into my parish and lay community who have assumed the same attitudes of judgement and apathy for the lives of the excluded people. When this is all over, it may take time before many participate in parish activities, knowing that they refused to sacrifice for a time to save lives. I may not attend another healing ministry night knowing that, in the face of a dangerous pandemic, they would not try to heal our community in the most important and sacrificial way - by limiting its spread. How can I trust that, when this is all over and my family is vaccinated, my fellow parishioners will actually take the vaccine and, if they feel sick at any time in the future, will refrain from community events in the case that my wife’s immune system does not build antibodies?
We need a movement of people who know we need each other, who have a sense of responsibility to others and to the world. We need to proclaim that being kind, having faith, and working for the common good are great life goals that need courage and vigor; while glib superficiality and the mockery of ethics have done us no good.”
Our family has been very blessed in this time of isolation. We are certainly better off than someone who is confined to a retirement dorm or who has no partner to support them. Our family has actually grown much closer in this time, and yet we do still feel the need to “speak for the voiceless, to defend the defenseless” (USCCB, ibid) for those with no family. So, what can a community, parish, or diocese do to support those who are isolated by this pandemic or any other condition? How do we be a church ‘for the poor’?
Find the Outcast
Pope Francis’ first papal trip was to Lampedusa, the Mediterranean island where refugees fleeing Syria and surrounding regions would claim asylum. His decision to travel here was unexpected for many, even in the Vatican, but it was the starting point for the Pope’s campaign to position our church as one for the outcast - not just during a pandemic, but at any time there are unreached populations at the fringes of our communities. To follow this calling is to circumsize our hearts and be stiff-necked no longer for the Lord “who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing.” (Dt 10:17-18)
You have to go to the edges of existence if you want to see the world as it is. I’ve always thought that the world looks clearer from the periphery, but in these last seven years as Pope, it has really hit home. You have to make for the margins to find a new future.” (Let us Dream)
Yes, missing in-person Mass is spiritually dangerous. Yes, being at home for extended periods of time causes stress and health concerns. But for many, the alternative is much less temporal. We cannot know the reasons or conditions that force people to excluded themselves from our parishes and communities until we stop yelling, judging, and try to listen. Pope Francis calls this a ‘Culture of Encounter’. Whether it is Catholic to Protestant converts or mothers in the abortion debate, we tend to forget or make assumptions about those who are most affected. Listen for the cries of the poor and excluded and you will be brought closer to God. Often, you will find that their concerns and trials are real and can be met with true mercy.
What the Lord asks of us today is a culture of service, not a throwaway culture. But we can’t serve others unless we let their reality speak to us. To go there, you have to open your eyes and let the suffering around you touch you, so that you hear the Spirit of God speaking to you from the margins.” (Let us Dream)
Enough of ‘Be not afraid’!
Many poor, neglected, and invisible populations live in fear, and it is this fear that is often countered by a supernatural faith and grace that allows them to live closer to God than any of us sitting in our churches and prayer groups. When Joseph attempted to return to Judea from Egypt, “he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, (and) he was afraid to go back there,” (Mt 2:22) returning instead to Nazareth, a place foretold by the prophets. The Lord uses even our fears as a grace to teach and direct us where He desires.
On the short drive to the hospital, I drive by at least three signs and marquees in front of churches proclaiming some form of ‘Be not afraid’. But, to tell someone about the dangers of fear or not having faith while at the same time doing little to gain trust that you care for their life is not helpful, and honestly, feels hypocritical. When Peter “saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” But, Jesus didn’t just yell back, ‘Don’t be afraid...keep swimming!’ No, “immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him” (Mt 14:30,31). Maybe, as a church, we should be stretching out our hand more and preaching ‘be not afraid’ less.
The creativity of the Christian needs to show forth in opening up new horizons, opening windows, opening transcendence towards God and towards people, and in creating new ways of being at home.”
Thankfully, our family has been able to receive communion in our home because I was previously trained as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. But, this is a grace that many who are isolated do not have the luxury of participating in. This is a problem that has been solved in many creative ways across the world, but not with equally effective results simply because every parish has different needs, concerns, and limitations. In addition to encounter and listening to those in need, solutions require a bit of creativity. Maybe this means a drive through Mass; maybe it involves dedicated clergy who themselves stay isolated except to safely minister to the homebound; maybe it even means ‘contactless communion’.
Creativity should also go beyond sacramental needs and include other community events that do not allow participating for the homebound or at-risk population. Is the music ministry feeling underutilized this holiday season? Maybe they could go around caroling safely in people’s front lawns! We should even be creatively thinking of ways in which the homebound or at-risk can still safely serve our communities, giving them back the dignity of serving others.
But the most dangerous path that has been taken is that of isolating the at-risk and elderly populations in the name of ‘protecting’ them, while in the meantime encouraging everyone else to continue in their daily life without concern, caution, or care for the isolated. We, as a church need to be a two-fold message of solidarity and creative compassion - we need to be taking the spread of COVID-19 seriously as a major risk to our common good, while at the same time, reaching out and caring for the physical and spiritual needs of those who need to be isolated due to pre-existing health conditions.
Our family has been very blessed by ministers (across Christian denominations) who have made a point of not just making in-person community events available to watch online, but creating community among those who cannot meet in person. Unfortunately, these efforts vary highly depending on the region of the country, and more often, the leadership examples of pastors, priests, bishops, and cardinals who go out of their way to create such community. Due to the wonderful gift of technology, our family has enjoyed participation in global online prayer meetings, specialized masses for the homebound in other dioceses, and multi-denominational song and praise sessions dedicated to creating a sense of togetherness even in this tough time. We enjoyed having gifts brought to our front porch and even a front yard carol, thanks to friends and family who felt called to bless us. Our family has also participated by sending card of blessings to hospitals and nursing homes as well as attempting to create our own community media campaigns. This has helped us to feel like we are still a part of a greater community and provided our children with a purpose in serving those who are less fortunate.
But, these kinds of ministry are in no way normative across our country, nor do they translate into care for all of the poor and excluded in our communities. We must always be willing to go outside the box of normal limitations in order to reach the poor.
In moments of crisis you get both good and bad: people reveal themselves as they are. Some spend themselves in the service of those in need, and some get rich off other people’s need. Some move out to meet others— in new and creative ways, without leaving their houses— while some retreat behind defensive armor. The state of our hearts is exposed.” (Let us Dream)
Stop the Culture War!
Right now, our society is prevented from fruitful conversations about such things as wearing masks, social distancing, and capacity restrictions because these things are all considered as a part of a larger political war. Catholics in particular perceive this pandemic as an example of some attack on our religious liberty, a “narcissism” that makes us the “chief victim” (ibid), resulting in an inability to separate prudent and logical actions to prevent the spread of this virus from this perceived culture war has blinded many from seeing the suffering innocent and from having consistent views on the dignity and sanctity of life. But, our Faith teaches us to “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that if they speak of you as evildoers, they may observe your good works and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Pet 2:11-12)
Some priests and laypeople have given a bad example, losing the sense of solidarity and fraternity with the rest of their brothers and sisters. They turned into a cultural battle what was in truth an effort to ensure the protection of life.” (Let us Dream)
Let us instead follow the example of Saint Francis. “Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that ‘God is love and those who abide in love abide in God’ ( 1 Jn 4:16).” (Fratelli Tutti, 4) Our church should be a bold counterexample to the binary political culture war, and this means that it is OK to pray a socially distant outdoor rosary for the sanctity and dignity of all life while wearing masks!
But most importantly, we need to all step back as a Church and recognize what it means to be ‘for the poor’, and only then can we understand what Pope Francis meant when he said he desired a poor church. It means we have to look outside of ourselves and our freedoms in order to recognize and see the poor that are hidden (now intentionally) from our communities, outside of the walls of the church. We need to be creative and serve in a spirit of generosity and compassion for the outcast and neglected, and only then can we start to see our communities grow in Spirit and fullness.
You have to ask: Is this drama just about Covid or is it also about what Covid has uncovered? Is this just a virus pandemic and an economic meltdown, or is it about widening our gaze, the way we take in all these human dramas?” (Let us Dream)
by Grace Wilde
During these turbulent times, controversy over how we must deal with illness is rabid. We all have our own opinion. Despite all the fighting, let’s all agree on the same harmless and important act. Wear a mask.
It is not a political or religious movement/sign. Wearing a mask is likened to holding up an umbrella in the middle of a storm. Not only does it protect you from getting wet and cold. It also protects those whom you visit so that you don’t get them wet. The Coronavirus is that storm that is raging outside. Some choose to stay inside and wait it out. Some choose to put on their raincoat, rubber boots, hoody, and gloves and fight to pull people out of it. Others are likened to kids, jumping in the puddles, playclothes soaked to the brim. They play kicking the water and filling their boots. Which is the best act to protect you and others? Quarantine, research, finding a cure, wearing a mask, or being that naughty child playing in the rain not even bothering to hold that umbrella. I think as a community, we should do all the first three options. I have found peace in this choice. But yet, I know not all of you can do this. Many today are burdened with work, school, and events. I know I can’t convince you to do everything. It is so much more fun to play in the rainstorm and not have to worry. But, at least hold up your umbrella and stay out of the puddles. Wearing masks is a vital way to save the lives of others.
What do masks do? Are they even helpful in preventing illness? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified that, “Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice.” The University of California - San Francisco (UCSF) similarly states that, “An experiment using high-speed video found that hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered by a damp washcloth...” Masks prevent others as well as ourselves from illness. Now to clarify, as “Some people have suggested that carbon dioxide from exhaling gets trapped under the cloth. Properly fitted masks offer adequate airflow while still covering your nose and mouth. This makes the accumulation of carbon dioxide impossible,” as stated by the University of Maryland. Wearing a mask is safe, healthy, and useful.
Many people have the opinion that masks are useless. Look at our current state and rethink. As stated by the National Institutes of Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “America’s COVID-19 death toll is expected to reach nearly 300,000 by December 1; however, consistent mask-wearing beginning today could save about 70,000 lives.” At this point we should try even if we do not think it helps. We do not know who will be affected next. Even if you will not die of illness yourself, this act saves the lives of others who will.
Wear a mask, not for yourself, but for others. Masks, as the World Health Organization (WHO) states, “should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives.” But, if you are unable to take any further steps to prevent infection, take the simple step and wear a mask. This is even prevalent if you are not feeling ‘under the weather.’ According to University of California - Davis (UCDAVIS), “about two-thirds of the COVID-19 transmissions in the U.S. come from people not showing symptoms – either because their cases are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic.” Wear a mask and you do not have to worry about being the cause of harmful illness to those you love.
When should I do this? I don’t want to wear a mask all the time for the rest of my life. Don’t worry. The University of Maryland, “recommends that everyone wear a homemade mask when in public during the coronavirus pandemic,” especially, “in places where maintaining a distance of 6 feet or more from other people is difficult, such as the grocery store or pharmacies.” At home you can be together as a family stress free. Just wear one when you are out and about and need to take care of others.
Who should wear a mask? The CDC states that to prevent infection, “all people 2 years of age and older wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household.”
Wearing a mask matters most during this time. You may have or require bypassing quarantine or social distancing, but at least do this little act. Be a hero we need during this time. Wear a mask, save a life!
“COVID-19 FAQs for Health Professionals Updated Aug. 28, 2020.” health.ucdavis.edu/coronavirus/resources/covid-19-faqs-for-health-professionals.html
“COVID-19: Considerations for Wearing Masks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
“Q&A: Masks and COVID-19.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-and-masks
“Still Confused About Masks? Here's the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus.”
“Wearing a Mask: Myths and Facts.”
“Masks Save Lives.”
“New IHME COVID-19 Forecasts See Nearly 300,000 Deaths by December 1.”
by Jason Wilde
As a kid, my favorite season of the year was just after those first few waves of Blue Northerners had blown through West Texas, causing the trees to decide to pack it in and drop their leaves for the year. It was a time when you could pile up all those leaves, now crispy and loud, and jump into the piles without fear of feeling the hard ground underneath. And after we had swept those leaves back, my dog and I would spend hours under the pecan trees, cracking shells open and enjoying a little snack (the dogs especially loved these!) The cotton bolls opened, giving an abrupt signal of snowy white fields that told us that the long, hot days of summer were over and the busy harvesting season was now in full force.
But if I could wrap up this time of year in just one image, it was this one week at the peak of the eastern monarch butterfly migration. I'd spend nearly every evening of this magical week walking around outside my house, watching the shimmering replacements for the leaves on our giant pecan trees, each one doing its own little independent thing - most just resting for a few hours during their long, 3000 mile journey, but others slowly waving their wings, as if stretching like a marathoner taking a water break in the middle of a race, and a few twitting back and forth playfully, trying to find that perfect resting spot for the night.
More often than not, this mischievous 10 year old boy would quickly get bored of just watching and then throw a nice hefty stick as high as I could into a pecan tree, hoping that it would strike as many branches as possible on its return to the ground. These little shock waves would travel and amplify through the smallest twigs, causing an orange and black cloud explosion of disturbed Monarchs that would keep me entertained for hours as they decided that one tree was a little too exciting and I'd have to go find another stick to throw in another pecan tree.
I was reminded of those weeks again today when my kids noticed a lone monarch fluttering across our backyard. Even when I was in high school, the large clouds of orange had become quite rare, and these days, we get excited to even see a single monarch butterfly. This is a story I tell my kids that makes me feel old, like when I read about the days of the passenger pigeon. But, thankfully we had early warning signs of the decreasing population, and in very recent years, the population appears to be stabilizing.
But, the golden monarchs are not out of harm's way by any means. Population counts are dangerously close to a tipping point where they will find it increasingly hard to reproduce and protect themselves in lonely packs instead of massive clouds. And while we know at least one major reason for the decline - the eradication of milkweed in the vast acreage of farmland in our country - it has been hard to replace what was once a thriving bounty of food for this butterfly. Economics alone do not allow non-productive species of plants to grow where a profitable plant could grow, much less a weed that is poisonous to all but the monarch butterfly. But the majesty of God's Creation is so connected that the loss of even a single species often causes unexpected catastrophes across the entire local ecosystem. We know this from examples in very competitive systems like the Amazon. Even if the Monarch is relatively unconnected due to its unique diet, it is a canary for other major changes that would result in its extinction.
More importantly, the loss of even a single creature is a failure to protect the Creation that God entrusted to Man, "to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15, Laudato Si', 66). "'Keeping' means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature...to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations." (Laudato Si', 67) Just as it is our responsibility to protect the dignity of human life, even if it doesn't always make economic sense, the same is true for Creation. It is a world that we have inherited, and so it is our obligation to use all possible resources sacrificially - economic, labor, and capital - to ensure that it is made available to our future generations. This is an act of social justice for our children and our children's children.
We also have to ensure that we do not become passive and indifferent to the risks posed to Creation by our modern world. Every day, new technologies and products are created, each of which promises to improve our life on Earth, but also can negatively threaten animals, plants, and marine life almost without notice. This is exactly what happened when genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops were developed and planted in the late 90's. They allowed farmers to increase yield and decrease the amount of work required to cultivate, but they also resulted in the decimation of the milkweed - the primary food of the monarch butterfly.
Few could have known the downstream impacts of this new technology, and so it is not in any way helpful to place blame. But, we must use these kinds of historical examples to learn from our mistakes and think more critically about technologies and actions we take for granted which can impact more than our own simple lives. Everything must not only incur engineering costs, but also environmental assessment costs. "It should be part of the process from the beginning, and be carried out in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure." (LS, 183) - this is the debt we must pay to the Creator for our conveniences and for the privilege of being his stewards. Concurrently, we have to ensure that protections such as wildlife refuges, hunting restrictions, and protected lands which have successfully saved more popular species from extinction are not eliminated in a lapse of memory.
Finally, on an individual level, we must be aware of each personal act that we take out of convenience and learn how it can affect our Common Home. All of this is a part of a change in our way of thinking about only ourselves and our human race - an "ecological conversion" (LS 5, quoting St. John Paul II, 17 January 2001).
I invite you today to remember the creatures that may have been a part of your childhood that are rarities today - the horned toad, the bumblebee, the monarch, or another, and pray for their population, work for their protection, and care for their home, our Common Home.
A letter to the Church on the dangers of power, politics, and becoming like the world
by Jason Wilde
After they had crossed the Jordan, God decreed that the leaders over the Nation of Israel were judges, appointed so that just and fair decisions may be made for His children:
For 300 years (give or take), these judges served as a sort of tribunal council; settling disputes, helping the community stay in tune with God’s commands, and providing an authority figure for other nations to work with.
Then, there was a misstep. In 1 Samual 8, we read:
Samuel didn’t think this was a very good idea. But, as a good prophet, he talked with God about it, and was probably a little frustrated when the Lord said “Listen to whatever the people say. You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king.” (1 Sam 7). The Lord instructs him to give a firm warning, though, and he does so on several occasions.
The elders wouldn’t listen, however, and so the Lord obliged in helping Samuel to choose Saul as the first king of Israel. Even in this decision, the Lord took great risk, for he knew his children were disobeying him and that such an arrangement would lead them astray. In one of Samuel’s last discourses, we hear him address the community, pointing out that “you said to me, ‘No! A king must rule us,’ even though the Lord your God is your king. Now here is the king you chose. See! The Lord has given you a king. If you fear and serve the Lord, if you listen to the voice of the Lord and do not rebel against the Lord’s command, if both you and the king, who rules over you, follow the Lord your God—well and good. But if you do not listen to the voice of the Lord and if you rebel against the Lord’s command, the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.” (1 Sam 12:12-15).
Let’s just say that the latter warning came true pretty early on. Saul attacked the Philistines, and when they fought back, he immediately offered sacrifice (to what or whom, it is not said) in fear. His reign doesn’t get much easier, as further missteps and failures to listen to the Lord are commonly associated with Saul’s time.
The succeeding kings of Israel were numerous, and while some were described as following the Lord in all that they did (Soloman, as a good example), we read about quite a few abominations to the Lord. After a few centuries of this, the lineage largely fell apart, beginning with a dramatic story of King Jehoiakim, who upon feeling the pressure of multiple invading armies (the Egyptians and the Babylonians, primarily), decided to start playing political favorites with whomever he thought was stronger at the time. But, in 599 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and laid siege to Jerusalem, killing King Jehoiakim. His trust in tributes to foreign nations had betrayed the Lord, and so the nation of Israel would suffer.
The late king was not blameless in any way, as he was counseled by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah, after a humble start, became a very vocal and annoying fellow to the leaders of Israel. He spends 13 chapters ranting about the evils that exist under King Jehoiakim, warning that the temple no longer protects Jerusalem, and that instead the people should reform, dealing “justly with your neighbor...no longer oppress the alien, the orphan and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow after other gods.” (Jer 7:5-6) Jeremiah then declares that the Lord is “making all the inhabitants of this land drunk, the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests and prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Jer 13:13) Obviously, this would not have set well with the king.
Later on, Jeremiah continues his rant against King Zedekiah, who was placed on the throne of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. But Jeremiah’s prophecies no longer have the hope of worldly redemption; instead he now proclaims that the Lord desires Judah to serve Nebuchadnezzar faithfully, or face punishment “with sword, famine, and pestilence.” (Jer 27:8) And so, we have a clear decision point for King Zedekiah and for the people of Judah - listen to the voice of the Lord to the point of enslavement, or perish at the hand of the Lord. We are brought full circle, back to the original warning given to the tribes of Israel in 1 Samuel when they asked for a king.
Of course, the king does not take this message lightly, deciding instead to listen to his buddy (and false prophet) Hananiah, who proclaims messages of peace and prosperity for the king. Jeremiah gets thrown into a muddy cistern. The capture of Jerusalem ensues, the temple is sacked and burned, and the Babylonian exile begins.
The epic story of the kings of Judah as told in this way portrays what happens when we fail to listen to the Lord...and fail to trust ONLY in the Lord, and that even when we make a mistake and trust in some worldly power, money, or object, we can always turn back to the Lord...though there may likely be a consequence for our mistrust. In many ways, it is also a story of caution against the desire ‘to be like everybody else’, or to become so obsessed with something that our consciences become corrupted by it. God wanted His children to treat Him as King and Lord of all, but they saw other nations with worldly kings and wanted likewise. We must also pay attention to the sins of the sons of Samuel, who “looked to their own gain, accepting bribes and perverting justice”. These were the sins of a single generation that created a waterfall of corruption for generations afterwards,
History has a funny way of repeating itself, and though we don’t have as much biblical evidence, we know that the Sanhedrin repeated some of the same errors of the last kings of Judah when they were again invaded by Roman soldiers. But, even if the same story is told again, maybe the message is different.
The more recent burning of Jerusalem in the first century, A.D. has a different feel to it. Romans were not known for their leniency, or for their passive nature when it came to paying homage and tribute to Caesar. But aside from these two obligations, they would allow almost anything so long as it allowed you to pay homage and tribute. The very fact that the temple of Jerusalem stood as long as it did under Roman rule tells us some very important details of this relationship. It meant that some agreement had been reached between the local governor and the Jewish king that probably included some promise of peace and tribute toward Rome in exchange for an allowance of a religion that supposedly worshipped only the One True God. And this relationship was most likely very fragile and tenuous.
We can see this in a few Gospel accounts. For example when some Pharisees used this tenuous relationship to try and trap Jesus, they asked “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mat 22:17), knowing that either answer would tell them something about Jesus. Was he an anarchist, wishing to place sovereignty above peace, or was he a friend of Rome, against King Herod and Jerusalem? To the Pharisees, it was an either-or choice; you ally with Caesar, or with Herod. Jesus’ answer wasn’t what they expected, for it affirmed both, while at the same time stripping the Jewish authority of their ordained power - “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” (Mat 22:21) He didn’t tell them to repay ‘to Herod’, or ‘to the temple’, but ‘to God’.
The Sanhedrin also used this political relationship to try and convict Jesus under Roman rule, claiming “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king.” (Lk 23:2), and later when “Pilate tried to release him;...the Jews cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (Jn 19:12), further placating Rome by asserting “We have no king but Caesar.” (19:15).
All of this shows that the Sanhedrin knew how to pull the strings of Roman laws - they knew the ins and outs of Roman politics - and they would use whatever political means was necessary to take advantage of the unique situation in Jerusalem. When it was to their advantage, they would act as allies of Caesar, but in secret, they were always trying to find ways around the accursed occupation. It is well known that Judean rebels became numerous just before the siege and burning of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers in A.D. 70., but they stood no chance against the Goliath of Rome.
So what is the message of this second failure? While the kings of Judah taught about failure to trust and listen to God alone and the desires of a worldly king, I think that the lesson from this second fall is the danger of trying to coerce worldly powers and of seeking power for oneself through politics, by subversion, or by force. Or, in the words of my favorite line from Pontius Pilate in the TV series A.D., The Bible Continues - “Don't play politics unless you're good at it.”
The next few centuries saw a mostly hidden but growing Christian Church in Rome. For the most part, however, the early Christians avoided the failure of their Jewish brethren - they didn’t try to use the Roman system to gain power, and no account is really known of Christians trying to buy off or show allegiance to the Roman emperor. In fact, historians still cannot explain the mysterious and miraculous conversion of Emperor Constantine which ended the so-called “Great Persecution” that had preceded him. We knew there was no war or fight, and it is unlikely that the early Christians, who were mostly slaves and poor, would have played any kind of political role in the empire.
This sudden gain in freedom (and power over the next few reigns) had dramatic impacts over the Christian Church. Over the next few centuries, Christianity became mainstream, even prompting some to become the first ascetics who are said to have left the cities because they felt that the Holy Spirit was being suppressed and that miracles were no longer happening in the same way that they were in the early persecuted church. In an interesting turn of events, we also know that the gladiator games persisted into the rule of Christian Emperor Honorius, when Saint Telemachus entered the stadium denouncing the horrors and was subsequently martyred.
Power and authority, then, was actually just as much of a problem for the early Church as it was for Israel. Even the same games of horrific persecution in which the first generations of Christians died were used as a weapon by a Christian emperor against opponents of state and church. But, this kind of makes sense if we read the Gospel teachings. The Christian Gospel is one of sacrifice, of giving up, of the first being last in the Kingdom, and vice versa. As we learned from the Old Testament, gaining power and authority does not help one trust and listen to the Word of God, and in most cases, it actually detracts from this trust, leading instead to a trust in worldly powers, or in self.
Most strikingly from the long history that we’ve been through is the lesson that attempting to align the will of God and the wills of an empire, a kingdom, or a state is nearly impossible, and in doing so usually results in the idolatry of the latter and the destruction of the former. Or, as Jesus very eloquently said, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other” (Mat 6:24).
Does this mean that it is a sin to try to influence authorities? Well, most likely, no. Pope Francis said that “A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern.” (Homily, Sep 16, 2013) Politics is actually a part of the Church’s social justice teachings. In tandem with the corporal acts of mercy, which are physical and personal acts of encounter, politics is seen as the ‘top-down’ change necessary to counter social sins which are usually much larger than (and contribute to) individual acts of sin. The danger exists, however, of going beyond ‘meddling’ into paying tribute and idolizing, or even seeking power for the Church, all of which have terrible effects on our community of believers and breaks any trust that may be formed with non-believers. This would not be offering ‘the best of’ ourselves.
This brings me to the reason why I wrote this letter to my Christian brothers and sisters. I feel that for the past decade, the Church in our country has been dangerously flirting with this line between ‘meddling’ and paying tribute. Maybe it started in the middle of the past century, as some would claim, when the Catholic Christian population changed from being primarily poor immigrants to having some respectable status and wealth. Or, maybe it was the abortion polarization that occurred between the major political parties in the early 1980s. But, it seems that in recent years, the line of politicking has become very grey. Four years ago, it was generally frowned upon for a priest to advise his congregation on which party is ‘better’, and it was specifically prohibited for one to endorse a candidate, for example. Now, we see these kinds of actions become normal, as not only priests, but also bishops have begun campaigning for or against either candidate, not just advising, but telling their flock that they would be sinning if they didn’t vote in a particular way. This year, the campaigning of clergy has quickly degraded into disparaging of other Christians and clergy, in much the same way as politicians will mudsling without regard for Christian ideals and teachings. There is a repeating of the desire to act like the world, to have a king that represents our beliefs. This witness by pastors has now waterfalled and become mainstream among the lay flock, dividing our Church along worldly political lines - I fear, causing irreparable harm within the Body of Christ.
There is also a notable corruption in the heart of the Church; a corruption that has largely aligned the Church with a single-issue anti-abortion movement that, when it is convenient, claims to be in defense of all life, but whenever any other life or moral issue contends with the public spotlight, decries abortion as the 'pre-eminent' issue. This word, having a valid meaning in the moral teachings of our Church, has been construed and explained in a way that now allows other grave social and moral sins to be permissible - defended, in many cases - in political discussions. I fear that just as the Sanhedrin attempted to use Roman politics to crucify Jesus for their own advantage, many in our own Church authority are using the short-sided advancement of a single issue to excuse or define morality on a whole host of other issues, even to the point of permitting and defending injustices that are clearly against social teaching. Like the sons of Samuel who perverted justice in their position as judges, this error could have eternal consequences as the consciences of many faithful are being formed not by the Church and God, but by the political parties that they have aligned themselves with. Or, as St. Paul warns, "that there are rivalries among you...each of you is saying, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong to Christ.'" (1 Cor 1:12).
In contrast, a well formed conscience should be aware that “no one can serve two masters”, that the desire for political power can itself become an idol, and that all humans are fallible. The Church is “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (Amoris Laetitia), and any such endorsing or campaigning for an imperfect political entity has nothing but dangerous outcomes. Most importantly, we must be aware of sin in all its forms and the interconnectedness of injustices that manifest in ways that we do not understand. I would like to say that our political awareness should be very much issue-focused, and not party-focused. This allows for the moral freedom to truly fight sin as it exists all around us without having to explain why some sin is ‘pre-eminent’ and others can be ignored. As Christians, we should have the courage to stand up and say that abortion is wrong, and that the death penalty is unjust, and that we must take action to safeguard our Common Home all with the same amplitude.
Finally, I would like to renew a call for charity and kindness in all political discourse. We must set a new example for our Church - one of discussion and not of argument, one of understanding and not of mistrust, one of encounter and not of defense, and most of all, one of humility and not to seek power. Let us not follow the ways of the world - this will only lead to destruction. Instead, the Light of Christ emanates love and goodness in a time and place where darkness, hatred, and anger are so prevalent. True conversion and evangelization comes from this Light and nowhere else, and so we must place our words and actions in the trust of a loving and Holy God who peers into the soul of every being, now and beyond the current age.
by Jason Wilde
This is the second in a series outlining the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
This is the third in a series on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
1) The Common Good
2) The Universal Destination of Goods
3) Our Common Home
In my last post, I wrote a little summary about a Catholic social teaching principle called the Common Good. Now, let's talk about a related principle - the Universal Destination of Goods.
For Christmas this past year, we gave our son one of the new Alexa devices. He had been asking for a clock and wanted to have music in his room, and so it made sense in our minds since we could control when he uses it, and it would allow him to know when he could wake up in the morning.
Unfortunately, our son is also a hacker in the making. Meaning, that he figured out how to subvert the Alexa controls which I set up, and we often find both boys in their room talking and playing with the digital assistant. It has become a huge distraction and prevents them from both school and chores at all hours of the day. But the final straw came when he figured out how to hack Alexa into some kind of accessibility mode that made her announce all things that happen, at all hours of the night!
Now, Alexa is sitting on a dresser in our bedroom. The gift that we had given in good faith to our son, with the expectation that he would responsibly use and benefit from it, was being used selfishly to disrupt our normal routines. In many ways, this is an analogy for the many gifts that God has given us - gifts which are necessary for our own life and dignity, but which can also be used selfishly and sinfully for our own purposes as if we claim that they only belong to us.
The Church explains this using a term called the "Universal Destination of Goods." In a literal definition, this means that the goods (and services) that any person may produce or own has a universal destination - that they belong to the entire human race. The Catechism explains that "in the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race" (CCC 2402, bold added). From this simple concept flows all kinds of natural thoughts into economic theories and practices, and the Church also provides guidance in this area. Ironically enough, it is from this concept of universal ownership that the Catechism defines the right to private property - that this right "is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge" (ibid).
But, for every right, there is a responsibility and a danger in idolatry of that right. Very specifically, in the use of the term 'private property', the Catechism follows by stating that "The universal destination of goods remains primordial" (CCC 2403), meaning that even the claim to ownership should be subject to the use by all humankind. "In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also...with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others" (CCC 2404). (Our son had failed in this task!)
Many would like to focus the above teachings to denounce the evils of socialism, communism, or any other totalitarian political or economic model, which the Church does specifically reject. However, in the very same breath, "She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor" (CCC 2425), going on to explain that allowing marketplace law to rule fails social justice - or failing to allow goods to benefit those in most need.
A great example of this failure is in the now popular tendency for airlines, theaters, and even traffic control companies to allow prioritized access to those who are willing to pay more. These services frequently provide pure profit in the pockets of the company, and in the majority of cases, they do not in any way benefit those in most need - only those who can afford to pay more. This is a marketplace response and it does not serve the Universal Destination of Goods. A contrasting example is found in Mediterranean countries, where one may find a large crowd of people waiting to take the same bus, and yet the crowd universally allows an old man with a walking cane to be given first boarding privileges without question. (The same actually happened to us on a very crowded Beijing subway when people saw us holding two toddlers!)
This is an important lesson for all of us who live in a very bipolarized 'us vs. them' society: To make any purely economic system into an ideal model is dangerous. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote that "The devil always sends errors into the world in pairs--pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.” This is why arguments about the merits and pitfalls of economic systems are so ripe for the spread of evil. It is far too easy to get wrapped up in disdain of a particular economics and money that we become blind to the evils of the opposite, forgetting that the Church teaches that any economic system that extends beyond facilitation of the Universal Destination of Goods is likely infringing on the rights of people. Any evil which may be perpetrated by communism may just as easily be spread by capitalism. One cannot say that communism promotes atheism without also acknowledging that "every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit...contributes to the spread of atheism" (CCC 2424). Stating that communism prevents private ownership is just as valid as saying that capitalism "keep(s) most men without capital" (G.K. Chesterton, The Outline of Sanity). Defining communism as state imperialism has to be balanced with the idea that "The practical tendency of all trade and business to-day is towards big commercial combinations, often more imperial, more impersonal, more international than many a communist commonwealth" (ibid). Claiming that government welfare does not constitute charity is as vain as one who gives to a charity with the incentive of a tax deduction.
But there is an "atheism" that is closer at hand and more dangerous to our church. It is the atheism of capitalism, in which material possessions are set up as idols and take God's place....
And here is the real danger to us living in a world where capitalism is the norm. It is easy to say that we have checks and boundaries in place, but in reality, it is all around us, affecting everything from how we buy groceries to how we think about relationships. We must be especially on guard against this particular evil more so than its opposite. We must become aware of how the Universal Destination of Goods is failed by a system that, in definition, objectifies and puts a price on everything, leading me to attachment to what is 'mine'.
In another very interesting use of symmetry, we should note that all of this is defined in the Catechism under the 7th Commandment (You shall not steal), and it is also here that Christian charity is defined. This is because the private ownership and use of goods is always subject to "reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor" (CCC 2405). "Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” (St. John Chrysostom, quoted by CCC 2446)
I find this symmetry very important because of the common habit to second-guess the person in need. If a man asks me for a dollar, I tell myself that there is a better, more efficient use of my dollar (this is again our normative economic thinking). Do I immediately judge him to determine if he is going to use it to buy alcohol, or do I give knowing that "a glass of wine is his only happiness in life!” (Pope Francis)? Not reserving the better part for the poor is stealing from him in the same way as someone who robs from a convenience store is stealing from the owner.
The bread of charity is life itself for the needy;
All economic activity, whether on the individual level, the corporate level, or by governments should therefore be directed such that it ensures unconditional social justice (c.f. CCC 2426), with specific preference given to the poor of the world. In the simplest explanation, any concept of economics or currency should not be used for any reason other than to ensure the Universal Destination of Goods. But more importantly for our society who has a tendency to demonize economic models which we do not agree with or which are maybe not as beneficial for our own life, we must ensure that attachment to the opposing economics does not blind us to the needs of the poor and to the ways in which we steal from them.
My child, do not mock the life of the poor;
by Jason Wilde
This is the first in a series on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
1) The Common Good
2) The Universal Destination of Goods
3) Our Common Home
Check back for links to future posts.
The 35 MPH speed limit on this arterial road near our house is rarely obeyed. To be honest, it does seem ridiculously slow, and police officers are known to regularly ticket drivers on this section, bounded on both sides by higher speed zones.
That said, this road is hindered by lack of turning lanes in places which force drivers to frequently slow down and stop while waiting for clearance to turn. In addition, the road is frequently crossed by pedestrians and cyclists - it intersects a major greenbelt and is within a few blocks of a Catholic school. While it may seem to be a speed trap, there are clearly reasons why a faster speed would be dangerous for both drivers and pedestrians. In many ways, this roadway is an example of a 'common good', the first principle of Catholic Social Teaching, and the 35 MPH speed limit is one of the restrictions in place that ensures this common good is accessible to all those who are in need of it.
The Catechism describes the common good as "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily" (CCC 1906). Of course, this common good goes far beyond a single roadway, but each piece of the common good must also be treated in a way that is shared consistently. The Catechism goes on to explain that "The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each" (ibid), meaning that in order to ensure that it continues to promote respect for the person, social well-being and development, and security of society and its members, we must all exercise prudence in our own personal actions in order to "make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on" (CCC 1908). The roadway, a single piece of our society, is used by thousands of people each day in order to have access to many of these critical rights, and as such, we must recognize and obey the "role of the state to defend and promote the common good" (CCC 1910) - i.e. laws, restrictions, and expectations in place regarding fair use of the road, including speed restrictions.
As a passing through motorist, it is far too easy to make a personal judgement about this posted law and exercise personal freedom against it, or to say that the roadway was built for use by motorists, like me, who never have to turn left to reach my neighborhood, and so pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists who need to turn left shouldn't expect to inhibit the free flow of all other users. But right-of-way or preference for a common good is not defined in such as way. Isaiah provides us with imagery of this concept:
The Church has always promoted the preferential option for the poor, the neglected, and those who do not necessarily deserve (in a worldly sense) the common good of all society. Isaiah makes this very clear in this exhortation which does not exclude anyone, and specifically includes those who cannot pay for what society would say must be earned. The Book of Acts gives a brief image of the first Christian Church ensuring the common good: "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need." (Acts 2:44-45)
But Matthew gives us the most direct and fundamental example of the common good, as administered by Jesus Himself:
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, 'This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.'
This is an important example, and in many ways it defines our Christian understand of the common good in a more communal way than ever understood before. While Isaiah invited everyone to come to God - "Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare" (Is 55:2b) - Jesus not only confirms that we cannot impose restrictions "so that they can go...buy food for themselves", but says "give them some food yourselves", making it clear that WE are called by Him to fulfill the needs promised to those who cannot afford them. We must give up something in order to fulfill His promise to those who are least worthy. The Catechism gives concrete examples of this in calling us to "alleviate the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assist migrants and their families" (CCC 1911), both of which require sacrifice on our part to ensure they are fulfilled.
This sacrifice may take many different forms, depending on the particular component of the common good. In many cases, it requires a financial sacrifice from everyone, either in the form of taxes or non-compulsory donations. This is a way for us to ensure that the common good is not literally stolen from those who need it most. Pope Saint John Paul II affirmed this when he said that "God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone" (Centesimus Annus). This does not replace in any way the concept of private property, for "the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them” (Address to Indigenous and Rural People, 1979).
In other ways, such as with the roadway, our individual sacrifice takes the form of restricting or limiting a personal action or freedom that may inhibit or endanger other's access to the common good. This goes well beyond speed limits and includes licensing, adequate understanding, and obedience to all traffic laws and requirements in order to use a motor vehicle, all designed not just to protect self, but to also protect the lives of others, ensuring that all people can access and utilize the roadway in the way that they need it without endangering their lives.
Ensuring access to one piece of the common good also ensures that the universal common good is granted to all of society. Seat belt and child seat laws can therefore be included because while our example limited the scope to just a single roadway, it also limits medical emergencies, ensuring the common good of hospital and medical care to those who need it most. Similarly, we should all take care to not take unnecessary risks for selfish purposes that might result in the need for emergency and medical attention which might be deprived from another person - and this applies to our entire life, not just while sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
This is why it is so important to think of ourselves and our own personal decisions as subject to the common good. Every decision and every action we take can affect in some way this common good, and this is especially true in times such as now when resources are limited and people are suffering. Even though I may feel that some law is unjust or that I can handle the repercussions of not following it, I may be harming someone else, either directly or indirectly by spreading sickness, preventing safe access to necessities for those who are at risk, or using medical resources that are becoming more scarce each day. The dignity and life of each person is defined with the common good as a requirement, and so we must take care to uphold and protect it in order to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Take some time to read from Isaiah 55 and Matthew 14 in light of the common good and how we can ensure that ALL have access to it - and in cases where this is not true, that we are the ones who sacrifice in order to fulfill the promise of God to His people.
by Jason Wilde
A famous moral philosophy paper by Judith Jarvis Thomson, first published in Philosophy & Public Affairs in 1971, uses a thought experiment:
As it goes, Thomson claims that the famous violinist certainly has a right to live, but that 'You' also have the right to choose whether to contribute some critical need (your kidneys) to allow him to live. By staying connected, you are certainly exercising great charity and kindness, but by unplugging yourself from the violinist, you aren't necessarily killing him, but instead just choosing not to make a sacrifice of your own freedom, which will likely result in the violinist dying.
The experiment is one of personal freedom vs. the right to life, or health. The same argument has been used to defend smoking in public places, where second-hand effects can affect other's health while it is a limitation on the smoker's freedom to smoke where he or she wants.
It also comes to mind particularly now in a time when our country is in a heated debate over personal freedoms and how they affect the safety and well-being of neighbors - of not having the freedom to visit places or being required to wear a mask vs. protecting the vulnerable in a time of pandemic. Many are advocating for the approach that Sweden took in recommending those at risk to stay at home while everyone else has the freedom to live as normal. While the virus will remain circulating much longer and with significantly higher density with this approach, it doesn't necessarily affect anyone who doesn't need to go out to work, buy food, or receive medical care during this time. Those at risk can simply 'not go out', regardless of the adverse affects (not being paid, starving, or suffering from lack of medical care). This is analogous to the argument that was used by Thomson in claiming that you are not directly killing the violinist, and that a hypothetical woman who seeks a late-term abortion "just to avoid the nuisance of postponing a trip abroad" has the right to do so, since it is not directly killing the fetus.
Even into the past decade, this paper has been debated and criticized numerous times in order to defend or advocate for the necessity of abortion. And as we have learned this year, the debate over personal freedom and choice continues...
I once read an interesting analogy...imagine we could each choose to adopt one mascot to describe our self - personality, desires, looks, preferences, everything. However, we only have 2 choices: A purple hat-wearing, black and white striped camel that wears leather boots and only eats straw, OR a toupee-wearing orange kangaroo wearing a black tuxedo shirt and a blue tie.
So, go ahead - choose! Well, it doesn't really matter if you like purple hats or not, as long as you love striped camels of any color - you're going to choose the camel, right? And lets say you really don't like wearing shoes of any kind - then I guess you'll just have to pick the orange kangaroo. But, if you don't like wearing anything on your head, well, then, I guess you'd better pick the better of two evils - toupees or purple hats!
Eventually, you'll learn to like kangaroos, or purple hats, or toupees, as well as anything orange or striped or leather, and before you know it, you'll downright despise anything...or anyone...associated with *that other* mascot.
This, my friends, is the behavior of tribalism. When you become associated with something on one side or another, you begin to only listen to your side, which constantly tries to make itself bigger and better in the eyes of itself and in doing so, continues to find ways to differentiate and demonize the other. The psychological brainwashing continues until you really don't care whether you like hats at all, as long as everyone else knows that you are a purple hat-wearing, black and white striped camel that wears leather boots, and if anyone even suggests that wearing hats is out of style, well, then, they are obviously part of that toupee-wearing orange kangaroo tribe wearing black tuxedo shirts with blue ties! And THEY are the REAL kind of evil, amiright?
So many of the actions which could resolve suffering and wrongs in this country could easily be agreed upon if we just didn't possess an insane desire to be a part of an axis of power. But this is a part of our human nature, and so we must turn it for the greater good. The danger is that in gravitating to that bigger tribe, we stop thinking as individuals, but instead will defer to the decisions of the greater tribe. We succumb to tribalism. It is not long before "the faith claims and institutions of one's political party generally trump those of one's religion" (Camosy). But, if we give up our own individual needs for attention, power, or money, and if we instead desire to gravitate towards the community of Jesus Christ first and foremost, then we can see how our participation is never for our own glory or even for our own community's glory, but for the building up of the Kingdom which even includes God's children who may not be a part of our community in some way or another.
I was once a die-hard political fan boy, so entrenched that I thought there was nothing my side said that I wouldn't agree with. But then I read a very well written argument that helped me to see that Jesus didn't fit into any side. Not only did He not fit, but He didn't even care to enter into the political power debate between Romans and Jewish leaders. Our Church is the same - if we ascribe to the belief that any worldly power completely represents the comprehensive teachings and tradition of the Body of Christ, without question, then we are probably falling into a trap of idolatry. In fact, it is even dangerous to say that one political side or the other is 'closer' to Church teachings without allowing discrimination of each issue independently. Once I freed myself from bondage to this kind of tribalism and political fighting, the world looked completely different. I began to see the good and wrongs that cut through every human heart, not between groups of people. But, more importantly, I began to think unencumbered by worldly powers which allowed my heart to be led by the Holy Spirit. And this, my friends, is true freedom!
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.