And People Are Crazy…

When I was a talk radio producer I had a hierarchy of “callers”, people who would call into a talk show trying to get on the air to voice their opinion. My hierarchy was as follows in reverse order:

3) You had a very intelligent point, succinctly made and you could go toe to toe with the host intelligently and passionately.

2) You were angry and you would make the host go ballistic. Or you made me laugh and I thought the host would either laugh or get mad at you.

And #1) You were just lame enough to be funny. Not in a sad or pathetic way, but in a way that was just lame enough that we could get one good laugh out of you.

It also convinced me that there are a lot of loonies in the general public–and I mean that in the best way possible.

So today I read a beautiful article by Fr. James Martin, S.J. on the Pope’s recent embrace and kiss of a disfigured man with a horrible skin condition. His main point is succinct:

Even more broadly, for believers, the Pope’s kiss reminds us of God. This is the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity.
Few of us suffer from such a terrible disease as does the man in the photo; not many of us are physically disfigured. But many of us feel internally disfigured – unworthy of unconditional love. Yet God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope’s embrace.

But then I read the comments below and just felt like the democracy of internet is creating way too many “minor league radio callers” with the folks who write into the com boxes. One person even suggested that Fr. Jim kill himself–which if it happened in my day was enough to get you banned for life. Another suggested that God doesn’t exist and that Fr. Jim’s article was akin to buffoonery. Of course, they made the same old arguments that we’re all sick and tired of hearing. Nothing new. Not even anything creative.

They are not getting close to being just lame enough to be funny.

A colleague of mine recently invited me to plan some events and to invite some “friendly atheists” to the conversation. I asked him what I should do about “unfriendly atheists”? His response was great. He said that we have to stay in conversation with people who are willing to have an intelligent conversation and dismiss those who simply cannot maintain a conversation or who simply don’t want to be part of one.

So tonight I will begin my prayers by asking God to bless those who are unable to have a conversation and who more importantly, find it necessary to be mean. I pray that we can find ways to talk with one another. And I pray that we don’t get discouraged in this work, this vital work that can indeed bring about peace in the world.

And I pray that everyone can see that ugliness comes in many forms. There are many in the world who would call the man who the Pope embraced “ugly”. But the truth is that I find attitudes to be far uglier than any physical attribute.

And here is the Pope who, like God, is unafraid of touching the ugly parts of who we are.

What about us? Who are we all too eager to dismiss? Who do we cast off and cast out? Who are we so uncharitable to, to the point of denigrating?

We are called to touch these people with our own willingness to stay in conversation with those we can talk to despite the difficulty in doing so. And that can get ugly. It can get painful and vengeful and just simply put, sinful.

May God inspire us to stay in conversation with each other and in doing so may we be healed and renewed.

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For All the Saints

“Saints are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.”

So said, Sr. Caroline as I grew up and attended CCD classes at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the late 70s. Far be it from me to disagree with this lovely woman, but I think Saints are much more than that. They are ordinary people who do some extraordinary things, but mostly they are ordinary people who do ORDINARY things, but do them with great love, perhaps extraordinary love.

images-3Take Pedro Arrupe,S.J., one of my favorite Jesuits, who I believe is a saint, even if he is not officially recognized as one. In the horror of the Hiroshima bombings, Fr. Arrupe cared for the dying, the dying who did not die right away, but who suffered horrible burns from the madness of the atomic bomb. When he had cared greatly for the needs of so many and nursed them back to health, many simply died from radiation poisoning without much warning. Seeing those atrocities up close and caring for the needs of so many and continuing to be a priest and leading the Jesuits through the unchartered waters of the Second Vatican Council is enough for me to say that he did what some would consider extraordinary, but Arrupe would say that he did what was needed to be done—ordinary things with great love.

Campus Ministers I believe are in the saint-making business. We try to enable people to see themselves as doing whatever they are called to be, but doing that with great love. It frees people from the anxiety of possibly “missing their calling” and instead invites them to see the world with great love and trying to bring love to the work they do, even if they don’t think their job highlights their “first gifts.” I’m sure Fr. Arrupe didn’t think his first gift was running a triage unit in Japan, but he did it with great love. Sometimes circumstances indeed place us in the crosshairs of doing 3-4 things that we really would rather not do. Fr. James Martin, S.J. often talks about caring for elderly men in Jamaica and having to clean them and clip their nails was not something he looked forward to, but he did it with great love regardless.

What we as Campus Ministers need to do is to show students that including God in their vocational decisions invites them to ask the questions:

How does what I’m doing right NOW, make me more loving?
How might I be willing to change just a smidge to try to love better than I do?
Where do I see myself doing ordinary things with great love?
Where is God calling me to see my life in light of what makes me feel more alive with God’s love pouring out to others and to myself?

All good questions. To be saints means that we ask these questions and more importantly we LIVE this questions. We become all that we are, nothing more, but most importantly, nothing less.

But often we are afraid to be saints. Fear, as you know, is the opposite of faith. We’re also afraid to try to make saints–to awaken people to their best possibilities. It’s too hard, or too demanding, or even too tiring. There are other things we’d rather do. The truth is that life IS hard and we need to get over it. Doing the right thing is often a pain in the neck. But saints are able to do so because they know that doing this with love not only brings them great joy—but it also enables them to find God lurking there, pushing them just a bit harder on the journey to become all that they are.

It is time to begin a journey to sainthood. We do that by taking one step towards that goal each day in so many different walks of life. We do that by becoming all that we are.

And saints are not perfect. Rather saints admit that they are not God, not perfect and it leads them to do what they can—but to do that well and with love.

St. Peter became all that he was, even though he denied Jesus three times. St. Joseph was a simple carpenter called to take an unwed mother into his home and care for her and raise her son as his own, protecting the Son of God in an age where infant mortality and poverty took the lives of many. Dorothy Day housed the poor despite the fact that they made it difficult for her to treat them as Jesus would.

And some days it’s just hard to get up in the morning and get to the office when we know it’s going to be a difficult day–a challenging day. But God calls us to think more of ourselves, to know that we are indeed gifted and talented and have some opportunities to make a difference.

In doing so we become saints in the making. And when we unite with the divine in the beatific vision beyond this life, we will find it was more than enough.

More than enough for the world, more than enough for God and more than enough for us in becoming all that we are called to be.

So today is our day, All Saints. Let us celebrate who we are and enjoy being ourselves, but most importantly, let us love, even when it is challenging.

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Worth a Thousand Words…

I love this shot of our Canisius students!

christtheredeemer

Can’t wait until you get home. Continued prayers! Tell Papa Francisco I said “‘Sup, Dawg!”

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Andrew Greeley, Rest in Peace

fb36b051175917060da1d07c31403e3816ee0ebcFr. Andrew Greeley, a longtime priest of the Chicago Archdiocese and a noted sociologist who has much influenced my work in young adult ministry, has passed away. PBS had a wonderful feature on Fr. Greeley some time ago which also features his good friend and my pal, Fr. John Cusick.

Watch Andrew Greeley on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

A beautiful life, filled with passion. As Fr. Cusick said when the history of the American Catholic Church is written, Greeley will undoubtedly remain as a prolific name. He spoke of the Sex Abuse scandal LONG before anyone else. He saw the dwindling in the pews, but noted the loose affiliation that many Catholics still held on to about their own personal Catholicism (at hospitals and otherwise people still would check off “Catholic” as their religion–sadly that seems to now be changing in many case because too many ignored Greeley’s call to tend to the “unaffiliated” and turn them into “full and active members” of the church.

Chicago dealt with the sex abuse scandal long before other dioceses were paying attention to it. Cardinal Bernadin was smart enough to listen to Greeley who had a done a lot of research on this and together they hammered out a plan. That plan for the Chicago Archdiocese became the basis years later for the Dallas Charter. Chicago still had their problems despite Greeley and Bernadin’s early efforts as many more cases surfaced in forthcoming years–but you don’t exactly equate Chicago with Boston, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. One of the more infamous stories comes from Cardinal Bernandin’s plea for the Bishops to put something in place with regards to the sex abuse scandal and reportedly one Cardinal soundly rejected the idea saying, “We just don’t have this problem in Boston.” Famous last words from a now infamous Cardinal Law.

While I didn’t know Fr. Greeley, I did have the pleasure of meeting him once at a lecture he gave with Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal George. Fr. Barron was unknown then to the larger church and he kind of stole the show impressing his priestly companions. Everyone expected a smackdown between the elder statesmen and both were quite cordial to one another. Little known to others, the two men were great Opera companions and would frequently go together to many a performance. Their respect for one another, despite disagreements from time to time was a true sign of collegiality amongst brother priests. And still suspicion reigned: Greeley offered the Archdiocese of Chicago $1 million to create a foundation to help inner-city Catholic students. The archdiocese turned him down without explanation. Amazing how divisions can still take hold within the church.

Fr Greeley was kind enough to send me some of his research which I used in Googling God. He always reminded most of us practitioners that data is important and a careful look at Sociological surveys can tell us a whole lot. That’s a gift I will continue to treasure.

So blessings on his life and may God have mercy on his soul.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Andy’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

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How Much Influence Will Pope Benedict Have In Picking a New Pope?

So I woke up to find out that Pope Benedict, citing frail health, will resign the papacy at the end of the month. To be honest, people I know who have seen the pope in Rome, including our own Bishop here in Buffalo and our previous Bishop said that he looked a bit worn down and frail. The man is 85 after all, and I believe even when he started he was worried about the demands of the job on a man his age. He watched John Paul II die as Pope, nearly completely incapacitated, and I think that had a great effect on his decision.

He has hinted at this before, saying that a Pope may resign the Papacy and that for the good of the church that might not be a bad idea. I’m paraphrasing, here.

Tom Reese in NCR writes:

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict responded unambiguously to a question about whether a pope could resign: “Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign.”

But today his announcement came as a surprise to many and thus the larger questions remain.

Since the Pope is past the age of 80, if he were a Cardinal, he would be past the age limit to be in the conclave. The question I have now is how much influence does a sitting Pope have on the election of his successor, I would think he would have much influence, if not the ability to hand-pick and lobby for the election of the new Pope. So with that in mind, I would expect another doctrinal conservative to be elected, but who knows what happens in the conclave?

Michael Sean Winters wrote an excellent piece this morning including this snip:

Usually, the funeral rites for a deceased Pope allow the cardinals a time when the cardinals can assess the previous reign and what the Church needs. Publicly, this assessment is dominated by a fair amount of hagiography but privately the cardinals consider the limitations of the recently deceased pontiff. It is unclear how that assessment will happen when the Holy Father is still around. Again, this is why the Holy Father must absent himself from all proceedings and allow the cardinals to speak freely and candidly about what the Church needs. We all know that for some time, high ranking members of the Vatican have been distressed at the lack of effective management under Benedict. It is a safe bet that Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of State, will not receive many votes.

So, what does an ex-Pope do after the election of a new Pope?

NCR writes:

The pope made no mention of his future plans, other than to say, “I wish to also devotedly serve the holy church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”

Where does he live? How much influence will he have on the current Pope once he is elected? What do you even call an ex-Pope? We have to go back 600 years to find any precedent! Even the Pope’s spokesperson didn’t know what he would be called!

I’m wondering what he even wears in formal ceremonies now? Does he still get to wear the whites of the Papacy? Or does he go back to a Cardinal’s outfit? It’s going to be rather strange, especially if you get to see two men in white.

As for the next Pope, my man John Allen at the National Catholic Reporter and the top expert has some sage thoughts in USA Today. Here are some thoughts from yours truly:

Cardinal Scola the Archbishop of Milan is probably the safe bet. He’s known by many and has been a Vatican diplomat for many years. He’s the “trusted candidate”. At the last conclave, many of the Cardinals said that the big question was “Who do we trust?” And in answering that question most felt the deposit of the faith rested with Cardinal Ratzinger who became Pope Benedict XVI.

With that it’s important to note that the Italians have about a quarter of the votes and they twice have elected Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco as the head of their own Bishop’s conference. He is strong doctrinally and a professor of Metaphysics. He’s also politically saavy and can deal with the media.

I would add a few more thoughts:

Cardinal Christophe Schoneborn: The current Archbishop of Vienna and a close friend and former student of Benedict XVI. He’s young, vastly intelligent and President of the Austrian Bishops Conference. He wrote a great piece on neo-Darwinism for the NY Times some time back stating that the church was not anti-evolution but rather that a new breed of atheism has developed that separates God from the scientific process and that was what the church was against. In short, the church is pro-Darwin and evolution and anti-Hitchens and Dawkins although he did say that Evolution was only a possibility and not a scientific fact, causing some to criticize.

He’s also been very strong on the sex abuse scandal saying “the days of
cover ups are over.” He likes both Karl Rahner and Hans Ur Van Balthazar two theological heavyweights and thinks they are closer in thought than most do, which is a sign of a moderate theologian, though he is known to be doctrinally conservative.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan: He’s probably too young, and an American, but many have said that Dolan is papabile. He’s affable and handles the media well. He’s a bit of a bully since taking over the Archdiocese of New York and often seems angry, though lately, he’s taken a back seat and become more accommodating in style. He ran the North American College and was elected President of the US Catholic Bishops in favor of the more progressive (much more) Bishop Gerry Kicanas. Some say he’s not able to be in this role and they’re probably right. His Italian isn’t great and I don’t think he speaks any other languages and some would consider an American outlandish. I would expect that either Dolan or another North American…

Cardinal Marc Oulette: He’s from Quebec and was the Archbishop there before being promoted to the high office of prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. He has a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Gregorian and is no lightweight intellectually. Some say he was a huge supporter of Cardinal Ratzinger and garnered a lot of support for him from the electors.

IF we look to South America, I like …

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, SDB who is the Archbishop of Honduras. He got minimal support in the last conclave and is a moderate. I’ve heard him speak and he is an outstanding pastoral leader. Taught science before and was the Vatican’s spokesperson with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, on the issue of Third World debt. With the Vatileaks scandal he could be a choice to help get things in order.

The Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil, the largest population of Catholics, could also be a choice. Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, a conservative who is popular could garner some support.

And of course Africa and the Phillippines remain solid choices:

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is probably one of my favorites to gain a lot of support from his African Cardinals. He is the current President of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice and is the lone scripture scholar in the Pope’s advisors. When asked if the time was right for a Black Pope in 2009 he replied: ‘Why not?’ He argued that every man who agrees to be ordained a priest has to be willing to be a Pope, and is given training along the way as bishop and cardinal. ‘All of that is part of the package.’

Read more on Cardinal Turkson: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1218426/The-pope-black-says-prominent-African-cardinal.html#ixzz2KbMIL6dl

And Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle is a very popular Cardinal in the Phillipines. He’s very charismatic and has emphasized helping the poor while opposing atheism and abortion. He’s the Archbishop of Manilla and let’s not forget that the largest gathering of human people was when World Youth Day was in Manilla.

It’s going to be an interesting ride. Fasten your seat belts.

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World Events That Changed Gen Xers: The Challenger Explosion

27 years ago the horror of seeing the Space Shuttle explode in mid-air, a shuttle with a teacher-civilian on it brought many of us to our knees.

As a proud Gen Xer I remember this day unfortunately all too well. I was in high school and my trigonometry teacher broke the news to us. Some Gallo’s humor comments in the hallway didn’t sit well with me and I remember saying to my baseball team colleagues that if anyone had any snide comments, they were going to have to deal with me. As the skinniest and quietest kid on the team, I was less than intimidating. But one of my teammates said, “That dude means it. Today’s the day it all comes out. I ain’t messin’ with him.”

CNN covered the events of the day all too well. Look at this from the inside:

Fast forward years later and I covered events like the first World Trade Center bombing, where our traffic reporters were in the building at WFAN, an all-sports station. A guy called in to our all-sports station and asked “Hey, are you gonna have remotes from Bosnia next week too? Where’s the sports?”

Somehow I stayed calm and said “You don’t get it. One this may be the biggest disaster in NYC history and two we have PEOPLE in that building.”

I managed the on-air content for WOR as Columbine unfolded, a seminal event for milennials, many in high school themselves at the time. The adrenaline was coursing through my veins as we dialed up a local news station from the Denver area on the satellite and took much of their feed of the live events. I remember screaming “Who the hell do we know in Colorado and I mean ANYONE? Fathers, sisters, your crazy great aunt…I need an eyewitness.” Live radio and television is made up as it goes along and it’s incredibly taxing and satisfying to produce. I ended up calling some sports contacts and got a few writers from the local papers to chat with our news director on air.

And then when it was all over I cried, every time I thought about it. These were kids. Years earlier they were astronauts.

I often say that unless you wanted to be an astronaut, you never really put yourself in the place of those 7 brave people who lost their lives. However, one can easily see themselves in Columbine, in 9-11 or the first trade center bombing, in natural disasters and in Newtown just a few months ago.

Community structures today are not what they once were. Neighborhoods don’t have the same feel where you’d watch out for the kids on the block because you knew them well. If an air raid siren went off in the 50s the community had drills in place, stupid ones, I might add that might have added anxiety to the experience and did little to protect anyone. Hiding under your desk isn’t exactly going to stop a nuclear explosion. Early GenXers remember being scared to death of the Russians and even in the light of the 1980 Olympic Hockey win over the USSR, many wondered how soon we would be at war with a country that was so angry with us and oppressed their people in a Communist regime.

The world today is not as simple. For one, we often don’t know who the enemy is or where they may be coming from or even why they hate us as they do. Its a precarious world where we often don’t know the danger that we may be walking into.

Those 7 astronauts knew the danger that lurked in their mission. It was nonetheless tragic for them and their families and for us. We hoped all would be well but it was not. And it changed many of us and caused us to ask why?

God, too, suffers with us in these times and the difference between us and God is that God can redeem what has gone all too wrong, changing death and destruction into new life and peace once again.

Today let us pray that through the mercy of God all those who had their life meet an untimely end can rest in the peace that God provides.

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Can One Experience Change Us Forever?

Heather Mallick has a haunting article in the Toronto Star today that several colleagues have forwarded to me today. The mother of one of the children in the Newtown shooting insisted on an open casket. She hopes it will change people’s attitudes about gun violence.

Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”
When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.

Seeing for one’s self indeed can change us for life. For myself two incidents in my life changed me for the better:

The first is growing up in Yonkers in a working class neighborhood. When I was about 12 or 13, a young man was shot in my neighborhood, three houses away from my own apartment building. Ricky, who I didn’t know personally, had broken up a fight between two kids who were arguing over a baseball bat. The kids went home and told their father what happened and the father came out with a shotgun and killed him. It was horrible. From my window I watched them lift the stretcher into the ambulance. Ricky, still alive, barely, lay there mouth agape. I looked at my dad and said, “What the hell? This guy is going to die over a baseball bat. And why does this guy have a shotgun in his house anyway?” The guy beat the rap. Got off on self defense and received community service. I made a decision at that point of my life that I wanted to make sure that nobody would ever be robbed of justice again, if I could help it.

And sometimes, I feel…well…powerless to help those caught in injustice.

The second was my experience of Nicaragua. I made four trips to Managua, to work at an orphanage. We also went to a place called Chureca, the garbage dump. People lived in Chureca and I have never imagined such poverty. Cardboard used for walls with the word “Basura” on it. Animals roaming free, dogs, chickens, pigs in people’s houses. Many died of malnutrition and stomach cancer was also prevalent. I thought to myself, “I’m trying to live in solidarity here, but nobody should ever have to live this way.” It robbed everyone of their dignity, and they grasped on to whatever they could to retain it. We brought supplies, baby formula, foodstuffs and more…but it would never be enough.

My journal entry as I travelled home, said a simple phrase,

“Poverty shouldn’t exist. And in a country as rich as ours, we don’t come close to knowing real poverty.”

I took pictures that day in Nicaragua, like the one above and the picture of Ricky burned in my mind continues to remind me of the senselessness of needless death and destruction.

St Ignatius reminds us that we need to revisit “the pictures” of our previous day and then let those moments lead us into deeper contemplation over the consolations and desolations of our lives. Then, and perhaps only then, we can make a firm amendment to change for the better.

Today we pray to remember the pictures that change our lives. May those who see the violence have their heart changed, especially as we remember these children, Noah in particular. We remember those who die needlessly in war, war that our country has sanctioned and continues to destroy peace. And we pray for the poor, who suffer needlessly because of greed. May God teach us to solve the problems of peace and justice because we have seen injustice. May that experience bring us to work harder for the dignity of humankind. Amen.

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Sandy in Long Island

I just returned from Long Island where 8 of us from St Joe’s took some time to help people effected by Superstorm Sandy. We were hosted by Fr. Ted Brown, the director of Campus Ministry at LIU Post and a LaSallette priest (His nameplate on his desk just reads Ted Brown, Friend) and he and his colleague Jeanette, arranged our projects and provided our housing and a few meals making this an affordable and awesome trip.

We headed out to Long Beach where the sand on the beach is now piled high. Know those snow piles you see in winter. They have sand like that. See for yourself.

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We helped a great guy named Bryan who has been putting his own needs far behind the needs of the community. He opened his realty office to be used as a donation headquarters. “Basically anything you can get at a CVS!” he said to us. At the same time he arranges volunteers to go help residents who have lots of damage to their homes.

He sent us to rip out flooring and sub flooring in two different homes and then Jeannette, LIU’s community service coordinator suggested that we help him get his business back on its feet as well. Bryan’s office was also damaged by the tons of water that flowed ashore, but Bryan was too busy helping everyone else to take care of this. So we ripped out his walls and insulation and got two rooms ready for rehab. Here I am crowbarring out his drywall.

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Val, one of my favorite students, had an insightful remark during reflection about the experience. “Outside these homes look fine, even beautiful. But inside! They’re ruined! Do we look carefully enough at the needs of others, because they might look OK, but on the inside, they may be in need of help.” Here we see Christine ripping out rotted floor boards from a home.

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That young lady will be a great occupational therapist!

So pray for the people in these areas, who are still recovering. They need our prayers and now that the CNN cameras have gone away, many feel isolated and alone and quite a bit desperate.

As we get back to our lives, let us remember to look more deeply at the needs of others and know that what we see may not tell the whole story.

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Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?

From the Religion News Service:

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and it wants the Internal Revenue Service to explore revoking the hierarchy’s tax-exempt status.

“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow U.S. law and stay out of American politics,” Sloan added in a statement last Friday (Nov. 2) announcing the complaint.

Sloan argued that last-minute appeals by numerous bishops had crossed the line into electioneering. She named several prelates, including Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, who ordered his priests to read a letter at all Masses on Sunday that sharply criticized Democratic policies and warned that Catholics who voted for those policies would endanger their eternal salvation.

A few thoughts here:

The first is that the USCCB doesn’t endorse a particular candidate as a body. Individual bishops who represent a particular diocese are another matter. One stated that Catholics voting for the President would put their soul in jeopardy. Others put pressure on Catholics to vote against the President for his stances on abortion, gay marriage and the HHS mandate (or the issue of religious freedom). Meanwhile on the other side, many black protestant churches openly touted the President and are far more apt to make such statements. Billy Graham openly plugged his preference for Governor Romney and one small non denominational church posted “Vote for the Mormon, not for the Muslim.” Interesting that this last one is both partisan and incorrect.

The question, as regards this particular situation, places individual Bishops and/or clerics in the crosshairs and it looks like someone will be holding them to greater accountability.

It seems to me that Bishops and other clerics need a media expert who can be a bit more covert about their intentions. For example, one should name an issue, not a candidate. One should call on the fallacies of BOTH candidates if they name one over the other. The USCCB often touts that they don’t endorse any candidate and perhaps that mandates all bishops to use the same language.

Lastly, I have two final points. One is that the hatred for the President from the right wing holds no bounds both within and outside of the church. That needs to change within the church or we will face having to work with the government from the cheap seats. Governing is choosing, governing is compromise–by design. We are not going to win every time in our efforts with the executive branch or with the other two branches of our government. Abortion will not be illegal overnight and health care packages may indeed not be mindful of our positions on contraception. But that merely puts the ball in our court to decide what we might do, despite those obstacles and more importantly, how we might do that peacefully.

The second and final point is that we play into the hands of the militant secularists when we endorse a candidate by name. We have a great responsibility to keep issues that we are concerned about in front of all the candidates, but in doing so, we cannot afford to trade an endorsement of a particular candidate in exchange for their aligning with our moral values. No, we need be more vigilant than that, because campaign promises are fickle and often unrealized. Our role in government is advisory and the body of Christ votes of their own God-given free will. And most often they vote for their candidate despite the ranting of those who think they know the state of our souls, or the assumption that they vote to endorse an immoral act. The militant secularists, those who wish to sideline religion altogether from public life are indeed winning. And they do so, because just a few people are downright dumb.

What role should the church play in politics? A huge one. The church, that is all the people of God, should be lobbying our own leaders to take a firmer role in assisting those who caring for the poor. We should become peace negotiators, like former President Carter, and be able to play that role publicly and with firm resolve for ending war. Imagine Cardinal Dolan negotiating peace at the United Nations! We should build homes for pregnant teens down the block from the abortion clinics so women think twice about making that decision and then we should support them with the full weight of our wallets. We should care for our environment and fight for the rights of immigrants. But we should do it all without regard for particular individuals and political parties.

In fact, we should do it on our own. We should do it to the point where all Governments call us and ask our advice and offer us some help because we set the standard of excellence in these situations despite the obstacles that are put in our way. We should do it because God calls us to it.

And we should do it so that they will know that we are Christians. How will they know? Because they will see us working with great love.

And not with partisan hatred.

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Re-Election: What Does It Mean For Catholics?

We (and I use that word purposely) re-elected President Obama for four more years. I use the collective “we” here because we now need to unite behind the President and lobby him on issues that we disagree with him on as Catholics.

I’m a bit tired of all the gridlock that occurred in the President’s first term, especially on issues surrounding health care. There is a lot that is positive in this President’s Administration and a lot that we can be hopeful about because this is a President that is willing to listen to those who disagree.

Here’s some issues that I’d like to see the Catholic Church begin to speak out about and work with the President on.

1) The Environment: The Pope has spoken out on the need for Catholics to care for the environment. Perhaps it would be wise to ask all churches to become as green as possible with direct suggestions for parishes and other diocesan and religious order buildings to implement. We agree with the President on this issue and working with him on this would be a good first step towards building good will.

2) The Death Penalty: We also agree with the President on this issue. Why would the church not work extremely hard with the President to lobby governors and state legislatures on making the death penalty obsolete. We’re one of the few countries to have the death penalty and those other ones that do, are not ones we ought to emulate,

3) Support to Limit Abortions: Even if abortion were outlawed (and it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon, unfortunately), the law would just revert to the states. So we’re never getting rid of abortion just by repealing Roe v. Wade. We’re just siphoning it off to certain states to become abortion states. Even in states that have tried to outlaw Abortion, those initiatives were easily defeated. Would it not be more pragmatic to now admit that we might not be rid of the legality of abortion and instead work to develop a different strategy to defeat it. This might be very comprehensive in structure. For example, why wouldn’t we try to work with the President to support childcare for pregnant women? Why wouldn’t we lobby to make adoption processes easier? Why wouldn’t our Bishops call on Catholics to be foster parents or Big Brothers/Big Sisters? And why would we not work to support the disabled? There’s clearly a lot of room for us to work together on all of this without all of the gridlock.

4) HHS Mandate: This was handled horribly by all involved. Why not challenge the idea that health care even needs to be tied to employment? Why not take the lead and simply pay our workers more and not offer them health care in favor of allowing people to form their own collective and barter for their own health care. This might create a very healthy marketplace, bringing prices down because of the competition that they’d engender. I think that there was a lot of ill will on both sides of this debate. It’s time to admit that the President offered a compromise and even a loophole for Catholics, but that wasn’t good enough. Surely there’s more room for negotiation here.

5) Equal pay for Women: Clearly this is a justice issue that we can get behind as Catholics.

6) Gay Marriage: While the church will not bless a gay marriage, perhaps we can admit that these types of civil unions, are simply civil and not sacramental. Our job as Catholics would remain in protecting the human dignity of gays who are attacked because of their sexual preference despite our disagreement about the question of marriage. People need the full protection of some kind of force from those who would do them harm.

7) Peace and Justice: Restoring the world to peace once again will be a hallmark of this administration and upholding human rights and restoring justice to those who are oppressed is something that we all agree is central to our ideals as Catholics and as an American culture.

8) Economic Justice: How will we defeat poverty? Surely this is something that we have lots to say and we can be helpful with ideas and initiatives that the White House may just wish to support.

9) Slavery/Human-Trafficking: Clearly this is an area that we can push for more engagement from our churches along with the administration.

10) Eldercare: The majority of Catholics and the majority of clergy will soon be senior citizens. How will we care for them in the future? How can we make this affordable? We will need the government to help push an agenda for the dignity of the elderly.

All in all…a civil tone between our church and our government will be necessary in these four years and we cannot afford to be jettisoned off to the Catholic ghetto. It’s important to note that Catholics of good will on all sides of these questions, democrat and republican (independents too!), have much to contribute. We need to work on our own in-house civility in the Catholic blogosphere as well, so that despite our differences at times, they still will know that we are Christians by our love. And from there, we might together, work with those who do not share our faith in order to bring about a more perfect union.

As many know, I’m the co-convener of our UB Campus Ministry Association. We have started to unite together to do more charitable initiatives, along with initiatives to bring awareness and safety to the campus. We don’t always agree. But we are committed to finding common ground. In doing so, we show our campus that we can transcend disagreement and work together to bring peace and justice to our campus.

Tonight, let us pray that we can come together and that our President will be open to working with us on things that we can find common ground on, so that we might be able to protect the vulnerable in society and live once again, in peace.

Let the real work begin!

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