Monday, August 21, 2017

America's Original Wound and Ongoing Eclipse of Human Dignity

Gordon, an ex-slave, from Wikipedia

Some scars never go away.

With our nation once again reeling from a violent eruption of heinous and explicit racism, a number of people have raised related questions about the way that unconscious and implicit racism continues to shape the current cultural landscape.

If humanistic luminaries like our nation's founders could be blind to their own denial of basic human rights to black citizens, and if highly educated judges and legislators could support institutional segregation for decades, how likely is it that 21st century Americans are without our own racial blind spots? Isn't the probability very high that this era has its own social and cultural structures of sin that impact all of us?

These are not comfortable questions for cocktail-hour conversations, of course. They are matters for deep reflection about our most basic presuppositions, which routinely go unexamined. They are also questions that often leave people thinking, "I don't know where to begin with that..."

Here's a starting point, a must-read for anyone who dares to delve more deeply into questions of institutional and structural racism: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in a Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

The importance of this book cannot be overstated, just as its provocative thesis cannot be easily digested: Alexander argues that the "war on drugs"--promoted by Republican and Democratic presidents alike, and propped up by a number of shocking Supreme Court decisions--is the vehicle of ongoing racism in our times. It is a machine which has targeted and incarcerated black men at outrageously disproportionate levels, and it leaves a devastating swath of convicted felons in its wake who have no hope of re-integration into society. Somehow the author manages to address what seems like all conceivable counter-arguments, even demonstrating the essential role played both by the myth of colorblindness and by black exceptionalism (e.g., the election of an African-American president).

Just as Original Sin left the human race with a weakened will and darkened intellect, so today's racial structures of sin continue to compromise and implicate us all. Statues and monuments may remind us of past structures of sin, but debates about where they belong might just be a distraction from addressing current racial inequities. With a targeted minority--black men--continuing to suffer mind-boggling levels of felony convictions, it seems that the least we can do is to begin seeing the unconscious and implicit mechanisms at work today.

Ultimately, of course, only a Wounded Healer can save us from the mess in which we are living. Yet he needs us to be his agents in this noble mission. The Lord knows we did not choose to be born into this particular system, but he also knows that we can choose whether or not we perceive the reality. And we can decide how to begin tending to the wounds.

Reading The New Jim Crow would be a great place to start.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Max-imizing Each Moment

Maximilian Kolbe

St. Maximilian Kolbe heroically stepped forward to accept a death sentence in the place of another prisoner at Auschwitz. What prepared him for such a moment, and what might we learn from his example?

There could be no ultimate gift of self
without a lifetime of giving of oneself.

There could be no heroic taking-the-place-of-another
without a lifetime of standing for-and-with others.

There could be no act of perfect courage
without a lifetime of courageous daily actions.

There could be no "yes" to self-sacrificing Love
without a lifetime of sacrificing one's lesser loves.

There could be no laying down one's life
without a lifetime of taking up one's cross.

There could be no "Martyr of Charity"
without a lifetime of dying to love of self.

There could be no explanation like Kolbe's "I am a Catholic priest"
without a lifetime of proudly professing one's Catholic faith.
There could be no allowing another person to live on one's own borrowed time
without a lifetime of sharing a New Life borrowed from Another.

May the witness of Max Kolbe, the patron patron saint of media communications, political prisoners, families, drug addicts, and the pro-life movement, help us walk in friendship with Jesus and our Immaculate Mother each day--


Monday, July 31, 2017

"Lord, teach us how to pray..." (Lk 11:1)

After observing the depth, the faithfulness and the fruitfulness of Jesus' prayer, the disciples couldn't help but ask: How can we pray like you, Lord (so we can be more like you)?

Jesus does not get into practical strategies--e.g., posture or breathing techniques or meditation mantras--but he gets really real.  His answer is that we need to enter into his prayer, into his lived relationship with the Father, through his Holy Spirit.

The Lord's Prayer is a summary of the Gospel because it draws us into the mystery of Our Father's personal quest for an intimate relationship with each of his created sons and daughters.  In and through his un-created Son, by the power of his proceeding Spirit, the Father seeks to draw each of us into intimacy with the Blessed Trinity's eternal exchange of Love.

But we are practical people with many day-to-day concerns--not unlike the first disciples (!)--and so we want to know what this lesson on prayer means for us right now.  Here are seven suggestions, following the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer:

  • (Re)Claim and (Re)Frame our lives in terms of relationship with our eternal Father. When we pray that the Father's name be holy, "we are immersed in the innermost mystery of his Godhead and the drama of the salvation of our humanity" (CCC, n. 2801).  Because the Father is perfect and holy, Jesus wants us to let his image and likeness shine through our lives.
  • Walk in the presence of the Father, who IS in heaven and who IS close to us wherever we are. This is what it means to ask that his Kingdom come; this is why Jesus proclaimed that "The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1:15). Heaven contains the earth as the soul contains the body.
  •  Will the Will of the Father, in matters great and small. Holiness looks like something--conforming my will the the Will of the Father.  And it looks like Someone--Jesus--who lived 30 years of ordinary life and 3 years of extraordinary ministry simply willing the Father's Will, moment-to-moment.
  • Eat and drink giving thanks to the Father (particularly at his eucharistic table)! To resist the myth of our own self-sufficiency and our own self-made-ness, perhaps there is no better place to start than looking at every drop and morsel we consume as signs of affection from the Father: "all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas 1:17).
  • Forgive with the prodigal and gratuitous love of the Father. We must redirect those who have hurt us, so that they stop their bad behavior and so that relationships might be restored.  But this requires that we remember how much we have already been forgiven: "Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in kindness" (Ps 103:8).
  • Cast out temptations in the name of Jesus, the Father's beloved. The father of lies will not rest until he has drawn us from the embrace of our heavenly Father. Temptations are guaranteed until the end of time, but we resist their control when we name them and dismiss them by invoking Jesus' authoritative name and example, "Get away, Satan" (Mt 4:10).
  • Trust that it pleases the Father to deliver us from every evil: Even before Jesus put evil to death on the Cross, he invited his followers to walk as he walked, with utter assurance in this promise: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom" (Lk 12:32).

In sum, Jesus teaches us how to pray by inviting us into his own prayer, into his inner life. We simply need to live from this mystery "in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God"; after all, as the Catechism succinctly notes, "This relationship is prayer" (CCC, n. 2558).

Monday, July 24, 2017

Convocation + Conversation => Conversion

An opening riddle: What might Orlando in July and a breath of fresh air have in common?

Acceptable answers: The 2017 Convocation of Catholic Leaders--or--the Holy Spirit blowing through the battered--but not broken--body of the Church :)

The experience seemed like: one part national "world youth day," with a powerful presence of young adults, and many others exhibiting a renewed young-at-heart status; one part pilgrimage, with 3500 amazing companions from across the country; one part incredible retreat, with heavenly liturgies and dynamic nightly devotions; and one part "killer" conference, with star-studded keynote addresses, witness talks and panel discussions.

Of course, the preferred terminology was "convocation"--as in, "a coming together." It was an assembly led by scores of Bishops and their respective delegations. It was a gathering of people who represented the entire body of the Church, whose authentic unity in diversity was on full display.

The operative word throughout the event was "conversation," and the intention was clearly to engage as many diverse voices as possible--and to spark ongoing conversations at the dioceses and parishes throughout the U.S.  The call to ongoing personal and ecclesial conversion was clear throughout. Even though the preparation materials described all of the participants as "protagonists," it seemed that the delegates were even more like actors on the stage of a divinely inspired drama--with the promised Advocate leading the way.

In addition to calling forth delegations from around the country, the Bishops led by contributing reflections, facilitating the panel discussions, and listening to the joys and concerns of all present. Four great themes from Pope Francis' The Joy of the Gospel framed the conversation in the plenary sessions:
  1. Charting the Landscape and Mission Field: As the Greek root of the word indicates, this current time of "crisis" is a transition between what is passing away and what is coming next; it is, therefore, a kairos moment--an opportune time for the Lord's ongoing activity to unfold (H. Ospino). It is time for the Church to again be poor and be for the poor, per the charge of Holy Father Francis.

  2. The Radical Call to Missionary Discipleship: Rooted in evangelical discernment of the signs of the times, we must declare ourselves to be in a permanent state of mission (Pope Francis). In addition, we must understand that the goal or end of evangelization is to address poverty in all its forms, by fostering the habits of divine intimacy, authentic friendship and spiritual multiplication (C. Martin).

  3. Going to the Peripheries: Where there is great suffering, Jesus is already there; the only question is whether or not we will be there with Him (C. Anderson). We must see and go out to meet all those on margins--whether these be economic, cultural, geographic, generational, or existential peripheries.

  4. Spirit-filled Evangelizers Equipped for Excellence: Poured out upon all the baptized, the Holy Spirit both dwells within and inspires all those who evangelize (Bishop Malone). Boldness and fearlessness must mark this new age of missionary outreach, and bearing fruit will require a commitment to accountability (P. Lencioni). Bishop Barron's capstone address address spoke to not only three great threats (a mythological divide between faith and reason which he called "scientism"; a culture of indifference or a "whatever" mentality; and a culture of self-invention), but also three great opportunities (linked to the True and the Good and the Beautiful).

Although the phrase "new Pentecost" might seem either too dramatic or too trite for such an event, this intentional re-framing of the Church in the U.S. in terms of missionary discipleship was clearly essential for this moment in history. Outreach to suffering souls must be a primary focus in this post-Christian transition of culture, if a more fully human culture is going to have the chance to emerge.

The Convocation of Catholic Leaders seemed to be a moment when the bruised body of the Church, after having endured an extended coronary attack, received the supernatural defibrillator it needed.  Along with these words from Pope Francis, let's pray for the ongoing pastoral and missionary conversion which must follow:

"I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort
to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion
which cannot leave things as they presently are.
'Mere administration' can no longer be enough.
Throughout the world, let us be "permanently in a state of mission'."
(EG, n. 25)

Come, Holy Spirit!

P.S. For a short sample of the Convocation, check out Discipleship at the Center of Convocation: 3-minute video clip from CNS.

P.P.S. For a full sampling of plenary sessions, Masses and devotions, follow this link to the USCCB's Convocation 2017 Video on Demand.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Jesus and Gender: Resources for Inquiring Catholics

"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler," by Heinrich Hofmann

During these confusing and disorienting times, Jesus the Teacher continues to speak regarding urgent questions about gender and the nature of the human person.

Jesus reveals not only who God is, but also who the human person is--why we are here, and where we are going. Like the rich young man pictured above, we too can approach the Lord and have the experience which Mark's Gospel describes so beautifully: "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mk 10:21). We might even see the following resources as a sign of how the Lord's voice continues to echo today, "come, follow me":

1. Foundational Sources and Documents

2. Pope Francis’ Teachings and Related Reflections

Amoris Laetitia: On gender ideology (n. 56), and On same-sex unions (n. 251)

4. Support for Families

The Courage Apostolate:

The Institute for Healthy Families: Homosexuality and Hope

5. Related Films & Videos

Jason Evert, On effectively reaching out to people who identify as transgender 

6. A Meta-Analysis of Biological, Psychological and Social Science Research

New Atlantis article by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer and Dr. Paul R. McHugh:
Sexuality and Gender--Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences