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Random thoughts about Catholic social teaching and how messed up things are

In ancient times, the poor and sick were relegated to the streets, begging for what they needed. They were generally looked on as people who were cursed, not worth caring for, or that there situation was the result of sin. 

Then Jesus came and showed people a whole new way. He taught that we are all God’s children and we are responsible for the care of our brothers and sisters. In Matthew 26, a woman is chastised for anointing Jesus’ head with expensive perfume because, they said, the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus says to them, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (v11) Numerous times the New Testament books and letters tell us that we, as Christians, are obligated to care for those who are less fortunate. In our faith, we have the Corporal Works of Mercy. Based on Matthew 25:34-40, and other Bible texts, they are: 

To feed the hungry. 
To give drink to the thirsty. 
To clothe the naked. 
To harbour the harbourless. (also interpreted today as To Shelter the Homeless) 
To visit the sick. 
To visit the imprisoned (classical term is “To ransom the captive”) 
To bury the dead. 

The early Christians, and later various religious orders, built hospitals and shelters for the sick to be cared for, even if they couldn’t pay. The Brothers, Sisters, and priests who ran these institutions worked tirelessly from morning till night, for virtually no pay – only their own food, clothing, and shelter. They often begged themselves in order to raise money and food to care for their patients. 

Now, for the first time in history, the government is expected to take over the care of the poor. This was never the intention of our founding fathers nor anyone involved in the creation of our country. With increased regulations, laws, and paperwork, the government has usurped the ability of charitable organizations to effectively give direct help to the poor. I’m not romanticizing the way things “used to be,” as I’m sure it was not a perfect system, but what has happened has created a virtually impossible situation where religious orders can not afford to truly help the people at ground level. This has happened in food distribution, as well as in healthcare and schools to the point that, even in organizations that still retain a religious name or affiliation, there may be little to no actual involvement by religious persons and it is the name only which signifies who they are associated with. Obviously, it is not only the government intrusion that has made things difficult – declining numbers of people in the religious life have taken a huge toll on their ability to fill the needs of the poor – but the food stamps and Medicaid programs both began in the 1960s, the same time as the number of people responding to call of the religious life began dropping, as well as the cultural upheaval in our country. So much changed during that decade, it’s hard to know where more blame falls or if it is on everything equally. What’s clear though is that we are now in an era where the government is EXPECTED to care for the poor. If a religious organization can help too, that’s great, but the general expectation is that the government should be taking care of us if we can’t do it ourselves. 

To make matters even worse, charitable giving by individuals has decreased over the years, in large part because many people feel like there are “government programs for that,” and they are already paying into those so why should they give more to other charities? The reality, however, is we all know only a small percentage of our tax money actually gets to the people. The rest is caught up in office expenses, payroll for employees, etc. In contrast, if you give $100 to a Sister of Charity, she’s going to turn around and immediately use the entire amount to buy food or clothing for people in need. Outside of any government mandates or regulations, the religious organizations rely on volunteers, donations, and keeping costs low – which is kind of the opposite of government agencies. 

So, where does that leave us? I don’t know. We are our brothers’ keepers, that’s for certain, but it often seems like the people who are the most concerned or who give the most of their time, are also barely scraping by. There’s been a lot in the news lately about Pope Francis’ statement about the “redistribution of wealth.” Contrary to what the media reports, he’s not talking about Communism, a form of government strictly condemned by the Church, but rather the idea that wealth is a gift – and a responsibility. Someone who works hard and earns money is entitled to buy what they like, but is it fair if they have 5 cars, 2 houses, and eat steak every night while someone else starves?  To say this, is not the same thing as saying that everyone ought to be equal, it is saying that every human being is inherently important and deserves what they need to live. It is saying that those who have been gifted with good health, intelligence, and the ability to earn more, need to consider the needs of those who are less fortunate. It is saying that those who are in a position to, provide good paying jobs and fair wages that enable their employees to earn a living, as well as keeping prices fair so that people can afford to purchase their products. It is also saying that we, as individuals, do what we can, volunteer where we are able, give what we can afford, to good reputable organizations that give real help to people in need. 

Everything is so messed up and out of whack. Prices keep getting higher and wages can’t keep up. People talk about raising the minimum wage. I don’t know where they think the money is going to come from. If a business owner is forced to pay all of his employees $3 more per hour, something has to change. They need to either, let some employees go, cut hours, or raise prices dramatically. Think about it – for a small business owner with 10 part time employees, that’s an additional $600/week in payroll they have to pay out (10 employees x 20 hours each x $3). That’s an extra $2400/month. Where will that come from? If he raises prices, he will lose business. If he has to let people go or cut hours, has the raise really helped anyone? And then if everyone raises their prices, that cancels out the wage increase because you’re just spending more on the products you need to buy. It’s all very frustrating and you have to wonder if it will take a crisis of some sort before things change. And when/if that happens, when/if it becomes clear at some point that the government is no longer able to help the poor, guess who will once again step in to fill the gap? 

Deo Juvante, Jen

 

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Social Justice

 

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Confessions, Book 1, Chap. 13

But why did I hate the Greek language so much, which I studied as a boy?  I do not yet fully know the answer.  For I loved the Latin; not what my first masters taught me, but what the so-called grammarians teach.  For those first lessons, reading, writing, and arithmetic, I thought as great a burden and punishment as any Greek studies.  And yet where did all this come from, too, but from the sin and vanity of this life, because I was but flesh and a breath that passes away and does not come again.  For those primary lessons were better, certainly, because they were more certain.  By them I obtained and still retain the ability to read what I find written, and the ability to write what I will.  On the other hand, I was forced to learn the wanderings of one Aeneas, forgetful of my own, and to weep for Dido, dead because she killed herself for love; while at the same time with dry eyes, I brooked my wretched self dying among these things, far from You, O God of my life.

What is more wretched than a wretch who does not pity himself, weeping over the death of Dido for her love of Aeneas, but shedding no tears over his own death in not loving You, O God, Light of my heart, Bread of my inmost soul, Power that weds my mind with my inmost thought?  I did not love you, and I committed fornication against You, and all those around me who were doing the same, echoed, “Well done!  Well done!” for the friendship of this world is fornication against You, and, “Well done!  Well done!” echoes on till one is ashamed not to be such a man.  And for all this I did not weep, though I wept for Dido, slain as she sought death by the point of a sword, myself seeking the extremest and lowest level of Your creatures, having forsaken You, earth sinking to earth.  And if I were forbidden to read all this, I grieved that I was not allowed to read what grieved me.  Madness like this is considered more honorable and more fruitful learning than that by which I learned to read and write.

But now, my God, shout aloud in my soul and let Your truth tell me, “It is not so!  Far better was that first study!”  For I would rather forget the wanderings of Aeneas and all such things than how to read and write.  Over the entrance of the Grammar School a veil is hung, it is true, but this is not so much a sign of honor of the mysteries taught in them as a covering for error.  Let not those whom I no longer fear cry out against me while I confess whatever my soul desires to You, my God, and let them agree in the condemnation of my evil ways, that I may love Your good ways.  Let neither buyers nor sellers of grammar education cry out against me.  For if I question them as to whether Aeneas came once to Carthage, as the poet tells, the less learned will reply that they do not know; the more learned, that he never did.  But if I ask with what letters the name “Aeneas” is written, everyone who has learned this will answer me rightly, in accordance with the conventional understanding men have settled on as to these signs.  If, again, I ask which might be forgotten with the least detriment to the concerns of life – reading and writing, or these poetic fictions, who does not foresee what all must answer who have not wholly forgotten themselves?  I erred then, when as a boy I preferred those vain studies to the more profitable ones, or rather loved the one and hated the other.  “One and one are two; two and two are four.”  This to me was a hateful sing-song; but such vanities as the wooden horse full of armed men and the burning of Troy and the “spectral image” Creusa were a most pleasant but vain spectacle.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve realized that I need to be very careful about what I watch and read.  All too often I’d find myself engrossed in a book so much that I could barely put it down during the day – and then would dream about it at night besides.  Or I’d get started on a TV show or two, and before I knew it, my whole weekly plan was made around being home to watch those shows.  And at night, there I was again, laying in bed, thinking about the characters, reviewing the plot in my head, imagining what I’d do if I were them.  Augustine too seems to have struggled with this as he tells of his weeping for Dido, the tragic character in the Aeneid, who falls in love with Aeneas but, upon his leaving for Italy, kills herself on his sword.

When this happened to me, I was generally reading good books and watching good tv shows.  There was nothing immoral or “bad” about them, but they were taking up hours of my life, not to mention the emotional and psychological involvement.  In the same way, the Aeneid is a great and classic piece of literature that is considered required reading in most schools (or at least, it used to be).  The trouble, as Augustine so clearly tells us, is that he allowed himself to become emotionally vested in a fictional story while, at the same time, neglecting his spiritual growth.

See, the problem for me wasn’t the books or the tv shows, any more than, for Augustine, it was the Aeneid.  Reading is a great thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with watching a little tv, but when we find ourselves so involved with the characters that they start to live in our heads and we have emotional reactions to them, it might be time to re-evaluate their importance in our lives.

Also, when I talk to my kids about this,  I tell them that it’s fine to watch a little tv or spend a little time on the computer, but how much is too much?  They could be watching really good and wholesome, even educational, programs, or they could be playing good games that teach good decision making skills – all really good things – but what aren’t they doing?  If they are spending 3, 4, or 5 hours in front of the tv or computer, or even engrossed in a book, they aren’t outside playing, they aren’t using their imagination to come up with their own stories, they aren’t being creative and building things.

In the same way, if I spend my day (and subsequently, my night) wrapped in the plot of some novel, or if I am so consumed by a character that I find myself rewriting the story in my mind and spending hours analyzing their motives, what am I not doing with that time?  Would my time be better spent with a book about the Saints?  At the very least, do I spend an equal amount of time in prayer or in contemplating God and His wonderful blessings in my life?  What if, instead of planning my week around which tv shows I was going to watch, I would have planned it around times to volunteer with my church at a soup kitchen or around a devotional meeting?

Augustine hits on a common plight in the human condition.  We are all wired with this empty spot inside of us.  All or lives we seek to fill it.  All too often, it gets filled with the wrong things.  For most of us it’s tv shows, books, computer games, but for some it’s shopping, gambling, alcohol, or drugs.  Augustine slipped into a life or promiscuity.  All of these things seem like the answer, and all of them seem like they will fit, giving us a momentary thrill, a stirring in our heart, but none of them do, none of them last.  Nothing will ever fill that hole except for the One it was designed for; nothing will bring us happiness until we look outside of the pleasures of this world and, instead, seek the God Who loves us and cares for us.  Then, and only then, can we be completely happy.

Deo Juvante, Jen

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in Confessions

 

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Mass Readings, Mar. 9, 2014 – First Sunday of Lent

Mass Readings, Mar. 9, 2014 – First Sunday of Lent

This Sunday’s readings can be found here.

The first reading was, Genesis 2:7-9, 3:1-7 – The fall of man; Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent.

Psalm 51 – Be merciful, Oh Lord, for we have sinned.

Romans 5:12-19 – St. Paul relating the connection between Adam and Jesus; sin and death came into the world through one man, Adam, and is also saved from sin and death by One Man, Jesus.

Matthew 4:1-11 – The tempting of Jesus by Satan in the desert.

Father began his homily by talking about what it means to “obey.”  To obey means “to listen,” or “to hear.”  We are called to be obedient to the Father, to listen to Him.  The evil one seeks to distract, to confuse, to keep us from listening to the Father.

If we go through the three temptations that Satan puts to Jesus, first he questions Jesus’ identity – “IF you are the Son of God . . . “.  Then he attacks Jesus on a physical level, suggesting that He turn the stones into bread.  Jesus responds with scripture, “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”  Taking up the “Scripture Game,” as Father put it, the devil then uses Scripture to tempt Jesus a second time, suggesting that if Jesus throws Himself down from the parapet, “He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”  Jesus responds with, “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”  (This also shows us how Scripture can, and so often is, twisted and taken out of context in an effort to make it conform to what someone wishes it to say.)  Finally, the devil tempts Jesus with power.  The devil, after having convinced Adam and Eve to fall, feels that all he needs to do is get Jesus to fall and then he can be in control of the whole world forever.  So, he takes a gamble by offering Jesus the entire world, if only He will bow down to him, but Jesus has had enough and sends Satan away.

Through this entire exchange, we see Jesus listening to the Father, obeying Him, through Scripture.  He is the contrast to Adam and Eve.  Where they did not listen, did not obey, Jesus does.  St. Paul refers to the fall of man as a “happy fault.”  It is because they fell that we needed a Savior.  God sending His only Son into the world to die, reveals for us a God Who is merciful, loving, cares for us, and truly understands us.

It is tempting to see God’s laws as over-burdensome.  When the devil asks Eve what God said about the fruit, she says God told them they would die if they even touched the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  We know, and the devil knew, that God did not mean a physical death, but the devil uses this to trick Eve.  He twists the truth and convinces them that God was being too harsh, thus convincing them to fall.

Finally, Father encourages us to take time this Lent, and always, to pray.  Set time apart in our day and just listen – listen to God speak to us through Scripture, through stories of the Saints, or just in our hearts as we sit quietly with the One Who loves us perfectly.  In the Bible we hear God command us at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him,” and at the wedding at Cana, Mary tells us, “Do whatever He tells you.”  Jesus went into the desert in order to cut Himself off from the noise and chaos of the world.  We should try to do the same – cut away all that is extra in our lives, all that stops us from really listening to God.

Have a blessed week!

Deo Juvante, Jen

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in Mass Readings

 

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Mass Readings, Sun., Mar. 2, 2014

Mass Readings, Sun., Mar. 2, 2014

Sundays readings began with:

Isaiah 49:14-15 – The Lord will never forget us, His love is constant

Psalm 62 – Rest in God alone, my soul.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5 – The Lord alone judges us, we need not fear any human judgement.

Matthew 6:24-34 – We can not serve two masters – we must serve God alone; God cares for us and provides us with everything we need.

Monsignor said Mass this Sunday.

When a woman has a baby, she has a small glimpse of what it means to love someone completely.  If we take that love and multiply it hundreds, thousands of times, even then we can’t begin to fathom the depths of God’s love for us, His ability to love and forgive.  No matter who forgets us in this life, God never forgets us.

So what does God ask from us in return?  He asks only that He be our Master, our ONE master.  When we have God’s complete and total love, and we giver ourselves to Him completely in return, there are glorious consequences!

But sometimes things don’t go quite right.  We worry, we get anxious.  We cast judgement on ourselves (how am I doing?  what are others thinking about me?  Am I good enough?).  These things distract us from our goal.

Naturally it is ok to be concerned about earning a living or doing what we need to do, but it’s a matter of attitude.  Do we go to God first with our problems, or do we try to take matters into our own hands, determined to do it ourselves?

Maybe we don’t want to give ourselves to God completely.  Maybe we don’t trust ourselves.  Maybe we don’t trust God.  If this is the case then we need to pray for the desire to give ourselves to God.  Simply tell Him that you want to trust Him, but you can’t right now, and ask Him to help.

Each day we need to entrust all of our daily tasks to the Lord.  Commit every day to doing God’s will to the best of our ability, seeking His kingdom, and giving ourselves over to Him.  When we do this, we find that we are able to let go of all our worries and anxieties, knowing that God is caring for us in every way.

Deo Juvante, Jen

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Mass Readings

 

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Confessions, Book 1, Chap. 12

Confessions, Book 1, Chap. 12

In my childhood, which was less dangerous for me than my adolescence, I had no love of leaning and hated to be forced to it.  Yet I was forced to it, and this was good for me, though I did not do well.  For I would not have learned unless I was compelled.  But no one does well against his will, even though what he does may be well.  Yet they who forced me did not do well either, but the good that came to me was from You, my God.  For they were totally uncaring of how I should use what they forced me to learn, except to satisfy the inordinate desire of a rich beggary and a shameful glory.  But You, by whom the very hairs of our head are numbered, used for my good the error of all those who urged me to learn; and my own error in my unwillingness to learn, You used for my punishment – a fit penalty for one, so small a boy and so great a sinner.  So by the instruments of those who did not do well, You did well for me; and by my own sin You justly punished me.  For You have appointed and it is so, that every inordinate affection should be its own punishment.

So like us all, was St. Augustine.  Do any of us want to do what we are forced to do?  We resist and drag our heels, and sometimes openly complain.  We all like to be independent and feel like we are free to do what we please.  The speed limit says 45, so I’m going to go 50!  Someone pushes, we shove back. Sometimes we might even find ourselves in an argument over something that has almost no meaning, just for the sake of rebellion.

But what becomes of us after all that rebellion?  Are we any better for it?  Augustine states that “every inordinate affection should be its own punishment,” so, we speed, and we get a speeding ticket.  We lie to save face, and we break trust with someone we love.  We pridefully and covetously make a big purchase because we tell ourselves that we “deserve it”, and a week later it gets broken.  It’s tempting to only look at the “big sins” – lust, adultery, theft, addictions – because those consequences are easier to see.  But those little things that we do on a day to day basis that we know we shouldn’t are often the bigger downfalls for most of us.  Something as simple as coloring our hair.  Why are we doing it?  Is it vanity?  Pride?  Rebelling against the natural process of aging?  Maybe fear?  I’m not saying that you can’t ever dye your hair or insinuating that it’s sinful, because it certainly isn’t, but what is the reason?  What attitude do you have about it?

In Augustine’s case, he knows in hindsight that he purposefully rebelled against learning.  He also sees that his teachers and elders weren’t teaching for the sake of making him a better person but rather to make themselves look better.  And yet, God made use of all these things both in Augustine’s life and in the lives of everyone who has been touched by his story – even us, reading it today!  He acknowledges that any and all good in his life came from God who, “numbers the very hairs of our heads.”  So we ask ourselves, do we rebel against God and the way he wishes us to walk in our lives or do we bend our heads and give ourselves over to Him?  Do we push back against the rules, fighting against what we know we should do, or do we invite God’s wisdom into our lives, doing our best to learn from every situation He presents to us, both the good and the bad?

Deo Juvante, Jen

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Confessions

 

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Mass Readings, Sun. Feb. 23, 2014

Mass Readings, Sun. Feb. 23, 2014

The readings for this past Sunday are here:

Leviticus 19:1-2,17-18 – Correct your fellow man if necessary, but don’t bear hatred, revenge, or grudges; don’t incur sin on yourself because of them.

Psalm 103 – The Lord is kind and merciful.

1 Corinthians 3:16-23 – We are a temple of God; we do not belong to the world, but to God.

Matthew 5:38-48 – Love our enemies and give to anyone who asks of us; be perfect as Our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Monsignor said Mass.  He broke down the readings by focusing on how we are all made to be like God.  He calls us to be perfect, as He is perfect; to be transformed into fitting temples for the Holy Spirit.  To do this, we need to be willing, committed, have hope, and perseverance.

First, we have to be willing.  He won’t force us.  When He calls us, He wants our willing response.

Second, what is our level of commitment?  Do we actively seek His help and then LET Him help us?   Is God first in our lives and do we let Him be in charge?

We also need to have hope.  Do we have the attitude of love and generosity that our Father has?  Obviously there is a line to be drawn – we don’t give to others to the point of our own bankruptcy and we don’t intentionally subject ourselves to people who harm us.  It is the attitude that is important. When someone has harmed us, we can forgive them without opening ourselves up to be hurt again.  When we encounter people in the course of our daily life, do we treat everyone equally, regardless of how they look?  Satan will try to tell us that it doesn’t matter, that we shouldn’t even bother trying.  But we have to retain hope in what God has promised.

Finally, we need to have perseverance.  We’re all going to screw up sometimes.  It’s not always easy to say yes to God.   We need to start every day fresh, committed to trying again.  We need to start every day saying yes to God.

Have a blessed week!

Deo Juvante, Jen

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in Mass Readings

 

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Confessions, Book 1, Chap. 11

Confessions, Book 1, Chap. 11

As we read today’s passage from Confessions, we realize that Augustine was not baptized as a child.  That seems startling to us, especially since He believed in God and Christ’s dying to save us from our sins.  In the fourth century, however, the people were more afraid of sinning after baptism than they were of dying without it and so, it was common practice to postpone baptism until immediately before death.

Augustine laments the decision to postpone his baptism, recognizing that baptism would have cleansed him and, perhaps, kept him from suffering the many temptations that plagued him in his youth.  It is clear that Augustine deeply regretted the sinful life he lead in the years before his conversion.  I think, however, that this speaks again of what I wrote previously – God takes even our worst moments in life and uses them for the advancement of His glory.

Did God want Augustine to sin?  Did God purposely cause Augustine to sin in order to use him as an example?  No, but God did know that Augustine was going to fall into sin.  Augustine had free will and willingly made the choice to sin throughout his youth.  God does not interfere with our choices to sin, but He allows it to happen and then brings good out of it.  In the case of Augustine, when he finally converted and repented of his sin, God gave him the grace and ability to bring others to repentance not in spite of his sin, but because of it.  Here we are today, almost 2000 years later, learning how to be a good follower of Christ, because this man defied his elders and lived a life of rampant sin.  Imagine what could have happened if he had never strayed, never led that wild life of sin and promiscuity.  Augustine may have lived in obscurity and died quietly in his bed of old age, never to be thought of again beyond his immediate family!

In our own lives, we are going to make mistakes; we have probably already made quite a few!  But if we look with the eyes of faith, and ask God to show us, we should be able to see many examples of places we are now and good things that have happened to us, because of sinful decisions from our past.  Maybe it is knowledge or wisdom that we gained, maybe it is a chance encounter that ended up having lasting effects, maybe it is something that became a milestone moment that affected the entire course of our lives.  Whatever it is, we have to be thankful for those occasions of sin, those moments of temptation.  We are what we are today, not in spite of those times, but because of them and to change them, could change our entire life.

As a boy, then, I had heard of eternal life promised us through the humility of the Lord our God stooping to our pride.  Even from the womb of my mother, who greatly hoped in you, I was signed with the mark of His cross and seasoned with His salt.  You saw, Lord, how at one time while yet a boy I was suddenly seized with pains in the stomach and was near death.  You saw, my God, for You were my Keeper, with what eagerness of mind and with what faith I besought the baptism of Your Christ, my God and Lord, from the piety of my own mother and of Your Church, the mother of us all.  At this time, my mother was very anxious, since she labored more lovingly in travail from my salvation than in my natural birth.  She would have provided for my cleansing initiation by Your health-giving sacraments, confessing You, Lord Jesus for the remission of sins, if I had not suddenly recovered.  And so, as if I must needs be further polluted if I should live, my cleansing was deferred because the defilements of sin would bring greater and more perilous guilt after that washing.  I already believed at that time, with my mother and the whole household except  my father.  Yet he did not overcome the power of my mother’s piety in me so as to prevent my believing in Christ.  The fact that he did not yet believe did not make me think that I should not.  For it was her earnest concern that You, my God, should be my Father rather than he.  In this You enabled her to overcome her husband to whom, though the better of the two, she yielded obedience because in this she obeyed Your commandment as well.

I beseech You, my God, for I would like to know if it is Your will, for what purpose was my baptism then deferred?  Was it for my good that the reins were loosed on me, as it were, for me to sin? Or were they not slackened at all?  If not, why does it still echo in my ears on all sides, “Let him alone, let him do as he will, for he is not yet baptized”?  But as to bodily health, no one says, “Let him be wounded even more seriously, for he is not yet healed.”  How much better then, would it have been for me to have been healed at once and then, by my friends’ diligence and my own, my soul’s recovered health had then been kept safe in Your keeping who gave it!  Better truly.  But how many great waves of temptation seemed to hang over me after my childhood!  My mother foresaw these and preferred to expose the unformed [unrengenerate] clay to them rather than to the very image itself after it was made.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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