When I Drink

“Okay, mijo, make the number three with your fingers and hold them together.” My grandfather’s hard, gruff voice could cause a nine-year-old to quiver. “Place your fingers at the bottom of the glass, like this,” he guides my hand to do what he’s describing. The familiar smell of Old Spice and tobacco bookmarks this moment into my memory. “Pour whiskey into the glass; stop when you reach the top of your fingers. Add some ice. And some soda.” He takes a drink. He smacks his lips. He gives a satisfied smile. “Now you know how to mix a drink.”

I have a large extended family. A family that loves to eat, drink, dance, and party well past nightfall. And when the momentum of our gatherings moved late into the night, drink orders increased. As kids, my cousin Laura and I would play a game of pretend. We called it “restaurant.” We’d hang towels on our arms and carry trays in our hands.

“Grab me a beer,” someone would shout. “How ‘bout…(shaking the glass, sounds of ice indicating emptiness).” And off we’d go. Pulling off beer tabs and mixing drinks, mostly Jack and Cokes or Seven and Sevens.

Needless to say, I got real good at making these simple cocktails. And as I grew older I knew how to make them without the use of my fingers. By 16, I was no longer pretending. I could hold my own with my family.

***

It’s 2010 and I’m exploring the possibility of a priestly vocation. I live in Chicago and I’ve reached out to the Jesuits. I’ve been invited to attend a July 4th cookout at Loyola Chicago. Because I don’t know Jesuits very well I was told this is a great way to begin making myself familiar. Sounds perfectly legit. I start to get nervous.

I’m a bashful person, but once I warm up, I can be a social butterfly. The easiest way for me to move from shy to butterfly is to imbibe. So when I arrive, I locate the table with all the alcohol. I’m hoping for Jack and Coke or Seven and Seven. But, there’s only Canadian Club and Sprite. It’ll have to do. I mix. I take a swig. I feel less tense. I gulp what’s left. With a deep breath I exhale away the edge and mix another. Now I can sip and socialize.

I have a few of these drinks throughout the evening. More than a few. And I’m talking and laughing. All those insecure thoughts that run through my head are muted:

You are out of your league.

You don’t belong here.

No one likes you.

Luckily I know how to hold myself in proper decorum after having consumed several glasses of liquid courage. I scrunch my eyes, furrow my brow, and deliberately nod to make myself appear focused. I even make audible sounds like, “mhm” and “yes” and “oh,” to punctuate this effect. And just to be sure I’m balanced, I stand with my feet shoulder width apart, or find gentle support from a wall or table, especially when holding an overpoured rocks glass of whiskey soda.

I drink to let go of my timidity. When I’m restrained I remain quiet, observant, passive in my participation. Thanks to Canadian Club and Sprite at this July 4th celebration – crowded with strangers – I’m uninhibited. I’m no longer reticent in how I participate in conversations. I’m actively engaging discussions. On this particular festive day I achieve my goal.

***

Prior to my Jesuit life I managed where I went and who I met. Self-doubt, deficient self-confidence, and anxiety lacked ample opportunity to reveal themselves. But if they did I never felt compelled to acknowledge them. Choosing to rely on the dependable drinks of my family I could pretend my way through anything. Exactly as I did on that particular 4th of July.

Now I do things I would never independently choose to do – like return to school to study philosophy. And it seems as if I attend large social events constantly. All of it an invitation to step out of my comfort zone. I meet these experiences with enthusiasm and joy, but the fervor I feel clashes with an intense disquiet. So I mix some familial drinks and cope. Which isn’t healthy. And mixing insecurities with whiskey has occasionally roused friction between me and people I love. The fun I found in drinking is diminishing.

To pray about my consumption of alcohol is to wrestle with deep unresolved pain and hurt. I no longer want a crutch in self-perceived uncomfortable situations. Through therapy and a stable prayer life I have grown, but there remains more work to be done. After some 20 years of drinking it’s a little sobering to face the reality I may need a change. Perhaps it’s time to stop. Perhaps it’s time to discover new ways to have fun. Perhaps it’s time to grow up. No matter how this self-examination unfolds, it is clear God walks with me. No more pretending. It’s time to mix a new recipe for being me.

This article by Damian Torres-Botello, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.


Building an Economy that Serves and Uplifts the Vulnerable: An Interview with Eric LeCompte

Eric LeCompte is the executive director of Jubilee USA. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed him on his work to address global inequality and build an economy that serves all persons, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

What does Jubilee USA do?

Ahead of the Jubilee Year, when Christian churches were preparing to celebrate the 2000th Anniversary of Christ’s birth, global religious leaders called us to celebrate by tackling the root causes of poverty. Pope John Paul ll encouraged us to reflect on the true scriptural meaning of Jubilee during the Church’s Jubilee 2000 celebration. Jubilee is a central them in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The Jubilee story starts in Genesis. God loves us so much that God created a resource rich world for us to share in seven days. We are closest to the Creator when we are sharing those resources amongst us. Then we have the early law books of scripture that attempt to legislate how we live according to Jubilee laws. Deuteronomy and Leviticus lay out how we can be in right relationship with one another and our God. They dictate that every seven years we should forgive debts, let the land rest, and set free slaves. They establish a set of laws that protect all of us from having too little or too much. Then the prophets come to remind the people they are no longer living according to the laws of Jubilee. And then in Luke, in the first public act of our Lord, He reads from Isaiah ‎about setting captives free and proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s Favor or the great Jubilee year. This is seven times seven years where there is a restoration of equality among all of God’s people.

From the call of Pope John Paul ll and other faith leaders, the Catholic Church took on an incredible leadership role to win debt relief for the world’s poorest countries and move forward greater protections for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

That’s the story of how Jubilee USA started as an interfaith coalition of Jews, Muslims, and Christians to address the structures that cause poverty and inequality. To this day, we take on US and global policies on debt, tax, trade, and transparency issues. When we address these issues, we impact millions of people living in poverty in the US and across our world. From resolving Puerto Rico’s financial crisis to corporate transparency to student debt, Jubilee USA wins solutions that impact our global community. Ultimately, we are building an economy that serves, protects, and promotes participation of the most vulnerable.

Congressional Quarterly cites our interfaith efforts as the last successful bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill.

What are some of the accomplishments that Jubilee USA has achieved?

We’ve won more than $130 billion in debt relief for the world’s poorest economies. Because of the US and global agreements we’ve won, that $130 billion is invested in schools, hospitals, and other social infrastructure. In Sub Saharan Africa alone, 54 million kids have gone to‎ school who never would have seen the inside of a classroom. Recently, Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank President, cited Jubilee’s efforts as the reason for economic growth in parts of Africa.

Debt and financial crises‎ often affect the most vulnerable in the most extreme ways. It’s tragic that the global financial crisis punished those who had nothing to do with creating the crisis. Nearly 100 million people, mostly women and children, were cast into extreme poverty because of the crisis. Beyond debt relief, Jubilee USA transforms the debt, tax, and trade policies that cause poverty and inequality. For every 10 dollars in aid developing economies receive, they lose more than150 dollars from debt payments, tax evasion, and corruption.

In the last few years, here are some of the strategic campaigns we’ve won:‎ debt relief in Haiti and the 3 Ebola-impacted West Africa countries, a new International Monetary Fund trust fund to aid poor countries struck by disasters, multiple anti-corruption measures impacting low income countries, ‎super bankruptcy legislation for Puerto Rico‎, three international agreements to promote responsible lending and stop predatory lending, two victories to keep student loan interest rates low, G7 and G20 agreements to curb tax evasion and corruption, pushing trade agreements‎ that help end poverty, and securing zero interest loans for poor communities. Read More


A Message of Hope in the Desert of Fear

Being a news junkie today is to be hit daily by an avalanche of bad news, a lot of it sensationalistic. News of mass shootings, deportations of the parents of young children, and the rise in hateful speech – so casually spewed – often overwhelm me. That is not to say that I am unaware of the good going on. I just wish there were more of it.

This is why I was refreshed by the tone and message of a pastoral letter issued last week by Bishop Mark Seitz of the diocese of El Paso, Texas. He addresses the situation of migrants and refugees in his border city, separated from its sister city Ciudad Juarez, Mexico by the Rio Grande. Rather than just lament the suffering, poverty, and violence that brings migrants to the USA, or dwell on the ways that fear of round-ups and deportation migrants face in the current political climate, he speaks a word of hope to all people caught up in these realities.

The title of the bishop’s letter, Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away, comes from Isaiah 51:11, which tells of the final joyful entry of the dispossessed and exploited in Jerusalem. It’s a message of God’s promise of salvation being fulfilled for his beloved suffering people. He goes on to connect the literal desert in which El Paso is located—in which many migrants die trying to cross—and the metaphorical desert of fear and marginalization migrants are facing today, with Isaiah 35:7-10, which prophesies that the desert will turn to springs and burning sands to pools of water.

This is not a head-in-the-clouds letter, however. El Paso has a history that resonates with these scriptures and this vision of hope – and the bishop stays grounded in that history. The bishop recounts that the area is the ancient home of several indigenous groups, then a long list of migrants have come in turn—first the Spanish, then from the Republic of Texas, the young United States, Ireland, China, refugees from the Mexican Revolution, escapees of the Cristero War, and now those fleeing Mexican and Central American drug lords and gangs. The city’s ability to welcome and absorb each group has created the integrated shared culture that freely spans the border.

Echoing Pope Francis’ constant exhortation to build bridges, Bishop Seitz blames no particular group for the current mess. Starting from what is common—a shared agreement that our immigration system is broken—he proposes a vision of reform that upholds both national security and the right of people to migrate when life becomes untenable at home. This is not a new message. The US bishops have been advocating comprehensive immigration reform for many years, and Congress has continually failed to act. This pastoral letter, however, takes the matter from the level of policy and principle and roots it in contextual spiritual discernment that is incumbent upon each person and the community at large.

He names three sequential steps: (1) encounter, (2) conversion, and (3) compassion. El Paso has been and continues to be a place of encounter between people of different backgrounds. In an encounter with others, approached with openness and the belief that all people are made in the image and likeness of God, God is revealed. This leads us to conversion, because we encounter God in the other and are challenged and changed. Conversion then motivates us to do things and to do them differently – with Christ-like compassion. More than a pastoral approach to a problem, Bishop Seitz offers a model for unity of the Church, the unity of the Body of Christ, which we manifest and pray for in every Sunday Eucharist.

Bishop Seitz is connecting many dots that we often fail to: linking worship, the web of relationships, Catholic teaching, public policies, and collective action. The message is clearly focused on what can unite rather than divide, build bridges rather than walls, encounter rather than isolation. This message of reconciliation is so unusual and refreshing to me in the United States of 2017.  I’d like to shout it out from the rooftops: Sorrow and Mourning Flee!

This article by Brent Otto, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.


We Need a Revolution in Solidarity

In recent years, we have seen the narrowing of the American middle class and diminished social mobility as economic inequality balloons, the intensification of consumerism, the rise of an opioid crisis, the breakdown of family stability among working class Americans, the resurgence of ugly forms of populism, and the general fraying of communal bonds. Many of these are interconnected. And the personalist communitarianism of the Church offers the best window for understanding what is happening and how we might resist hyperindividualism and the libertarian policies that accompany and drive it (while avoiding alternatives that diminish human dignity).

Chris Arnade, one of the most astute observers of an America that many political and cultural elites cannot or will not see, reflected on some of these developments in a series of tweets earlier today:

What is needed is radical: a revolution in solidarity. We need to reform and re-democratize our political institutions. We need to build an economic system that rebuilds the middle class, increases distributive justice, and promotes more widespread flourishing. We need policies that ensure everyone has access to their most basic needs, including quality healthcare and childcare. People need jobs that reflect their dignity and increased access to treatment for drug abuse, not the legalization and commercialization of additional illicit substances, so that even more corporations get rich preying on the vulnerable. The federal government needs to empower intermediary institutions that strengthen local communities rather than ignoring their responsibilities and forcing these institutions to pick up the government’s slack.

But we also need cultural changes. An obsession with individual autonomy not only harms our communities, it is often a recipe for misery for the person who embraces it. Human beings are social by nature; the pursuit of unlimited, uninhibited choice does not lead to human flourishing. Consumerism will not fill the spiritual void of those who have left religion behind or do not live it out in their daily lives. We need more people to believe in the importance of duty, the value and permanence of marriage, and that morality is more than enlightened self-interest. We need people to resist objectifying others, even in a culture that floods people with the message that it is only natural and human to do so. Though all humans inevitably come up short in our attempts to live morally, we need more people to believe in virtue and order their lives around this commitment.

Pope Francis is calling for radical change. But it’s up to everyday Catholics to promote this revolution by breaking from bourgeois conformity, resisting the currents of individualism and libertarianism, and fighting for the common good in a culture that is often hostile to the demands of human dignity. It’s not an easy road. But Christianity is about following the way of Christ, not a path to comfort and approval.


Chen Guangcheng on the Death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo

Millennial‘s Daniel Petri interviews Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng on the death of his friend and fellow activist Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and the future of the Chinese democracy and human rights movement:


Read more about Liu Xiaobo’s life and death (via NY Times):

Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him a lengthy prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while locked away, died under guard in a hospital on Thursday. He was 61….

The police in China have kept Mr. Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, under house arrest and smothering surveillance, preventing her from speaking out about Mr. Liu’s belated treatment for cancer.

“Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemotherapy,” Ms. Liu said in a brief video message to a friend when her husband’s fatal condition was announced. The message quickly spread online.

Mr. Liu’s illness elicited a deluge of sympathy from officials, friends, Chinese rights activists and international groups, who saw him as a fearless advocate of peaceful democratic change.


Vatican II Calls the Laity to Go Beyond the Benedict Option

It might seem odd to ask how Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option relates to the Catholic Church’s teachings on what it means to be a member of the laity. After all, the book is directed at Christian laypersons, proposing a plan of life for laypersons in a post-Christian society and discussing issues such as family and employment that are not typically thought of as the most pressing issues Catholic clergy face.

However, The Benedict Option does not explicitly engage with the understanding of the laity articulated at Vatican II and in subsequent teachings. That’s partly understandable, as Dreher is neither Roman Catholic nor writing for an exclusively Catholic audience. Furthermore, Dreher likely did not want to get bogged down in close readings of Church documents, as he is writing for a popular audience and focuses on action more than on history or theory. Catholic readers, however, must approach the Benedict Option with the Church’s teachings on the laity in mind and try to understand if and how Dreher’s proposals fit with this body of teaching.

Much of Vatican II’s teaching on the laity can be found in Apostolicam Actuositatem. The Council Fathers first emphasize that “the church can never be without the lay apostolate.” This is because the Church’s primary function is to proclaim to the world the message of Christ, and the laity have “countless opportunities” to do this, as they live in that very world. Indeed, the apostolate of the laity is exercised when “they endeavor to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order… The characteristic of the lay state being a life led in the midst of the world and of secular affairs.”

Pope St. John Paul II reiterates these teachings in Christifideles laici, where he says that “the secular world” is where the laity “receive their call from God” and so “the ‘world’ thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation.”

Much of the discussion around the Benedict Option implies that Dreher is calling for Christians to abandon the secular world, and sometimes his language bears that interpretation out; early on he speaks of building an ark so that Christians can survive societal upheaval in sheltered isolation. This vivid image, taken in conjunction with Dreher’s comments that orthodox Christians will have to live “somewhat cut off from mainstream society,” could easily imply an absolute rejection of the temporal secular order, counter to the apostolate of the laity.

However, immediately after speaking of an ark, he says “we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.” Dreher does not so much reject the teaching that the laity live out their Christian vocations in the temporal order as he does reject a particular temporal order, which he believes is so aggressively secular that faith will be hidden (as opposed to a healthy secularism that simply provides public space for people of differing faiths to operate publicly as members of those faiths), and he says that Christians must strengthen their communities in response to it. Clearly, he is speaking of shaping a temporal order so that it is Christified, and this is consonant with the Church’s teachings on the laity working in secular society.

The problem is that if this Christified temporal order only exists parallel to mainstream society, instead of entering into it and shaping it, the laity will be only partially fulfilling their apostolate to have the Gospel spirit permeate and improve the temporal order. Generally speaking, the laity are not called to be parallel to mainstream society. While individual laypersons may need such an environment in which to best flourish as Catholics or find that they are called to build such an environment, the laity as a whole must go beyond shaping a parallel temporal order and influence the mainstream temporal order as best they can. Dreher suggests that the temporal order Benedict Option Christians establish will eventually overcome the aggressively secular temporal order due to the secular order’s failure, but the Church’s teaching pushes Catholics to go beyond the most insular interpretations of the Benedict Option by entering into that aggressively secular order instead of just waiting for it to fall and then filling in the void. Read More


Catholic Social Teaching, Private Property, and the Redistribution of Wealth

As an American, it is difficult at times to think beyond the right/left dichotomy that permeates our economic and political landscape. This often makes it difficult for Catholics on either side of the aisle to understand what the Church teaches about the ownership and use of property. As we should always strive to be Catholics first and Americans second, my hope with this article is to concisely share with you what the Church teaches concerning private property, the common good, and the role of government. I hope to dispel any notion of the Church being capitalist or socialist, as She cuts through and transcends both of these ideologies.

To begin with, the Church recognizes the right to private property. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, “Private property…constitutes one of the conditions for civil liberty” and “…is an essential element of an authentically social and democratic economic policy…” (Paragraph 176). Further, Pope Leo XIII states, “Private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners” (Paragraph 46). The defense of private property is one of the reasons that the Church condemns communism (Paragraphs 111-118). Further, the right to private ownership is a natural right given to us by God, not one merely granted by the state (Paragraph 45).

However, while private property is indeed a natural right, it flows from what the Church calls “the universal destination of goods.” The Catechism says, “The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race” (Paragraph 2402). Likewise, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council stated, “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples” (Paragraph 69). Read More