Around the Web (Part 2)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

The Compassion Gap by Nicholas Kristof: “There is an income gap in America, but just as important is a compassion gap. Plenty of successful people see a picture of a needy child and their first impulse is not to help but to reproach.”

Arizona’s SB 1062 by Michael Sean Winters: “This law has not been advanced at this moment to remedy a constitutional infirmity. It has been advanced by those who oppose gay marriage and wish to enshrine the right of a baker or a photographer to refuse service to a gay or lesbian couple that is getting married. The text of the law may not target gays. The political intent clearly does. And, that is why it was a mistake for the Arizona bishops to voice their support for it.”

A Letter to My American Sisters by Fawzia Koofi: “The women of my country and I also remain hopeful that the international community, including the United States, will not abandon our country and will help us a little more in fighting extremism, consolidating our gains, moving toward ending violence against women, and achieving something that all women around the world want: equality for both genders and for all.”

The right’s Ayn Rand hypocrisy by Elizabeth Stoker: “Rand’s entire notion of morality is predicated upon the idea that a sacrifice such as Christ’s would be morally wrong, which means all ethics that flow out of her work will contain in them that seed of conflict with the central message of Christianity. Whether conservatives like it or not, to advance a Randian political ethic is to further an ethic that fundamentally denies the goodness of the sacrifice of Christ, and thereby can never be brought to union with any serious Christian ethics.”

Surprisingly, Most Married Families Today Tilt Neo-Traditional by W. Bradford Wilcox, Family Studies: “Public policies and cultural norms related to work and family should be geared toward maximizing flexibility, rather than locking in approaches geared to serving full-time, dual-income families, and toward renewing the employment opportunities of poor and working-class men who have become less “marriageable” in recent years.”

Some Catholic leaders need to follow Pope Francis’ lead by John Gehring, NCR: “Pope Francis has brought an unexpected season of renewal and hope for the Catholic Church not because he is a liberal or a conservative. He is inspiring so many because he acts like a Christian should act. Not a bad starting point for Catholic clergy and anyone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Christ.”

Creating the Peace Corps and Finding a Saint by Jason Welle, SJ, TJP: “The founding director of Peace Corps and the person largely responsible for creating these life-changing possibilities was Sargent Shriver, the president’s brother-in-law. Shriver was a man deeply rooted in his Catholicism, and his faith – especially a commitment to social justice – motivated not only his involvement in the early years in the Peace Corps, but all of his commitments in life.”

The Protection of the Church by William Saletan: “This is what happens in many parts of the world. Even in the midst of religious war, religious institutions provide the moral strength to contain the violence. Faith in transcendent values counters sectarian hatred.”

God or the god of Riches? by Dan Horan: “Ultimately, I believe, the issue is between God and us, between serving the will of God or serving our own will. It is between putting our desires and interests first and putting first the Kingdom of God.”

Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda by Timothy Snyder: “Whatever course the Russian intervention may take, it is not an attempt to stop a fascist coup, since nothing of the kind has taken place. What has taken place is a popular revolution, with all of the messiness, confusion, and opposition that entails.”


Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Averting genocide in the Central African Republic by Philippe Bolopion: “U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon believes that a force of 6,000 to 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers could help bring the Central African Republic back from the brink. With the right equipment and leadership, they would protect civilians from the ill-equipped Seleka and anti-balaka and allow the tens of thousands in unsanitary camps around churches or hiding deep in the bush to return to their villages and rebuild their lives.”

Healing Communities by America: “When Jesus healed a person with mental illness, he not only took away their infirmity but also restored them to the community. We too, as people of faith, can engage in this healing ministry, breaking down barriers and welcoming all as children of God.”

Who was Pierre Favre? by Fr. James Martin, SJ: “Favre was said by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, to be the man best suited to direct others in the Spiritual Exercises.  But, surprisingly, Favre’s story is not nearly as well known as those of his two famous college roommates, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier.”

Where Is the Love? by Nicholas Kristof, NY Times: “A Princeton University psychology professor, Susan Fiske, has found that when research subjects hooked up to neuro-imaging machines look at photos of the poor and homeless, their brains often react as if they are seeing things, not people. Her analysis suggests that Americans sometimes react to poverty not with sympathy but with revulsion.”

On Thanksgiving, understanding what gratitude requires by E.J. Dionne: “A genuine sense of gratitude is rooted in the realization that when I think about all that I am, all that I have and all that I might have achieved, I cannot claim to have done any of this by myself. None of us is really ‘self-made.’ We must all acknowledge the importance of the help, advice, comfort and loyalty that came from others.”



Lumen Fidei Casts Light on Key Catholic Social Teachings

Pope Francis released the fantastic new encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“Light of Faith”) on Friday, which Pope Benedict started before his resignation this past winter. Encyclicals are the most important form of papal teaching and comprise much of the vast body of our Catholic social tradition.

Here is a collection of some of the quotes from the encyclical, by paragraph, which demonstrate how loving care for human life and commitment to social justice are essential parts of our faith as Christians. A brief reflection follows each quote.

No. 17: Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises…Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

God is here and now at work among us as much as God has ever been anywhere. How easily even we believers can forget that. It’s our job to let God’s always-available love inspire us to make that love visible in the world through our lives.

No. 22: Faith is necessarily ecclesial; it is professed from within the body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others.

Our faith must be lived out in community.We are social creatures made to be in relationship with God and others. Commitment to the communal life leads us to notice and care about the needs of others.

No. 46: The Decalogue [Ten Commandments] is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others.

We don’t have commandments and doctrines and dogmas as Christians because we really like rules. We have them because believing in God comes with responsibilities and real-world implications. Faith cannot just be words or beliefs without action, but must reach out to others, especially to those in need.

No. 51: Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace.

Christian love, rooted in faith, is not just found in affections of the heart, but also in an action of hands.

No. 52: The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family…Faith also helps us to grasp in all its depth and richness the begetting of children, as a sign of the love of the Creator who entrusts us with the mystery of a new person. So it was that Sarah, by faith, became a mother, for she trusted in God’s fidelity to his promise (cf. Heb 11:11).

A pre-born child is not a choice or a burden, but a miracle that a family and community are called to embrace.

No. 54:  The boundless love of our Father also comes to us, in Jesus, through our brothers and sisters. Faith teaches us to see that every man and woman represents a blessing for me, that the light of God’s face shines on me through the faces of my brothers and sisters.

This reminds me of a great Dorothy Day quote: “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

No. 54: Thanks to faith we have come to understand the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity…At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation which embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique.

Our faith that each human is a unique, beautiful creation of God is the bedrock of Catholic social teaching. We don’t work to protect life and promote justice because of some vague philanthropic concern. We do it because in each person, we find the face of God.

No. 55: Faith, on the other hand, by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care. Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good.

There are two important points in this passage. First, the Earth is a gift from God to us, and it’s our job to take care of it by conserving natural resources and taking meaningful action to combat climate change, for instance. Second, faith calls us to build societies and economies that serve the common good. We do not judge our success based on how the wealthy are doing, but how the most poor and vulnerable are treated.

No. 57: Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world…Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.

Our God is compassion, and calls us to be compassionate: literally, to “suffer with” those who are hurting. It’s so difficult to see another suffering and to go toward that pain. It’s much easier to put blinders on and to turn away. But faith demands movement toward those who are lonely and forgotten.

Thank you, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, for this wonderful gift that enlivens our faith and sends us out to take God’s love to others.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.


Pride & Protectiveness: A Parental Lesson

[This post by Joe Simmons, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post, where the author is a blogger]

A few weeks ago I got a glimpse of the pride – and protectiveness – I think a parent might feel for her child. And it felt awesome.

It happened because we were rolling out the first-ever Kairos retreat for the seniors at our Jesuit high school.

But before I get ahead of myself, a little background info: this Kairos retreat was the first we’ve ever had because I work at a new Cristo Rey school in the Twin Cities, which means that the students who come to our school are… not rich; they have real financial needs. But financial need is just one node in a much larger web of needs they often have. Some others? A need for positive role models. For stability. For direction. For a patient love that returns insult with encouragement. Over the two years I have been teaching here, most days I go home spent, and not just physically but emotionally as well. Working at Cristo Rey I’ve got to be ready to give both.

Last year a student (I’ll call him “Sam”) wouldn’t stop acting up in my class – and it was only day three of sophomore religion.  Now I’d taught before, so this wasn’t a total surprise and I asked him several times – first politely, then firmly – to quiet down.  The third time I reminded him, he stood up and shouted, “man, fuck this class.  I hate this school!”  He threw his chair aside and stormed out of the room.

I fancy myself a tolerant sort, but up to then a comprehensive “fuck this” was not on my radar. And my initial reaction to Sam was indignation, an anger that I quickly realized was masking a fear: the fear that a student was bold enough to name me a fraud.  There stood I, trying to win over a roomful of religion students, and all it took was one outburst to shake me.

After composing myself and restarting class, I could feel that anger slow-boiling within, soothed only with thoughts of retribution. I wanted to show Sam who was in control here. I wanted him punished, expelled – okay, maybe just suspended – but something.  Anything other than the usual “kids will be kids” shrug. So, after a few days of in-school suspension for him and few days of prayer for me, it was time for Sam to meet with me and an Assistant Principal before returning to classes. It did not begin easily. Sam ducked and weaved, refusing to apologize or recognize that anything he had said was out of line. As calmly and rationally as I could, I detailed exactly what it was that was inappropriate with exhorting a class to – what was that word again? – “fuck” itself.

Sam met my efforts with a stone-faced silence. He glared right back at me, leaning back in his chair, and I could feel the urge for retribution rise again. “What a smug little such-and-such,” played the now-familiar notes inside my head, “he can’t act like this.” But our Assistant Principal – who’d seen this movie before – looked at him calmly.  “Sam,” he said, “do you get what Mr. Simmons is talking about?”

“I hate it here.”

“Sam, do you really hate this school?  Sounds like Mr. Simmons was being reasonable to you, don’t you think?”

It took a moment before Sam’s lower lip began to quiver, then his nostrils flared and his eyes welled with tears. He began to sob the way people do when they don’t care who’s looking. He broke down and wept. It was only after catching his breath that he could talk about all the awful stuff going on at home. About absent parents and sporadic love. About basketball being his favorite escape and now he was afraid he’d lost that because of his blow up in my class.

Sam didn’t hate me. He didn’t hate the school. He hates the cards life dealt him and he doesn’t know how to respond. He was testing us – testing me – to see if I’d return hurt for hurt. And, even though I wanted to, I didn’t. And I’m so glad I didn’t. As Fr. Greg Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”

***

Fast forward to our first Kairos retreat. As everybody who’s been on a Kairos knows, it’s a retreat of tradition, led by the peers of the students who attend them. And since it’s peer-led, the retreat gets shaped and reshaped each year, riddled with new surprises as it passes through the hands of the students (and supportive faculty and parents) who run it. Since this was our first retreat we needed someone to bring this tradition to our students; so we asked some college students to come help our students get a feel for what Kairos meant and how they could be leaders of it themselves.

Now, even though these college leaders didn’t know our students well, things went well at first. The college students got up and modelled their talks, the kids listened and learned. But after a couple hours or more the students in my small group were getting squirrely, chatting and fidgeting. One of the frustrated college leaders started to reprimand our students for their lack of attention.

A fellow teacher gently stepped in, saying, “don’t worry about disciplining the students, we’ll handle that.”

“I can do it,” he replied tartly, ”you just need to tell them to be more respectful. It’s not that hard.”

Maybe I’ve grown soft (or just inured to the constant undercurrent of chatter), but in that moment I felt a surge of defensiveness for my students that I can only describe as… parental. Because compassion is that hard. And patience is that hard. And, for our kids, giving respect is that hard – especially when you’re not used to receiving it.

I felt proud that, despite all the needs and life-limiting challenges they face, our students have made it this far. I felt proud that they were willing to give up a weekend to be vulnerable before God and one other. I’m just so proud of them – and that makes me protective.

***

Our kids bring their burdens and hurts. And, in that unconscious way of teenagers, they’re crying out for someone to hear them crying for attention and love. Writes Boyle:

Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate,” means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.

Sam’s a junior now, and he’s still no angel. But now he seeks me out and throws his arm over my shoulder as we walk down a crowded high school hallway, and tells me about how life is going.

Compassion is that hard.  But it’s worth it.