What Is A Bishop To Do? Different Approaches To Proclaiming CST In Today’s World

This is a slight modification of the title of a provocative post by Msgr. Charles Pope.  In it, Msgr. Pope challenges us to articulate approaches to the proclamation of Catholic Social Teaching that bishops could/should use when addressing public policy and the questions of the day.  It is worth reading.

Almost on cue, the events in Wisconsin provide an excellent case study of different approaches.  One approach was taken by Bishop Morlino, the bishop in whose diocese the events are taking place.  Another approach was taken by Archbishop Listecki, the archbishop of Milwaukee and president of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.  The final approach was taken by Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, CA and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.  These approaches illustrate the three basic options for addressing the events in Wisconsin through CST.  They also illustrate advantages and disadvantages of how these different approaches interact with the larger world.

One approach was taken by Bishop Morlino.  Bishop Morlino frames the issue as posing a dilemma for a well-formed conscience. The dilemma is as follows:

[T[he present dilemma comes down to either a choice for the common good, of sacrifice on the part of all, at times that pose immense economic threats, both present and future on the one hand, and on the other hand, a choice for the rights of workers to a just compensation for services rendered, and to the upholding of contracts legally made. As Catholics, we see both of these horns of the dilemma as good, and yet the current situation calls many of us to choose between these two goods.

This is quite refreshing.  The Bishop acknowledges that there are no easy answers and that reasonable people can differ. Interestingly, Bishop Morlino includes a warning about the perversion of unionism from John Paul II that neither Archbishop Listecki or Bishop Blaire includes in their material.  After pointing the way, Bishop Morlino asks us to pray and exercise a well-formed, responsible conscience.

Archbishop Listecki’s letter is different.  His statement explaining the neutral position of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference does not focus on the common good.  It focuses on the rights and roles of unions.  It is, though, balanced.  Indeed, each paragraph can easily be categorized as “pro-union” or “pro-government.”  There do appear straw men.  The Archbishop contrasts the obvious truth that not every claim by a union must be accepted with the straw man that unions should not be marginalized.  Hmmmm…..  On the one hand, this may merely be diplomatic; characterizing the legislature’s position in its own terms in the first half and characterizing the unions’ position in their own terms in the second half.  This excessive diplomacy detracts from the helpfulness of the document as a teaching document for the laity as we are giving opposing principles on the extremes when we need to learn in the middle.   In the end, it is quite a neutral document, but one which suggests that workers’ rights are essential to the common good.

Bishop Blaire, Chairman of the USCCB Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee (speaking on behalf of himself), clearly supports the union-side of the debate.  A number of things are apparent.  First, Bishop Blaire leaves it ambiguous as to whether he is speaking for himself or the whole committee (switching between “I” and “we.”)  Second, Bishop Blaire frames the issue as one of justice.  He uses as his thesis statement that most pro-union statement in Archbishop Listecki’s letter.  Bishop Blaire then quotes the Holy Father and John Paul II about the value of unions.  The next paragraph begins with a reminder about the “moral dimensions” of the issue.  Bishop Blaire then offers a concession to union responsibility, but immediately follows it with “however” and re-emphasizes that it is impossible to ignore unions as an element of society.  This technique — brief acknowledgment of competing values surrounded by affirmation of inconsistent values — characterizes much of CST, especially, for example, questions of immigration.  It is clear where Bishop Blaire or even perhaps the whole committee stand.  Unlike Bishop Morlino and, to an extent, Archbishop Listecki, Bishop Blaire does not see a dilemma and does not believe that reasonable people can differ: union demands for the most part are legitimate and any change in the current legal regime is suspect.

I find Bishop Morlino’s approach to be superior to that of the others.  Bishop Morlino acknowledges an obvious truth — that the questions are difficult.  Too often in CST, the teaching fails to acknowledge the complexities of the real world. We lay faithful try to apply it, but once we get beyond generalities, CST provides little help.  For example, for Bishop Blaire unions are important in meeting human needs and union power is an element of justice.  But that doesn’t tell me much as I am trying to figure out whether it is just for unions to have annual representation elections or for government to stop collecting union dues for them.  Bishop Morlino does not have a lot to say about specifics, but by acknowledging them, he allows CST to penetrate further into the details than Archbishop Listecki or Bishop Blaire. Bishop Morlino also challenges all of us to struggle with the question.  Bishop Blaire presents the question as answered, at least through his tone and emphasis.  Why bother to think hard about line drawing?  Finally, Bishop Morlino’s approach does a better job of avoiding the potential that the Church’s position will be associated with one of the political sides.  By forcefully calling it a dilemma, he acknowledges some right on both sides.  By contrast, Bishop Blaire does not see it as a dilemma; the view that comes through is that any change that negatively impacts union power is, at the very least, suspect.  In other words, he comes close to lending the moral authority of the Church to the unions.  Of course, Archbishop Listecki’s neutrality is not so much a teaching moment as it is a political/diplomatic document.

If the role of a bishop is to teach, the three approaches to the Wisconsin protests show three different approaches to CST.  One, Bishop Morlino, frames the issue as one into which further inquiry is necessary.  One, Archbishop Listecki, frames a neutral document.  The last, Bishop Blaire, appears through emphasis and tone to side with the unions.  The current situation in Wisconsin and throughout the country provide a good opportunity to watch the effects of different approaches as they occur.

St. Luke, Chapter 12: Questions For Understanding And Questions For Application

St. Ignatius Press provided these questions prepared by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch:

Chapter 12

For understanding

1. 12:1. How can hypocrisy be compared with leaven (yeast)? What effect is the leaven of the Pharisees likely to have?

2. 12:7. In this passage, what does the numbering of hairs on the head have to do with Christian martyrdom?

3. 12:38. What was the span of time from the second to the third watch? When are the servants supposed to be most vigilant for the Master’s return?

4. 12:49. What does fire symbolize in this passage?

For application

1.    12:16–21. What are your long-term goals with respect to the income you have or expect to receive? How rich are you in what matters to God?

2.    12:22–26. What do you worry about most of the time? What effect has that worry had on the way you pray, or the confidence you have in your own value before God?

3.    12:49–53. How can Jesus be the cause of division and not of peace? How have you experienced the division he is talking about—and which side of it are you on?

4.    12:54–56. What are some of the signs of the present time that call for interpretation from Jesus’ point of view?  How

Martha, Mary, And The Complete Anti-God State Of Mind

The story of Martha and Mary found in Luke, Chapter 10 is always an interesting one to think about.  I, for one, used to sympathize with Martha, but Christ says that Mary chose the better part.  Hmmmmm. . . .

But Martha, like Cain, fell into a complete anti-God state of mind.  That’s strong stuff, but appears to be true.  To see this, let’s take a look at another story, this one from Genesis.  Genesis, Chapter 4 tells us of the story of Cain and Abel:

1 Adam[a] made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.[b] She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth[c] a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[d] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

The parallel to Martha and Mary are immediately apparent.  Like Cain and Abel, both Martha and Mary made a offering to God.  Like Cain and Abel, the Lord was pleased with one offering and not as pleased (or not pleased) with the other offering.  Like Cain and Abel, the person who made the rejected offering killed the one who made the favored offering.  (Martha’s anger and impatience toward Mary subject her to Cain’s judgment.)

Stepping back from the literal, in each case we begin with what appears to be a just relationship.  Cain and Abel are brothers; Martha and Mary are sisters.  Then they are called upon to make an offering.  The goal of the offering should be to please God.  But what was Cain’s goal?  Cain’s goal was to please God more than his brother.  Cain’s focus was on himself and on beating his brother rather than on God.  Cain removed God from his mind.  This opened him up to every other sin and ultimately murder.  Sin was, indeed, crouching at Cain’s door, ready to devour him.  Because Cain did not master it, it did devour him.

Martha was the same.  Martha offered Christ things — a well-prepared table, relaxation, physical comfort.  Mary offered a pure self-sacrifice.  Mary offered full attention; Martha divided her attention.  Martha thought it was all about Jesus, but when Mary did not help — did not join in Martha’s divided and diluted sacrifice, Martha complained — just like Cain. There is no doubt that she wanted to please Jesus, but only on her own terms.  The fact that Jesus was pleased with Mary’s offering should have pleased Martha; it didn’t — Martha demanded that Christ reject Mary’s self-sacrifice and the merit that it involved.  Martha’s view was simply, ‘if I can’t please Christ the best, then no one will.’  The same rupturing of the previously healthy relationship that we saw between Cain and Abel, we see here.

The sin, of course, is pride.  The great Spanish Master, Diego de Velazquez, captured it (along with Satan crouching) visually:

and C.S. Lewis captured it in writing in Mere Christianity:

According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

. . . .

It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.

Martha and Cain fell into this sin.  Their responses, though, differed.  Cain complained about his punishment and perished (even though the Lord still loved and protected him.)  Although St. Luke does not tell us, it appears certain that Martha repented and was saved.

Sources:  Martha and Mary Images (this is a very interesting site; it’s worth visiting).

How To Talk to High School Boys

Regnum Christi came up in our meeting this morning so I got curious and ventured over to its website.  I found this articlein the resources section, a portion of which is posted below.  Fr. Sliney offers some further comment on the principles so it would be worthwhile to read the whole thing.  The advice makes great sense to me, but my boys are just on the cusp of high school.  Do the principles make sense to those who have already gone through it? Are there items that need to be added to the mix?

January 2, 2009. Washington, DC It is no easy task to navigate the stormy seas of adolescence with a teenage boy. To help parents and educators understand how to work with young men more effectively, Fr Michael Sliney, LC, compiled this list of the 7 things that teenage boys most need from their parents and educators:

1. Clear guidelines with reasonable consequences from a unified front; cutting slack but also holding them accountable for their actions.

2. Reasonable explanations should be given for the criteria, guidelines, and decisions made by the parents.

3. Avoiding hyper analysis of their emotions and state of mind: avoid “taking their temperature” too often.

4. Unconditional love with an emphasis on character and effort more than outcome: encourage them to live up to their potential while having reasonable expectations. To love them regardless of whether they make it into Harvard or become a star quarterback.

5. Authenticity, faith and fidelity should be reflected in their parent’s lifestyle.

6. Qualities of a Dad: Manliness, Temperance, Makes significant time for family putting aside work, and a reliable source of guidance.

7. Qualities of a Mom:  Emotional Stability, Selflessness, Loving Service, and Extreme Patience

The interview can also be found here.  So whaddya think?  Comment section is open!

Seven Founders Of The Order Of Servites

(image source)

The memorial (optional) of the Seven Founders of the Order of Servites is February 17th.

The proper name for the Servites is the Order of Friar Servants of Mary.  The Servite Order began around the year 1233.  It was founded by seven wealthy merchants, cloth merchants.   So what is the Servite Order all about?  This short video explains:

The founders were:  (1) Buonfiglio Monaldo; (2) Alexis Falconieri; (3) Benedict dell’ Antella; (4) Bartholomew Amidei; (5) Ricovero Uguccione; (6) Gerardino Sostegni; and (7) John Buonagiunta.

Some information about the Seven Founders of the Order of Servites:

The American Catholic has a short summary and a reflection, New Advent has another, Catholic Culture.org, and Catholic Fire has a final one.

Praying For People Who Do Evil Things

When I heard about the shooting in Arizona, I recoiled in shock.  My sympathies were with the victims.

A couple of evenings later, my son offered this prayer intention:  “God, please forgive that man who hurt those people in Arizona so he can have a chance at paradise, too.”  I was stunned.

Then I got to thinking.  We offer our prayers easily for those we like or for the loved ones  of those we like.  Offering prayer is a sign of goodwill.  But does the Lord ask more of us?

I think He does.  A passage from A Story of A Soul came to mind:

In order still further to enkindle my ardour, Our Divine Master soon proved to me how pleasing to him was my desire. Just then I heard much talk of a notorious criminal, Pranzini, who was sentenced to death for several shocking murders, and, as he was quite impenitent, everyone feared he would be eternally lost. How I longed to avert this irreparable calamity! In order to do so I employed all the spiritual means I could think of, and, knowing that my own efforts were unavailing, I offered for his pardon the infinite merits of Our Saviour and the treasures of Holy Church.

Need I say that in the depths of my heart I felt certain my request would be granted? But, that I might gain courage to persevere in the quest for souls, I said in all simplicity: “My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.” My prayer was granted to the letter. My Father never allowed us to read the papers, but I did not think there was any disobedience in looking at the part about Pranzini. The day after his execution I hastily opened the paper, La Croix, and what did I see? Tears betrayed my emotion; I was obliged to run out of the room. Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing or receiving absolution, and the executioners were already dragging him towards the fatal block, when all at once, apparently in answer to a sudden inspiration, he turned round, seized the crucifix which the Priest was offering to him, and kissed Our Lord’s Sacred Wounds three times. . . . I had obtained the sign I asked for, and to me it was especially sweet.

Therese, of course, did not approve of Pranzini’s actions; she only wanted to save his soul — so he would have a chance at Heaven.  My son, then, got it right — Loughner deserves our prayers, but the prayer is that God’s grace will penetrate his heart, followed by repentance, and finally followed by a chance at paradise.

UPDATED (2/13/2011):  The title was changed to focus on evil actions, rather than implying that the person himself is “bad.”