August 1, 2012
A reason to call others by name -
Graced social structures -
Reflections on Colorado shootings -
Is civility possible in American politics?
In this edition:
1. Seeking civility, getting polarization.
2. A reason to call others by name.
3. The common good and interdependence.
4. Graced social structures.
5. Tax policy and the poor.
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Reflections on Colorado shootings.
b) Essential link of preaching and action.
7. Crisis and a turn of the corner.
8. Change, renewal and the future.
1. Seeking Civility, Getting Polarization
Is society's political polarization harmful? While Americans tend to believe it is, polarization appears to continue unabated. Will it be "always with us"?
There is new evidence that Americans dislike the polarization of their political process. According to a new Knights of Columbus-Marist poll, the negativity and lack of civility in America's political conversation frustrates nearly 80 percent of citizens.
The poll results, released at the end of July, showed that by a nearly 20-point margin (56 percent to 37 percent), Americans believe political campaigns in the U.S. are, for the most part, uncivil and disrespectful. The Marist telephone poll was conducted during the second week of July.
The negativity of political campaigns and their tendency to demonize or vilify opponents disturbs Americans, the poll indicated. Nearly two-thirds of them say that negative campaigning harms the political process either a great deal or a significant amount.
Carl Anderson, Knights of Columbus CEO, commented that political candidates are not running to become the next American Idol, but to "become our public servants." He said, "They ought to behave in a manner that keeps faith with that goal."
Friends or family members in America are able to "disagree on political issues without hating or demonizing each other," Anderson remarked. He asked, "Why can't our politicians do the same?"
In light of the Marist Poll findings, the Knights of Columbus announced a national, nonpartisan initiative inviting citizens to sign an online petition at www.civilityinamerica.org (or to "like" the petition at www.Facebook.com/CivilityinAmerica. The petition states:
"We, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, respectfully request that candidates, the media and other advocates and commentators involved in the public policy arena employ a more civil tone in public discourse on political and social issues, focusing on policies rather than on individual personalities. For our part, we pledge to make these principles our own."
2. Why Call Others by Name?
To be called by name matters a great deal, Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury suggested in a July 22 homily in Newland, England. He stressed that this is what Jesus did, as well as what his followers are asked to do: to call others by name, even when they are torn within themselves or sense that their lives are fragmented and even broken.
The archbishop announced in March that he would retire at the end of this year and assume a position at Magdalene College at the British University of Cambridge.
"'Faith' means looking to Jesus in the hope and the confidence that he will call us by our names. That he will see us whole, everything about us -- the good, the bad, the clear, the muddled -- and simply speak our name and say: 'It's all right. I've called you by your name. You belong to me.'"
He related this characteristic of Jesus to the resurrection. Archbishop Williams said:
"Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven. Isn't that wonderful? Well, yes it is. But the important thing is that this is a Jesus who continues to call each one of us by name."
Today, "here and now," the archbishop continued, Jesus is "the person who looks at each one of us and says: 'I call you by your name. You are mine. It's possible for your life to hang together, it's possible to be healed, it's possible to grow into what God really wants for you. And all you have to do is stay in my company."
That, said the archbishop, is "the mystery -- the miracle -- of the resurrection." He added:
"We are now to do what Jesus did. We are to go and call people by their names. We are to go and proclaim to people whose lives are in pieces:
"'It's possible for it to come together. You don't have to live in fragmentation. You don't have to live with your life in little heaps of rubbish all over the floor. You have a name. You have -- let's use the bold, old word -- you have a soul. You have an integrity in God's eyes, and we will respect you in that. We will treat you as a unique person and we will love you for what you are. God loves us for what we are.'"
None of which means, of course, that Jesus then "just sits back" or leaves us unsupported in making needed changes and growing. "He loves us into changing; he loves us into growing," Archbishop Williams said.
3. The Common Good and Interdependence
The tradition of Catholic social thought combines the "assertion of human rights with a correlative set of duties to exercise and/or protect those rights," Jesuit Father Fred Kammer said in a speech earlier this year on the common good, given to a Catholic Health Association physician forum.
Father Kammer directs the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans. His speech appears in the July-August 2012 edition of Health Progress, published by the Catholic Health Association.
In underscoring the interdependence of society's members and their responsibilities toward each other, he recalled this statement in Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:
"The moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all."
Thus, Father Kammer explained: "I have a right to vote; then I have a duty to do it. . . . I have a right to health care and a duty to care for my health and to make the effort to provide health care for myself and my family, and so forth. And I have a duty to respect and promote those rights that all others have as well."
In mentioning various foundational ideas from Catholic social thought that help to explain the common good, Father Kammer stressed the connections among members of the human family and their basic social nature.
The church's teaching is that the just society is one that respects the transcendent dignity of the human person, Father Kammer pointed out. But added to this dignity and transcendence, the church repeatedly insists that individuals are essentially social in nature.
Vatican II taught that society's advancement and the progress of the human person hinge on each other, he said.
4. . . .Graced Social Structures
Theologians nowadays, Father Kammer said in his Health Progress text on the common good, "speak of graced social structures." These are structures that "promote life, enhance human dignity, encourage the development of community and reinforce caring behavior."
Entities such as these "structure or institutionalize goodness in a way analogous to the good deeds of individuals," while "sinful social structures destroy life, violate human dignity, facilitate selfishness and greed, perpetuate inequality and fragment the human community."
When the systems within society and its institutions "are not working, then our faith response has to be systemic and structural as well as personal," Father Kammer said. For, "in the face of massive structural evil" that makes people needy, it is not sufficient to engage in commendable forms of service that help individuals.
"The faith of those who follow Christ must deal with social, economic, cultural and political structures as well," he said.
In other words, "we must love persons so much that we change the structures that affect their dignity," said Father Kammer.
If preaching the Gospel does not "give rise to action for justice," it simply is "not a credible Christian Gospel," Father Kammer told his audience.
5. Tax Policy Debate and the Poor
"It would be unjust and unwise to fail to renew improvements and extensions of low-income tax credits as the Congress addresses tax cuts for middle-income and wealthy Americans," Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said in a July 25 letter to members of the U.S. Senate.
He said, "Poor working families and their children may not have the most powerful lobbies, but they have the greatest needs and the most compelling claim." It would be unjust in future budgets to "rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons," he suggested.
The issues underlying Bishop Blaire's letter include the refundable federal child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. Unless Congress acts, the current full child tax credit of $1,000 per child available for couples earning less that $110,000 per year is set to decline to $500 after 2012.
What the "refundable child tax credit" can mean for a low-income family is that if their tax credit exceeds the amount owed in federal taxes, they may receive the difference as a refund.
"Every year, the earned income tax credit and the refundable child tax credit lift millions of American families out of poverty and help them live in dignity and with greater economic security. These investments should be supported and protected, not undermined or forgotten," Bishop Blaire wrote.
He noted that poverty in the U.S. "is historically high and growing." In fact, 46 million Americans currently "live in poverty," and more that "16 million of them are children," Bishop Blaire said. In today's America, he added, the younger people are, "the more likely they are to live in poverty."
Low-income tax credits are "pro-work, pro-family" and represent "some of the most effective antipoverty programs in our nation," Bishop Blaire said.
He insisted that concern for the common good is among the moral criteria that guide the church's thinking about difficult budgetary choices.
"Government and other institutions," he said to the Senate, "have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times."
6. Current Quotes to Ponder
Reflections After Tragic Colorado Shootings: "All of us in this local community were affected by what happened here on Friday, and we will never be the same. This senseless and evil act of violence has left many of us wondering how and why this could have happened. These questions arise when the everyday securities and certainties of life -- the trust we carry in our fellow human beings that we can safely go to work each day, or to school, or to the movies -- are shaken. It's natural for us to wonder, Why does this kind of suffering happen, and what does it really mean? We who gather tonight have come to seek answers. Not the answers that the commentators on television might provide, but answers to the real questions that leave us feeling insecure and fearful. . . . In the wake of a tragedy like this, the conversation often turns to moving on -- to getting back to our daily lives. But the Gospel speaks comforting words in this time of sorrow and tells us very clearly, 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.' . . . Let us mourn for those who have perished. Let us grieve with their loved ones who mourn their loss. Let us acknowledge the real evil which has wounded our community. In our mourning, Our Lord, who is the great comforter, is truly present to us. But we do not grieve like those who have no hope." (From remarks by Auxiliary Bishop James Conley of Denver during a July 22 evening prayer service in Aurora, Colo., two days after a mass shooting by a gunman in an Aurora movie theater left 12 people dead and 58 others wounded.)
Link of Preaching and Action That Shows God's Goodness: "In the Gospel Jesus warns the Twelve that in some places they may be rejected. . . . The other very important instruction in the Gospel passage is that the Twelve must not be content with preaching conversion. They must accompany their preaching . . . with care for the sick, with caring for those who are sick in body and in spirit. [The Gospel] speaks of the healing of illnesses and also of driving out demons, that is, of purifying the human mind, cleansing, cleansing the eyes of the soul that are clouded by ideologies and hence cannot see God, cannot see truth and justice. This twofold corporal and spiritual healing is always the mandate of Christ's disciples. Hence, the apostolic mission must always include the two aspects of preaching God's word and of showing his goodness in gestures of charity, service and dedication." (From a July 15 homily by Pope Benedict XVI in Frascati, Italy)
7. Crisis and "Turning the Corner"
Is it possible at one and the same time to be at a "crisis point" created by highly disturbing events and to "turn the corner" into a positive, renewed future?
In a July 24 speech, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, mentioned a commentator who faulted him for "speaking from both sides of my mouth" because he said that each of these - a crisis point and a turning of the corner -- characterized the church in Ireland presently. The archbishop said:
"Some months ago a commentator on the radio -- in all good faith -- said that he could not understand the archbishop of Dublin. I seemed, he said, to be constantly speaking from both sides of my mouth, and he felt he did not really know where I stood. On the one hand, I had said that the Catholic Church in Ireland was at a crisis point, and on the other hand I was saying that it had begun to 'turn the corner' of renewal."
But Archbishop Martin said he does "not see these as opposing comments. I believe that both reflect different aspects of the life of the Catholic Church in Ireland today."
Of course, the crisis he referred to in the church was the sexual abuse crisis, which in recent times virtually has dominated public discussions of Catholicism in that nation. Archbishop Martin had much to say in his speech about the crisis. His analysis of the complex, present moment for the church also seemed noteworthy.
-- First, he suggested that those who tend principally to view "the church in Ireland as being in crisis fail to see -- or perhaps in some cases do not want to see - the church already turning the corner to a renewed phase in its history."
-- Second, he said, "those who feel we have turned the corner often feel that the church has already definitively moved forward -- perhaps much more than I would hold -- and that it is time now to look forward with confidence and definitively archive the past."
In no way should the church "allow itself to be tempted to simply archive the past out of the light," Archbishop Martin said. Neither, in dealing with the past, should the church become paralyzed and resigned, he suggested.
To turn the corner and move forward "does not mean turning one's back on the past. There is no way in which the church in Ireland can put definitively behind it the scandals of the sexual abuse of vulnerable children by priests and religious," he said. Issues remain to be addressed.
Yet, "this does not mean that the church becomes pathologically fixated on a dark moment of its history," he commented.
8. . . . Change, Renewal and the Future
Archbishop Martin spoke during his July 24 speech about the great need today for the church in his country to contribute to society's discussion of important social issues.
Moreover, he said, there is a need for the church "to rediscover its ability to lead young people into an adult faith and into a commitment to want not just to belong to the church, but also to want to shape a church which provokes them into seeking the deeper realities of what human existence is about."
The need for priestly vocations represents another great challenge, Archbishop Martin said. He asked, "Why is it that the numbers entering the seminaries are so low? Is the church reaching out in the right direction?"
The archbishop expressed concern "not just that the number of candidates is low," but also "that many of those who present [themselves] are fragile, and some are much more traditional than those who went before them." On this matter, he explained:
"I have no problem with priests or seminarians who come from a solid theologically based traditional faith background. If anything, I would have greater anxieties regarding priests or candidates who simply go with the trends of the day and who lack a real spiritual and theological anchor.
"There is, however, a danger that superficial attachment to the externals of tradition may well be a sign of fearfulness and flight from changed realities. And that is not exactly what we need."
In this context, Archbishop Martin turned attention to Vatican Council II -- the kind of change associated with it, as well as the light this casts on what it means for the church to turn a corner. He said:
"Vatican II was not simply a council which fostered change and things new. It did not set out to create a new church. If anything it was a council which brought us backward; it brought us back beyond what we had experienced in our youth and education to a deeper understanding of the faith of the church, which was rooted in the Scriptures themselves and in the constant tradition of the church."
But "change did take place," and "change is difficult to live with and to manage," he observed. He said that "turning the corner" of renewal for the church means "taking the risk of a faith which always entails elements of the unknown."
Archbishop Martin cautioned against two, contrasting temptations. He said that one temptation is to think that turning the corner means "returning to the safe and well-known environment of the past or opening out the pathway to a new, modern, safe and well-lit motorway."
However, Archbishop Martin observed, "in today's rapid cultural change, turning the corner is unlikely to be the end product of renewal." For, he said, "the life of the believer and life in the church is about a faith journey on which we encounter never-ending corners to challenge us."
Believers today "are called to adapt and respond to new situations through a profound insight into the teaching of Jesus Christ that enables the church to rediscover ever deeper its own true identity and mediate meaning in a world of change and uncertainty."