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March 13, 2016

Demands of democracy -
Enmity in public discourse -
Catholics and the Black Lives Matter movement -
Concrete impact of spiritual works of mercy

In this edition:
1. Politics marked by enmity.
2. Friendship among citizens.
3. Public service's toxic atmosphere.
4. Demands of democracy.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Rights of women.
b) Assisted suicide.
6. Spiritual works of mercy.
7. Catholics and Black Lives Matter.
8. Perspectives on Black Lives Matter.

1. Enmity Marks Politics and Public Discourse

"Our politics and public discourse are often marked by enmity and animosity" today, and "it is becoming clear that the body politic is nearing the limits of how much suffering it can endure," Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a March 13 homily at Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago.

"Old St. Pat's stands as a tall reminder that Chicago owes its greatness precisely to its historic ability to weave the diverse cultural identities of the many immigrant communities who have journeyed here into a unified social fabric," Archbishop Cupich pointed out. He said, "In this history Chicago became a series of orchards, each reflecting a rich culture, which in turn became a forest in its unity and strength."

A reading for the Mass from Isaiah 32 provided that rich imagery for the archbishop. Isaiah offers "a vision about the restoration of society and the civic order to a people alienated from each other and their God," said Archbishop Cupich.

The message is clear, he suggested, that "the growth and preservation of human civilization, culture and the social order requires a discipline, a pacing, a collaboration and coordination involving everyone." He said:

"Growth cannot be forced. It cannot be advanced by favoring some over others, including some and excluding others. It cannot be left to chance, but it has to be intentional, ordered and purposeful in bringing about social solidarity."

He expressed concern that "when the common good of all is not the aim of society's growth, whether that be in the economy, education, civil rights or civic participation, a cancer grows that damages the whole social body."

2. Recapturing Friendship as Fellow Citizens

Archbishop Cupich's March 13 homily in Chicago called attention to the fact that St. Patrick's Day this year "marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Ireland." He spoke of how, "on Easter Monday 1916, a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic, rebelling against British rule. In response, British troops were sent in, and the violence resulted in the death and injury of more than 2,000 citizens."

He asked: "How did this happen? What were the causes?" Some in society, he said, were "told that they didn't matter and were treated as subhuman, 'a lower class' not only economically but socially to be excluded from the body politic."

Archbishop Cupich continued: "Social cohesion wore thin in a system corrupted by inequality, favoring the powerful and wealthy, their self-promotion and preservation to the exclusion of the weak and voiceless. The result: Many people lost hope, solidarity vanished, hearts hardened and society ended up becoming infected by a cancer that harmed all."

The Gospel reading for the Chicago Mass at Old St. Patrick's Church came from John 15, which states: "Love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Commenting on this, the archbishop said that "we seem to have lost the value of friendship in our social relationships." People in the U.S. seem "to have lost a sense of the importance of cultivating friendships as fellow citizens who, being equal, share much in common."

Today, he reflected, "there is an overly competitive character that defines how we relate to one another, emphasizing what divides us rather than what we share in common." As a result, "because we do not value growing together, a cancer is developing that threatens to harm us all. Positions harden, progress is stalled."

He asked, "Can we recapture the value of friendship as fellow citizens?"

This St. Patrick's Day, Archbishop Cupich proposed, is an opportune moment for becoming "open to the spirit of God moving us to take up the work of restoration, a restoration that comes in building friendships" with "a commitment to dialogue, a commitment to walk together step by step as equals who, while not always agreeing with each other, have so much in common."

The church's present Year of Mercy, he added, offers the opportunity of a fresh start -- the fresh start needed "to step back, reflect on what we all share in common, and reach out to each other with works of mercy that foster friendship and reconciliation, and open up new horizons for us to live together as children of the one Father."

3. Public Service in a Toxic Environment

"We live in a toxic political environment where poisonous invective and partisan gamesmanship pass for political leadership," Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., said March 5.

Because "public confidence in government is at historic lows and cynicism is high," the present moment "is a good time to remind ourselves what lives dedicated to genuine public service in politics look like," he said. He announced that two Catholic political leaders in the U.S., Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner, a Republican, will be awarded the university's 2016 Laetare Medal.

The award to these men recognizes their leadership, civility and dedication to the nation, the university announced.

Father Jenkins said that while Biden and Boehner "have been loyal and committed partisans, they were leaders who put the good of the nation ahead of partisan victory, seeking through respectful dialogue honorable compromise and progress."

He observed that "Boehner's resistance to a simple reductionism made him suspect in his own party" and that "Biden reminded his fellow Democrats that those in the other party are 'our opponents, not our enemies.'"

The award to these men does not endorse "the policy positions of either," Father Jenkins said. Rather, it celebrates "two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good through dialogue focused on the issues and responsible compromise."

The Laetare Medal is awarded annually by the university to a Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity," the university said in a press release. The award will be presented during the university's commencement ceremonies May 15.

4. Demands of Democracy

"Democracy is fundamentally about people working and walking together to foster the common good," the Catholic bishops of Ireland said shortly before their nation's February general election.

Indifference damages democracy, as does "a splintering of society or a fixation on individual interests," the bishops stressed. They viewed a general election as a time when "all citizens, and not just political parties, should reflect and take stock of the health of the nation," particularly "how we respond to the plight of the most vulnerable."

The bishops shared "the anxiety of many citizens" due to "the fact that there is an uncertain social climate in the country regarding vital sectors of people's lives, especially regarding health, homes, education, security, the fostering of a solid human ecology and international responsibility."

They called attention, for example, to "a crisis of homelessness, not just of those who sleep rough on our streets, but of those who are housed in inadequate and precarious accommodation, especially in hotel rooms totally unsuitable for children and families." The bishops emphasized also that "a true human ecology recognizes the equal right to life of every person from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death."

Christians cannot separate their "understanding of responsibility in and for society from" the criteria found in the Gospel, the bishops stated. Thus, in politics and in society, a Christian "cannot renounce his or her special responsibility to protect the weak and the marginalized." This is a responsibility, they said, that "cannot be delegated or suppressed to party interests or emptied into the language of spin."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

Rights of Women: "The Holy See welcomes the progress already made in favor of women's advancement but regrets, however, that at a time when sensitivity to women's issues appears stronger than ever, the world is still confronted with old and new forms of violence and slavery directed at women. These include the use of rape as a weapon of war during conflicts; the trafficking of girls (who are treated as merchandise); the abuse of domestic workers (that remains, at times, unpunished); kidnapping of young women, forced marriage, forced conversion and forced abortion. All these types of violence occur more frequently where poverty and social instability are prevalent or even where some legal systems and traditions continue to condone them, . . . This delegation is convinced that the best way to promote so-called 'gender equality' -- that is, equality between women and men -- and to increase women's participation is to fight prejudices and stereotypes against women, affirming the ontological equality in dignity and rights between men and women in all juridical, cultural and social areas." (From a March 10 statement to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe by Msgr. Janusz Urbanczyk, permanent representative of the Vatican to the OSCE.)

Physician-Assisted Suicide: "The Special Joint Committee of the Government of Canada on Physician-Assisted Dying this past Feb. 25 released its report, 'Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach.' The report, in part, recommends: That assisted suicide be available to those with psychiatric conditions. . . . That psychological suffering be among the criteria making an individual eligible for assisted suicide. . . . That within approximately three years assisted suicide be available for adolescents and possibly also children who can be considered 'mature minors.' . . . That all health-care practitioners be obliged at the minimum to provide an 'effective referral' for clients seeking assisted suicide. . . . That all publicly funded health-care institutions in Canada provide assisted suicide. . . . [But] suicide is not part of health care. Killing the mentally and physically ill, whether young or aged, is contrary to caring for and loving one's brother and sister. The dignity of the human person and the flourishing of the human community demand: 1) protection and respect for each human life from conception to natural death, and 2) freedom of conscience and religion for each person as well as each institution. Social well-being, personal security and the common good -- together with religious faith - involve safeguarding, not endangering, the lives of those who suffer." (From a Feb. 26 statement by Bishop Douglas Crosby of Hamilton, Ontario, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, regarding the recommendations of a just-released report on physician-assisted suicide by a special Canadian government committee.)

6. Spiritual Works of Mercy: Concrete Impact

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy that are receiving so much attention during the church's current Year of Mercy are practical actions that yield concrete results.

It is easy to see that the corporal works of mercy like clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless and visiting sick people and prisoners are concrete actions. But according to Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, so are the spiritual works of mercy in their own ways.

Archbishop Tobin wrote about the works of mercy recently in columns for The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. The "very practical actions" known as the corporal works of mercy "reveal the fundamental fact of God's love for us as it is manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ," he said.

"Mercy," he remarked, "compels us to clothe the naked and shelter the homeless," for example, and "to visit the sick and imprisoned, and to bury the dead."

The archbishop noted that "to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty are the first two corporal works of mercy." Accenting these works, he said that throughout the world today "millions of people are hungry and thirsty every day." He wrote:

"According to Catholic Relief Services, gains in reducing global hunger have been nearly wiped out in recent years by sharply increasing prices on some of the most basic foodstuffs in every region of the world and by the current global financial crisis. Projections indicate that the global food price crisis will be long term and that the impact on poor people in developing countries will be severe."

It is a crisis around the world, but "here at home" as well, he said. He insisted that "we cannot proclaim the good news of our salvation unless we also share with our sisters and brothers the food and drink they need to live full and healthy lives."

But Archbishop Tobin stressed that a spiritual work of mercy also can be "very concrete and practical." He listed the seven spiritual works of mercy, which are to "instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead."

Archbishop Tobin said that "if we help someone understand why all human life is sacred, we help prevent violence and inhumanity." Moreover, "when we counsel someone who is uncertain about the freedom that comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we affirm the beauty and truth of Christian discipleship. We help make it possible for someone who is 'on the fence' to become fully engaged in the life of the church."

The archbishop explained that "when we bear wrongs patiently and forgive others as the Father has forgiven us, we make love visible in the most powerful way possible." Also, for example, "when we comfort the afflicted and pray for all our living and deceased sisters and brothers (including those who are close to us and those who are strangers), we act in the name of Jesus who prayed that we would all be one as he and the Father are one."

In performing spiritual works of mercy "we build up the body of Christ, first of all by growing in holiness ourselves and, secondly, by assisting our sisters and brothers in their efforts to live authentic spiritual lives," Archbishop Tobin said. He added, "What we have to share -- our own experience of God's unconditional love and forgiveness -- can be life-changing for those who need it most."

7. Catholics and the Black Lives Matter Movement

"There are about 70 million Catholics in the United States. At most, about 3 million of these are African-Americans," Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., wrote in a new pastoral letter issued Feb. 26 on race relations in America.

The pastoral letter is a reflection on the Black Lives Matter movement that arose in America in recent times, particularly in response to the shooting deaths of a number of unarmed black men by police officers. (The pastoral letter appears in the March 17 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

"There are many dioceses where there are no black Catholics at all, and many others where there are very few. This means that many white Catholics in certain states and in rural communities have virtually no contact with African-American Catholics," Bishop Braxton observed. He wrote:

"The evil of America's original sin of enslaving free human beings, like the evil that the Nazi Holocaust inflicted on the Jewish people, has left a permanent scar on the nation's psyche. As a result, 'white' Christianity lacks credibility to many members of the traditional black church. And sadly, I know African-American Catholics who, based upon their personal experiences, do not believe that their black lives matter in the Catholic Church as much as white lives matter."

Bishop Braxton speculated that "if all African-American Catholics (clergy and religious included) suddenly disappeared, most white Catholics might not even notice the disappearance because they were more or less unaware of African-American Catholics. Most have no personal contact with African-American Catholic laity. They never see African-American sisters, brothers, deacons or priests. They might not even know that there are a small number of African-American bishops."

However, he said, Pope Francis "has demonstrated that the lives of the people of African descent matter very much to the church." The pope did so "especially during his November 2015 visit to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic," the bishop noted.

Bishop Braxton hoped "that Catholics who read this pastoral letter will find it a useful resource for having a conversation among themselves and with people of different racial backgrounds and points of view about a timely subject to which they may not have previously given much attention."

The pastoral letter suggested that despite "the profound differences and seeming incompatibility between the teachings of the church and the Black Lives Matter movement, there may be ways in which the church and the movement might benefit from a conversation."

Such a conversation "may be very difficult," Bishop Braxton said, since "each group speaks from a unique perspective and with a unique tone of voice." Yet, he proposed, "Catholics might, at the least, become better informed about a rapidly growing movement that Time magazine placed fourth on its list of eight candidates for person of the year in December 2015."

8. Perspectives on Black Lives Matter

Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville, Ill., acknowledged in his new pastoral letter that since anyone can shout "Black Lives Matter," this "phrase has sometimes been used in ways that cause many who might be sympathetic to the concerns of black people to criticize" the movement. He said, "Some individuals and groups chanting Black Lives Matter have used language that enflames violence against those charged with law enforcement."

However, he said, leaders within the movement "stress that they reject violence and say those who speak of harming police are speaking in their own names and not in the name of the movement. Their critics argue they are being disingenuous."

Bishop Braxton pointed out that some people view the Black Lives Matter movement "as a successor to the civil rights movement," though others have condemned it "as a violent ideology urging attacks on police officers."

Scripture "and Jesus himself make it clear that for a Christian, for a Catholic and for the Catholic Church all lives should matter," the bishop wrote. He added: "Many Americans believe this should be the end of the question. Obviously, if all lives matter, then black lives matter! Yet this seemingly obvious truth has not been a sufficient answer to those whose voices are raised in protest in the Black Lives Matter movement." He asked, "Why is that?"

The bishop said that "several supporters of the movement have cited George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' for the answer. They remind us that the mantra of the totalitarian world of the novel is 'all animals are equal.' But eventually the mantra is changed to 'all animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.'"

Bishop Braxton observed that "the protest expression 'Black Lives Matter' became a dramatic way of calling attention to a reality largely ignored by the larger society. Namely, there are many circumstances in which society seems to operate as if it does not believe that the lives of young men of color really do matter as much as the lives of young white men."

He said that "more than one commentator has proposed that Black Lives Matter is a form of shorthand." Its true intent "is a plea to all Americans to work to refashion our country so that the lives of people of color actually do matter as much as the lives of white people."