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May 15, 2017

The rhetoric of contempt -
Bringing faith to a changed public square -
How to reach the wounded -
Rediscovering the sacred in the ordinary

In this edition:
1. The cancer of corruption.
2. Eradicating human trafficking.
3. Rhetoric of contempt.
4. Faith and a changed public square.
5. Public discourse: two-way street.
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Reaching the wounded
b) Health care in America.
7. Finding the sacred in the ordinary.

1. The "Cancer" of Corruption

Corruption, "like a cancer," consumes people's lives, Pope Francis said in a message to the assembly of bishops that concluded May 13 in El Salvador. Bishops from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, along with delegations from the U.S. and Canada participated in the assembly titled "A Poor Church for the Poor."

The pope sent his message to CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Conference, calling corruption "one of the most serious sins" of our times.

"Corruption devastates lives by submerging them in the most extreme poverty. It's a corruption which destroys entire populations by subjecting them to precariousness. It's a corruption that, like a cancer, consumes the daily life of our people," Pope Francis wrote.

His message encouraged the bishops to walk closely with their people, especially those on society's margins. He reiterated what he said in his 2013 apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," namely that he prefers "a church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security."

"Corruption and self-serving tax evasion . . . have taken on worldwide dimensions," and "the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits," he said in "The Joy of the Gospel." Everything standing "in the way of increased profits" is devoured in this system. Moreover, he commented, whatever is fragile "is defenseless before the interests of a deified market."

Pope Francis speaks frequently of the harmful effects of corruption. The corruption deeply rooted in many countries can be witnessed "in their governments, businesses and institutions," he noted in "The Joy of the Gospel."

He spoke of corruption this Easter, calling attention to the kinds of "daily acts of selfishness that crucify and then bury people's hopes." The faces of the two Marys at the tomb of Jesus mirror "the faces of women, mothers, who weep as they see the lives of their children crushed by massive corruption that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams," he said.

The faces of the two Marys, he added, "reflect the faces of all those who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified."

Visiting Mexico in February 2016, Pope Francis met with Mexican workers and business leaders, and asked what kind of world they wanted to leave to their children. He asked: "What air will they breathe? An air tainted by corruption, violence, insecurity and suspicion or, on the contrary, an air capable of generating -- and the word is crucial - 'generating' alternatives, renewal and change."

He said: "To generate is to be co-creators with God. This, naturally, involves much effort."

2. Committed to Eradicating Human Trafficking

A national policy aimed at destroying human trafficking by 2030 is needed, Auxiliary Bishop Terence Brady of Sydney, Australia, said May 5 in testimony before a parliamentary committee.

He called for a modern slavery act requiring annual public statements from large organizations on steps taken to eradicate slavery from their own structures and from their supply chains.

Speaking on behalf of the national bishops' conference, Bishop Brady said that "Australians have a moral imperative to eradicate the injustice of human trafficking and modern slavery." Knowing that "the human dignity of people is being harmed in this way, we should do what we can to free them from that ill-treatment," he insisted.

He pointed out that in March the Archdiocese of Sydney announced it would slavery-proof its supply chains. "This announcement is significant as the Catholic Church is one of the largest purchasing groups in Australia," he explained.

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals commit all U.N. members to taking "immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labor in all its forms," Bishop Brady noted.

In an address March 31, Sydney's Archbishop Anthony Fisher announced that "in an effort to stamp out modern slavery in this generation" the archdiocese intended to review and revise its "Guide for Business Practice" so as "to highlight the church's commitment to eradicating human trafficking." He said the archdiocese would:

Insofar as possible purchase only "slavery-proofed products and services," and "only contract with firms who certify that their goods are not tainted by human trafficking."

"Maintain a register of suppliers who have given such certification regarding their goods and services, and ensure that our chancery, parishes, schools, agencies and affiliates understand" this policy.

"Establish an archdiocesan anti-slavery task force with a mandate to promote this new ethical procurement policy throughout the archdiocese," and "to prepare resources and conduct programs" for Catholics and others "about eradicating human trafficking."

He said the archdiocese intends to work with other Catholic dioceses and congregations, as well as "leaders of Catholic education, health and aged care and welfare services, with our international church contacts, with leaders and agencies of other churches and religions, with our friends in the business and labor sectors and with the civic authorities to support each other's efforts to eradicate human trafficking."

3. The Rhetoric and Politics of Contempt

What does it mean now, as well as after people die, "to live in the resurrection of Christ"?

It means not simply "that we will have life after we die," said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. Rather, it means "much more. It means living now in the truth of life."

This was a theme of his 2017 Easter message. "To live in the resurrection means we can no longer judge one another by the age-old, purely human criteria, which in reality are the criteria of death," he wrote.

Bishop Flores also sought to cast light on the meaning of Christ's cross. Christ "was condemned and finally crucified like one among so many who in this world have lived the cruelty of an unjust judgment handed down without mercy," he said.

"It was necessary," he added, that Christ's "lordship be manifested precisely after having consolidated his solidarity with those most denigrated in this world." Thus, "his victory over death was shown to be a victory for all peoples."

If the cross was the instrument of Christ's death, "it was also a symbol of an entire kingdom" in this world "where lies, cruelty and lack of conscience kill and discard the defenseless," said Bishop Flores. But "that same cross becomes a symbol of the love of God," he wrote, and with the cross "the reign of death reaches its end."

To live in the resurrection means following the risen Christ "precisely by loving the truth, practicing mercy and treating everyone with the respect they deserve as beloved reflections of the divine majesty," the bishop observed.

Living "in the resurrection" means "we must stand in defense of the poor and the defenseless, who so often are discarded and mistreated in order to smooth the way for the global economy," the bishop stated. But "global structures," he added, "ought to serve the good of all."

Moreover, he said, "we must say to our leaders that the rhetoric and politics of contempt directed against immigrants and refugees are plainly an affront to human dignity; we must defend the many innocents who seek to escape from cruelties and atrocities that the governments of the world themselves do not want to admit exist." In addition, "We must not cease unmasking the lie that says the unborn are not our little sisters and brothers."

4. Bringing Faith Into a Changed Public Square

"It would hugely impoverish our faith if we were to compartmentalize it or exclude it completely from our conversations and actions in the public sphere," Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said May 8 in a speech on the church in the public square given at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

However, it also would "impoverish society if the fundamental convictions of faith were not permitted to influence public conversation, debate and policy formation," he stressed. That "would diminish the understanding of the human person and dilute the concept of the common good."

True enough, though, ever "since St. Paul first stepped into the agora at Athens, many have argued that the transcendent moral norms presented by believing Christians have no place in public discourse," said Archbishop Martin. He observed, "There is little tolerance nowadays for the idea of absolute moral truths or for stable moral reference points -- something which is intrinsic to the content of Christian interventions in the public square."

But the archbishop is "convinced of the importance for all of us of engaging and speaking out of our faith conviction with all those we meet." He explained, "Our vision is of a society marked by a culture of peace, justice and care for all, especially the most vulnerable."

Something that is important today, he suggested, is "to learn new ways of presenting our sincerely held perspectives alongside others of other faiths and none, and to encourage conversations at a national level on significant issues and values."

Archbishop Martin said, "We enter the public square with the conviction that 'something else is needed' and not simply to win arguments through the clever use of reasoning and debate." And when speaking in the public square "we draw upon both reason and faith, and upon an integral vision of the dignity and vocation of the human person linked to the common good."

(The text of Archbishop Martin's speech appears in Origins, CNS Documentary Service, the edition dated May 18.)

5. Two-way Street of Public Discourse

There is a need for "two-way, critical interaction and conversations . . . between religious traditions and the broader culture, including constructive critiques of social, political, legal and economic practices," Archbishop Martin of Armagh said in his May 8 speech in Norwich, England.

He cited a need for public discussions of "what ethical values and principles we want to uphold and strengthen."

One challenge "in this process of encounter and accompaniment" with the larger culture is to resist "the temptation to use the language of chastisement and condemnation," he commented. For "most people nowadays are indifferent to condemnations."

Yet, he acknowledged, "with faith and conviction we will sometimes bring uncomfortable questions into the public sphere, for example about the impact of economic policies on the most vulnerable or to point out the contradictions of populism, all the while being careful not to become too sensitive to criticism or always claiming to be offended."

A goal of this participation "in public discourse" is to present a consistent ethic of life "based on natural law, which includes for example, our teaching about the sacredness of all human life and the dignity of the person, about the centrality of the family, about solidarity and the need for a fair distribution of goods in the world."

Ultimately, in the archbishop's words, "everything we say is founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ." There is an attempt in all this to "try to convince others that, as Pope Benedict XVI put it, 'if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing -- nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.'"

He said, "We are not there to impose but to invite; we are not there to simply oppose but to offer the gift and message of salvation."

The Armagh archbishop acknowledged that "the church will remain an object of fascination to many, of bewilderment or curiosity to others and of hostility to some." In such a context, he indicated, "our challenge is to present to the world the edifying and inspiring witness of people of faith."

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

How to Reach the Wounded: "We will not heal those whose lives have drifted from Jesus Christ by throwing books of dogma at them. That would only mean shouting at them in a language that they still have to learn. Reaching out to the wounded will be achieved best by . . . picking up the wounded in our own arms and embracing them." (From the homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, during the April 18 ordination to the diaconate of three seminarians at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome.)

Health Care in America: "Even with efforts to improve the bill before passage, the American Health Care Act still contains major defects, particularly regarding changes to Medicaid that risk coverage and affordability for millions; it is deeply disappointing that the voices of those who will be most severely impacted were not heeded. . . . The AHCA does offer critical life protections, and our health care system desperately needs these safeguards. But still, vulnerable people must not be left in poor and worsening circumstances as Congress attempts to fix the current and impending problems with the Affordable Care Act. . . . When the Senate takes up the AHCA it must act decisively to remove the harmful proposals from the bill that will affect low-income people -- including immigrants -- as well as add vital conscience protections or begin reform efforts anew. Our health care policy must honor all human life and dignity from conception to natural death, as well as defend the sincerely held moral and religious beliefs of those who have any role in the health care system." (From May 4 remarks by Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, after passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of the American Health Care Act.)

7. Taking Seriously the Sacred in the Ordinary

"The sacred is in the ordinary, and the ordinary is in the sacred - an incredible fact," says Holy Cross Father Tom Hosinski. The recently retired theology professor at the University of Portland thinks that "it is because we take our ordinary daily lives for granted that we so often fail to remember how sacred our ordinary daily lives are."

The text of his "Last Lecture" on the sacred and the ordinary appears in the spring 2017 edition of Portland, a journal of the Holy-Cross-run university in Portland, Ore.

What often is overlooked, he suggests, is "how important to God" ordinary human life is in terms of "what we say and do to each other, to our fellow creatures and to our world."

Many great theologians in the Christian tradition "have understood the doctrine of creation to imply that the creatures of the world and the world itself exist by participating in the divine being or the divine life," Father Hosinski notes. He calls this "a profoundly important idea" -- that "to exist is to participate in the divine life."

For, "if we reflect on this and grasp what this means, we cannot help but see the sacredness of what we take to be ordinary," he says.

Usually, "a strong distinction" is made "between the sacred and the ordinary," according to Father Hosinski. "We create sacred places: churches, synagogues, mosques and temples." Sacred times and sacred rituals are created too, reminding us "that our lives have to do with the sacred."

Yet the older he gets the more he is "convinced that we humans make this distinction between the sacred and the ordinary only because we take our ordinary daily lives for granted."

He learned most strongly of "the sacredness of life and the ordinary world" both when he underwent chemotherapy for cancer and when he cared for an ordination classmate who was dying. "Simply watching the birds and squirrels" in his garden and "walking outside" during his chemotherapy filled him with a "deep sense of how beautiful and sacred life and the world are," he says.

In his classmate's suffering and death, Father Hosinski "sensed very deeply the presence of God and the sacredness" even of the processes of dying and grieving.

One way the Christian tradition underscores "the sacredness of the ordinary" is by speaking of the omnipresence of God, he observes. To say that God is everywhere, he affirms, is to imply that "the ordinary world is God's dwelling place."

There is, in addition, the "much-neglected doctrine of the Holy Spirit," he notes. To teach that the Spirit is "poured out on the world," he says, is to teach that the Spirit is actively at work in all people and, in unseen ways, in the ordinary world.

For Father Hosinski all of this indicates that "the sacred dwells in the ordinary at every instant."

(His speech may be read at: www1.up.edu/marketing/portland-magazine/index.html.)