Religion & Politics Must Mix

A friend asked me why, as a priest, I continue to comment on politics.  Here’s why: 

My politics aren’t limited to any one realm but they are informed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus was very critical of all peoples in power and in institutions that run without mercy just as God is mercy. Jesus would condemn terrorists, communists and greedy capitalists equally as each in their own way (terrorists most explicitly) contribute to the suffering, and yes, death of many peoples far beyond “self-defense.” It’s a social sin that governments build up armaments at the expense of fare trade food, health and education for their people. I certainly think Kim of North Korea is filled with evil and so is his nuclear tests, and he should be handled with harsh criticism and sanctions, but hasn’t our country set the example of “might makes right” long ago? Not that we shouldn’t be able to defend ourselves and innocent people–and, yes, hindsight regarding our pacifism to Hitler early on was a terrible mistake, but, all the same, if we spent an equal amount on diplomacy and support of our poorest citizens, and assist, when we can, other countries to do the same, there would be far less to criticize.  Peoples who have basic needs met are far less likely to revolt, turn to violent revolutions, racisms and the like. In the 1986 the United States Bishops Conference issued a researched paper calling for Justice in the Economy (See Below) Wall Street and Conservative Catholic Economists crucified the contents saying that religious leaders need to keep out of non-spiritual matters. However, Jesus received the same hostility when he began his public ministry (See Luke’s Gospel Chapter 4) and his criticism of established norms of state and church put him on the Cross. (He called Herod “a fox.” And “render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is God’s “is not about separation of Church and State but pointing out the limits of the state because, for believers, all belongs to God. All prominent Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox scholars have affirmed this for almost a century, but people still hold on to old world views and old ways of interpreting the scriptures. The point of the Cross was to put a mirror onto society and its violent, selfish aspects to forgive and transform them. Not simply forgive and let business continue as usual. Nothing should stay the way it is because it worked in the past. People forget the Bible is as much future-oriented as it informs us of the past. At any rate, that is just some of the basis for my informed, prayerful sense that religion and politics must be kept in dialogue and that religion considering Jesus is asked to take a critical stance and look at the consequences for as many people as possible, not just a few, in reviewing current trends and legislations. 

Meanwhile chick this out http://www.usccb.org/upload/economic_justice_for_all.pdf 

God bless!

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Homily for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!”  I’ve always loved those lines from Jeremiah, finding comfort in them whenever I feel let down, overwhelmed, or just plain sad about my life or what’s going on in the world.  What good has all my preaching accomplished–who remembers homilies, anyway?  To what effect all these Eucharists?  People still hate one another, misinterpret Scripture to bully people, justify their prejudices, and, particularly this week, ask why God does not intervene in Nature’s devastations in Texas and elsewhere.

As we pray Psalm 63 this morning, aren’t we thirsting for God to show up?  Wouldn’t it have been inspiring had God whisked Hurricane Harvey out to sea in the same way Jesus calmed the storms 2,000 years ago?  Of course, the Holy Spirit will inspire people to respond to Hurricane Relief.  In solidarity with those who lost homes and livelihood, Catholic Charities and other noble organizations will solicit contributions from us all.  Indeed, with eyes of faith, we expect the milk of human kindness to be in strong evidence once again.  God is and will always be part of these grace-filled endeavors.   Still, we may be haunted by the age-old mystery as to why God allows tragedies to play themselves out as readily as God enhances goodness to breed goodness, grace to build upon grace.

What hope do we have other than to trust in this mystery?  Jeremiah, despite his desire to run from God and live without faith, without prayer and rituals, acknowledged that, ultimately, God’s Spirit became “like fire burning” in his heart, his faith in God somehow “imprisoned” in his bones.  Jeremiah’s faith in God conquered his disillusionment and fear.  How?

Jesus tells us by “picking up our cross,” he strengthens us to live within faith’s paradox, to embrace mystery, to trust in eternal truths.  Because our past informs our present, we know that we have, we can and we will overcome hatred, prejudice and even natural disasters because of faith’s common denominator: we are all children of God on a journey unto eternity.  Of course, like Saint Peter on that day, we would have preferred an invincible Messiah who would establish a suffering-free universe. Yet, from the beginning death was part of God’s plan—our human bodies as we experience them were destined to be but a prologue to a transcendent way of life with body and soul beyond the grave (yes) but not without some dying and rising from day to day to day. Along with hundreds of events from the past, Houston invites us, once again, to review our attachments to material things and to scrutinize the degree to which we honor our relationships with God and others and live each day as if it were our last.

What are our expectations of life?  Why are our capacities for mystery so limited?  In part, because we’ve kept our faith rooted in what we learned as children—neglecting to nurture it into adulthood.  We continue to change with the times regarding science, medicine and technology, even morality and ethics, but not in fundamental aspects of faith. Meanwhile, change has occurred in the ways the Church interprets the Bible and appropriates the Sacraments.

Considering the floods in Houston and environs –and with more on the horizon—who among us has not thought of Genesis and Noah and the Flood?  Does God still punish us with natural disasters?  What other insights from childhood continue to echo in our adult brains?  But here’s an example of how biblical scholarship has changed:  We now understand that the ancient biblical writers used a tragic event – a flood – into a lesson on morality and faith, revealing, at the same time, a very narrow, limited understanding of God.  Believing as the ancients did that to be all-powerful was to be responsible for all activity on earth, they understood everything that happens as either a reward or punishment from God. Thus, the story of a flood-to-end-all-floods was presented as God’s weariness with the sins of humanity. Perhaps fed-up themselves with the evil within human nature, the biblical writers projected their disgust as coming from God as they tried to make sense of a catastrophic phenomenon. As centuries passed, however, their own experiences of God, coupled with burgeoning revelations from JOB and the prophets and ongoing prayer empowered the faithful to conclude that God’s all-powerful dimension comprises a greater mystery: God lets Nature evolve and interact with itself (ant that includes humanity) within its own limitations, just as God permits humanity’s free will to make of ourselves and our world what we will—guiding and supporting always, but interfering only rarely. Therefore, today, we acknowledge our childhood understanding of Noah and the Ark is found wanting. And yet, the story remains part of the inerrant dynamic of the Bible–not for what it says about God, but for what it reveals about the power of faith (Noah and his family) and a deeper truth that God supports the faithful through the tragedies of life, promising hope and redemption symbolized by a rainbow. Today, considering Hurricane Harvey, that rainbow symbolizes a whole lot more.  The value of our homes and personal luxuries pale in the presence of a helping hand—no matter the color of the skin, the ethnicity it represents, its age or size, its nation of origin. The Good News is that God works primarily (although NOT exclusively) through US.  We are not alone unless we choose to be.  We never need be afraid.

Today we acknowledge that the Scriptures are both past, present and FUTURE ORIENTED. They inform us about the past as they illuminate HERE and NOW and beckon us onto the FUTURE.  So, too, our current events. It’s clear that the earth has entered a warming phase with erratic temperatures and winds, caused, in part, through ice melts from the poles.  No one refutes that any longer.  What still is debated, however, is the extent the human footprint accelerates this phenomenon. But who could argue this: From the beginning, the Holy Spirit has nurtured Wisdom in human hearts and that centuries ago, the Spirit moved humanity to acknowledge a universal, common sense adage “An Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure.” As Catholics and others throughout the nation this weekend (and in the months to come) contribute and volunteer to Catholic Charities’ appeals to rebuild homes and refortify Texas Gulf cities and surroundings, we must prayerfully consider the bigger picture, engage in more preventative endeavors, more precautions, more safety measures, more environmentally sound uses of power and fuel, however costly—locally and nationally–these may be. The future of Texas as well as our children’s future and the entire earth’s future depend upon it. Whatever our political sensibilities we must defer to the Cross of Jesus Christ that insists we, too, sacrifice for a greater good. And then, because of God’s design, goodness will increase.

Today’s Eucharist is a preventative measure, too. Assuring Christ’s presence within us, around us, our Eucharist cultivates true faith–adult faith, inviting us to attend to our relationships with God and others with patience, awe and reverence and, yes, even patience with God until, ultimately, all shall be on earth as it is in heaven.

Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9

  1. (2b) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    O God, you are my God whom I seek;
    for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
    like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
    to see your power and your glory,
    for your kindness is a greater good than life;
    my lips shall glorify you.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    Thus will I bless you while I live;
    lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
    As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
    and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
    You are my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
    My soul clings fast to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
    R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Alleluia cf. Eph 1:17-18

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
    May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
    enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
    that we may know what is the hope
    that belongs to our call.
    R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mt 16:21-27

Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

 

Charlottesville, VA, Saint Peter, You and Me – A Homily

Homily for Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

By Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

1 Kings 19:13-19

Gospel of Matthew 14: 22-33

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/081317.cfm

 

Some people shout but never say anything. Some people scream, but never learn to speak. Some people hate without ever thinking why, and how they came to hate another person or group. Others live by a rule that say, “Fire, Ready, Aim!” Our nation and our world is becoming more impulsive and compulsive—people acting from gut feelings, fears and prejudice without reflection, certainly without prayer–thinking in very limited terms, self-serving terms. More and more people are losing a sense of the bigger picture—a larger, wider, more embracing approach to life and its diversity of peoples.

This weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia is an excellent example of the evil that cultural, ethnic and economic isolation and impetuosity create. What motivated people with a white supremacist perspective to travel from Ohio and other places throughout the country to come to this Virginia town to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee?  Since the ethnic and prejudicial killings over the past several years in our country, were there sufficient Town Meetings, Conferences, Dialogues from coast to coast to dissect the complexity of these and related issues to prevent more violence?  In fairness, the Charlottesville Mayor and Council did conduct town meetings to let people air their perspectives and their feelings before taking down its Confederate Flag and deciding on moving Robert E. Lee and other Confederate Statues into museums which could better contextualize these historical figures’ characters and life choices than displays in public parks allow.  But perhaps there was insufficient outreach and dialogue with and about the Supremacist Organization before their rally was allowed in the name of “Free Speech.”  Was there sufficient and significant preparation conducted by the protestors and police prior to the event—and, equally important, because our nation has been crying out for more Town Meetings, have there been (and will there be) significant number of meetings in churches, synagogues, mosques and council halls to address the seeds of hatred, prejudice coast-to-coast?  Why or why not?  Everybody knows “Violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”

We all fail to initiate and perpetuate the kind of dialogue about morals, logic, faith, culture, diversity that this Age requires. We fail, in part, because we rely upon ourselves alone without the patience to prayerfully allow God to work through all our thoughts and feelings before we act. For example, thankfully, there were many protestors responding to the KKK/Supremacist March, but I wonder if instead of posters of condemnation there were also (and there may have been) placards stating things like and “God loves us all,” “All Nations Shall Come Together,” “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

 Not that by that time, on that day, it could have made much difference with the Hate march.  But if there were such ideas floating around in the protest, there would at least be some clarification of the kind of thoughtful, preventative action Christianity call us to embrace.

How much, for example, did anyone at that march really know about Robert E. Lee?  I had to do some research myself.  I was surprised to read he was against slavery and against violence.  Against his better judgment he joined the Confederate Army to, in his mind, protect his native Virginians.  He could have been known for pleading for more dialogue among Virginia’s Legislature and with President Lincoln and his Cabinet, more caution on behalf of the Southern States before cessation.  Instead, he compromised his conscience and his deeper values, he didn’t choose to act with a bigger picture in mind.  Lee’s story and conflicts could be better known, better discussed and could lead to more self-scrutiny for our world today, but alas, as in the times of Jesus, only some, not all, are willing to join in the conversation.  Many won’t ever, many don’t, but who do we say we are?  What do we think the proper response of faith is?

Now what does this have to do with today’s Bible Readings?  Everything!  In 1 Kings, we find Elijah hiding in mountain cave.  More dialogue with the previous passages of Scripture is needed to understand the context.  He’s hiding because he acted impulsively, filled with his own zeal for the Lord, he slaughtered all the prophets of Baal, the pagan cult of Jezebel, the wife of Israel’s King Ahab. The king and queen now seek the prophet’s life.  Of course, Elijah expects the Lord to come in Elijah’s own image –with the wrath of whirlwind, an earthquake, in fire.  Instead, God arrives in “a tiny whispering sound” through which Elijah listens and defers more fully to God’s counsel, becoming more rooted in God’s love for him rather than his own zeal to love the Lord more. This conversation results in Elijah being prepared for heaven.  His ministry is over. God wants him to ordain a new prophet in his stead, Elisha.  Then Elijah is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.  Something about prudence, patience, and repentance seems to be the thought for the day.

Now let’s look at the Matthew’s Gospel: What made Peter so impetuous as to try and walk on water to Jesus? Was he ready?  Had he fully acknowledged Jesus as both human and Divine?  Jesus walking on Water was manifesting His Divinity, His Union with God to be in command of Nature as well as the source of life for human souls.  Obviously, Peter wasn’t ready; he didn’t understand this nor the degree to which he had to focus on Jesus rather than the raging wind.   Thankfully, Jesus knew that.  He knows we aren’t often ready to let faith’s wisdom sustain us, so he extends his hand.  However, what if Peter were less anxious to act and more open to simply let Jesus come to him?   What if he chose to surrender to the bigger truth that “God loves us First” and that God will act “First” — through our conscience, through our prayer.  Patiently allowing our conscience and our consciousness to be centered in God makes us more fittingly responsive to the evils of the world, more preventative, less reactionary.  Jesus was coming to Peter and all the disciples in the boat. Could / should Peter have waited?  What might have occurred had Peter allowed Jesus to make his point as God and Man first, allowing the Spirit to seep more fully in his mind and body and find more communion with the disciples before boldly reacting and presenting Jesus with his own “state of emergency?”

All this is “food for thought,” regarding our degrees of dependence upon Christ as we address the problems of our times.  One thing for sure, we must speak out against evil, hatred and violence, but how we do it, and more importantly, the extent to which we let the Spirit move us to daily efforts of prevention–THIS is the question we must address today, tomorrow and the next day.  Jesus came, He continues to come and thankfully, we arrived today to let his Word penetrate us again and this Eucharist to nourish our conscience, bodies and spirits.  Allowing Jesus to come to us first, to allow him to do what He Will Do for Us first before we act, react, respond –knowing that we must put our faith into action—can and will make all the difference in our responses to the evils that abound in our nation and in the world.

A Modest Proposal: Tips for McDonald’s Workers

The article on Fast-Food Workers in the September 15 issue of the NEW YORKER is worth our time:  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/15/dignity-4

I am particularly concerned about this statement:  “A recent study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that fifty-two per cent of fast-food workers are on some form of public assistance.” (i.e., Food Stamps and Medicaid).”  And this one: Most of their employees today are adults—median age twenty-eight. More than a quarter have children” (i.e., not high-school and college students working part-time, especially since the 2008 recession.)

The volatile discourse, of course, is on the hot topics of union organization, government intervention on minimum wage and the reality of government assistance in food-stamps and Medicare. It seems at least half of the American population wants to do away with all of these things.  So often I hear people insisting that there be no government involvement in setting minimum wages, no government assistance for low-wage workers and no unions.

Here’s an option I haven’t seen in print yet:

Tip each MacDonald’s cashier as you would tip a restaurant worker – that is offering 20 % of your bill. (That’s $2 dollars for every $10 you spend at McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s etc.)  The cashiers would then share the total in tips with the cooks and janitors, etc.  Would Americans agree to do this?  Would the amounts make a difference?

If the answer is “YES!” then all fast-food workers could potentially afford part-time College courses and get out of the Fast Food industry.  (Yay!)   They could then turn over the entire fast-food worker population to our high school and college part-timers.  (It’s already been proven that students would have to make far more than minimum wage to support themselves through even community colleges.)

Now, of course, there still will be adults with less talent or intellectual abilities who would stay on as fast-food workers, but at least with this “Americans are Generous and Will Tip Program”  they could live on salary and tips and maybe have a family or live alone or with friends if they wish.

The success of this program would prove two things:  Americans ARE generous at heart AND American Fast-Food Corporations are NOT.  Even with Americans subsidizing fast food worker’s salaries through tips, the Fast Food Corporations would maintain their profits while continue to spend millions of dollars in legal fees and payments to the “NRA” (National Restaurant Association) which is dominated by the major fast food and other chain restaurants.  Why would they do this?  Because they would want to maintain and expand their many successful accomplishments defeating the following: “minimum-wage legislation, paid-sick-leave laws, the Affordable Care Act, worker-safety regulations, restrictions on the marketing of junk food to children, menu-labeling requirements, and a variety of public-health measures, such as limits on sugar, sodium, and trans fats” as noted in the New Yorker article.

My last thoughts:  Can churches, synagogues, mosques and temples be of any help in bringing these and other issues into the greater public discourse? Wages and their impact on society are moral issues after all.  The topic is too complicated for the pulpit beyond posing an open-ended question or two while reflecting on a Scripture passage.  Parish Social Justice Committees and Religious Education Directors would need to offer a series or a seminar on the article with or without a featured speaker.  But do all of our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have Social Justice Committees and /or do they want them?  Would congregants attend these seminars?  This answer to that may or may not depend on whether or not there fast-food workers among their worshipers or within the neighborhoods they serve.  Still, we are left with the question: shall we support fast food workers in either their desires to organize unions, get the government to legislate a $15. Minimum Wage or support them with alternatives such as tips and food pantries?   Or do we let them take care of themselves if they are able?

Any thoughts?