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Archive for December, 2012

Fare Thee Well, 2012

And good riddance.

What a year.

I won’t list all the awful things this year has brought to the wider world, nor even to this nation. You are familiar with the litany. That the final days of the year were overshadowed by the horror of the Newtown atrocity only seems fitting: a dreadful end to a dreadful year.

And it was a rough year personally, not least because my bride’s mother died unexpectedly a few days before my mother finally, after a long drawn-out ordeal, surrendered to death. 

We are still reeling from that one.

I thought as I prepared my year-end post that I would go back to last year’s final post. To my surprise I was rather optimistic. That is because at the time- does it seem possible?- the Occupy movement was in the ascendency and it looked like Americans were waking up to the reality of economic disparity, a reality 30 years in the making.

That movement, of course, has fizzled, though it did have some impact; Obama’s moderate populist message during his reelection campaign was no doubt influenced by it.

I also saw that the Labor movement was revived, newly empowered by the defeat of Ohio’s attempt to erode collective bargaining. Since then, of course, Labor has had some setbacks: the defeat of the Wisconsin recall effort and (especially) the hijacking of Michigan by a gerrymandered state legislature, making the most Union of the states into a “right to work” state. (“Right to work” really means “right to work for union wages without contributing to the union”.)

But I look in vain for much good in the past year. I guess we can be thankful that we are not hearing the words “President-Elect Romney”, though hearing  the words “President Obama” is only a very relative good (and many would disagree even with this.)

And hey, the wonderful film Beasts of the Southern Wild was realeased. And our baby is now two, which means he is talking, which is always a delight. Nothing like a talking baby.

And I am ever hopeful; perhaps the new year will bring blessings. I certainly pray it does, to the whole world, the entire nation, and to you and yours.

As I did last year, let me begin by offering my favorite prayer, the Litany of Peace, from the Divine Liturgy:

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
-For peace from on high and the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.
-For peace in the whole world, the well-being of the holy churches of God, and the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.
-For this house and for those who enter it with faith, reverence, and fear of God, let us pray to the Lord.
-For all the bishops, priests, deacons, clergy, and people, let us pray to the Lord.
-For our public servants, for the government and all who protect us, that they may be upheld and strengthened in every good deed, let us pray to the Lord.
-For our city and every city and country and the faithful living in them, let us pray to the Lord.
-For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and for peaceful times, let us pray to the Lord.
-For the travelers by sea, air, and land, for the sick, the suffering, for the captives, and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.
-For our deliverance from all affliction, wrath, danger, and need, let us pray to the Lord.
-Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and protect us, O God, by your grace.

-Remembering our all-holy, spotless, most highly blessed and glorious Lady, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, with all the saints let us commend ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God. Amen.

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Awake

I sat there in church on Christmas morning as the chants began, wondering when it would hit me.

Every year, it seems, I have a difficult time focusing on the reality of the Nativity of Christ. Part of this is my job as a letter carrier: it is pretty hard to be recollected when you are being overworked.

And part of it is the holly jolly sleigh bells roasting on an open fire, right down Santa Claus Lane: the whole Snow Feast which has latched itself unto the celebration of the Incarnation like a lamprey on a particularly succulent fish. The holy bishop of Myra is transmuted into a fat elf, the gift of the Magi replaced by the orgy of avarice that is Black Friday and all the rest of it. I know, some well-meaning folks have attempted to rescue St Nicholas by portraying Santa kneeling before Jesus in the manger, but this joins the Precious Moments Nativity in my gallery of Religious Art from Hell. (Have you seen a Precious Moments Crucifixion? Me neither, thank God.)

Besides that, it seems that circumstances conspire every year to make sure that the bulk of Christmas preparations fall upon my reluctant shoulders. This year it was the fact that some child or other has been sick since Thanksgiving, at least. A couple of them recover, only to fall prey to the next virus. This year wasn’t as bad as the one that saw me enduring an all day shopping marathon while in the early stages of the flu, but it was harried enough.

And to get the full sense of how I was feeling that morning, you have to understand my Christmas eve.

Generally the supervisors at the Post Office try hard to get everything done early so the carriers can get out early the night before Christmas, but Monday everything seemed to go wrong. The mail sorting machines broke. The truck was late. There was a sick call. In the end I left the office an hour late, with a nearly two hour chunk of another route. Fine, I wouldn’t be leaving early.

Then it began to snow.

If you are not close to a letter carrier you are probably unaware that the boxy-looking trucks they give us, while pretty efficient for the normal handling of mail, are really bad in the snow. Rear wheel drive and very light, they are comparable to a pickup truck with nothing in the back. A few inches of snow and they are useless. If you have to go up any sort of hill forget it; you are going to go in circles.

In the end, even after calling for assistance, I didn’t get home until after 7pm, having put in an 11 1/2 hour day.

Then I began the task of wrapping presents. Every year I say I am going to wrap them when I get them so I am not stuck with the whole thing on Christmas Eve, and every year I end up doing just that, wrapping.

So I finally turned in around midnight, sleeping on the couch just in case, as I have done since I was awakened by an intruder a few weeks ago.

In the dark I was awakened by excited whispers. “What are you doing?” I asked groggily.

“It’s Christmas!” “Can we get our stockings?” replied the small voices.

“What time is it?”

Maria checked the lighted clock on the stove. “2:10” she said.

“IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! GO BACK TO BED!”

Repeat that scene at 3:15. And 4:12.

Finally at 5:20 I relented and arose to distribute the gifts.

Then off to St George’s Romanian Catholic cathedral, where we have been attending regularly.

This happens every year, but at some point the wondrous reality of the Nativity, of inconceivable God being conceived of a woman and born a small helpless baby hits me. It is beyond beautiful, though it is rendered mundane by familiarity.

But this year it was illusive. I was worn out, trying to pay attention to the Divine Liturgy. (I swear I have LADD: Liturgical Attention Deficit Disorder.)

Then Bishop John Michael began his homily.

The Bishop is a fine homilist; his sermons pretty reliably make me uncomfortable with their persistent call to discipleship, and even martyrdom.

He began by weaving words from the Pope’s Christmas Eve address into the words of the splendid carol “Oh, Holy Night” and by the time he had finished I was again aware of the marvel of the Incarnation, sitting there in gratitude.

Afterwards, there was a potluck feast, and the children performed their Nativity play,  adorable as only such a thing can be.

And it was Christmas. And I was awake.

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

-From Benedict XVI’s Christmas Eve homily     

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For the Nativity

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One,And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!Angels with shepherds glorify Him!The wise men journey with a star!Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

-From the Divine Liturgy; icon by Michelle Dick

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So, it took this- the deaths of twenty innocent children- for Americans to begin to discuss the problem of violence in our nation.

I am glad that people are willing to admit, in increasing numbers, that the ready availability of assault weapons is a sort of national insanity. No one needs such things for self-defense or hunting; they are made for one thing- killing many in haste-  which they do well. I am also aware that no law will keep someone intent on destruction from killing, but for that matter, rape laws do not stop rapists. Laws against stealing do not prevent robbery.

So? Law is a teacher, and it also is a reflection of a culture’s values, and the current loose laws regarding weapons reflect an ease with destruction that is chilling.

And yes, I am aware that this violence does not exist in a vacuum, that it is related to drone strikes and abortion and to every other symptom of our violent society. But when you post things like the meme I saw on Facebook the other day, which had an array of abortion scalpels and the caption “Little abortion tools like these kill far more children than guns” I can only gasp at the tone-deafness. What is your point? That gun deaths are not “really” so bad? Or to give the viewer some “perspective”?

Spare me. When you try to bring abortion up in every discussion about everything you just look callous. And obsessed.

And while I am glad that the nation appears, however briefly, more reflective than usual, I wonder how deep this will go. My favorite conservative, Ross Douthat, has one of the best reflections on Sandy Hook here , but even he examines the mystery of evil rather than the mystery of America’s love affair with violence.

For we, as a nation, are obsessed with redemptive cathartic violence.

The Lone Man with a Gun is a central figure in our national myth. From Shane to Gary Cooper in High Noon to Rambo to Dirty Harry, time and again it is the brave loner who makes things right by killing the bad guys, restoring order by the ordered chaos of righteous violence. And while I don’t know what is taught today, when I was a boy it was instilled in us that the nation was won by a violent westward march, taming the savage land and its savage inhabitants. As a natural contrarian I never bought it; my sympathies were always with the Indians, but to many this was formative. Is it any wonder that unstable people seek their end in a blaze of imagined glory? That the Sandy Hill shooter found his “glory” in the killing of small children speaks volumes about the depth of his illness and/or depravity.

And we as a people remain violent; look at the sales of the latest violent video games, or the lines at movies featuring gratuitous gore.

I am generally a hopeful person, but when I look at the evidence I am doubtful that any substantive change is likely in our collective psyche.

I fear the roots of the thing are far too deep for that.

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Benedict XVI’s Address to Plenary Assembly of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Lord Cardinals,

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

I am happy to welcome you on the occasion of your Plenary Assembly. I greet the Cardinal President, whom I thank for the courteous words he addressed to me, as well as Monsignor Secretary, the officials of the dicastery and all of you, Members and Consultors, gathered for this important moment of reflection and planning. Your Assembly is being held in the Year of Faith, after the Synod dedicated to the New Evangelization, as well as — already mentioned — the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II and, in a few months, of the encyclical Pacem in terris of Blessed Pope John XXIII. It is a context that, in itself, offers many stimuli.

The Social Doctrine, as Blessed Pope John Paul II taught us, is an integral part of the evangelizing mission of the Church (cf. Encyclical Centesimus annus, 54), and all the more reason why is it considered important for the New Evangelization (cf. Ibid., 5; Encyclical Caritas in Veritatis, 15). By accepting Jesus Christ and his Gospel, in addition to in our personal life also in our social relations, we become bearers of a vision of man, of his dignity, of his liberty and relatedness, which is marked by transcendence, be it in the horizontal be it in the vertical sense. The foundation and meaning of human rights and duties depend on the integral anthropology that derives from Revelation and from the exercise of natural reason, as Blessed John XXIII reminds us, in fact, in Pacem in terris (cf. n. 9). In fact, the rights and duties do not have as their sole and exclusive foundation the social conscience of peoples, but depend primarily on the natural moral law — inscribed by God on the conscience of every person — and, hence, ultimately, on the truth about man and society.

Although the defense of rights has made great progress in our time, today’s culture, characterized among other things by a utilitarian individualism and a technocratic economism, tends to devalue the person. The latter is conceived as a “fluid” being, without permanent consistency. Despite being immersed in an infinite network of relations and communications, the man of today often appears paradoxically as an isolated being, because he is indifferent to the constitutive relation of his being with God, which is at the root of all other relations. The man of today is considered in a prevailingly biological key as “human capital,” “resource,” part of a productive and financial mechanism that surpasses him. If on one hand, we continue to proclaim the dignity of the person, on the other, new ideologies — such as the hedonistic and egotistic one of sexual and reproductive rights, or that of an immoderate financial capitalism that prevails over politics and alters the structure of the real economy –, contribute to consider the worker dependent and his work as “minor” goods and to undermine the natural foundations of society, especially the family. In reality, the human being, constitutively transcendent in relation to other earthly beings and goods, enjoys a real primacy which makes him responsible for himself and for creation. Concretely, for Christianity, work is a fundamental good for man, in view of his personalization, of his socialization, of the formation of a family, of the contribution to the common good and to peace. In fact, because of this, the objective of access to work for all is always a priority, also in periods of economic recession (cf. Caritas in veritate, 32).

A new humanism and a renewed cultural and planned commitment could derive from a New Evangelization of the social context. It would help to dethrone the modern idols, to replace individualism, materialistic consumerism and technocracy, with the culture of fraternity and gratuitousness, of solidaristic love. Jesus Christ summarized and gave fulfillment to the precepts in a new commandment: “love one another; even as I have loved you” (John 13:34); herein lies the secret of every fully human and peaceful social life, as well as the renewal of politics and of national and world institutions. Blessed Pope John XXIII motivated the commitment for the building of a world community, with a corresponding authority, moved in fact by love, and precisely from love for the common good of the human family. We read thus in Pacem in terris: “There is an intrinsic relation between the historical contents of the common good on one hand and the configuration of public powers on the other. The moral order, that is, as the public authority exacts in the coexistence for carrying out the common good, consequently also exacts that the authority be effective for that purpose” (n. 71).

The Church certainly does not have the task to suggest — from the juridical and political point of view –, the concrete configuration of such an international order, but offers those who have the responsibility those principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and practical guidelines that can guarantee the anthropological and ethical framework around the common good (cf. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, 67). Hence, it must be kept present, in the reflection, that a superpower must not be imagined, concentrated in the hands of a few, which would dominate over all peoples, exploiting the weakest, but that all authority must be understood, first of all, as a moral force, with the faculty of influencing according to reason (cf. Pacem in terris, 27), that is as a shared, limited authority by competence and by right.

I thank the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace because, together with the Pontifical Institutions, it has resolved to reflect further on the guidelines that I offered in Caritas in veritate. And this, be it through reflections for a reform of the international financial and monetary system, be it through the Plenary of these days and the International Seminar on Pacem in terris of next year.

May the Virgin Mary, she who with faith and love received in herself the Savior to give him to the world, guide us in the proclamation and witness of the Social Doctrine of the Church, to render the New Evangelization more effective. With this hope, I very gladly impart t each of you the Apostolic Blessing. ]

Thank you.

Yes, I know, the Pope is not speaking infallibly- and I am as wary of creeping infallibility as anyone. He is, though, speaking as the Bishop of Rome, and thus should not be summarily dismissed. This represents the mind of the Universal Church, and American Catholics should read it carefully, as it seriously challenges many presuppositions that are unquestioned here, particularly by those of the conservative persuasion.

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Just a Note…

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…to say that I will be posting occasionally, not daily, probably until after the first of the year.

There are many reasons for this: first, of course, this is a frantic time of year for letter carriers.

Second, we are very actively trying to find a new place to live, fortified by the good news, when we contacted our credit union to see what we could borrow, not expecting much, that because our credit rating has soared in the years since we last inquired, we are good for a lot bigger loan, with a smaller down payment, than we had ever dreamed. 

Third, I don’t own a computer and am dependent upon public computers, my favorite of which are the free high-speed ones at the local college student center. The hours are great for me; open early, before work, as well as late on Fridays and Saturdays when the libraries are closed. As the school has limited hours this week and is closed completely the next, the logistics are challenging.

And finally, I have done absolutely no Christmas shopping as of today!

I will post if I have something to say and the time to say it. Regular posting will resume when things calm down….

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Takers

  • cranesolidarityThe universe of Ayn Rand and her acolytes is divided into the “makers” and the “takers”. The makers are those bold, creative risk-taking capitalists, who create wealth, which then spills over into the wider society.

The takers, on the other hand, are those dependent upon the creative wealth-making of the innovative capitalists, either by greedily demanding excessive wages and benefits if workers, or social handouts if impoverished.

But in actuality the “makers” are themselves takers. They may possess the means to fund the implementation of their ideas, but they take the labor of the worker to accomplish their ends. Without it, they cannot make anything, let alone wealth. And as recently documented here, in fact the takers are taking more than ever, to an obscene degree, even while workers’ wages are declining and worker productivity is increasing.

I was thinking of this when I heard that Michigan, of all places, had become a so-called “right to work” state. It came to this fate because of a strong Republican majority in the state legislature. Like Ohio, this was in spite of the fact that Democrats got more votes than Republicans in the recent election, 2.3 million to 2.1 million. The majority is held because of “gerrymandering”, ie, creative shaping of congressional districts to ensure a majority.

And they call it Democracy.

In Michigan, with the new law you will soon be able to work for a company where the union, through collective bargaining, has won decent wages and benefits and will defend your rights in the work place. And you can get all this without contributing to the organization that has directly benefited you.

Sounds like someone is a “taker”.

But there is hope, based upon experience, that most people will not be so greedy and ungrateful.

The Postal Service, for example, works like this. There is no obligation to join the union, even though the union is obliged contractually to represent non-union workers just as if they were members. But 93% of letter carriers do, in fact, belong to the union. Most people, is seems, know that it is wrong to not contribute to what has benefited them (hugely).

Personally, if you want the “right to work” that is fine with me, but you should get none of the benefits of union membership. If a boss wants to fire you because he doesn’t like your face, you are on your own. If you are sick, you can argue for paid sick days on your own. If collective bargaining brings a wage increase, you don’t automatically get to receive it; you must go to the boss and make your case. Want a vacation? Argue with the boss. A paid vacation? Make uyour case. And so on. It is a cliché, but “right to work” really means “right to work for less”, if taken to its logical conclusion, which of course it isn’t.

If you don’t want to join the union, fine. But don’t just be a taker.

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