Month: April 2011

Ethics after Easter

May 1, 2011–Second Sunday of Easter Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31 “Peace be with you!” When I say this greeting, which Jesus shares with his hiding disciples, in class to my students, they initially are caught off guard and aren’t sure how to respond. Some automatically respond, “And also with you.” Others almost do so. Indeed, outside of Mass or worship, this greeting and response seem out of place to most of us. But why is this so? Shouldn’t there be a connection between what we say and do during worship and what we say and do during the rest of the week outside of Mass? In his book, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship, the Catholic theological ethicist, Paul Wadell, recalls how, many years ago, he was struck by a question that Methodist theological ethicist, Stanley Hauerwas, once asked upon making an initial observation: “You Catholics go to Mass all the time. What do all those Masses do for you?” (15). In other words, does worship make a difference in our lives? Does it have anything to do with who we are (or ought to be) and what we do (or ought to do)? Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, the earliest Christians, according to the author of Acts, experienced a new way of life together. “They devoted themselves...

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Would you deny Jesus food stamps?

What would Jesus Cut? Arguing that the budget is a moral document, Rev Jim Wallis and Sojourners magazine has embarked on an admirable and controversial campaign to protect our social safety net. Wallis and his colleagues just completed a Lenten fast for hunger and poverty demonstrating their commitment through an organized collection of religious, political and personal activities. While the ubiquitous What would Jesus Do? is considered popular and part of most teen-spirituality programs, what would Jesus cut? is proving far more controversial.  Debra Saunders of the San Fransisco Chronicle is particularly angry at Wallis’s efforts: While the Sojourners recognize that the deficit is a “moral issue” – as it would be wrong to “leave a world of debt for our children” – the group warns against reducing the debt “on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.” Yet, Ryan would counter, the poor and vulnerable stand to lose the most as the looming “debt crisis” could destroy America’s safety net if Washington fails to address the federal debt. The GOP wants to change the focus of welfare programs away from rewarding dependency and toward rewarding independence. Ryan did not claim to know what Jesus would cut. The Sojourners did. Why, it even knows Jesus believes in global warming. Reader Glen Franklin Koontz came to a different conclusion. “In the Christian faith, the individual is commanded to love his...

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Would you like a slice of reality with that ideal?

One of the complaints that people sometimes make about Catholic social teachings is that they don’t seem very related to “real life.” For example, the Catholic social tradition often discusses fairness in wages and the concept of “decent work”. Of course, the term “just wage” is hotly debated, as is “decent work.” What would it mean to have a just wage? How would one account for disparities between peoples’ life/family situations? Some have made good choices and some bad. And “decent work” is, well, “nice work if you can get it.” In the past few months I have been struck by the petulance with which people discuss “collective bargaining” and “those government workers who get all these perks that we’re paying for.” Somehow, in the minds of many, these so called perks are luxuries that ought to be done without (and let us remember, the perks amount to: pension plans, the “good” health insurance, and three extra vacation days on average – so 11 vacation days rather than 8. And even with 11 days, we still are dwarfed by most other nations.) Strangely enough, though, these “perks” sound quite a bit like what Pope Benedict XVI writes about in Caritas in Veritate: [Decent work] means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively...

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Mission Creep in Libya: CIA Ops and Drones Now, Ground Troops and Assassination Attempts Later?

The message was clear.  It was to be a humanitarian intervention only: But history is filled with examples of military interventions so justified–the logic of which eventually leads to unintended consequences. Indeed, since the intervention we have seen that Western support of the rebels was apparently not carefully considered…and might have even resulted in the arming of certain “flickers of Al Qaeda.” On Holy Thursday US Predator Drones entered the theater. Perhaps not coincidentally, Easter Sunday brought with it calls for directly attacking Gaddafi by folks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. After all, wouldn’t this solve the stalemate in the civil war? It looks good in comparison to the ground troop solution proposed by the EU. Has macro-proportionality (admittedly in hindsight) already been violated? Can the creeping logic of this military intervention be...

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Stepping Down from the Ivory Tower: Pange Lingua and the Triduum

As I was participating in tonight’s Holy Thursday mass, I remembered that Thomas Aquinas wrote one of the great hymns that we sing today – Pange Lingua. This patron saint of ours was a very intimidating person, in more ways than one, wasn’t he? Augustine is another one who wrote some amazing homilies, clearly tagged for non-ivory-tower audiences. It’s rather unfortunate, I think, that the City of God gets so much attention, because his homilies are packed full of rich metaphors and theological ideas. I have one sermon tacked on my office door that answers the question of why Jesus came to earth only to die: that bread may be hungry, and the fountain thirsty; that the light might sleep, and the way be weary from a journey; that the truth might be accused by false witnesses, and the judge of the living and the dead be judged by a mortal judge; that justice might be convicted by the unjust, and discipline be scourged with whips hung up on a tree; that strength might grow weak, eternal health be wounded, life die. One of the reactions I sometimes get when I say I’m a theologian is that we’re too cerebral and don’t participate in “faith on the ground” as much as we should. Maybe that’s because we don’t often write for “popular” audiences? I can’t say I know any...

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