Month: November 2012

World AIDS Day and the Beginning of Advent: A Reflection and Prayer

If you close your eyes, can you imagine the 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS? Can you see their faces, hear their stories? Part of the problem with the data of statistics is that it is difficult for us to wrap our heads around numbers so big. When we think about the global AIDS pandemic, statistics are important. We need to know the depth of the problem. We need to understand how urgent a solution really is. But perhaps more important than statistics are stories. They tell what the numbers cannot speak. Stories give us a way to make connections over deep divides; stories challenge and inspire us; stories invite us to re-think our own identity and our own patterns of behaviors as we face the nitty-gritty reality of other people’s struggles. For me, when I think of HIV/AIDS, I don’t think of nameless faces, or charts on a webpage. I think of Naomi, Esther, Mary, Veronica, Wilfred– women living in Naivasha, Kenya, who meet weekly to support and encourage one another. When I interviewed them, Mary told me that they have only sad stories to tell. Their children are malnourished, their region is in a severe drought, they must walk a mile each day to fetch water for their families, and are vulnerable to sexual violence along the way. Wilfred told me that even though they have access...

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First Sunday of Advent: Tuning in to the Season

Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25 1 Thes 3:12-4:2 Luke 21:25-28, 34-36 One of the things I love about being Catholic is the rhythm of the liturgical calendar, and the way that it marks human life in tune with the seasons of the year as they relate to the story of salvation history.  And even though I know (intellectually) that Lent and Easter are the pinnacle of that story, there is a child-like nostalgia that accompanies the opening of the Liturgical year with the season of Advent. At the same time, one of the things I consistently hear – and that I experience myself – is that Advent is also a stressful time of year.  The excitement of waiting in hope for Jesus’ birth (and for the presents under the tree on Christmas morning!) has a shadow side that manifests itself in a constant rush of preparation for the big day – for professors there are finals and grading, there is a constant stream of parties, the pressure to buy just the right gift for each person on the list, preparations for travel, for large meals and gatherings, not to mention the fact that many people struggle with added depression and anxiety that is only heightened by the pressure to be merry along with the advertisements and commercials. The readings for this Sunday capture the mixture of joyful hope and anxiety...

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Working Against the Grammar of Creation

One of the great “promises” associated with genetically-modified crops was the ability to design plants that would not be killed by herbicides and pesticides. Spray on, kill everything else, but get a healthy plant. This in theory would increase yield and even save soil from erosion, by minimizing the amount of tilling farmers would have to use. But what has actually happened? According to a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, really disturbing things. Fifteen years ago, genetically engineered seeds promised to reduce the amount of poisons used on the land, but today they are forcing farmers to use more — and sometimes more toxic — chemicals to protect their crops. Why? Because pests have done what nature always does — adapt. Just as some bacteria have become resistant to antibiotic drugs, a growing number of superweeds and superbugs in the nation’s farm fields are proving invulnerable to the tons of pesticides that go hand in hand with genetically modified seeds. ….To combat the growing wave of resistant weeds and bugs, biotech companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical Company are poised to launch a whole new arsenal of genetically modified seeds that will accelerate the chemical warfare. Some are designed for use with older, more toxic herbicides that scientists say pose an even greater risk to the environment and human health. The biotech companies say they will educate...

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Lincoln and the Virtues of Politics

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my family went to see Spielberg’s Lincoln. It is a wonderful movie that reminds us of how good and important politics can be, but it also raises some hard questions for Catholics. According to David Brooks of the New York Times, the movie rightfully celebrates politics, which is important because, you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere. You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty. But you can achieve these things only if you are willing to stain your own character in order to serve others — if you are willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise and be slippery and hypocritical. These are hard words for a Catholic moral theologian to swallow, for two reasons. First, for Catholics, politics is significant but not ultimate. The framework laid out by John Courtney Murray, SJ in We Hold These Truths is still influential. Politics is valuable for Murray because the American experiment with a government of the people is valuable. But it works precisely because it does not pretend it can be everything.  In politics people are “locked in argument” about how to achieve a little more justice or a little more peace, not engaged in building the kingdom of God on earth. Ending slavery is certainly the sort of good thing Murray would have acknowledged could come of politics. Yet, even...

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Let’s Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis on Ourselves…

A friend of mine sent me an article recently published in the New York Times called “Opting Out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind” because she knew that it would probably make me mad enough to blog about it.  Too true… though maybe I find myself less angry than sad in this case.  There are several points I want to make to this author, as a Catholic moral theologian, and I doubt any of them are the ones that she has in mind. The article is written by a twenty-something who blithely proclaims that, like most people, she wants to be sure she can  “buy and pay for a home, save up for an emergency fund and enjoy a comfortable retirement.”  Unlike many, she’s decided that the principal way she can do this is by avoiding having children.  She looks at the cost of raising a child (as determined by the US Department of Agriculture) and she looks at her financial goals and determines: having children just can’t be part of this financial goal.  Then she addresses what she presumes to be common critiques: 1) Don’t you want someone to care for you in your old age?  and 2) Aren’t you being selfish?  To the first, she protests: “I don’t believe in bringing people into the world for personal gain, and even if I did, swapping the supposed promise of elder...

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