VIEW FROM THE PEW
“Mercy, mercy, me. Things ain’t what they used to be.” That’s the song running through my head this week.
Seems like a post-Vatican II musical version of the Kyrie Eleison? Not. It’s lyrics from a 1970s song by blues singer Marvin Gaye.
It was the title of the Mackey Marianist Lecture at Chaminade University Nov. 6, a topic explored by Sister Paula Damiano of the Sisters of Providence, St. Mary of the Woods in Indiana. Can’t get more Catholic than that, huh? Especially since the mercy bit refers to the end of the church’s Year of Mercy and where do we go from here to practice it. Old Marvin’s lyrics are right on message for Pope Francis and his recent encyclical about having mercy for our beleaguered planet.
It was such a serene afternoon at Mystical Rose Oratory in the midst of about 50 like-minded people, many of whom claimed to have actually read “Laudato Si.”
That was it for serenity for any day since; to think my Plan A was to write about Sister Paula’s thoughts on mercy.
But Marvin’s voice was still bluesy musing in my ear. Oh Lord, anything that works to drown out the clamor, recriminations, anger, dissension generated by the routine implementing of our government duties and rights. We’ve done it every four years for two-plus centuries. It’s never been the end of America as we know it. But it’s never been such an overdose of information and opinion, either. We’ve created the tools of instant and constant communication and our tools have made monsters of us.
So, what did I do but the same thing everyone was doing. Seek out voices that I agreed with.
“Though the votes have been cast and a winner declared, the republic has been seriously wounded, divisions have deepened and widened, large swaths of the country have drunk deeply of the toxic brew of intolerance and hate, or dismissiveness and denigration. What are Catholic Americans to do?” That was the National Catholic Reporter’s editorial on Nov. 9, which pointed out that Catholic voters were as divided as the population in general. Whatever anyone’s personal politics, the long campaign season “exposed the deep hurts and lasting damage that neglected members of our society endure …”
The editorial continued: “Perhaps, in our community, now is not the time for grand plans and sweeping gestures. Perhaps what Catholics need now is time for the quiet, interior work that will bring us back to the center of our traditions. Perhaps now is the time to call on the balm and healing our sacraments promise. In this our bishops and pastors can take the lead.
“This is a profound moment in our nation’s history and in our church’s history in this country. The question now is whether we have the courage and leadership to confront these hurts, work for justice and begin the healing process.”
Nasty anonymous sniping
Screeeammm! Not only did I pull up the two-page reflection which can be found at the independent Catholic paper’s website. But along with it came 33 pages of mostly nasty sniping from people using the cloak of anonymity as license for rabid rants. I don’t engage in that form of uncharity, don’t write ’em and don’t read ’em. Alas, being technically challenged, I didn’t stop the printer from regurgitating them.
Has anyone Catholic considered examining their conscience about their use of social media?
Is any pastor looking for a timely, relevant homily topic along those lines?
Speaking of clergy getting engaged in the healing process, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had an election of their own this week in Baltimore.
The general assembly from Monday through Wednesday had a set slate of candidates from which to select a president and vice president. This assemblage of Catholic Church leaders has not made headlines by taking forward steps to implement the pope’s encyclical. In its preamble, Pope Francis prayed that God “help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.” The encyclical isn’t ponderously long, find it online.
During a political campaign, it’s necessary to safeguard the church’s tax exempt status so that meant no stand against pollution and destruction lest it offend the industries that engage in it and the politicians who protect them.
But now it’s time to face the established government and its flaws and failings, to “speak truth to power” as the saying goes. Who speaks for the poor and a living wage, against bigotry based on race, ethnicity or gender, for humane treatment of immigrants, and more and more?
Catholics like me understand the fifth commandment; we believe individuals will stand before God and be judged, whatever is accepted by society in a given age. There are other issues than abortion for the bishops’ organization to address. Pope Francis has emphasized broader concerns such as the thousands of displaced persons across the globe and humanity’s selfish, destructive role in causing climate change.
An Oct. 26 story in the Boston Globe took the conference of American bishops to task for ignoring the president-elect’s inflammatory rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans, all immigrants, and for not rebuking him after release of a video showing him bragging about sexual abuse of women.
“The silence is deafening,” a Jesuit theologian at Boston College told the paper. “To me it is certainly disturbing that no bishop has seen fit to come forward and say this kind of behavior is always morally wrong or problematic,” said Father James Bretzke.
San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy told Boston Globe reporter Lisa Wangsness in a pre-election interview: “To endorse, or seem to endorse, a particular candidate is really intruding on what is the legitimate moral autonomy of Catholic lay men and lay women in their roles as citizens and believers. The best voter guide for Catholic citizens is to think of themselves, when in the voting booth, as having Jesus by their side.”
Aren’t you just sick to death of polls? I’ll just use a little snip from the Pew Research Center based on media exit polling on Nov. 8. Of the voters questioned, 52 percent identified themselves as Protestants and other Christians; 23 percent Catholic; 3 percent Jewish; 8 percent from other faiths and 15 percent as religiously unaffiliated. Some 26 percent identified themselves as white evangelical, or born again, Christians. I always tell people that I have a crowd of grandparents in the voting booth with me, immigrants from Ireland and Poland who did not have the right to vote for their leaders in their homelands and faced ethnic and religious discrimination in their first days in this country. For their sake, I wouldn’t miss that time amidst the stinky musty canvas wall, never have.
Checks and balances
The founders of the United States had a better understanding of the history of our European roots than most of us have today. Is European history even required in school; it’s not just a choice of haole-kine history or Hawaiian, is it? The founders brought their knowledge to bear in writing the Constitution. They aimed to create the antidote to bloody strife between national and ethnic partisans, Protestants and Catholics killing over their disputed beliefs, Christians killing Jews and Muslims, tyrannical regimes built on military might and brutality dominating the masses of little people who had no power and no hope.
Another computer search brought up this post-election philosophizing. “Do these words sum up for you the faults in these campaigns, ‘passionate partisanship, absurd judgment and ambitious self-serving behavior?’ If so, consider, those are the words John Adams used in 1776 to advocate for a constitution with three branches of government: separate, equal and hopelessly encumbered by hobbles known as checks and balances.” That comes from CBS new anchor Scott Pelley trying to lower the fever of people practicing democracy by rioting in the streets here and there.
“The American government is inefficient. These days we call it gridlock. But that is what the founders were striving for, a system that would slow down, even stop, when politics became too partisan, absurd and self-serving. The constitution is a circuit breaker that prevents real damage.”
Mercy, mercy, me. May we all be healed of the fever and turn down the heat of the “us versus them” climate we’ve endured for so many months.
As I remember that serene session at Chaminade, I found the handout from Sister Paula Damiano, whose career is to lead retreats and reflections. Here’s the Litany of Non-Violence she shared:
“Provident God, aware of our own brokenness, we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where we are in need of conversion in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.
“Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain. Grant us the desire, and the humility, to listen with special care to those whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.
“Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege. Grant us the desire and the will to live simply so others may have their just share of Earth’s resources.
“Deliver us from the silence that gives consent to abuse, war and evil. Grant us the desire and the courage to risk speaking and acting for the common good.
“Deliver us from the violence of irreverence, exploitation and control. Give us the desire, and the strength, to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.
“God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, actions and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of a non-violent heart. Amen.”