Today we held one of our “Mid-Day Dialogues” at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  The topic was Promoting a Consistent Ethic of Life.  

The phrase “consistent ethic of life” was coined in 1983 by then Cardinal Joseph Bernadin to express an ideology based on the premise that all human life is sacred and should be protected by law.

The genesis of today’s program was a conversation I had with my friend and colleague Mark Osler last semester.  He commented that it doesn’t make sense that anti-capital punishment folks and pro-life folks often most often talk to different audiences, and that what was needed was to bring the two audiences together.

To further that goal, I invited Mark and another friend and colleague, Teresa Collett to engage in today’s conversation.  Mark is actively involved in matters of criminal justice, notably death penalty and clemency, and Teresa is actively involved in the pro-life abortion arena.

Each of the two spoke for about 12 minutes, after which we had a wonderful dialogue with the audience.  As is my usual practice, I only recorded the comments by our two speakers.

You can access a recording of todays talks here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 23:54.)

Jesus and Power

At our Weekly Manna gathering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law earlier today, our speaker was Rev. Christian Ruch, Rector of the Church of the Cross in Hopkins.

Christian selected for his presentation the episode involving Jesus and his disciples recorded in Mark 8:14-21.  Jesus and his disciples are on a boat and he warns them to “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  The disciples, who had forgotten to bring bread and had only one loaf with them “concluded among themselves that it was because they had not bread.”

Jesus’ frustration with is disciples is palpable.

“Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember,when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.”“When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered [him], “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Christian led a good discussion of the passage, in which several points emerged.  First, even taken at the literal level at which the disciples understand Jesus, they miss the mark. This episode occurs fairly soon after Jesus has fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread.  Did they forget what they saw?  Did they really think they had to worry whether they would starve because they had forgotten bread?

Second, we are used to seeing the Pharisees paired with the Saducees.  Here, Jesus pairs the Pharisees with Herod.  Both, Christian suggested, had power and influence and feared losing that power and influence.  They may have started out with good intentions, but each was so focused on keeping their own influence that they failed to recognize Christ.  Perhaps, Christian suggested, Jesus felt the need to warn his disciples – who would be given the power of the Holy Spirit – to be wary of the temptation that affected the Pharisees and Herod.

As Christian was talking about the pairing another point struck me.  The Pharisees and Herod together represent the power of the religious authorities and the power of the state.  Jesus did not occupy a position of power in either realm.  Instead he taught the first would be last and that his disciples were to serve rather than be served.  The “power” of Jesus, and of his disciples, come only from God, not from any human institution.

Certainly the message of Christ is counter-cultural to our governmental institutions.  At times it may even be counter-cultural to our religious institutions.

Many people continue to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with the claim that all lives matter.

I thought of that response this morning when I read an excerpt from Robert McAfee Brown’s Saying Yes and Saying No.  Brown, a Protestant theologian who died in 2001, writes

To speak of a ‘preferential option for the poor’ is not to speak of an ‘exclusive’ option for the poor, as though God loved only the poor and did not love anybody else, especially the rich…. In responding to the concern that God has for all people, we start toward the fulfillment of that long-range concern by an immediate and initial concern for the poor, working with them and for them. To the degree that the cries of the poor are given priority over the complaints of the rich, there can be movement toward a society that is more, rather than less, just.

The claim for a preferential option for the poor has never been a claim that no one else matters.  Rather it is claim that (in the words of Pope Leo XIII in his 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum) that”when there is  question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a  claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding  themselves, and stand less in need of help.”

The claim of Black Lives Matter is no different.  No one says only Black Lives Matter.  But equally, no one can deny that black lives have not mattered as much as white lives in our country.

To give an example from where I currently live, the Twin Cities is touted as one of the best places to live, with high employment, income and college graduation rates.  Yet it is largely segregated, with black people doing far less well in health, employment rates, income and educational outcomes than whites.  In addition, blacks account for a disproportionate share of low level arrests by the Minneapolis Police Department compared to their percentage of the population.

Anyone who understands the preferential option for the poor ought to be able to understand the claim of Black Lives Matter.  We need to focus on those who stand in the greatest need of protection and help.

Mercy in Music

As part of our Adult Faith Formation programming in connection with the Year of Mercy, Our Lady or Lourdes’ Organist and Choirmaster Chris Ganza gave a talk this morning on Music of the Church: Mercy in Music.

After talking generally about types of church music and the issues involved in selecting music for liturgy, Chris used three pieces to illustrate the theme of mercy: Frederick Faber’s There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, Robert Vaughan Williams’ setting of George Herbert’s poem Love, and Ola Gjelo’s version of Ubi caritas et amor.  His talk addressed the both the theological and musical themes of each.

Perhaps because it is already a favorite of mine, I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the Herbert poem, which is such a beautiful expression of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  In the face of all of our protestations of our unworthiness, God keeps saying – join me, enjoy my feast.

I’ve posted Herbert’s poem here before, but it is worth posting again in this Year of Mercy.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Yesterday was the final session of the undergraduate honors seminar I taught during St. Thomas’ “J-term”, Heroes and Heroism.  In our final class, the students presented on figures that included Oskar Schindler, TE Lawrence, Edward Snowden, Alan Turing and others, and engaged in lively discussion and questioning about whether some or all deserve the label “hero.”

This is the second time I have taught this course.  Part of my goal is to help students see heroism (in the words of Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo) as “something that seems in the range of possibilities for every person, perhaps inspiring more of us to answer that call.”  In furtherance of that goal, one of the assignments I added this year (a last minute inspiration as I was finalizing the syllabus) was a journaling one.  I asked the students to keep a daily journal during the four weeks of the course in which they were to jot down some thoughts based on a daily examen in which they ask themselves:

Where today did I have the opportunity today to display heroic virtues?

Did I take that opportunity?

If so, what did that feel like?

If I rejected the opportunity, why did I reject it?

I told the students I would not ask them to hand in their journals to me.  Rather, I asked them to submit a two-page reflection commenting on what the process was like for them; what changes, if any, you noticed in your behavior during the weeks; their assessment of the value of keeping such a journal; and anything else they wished to share.

I spent time yesterday afternoon reading the journals (and we talked about the process a little during the final minutes of class yesterday) and they exceeded my expectations.  I was deeply moved by the level of honesty and self-reflection in what I read.

Many of the students expressed that they were unsure at the outset what they thought of the assignment – at least one confessed to being daunted, another thought it would be silly, a few just groaned based on their prior experiences of journalling.  However, their views changed over time.  In one way or another, each of them found  value in keeping a journal that encouraged them to examine their behaviors and they all begin to observe things that would otherwise go unnoticed.

That last was what I found in almost all of the journals: that the process led to an increased awareness of opportunities to display some of the heroic virtues we discussed in class.   One student acknowledged, “It is hard to be a hero when you don’t see the needs of people around you. I think that was the biggest realization I had through this process of journaling. Being a hero is about seeing the needs and being able to serve the people around you. Through journaling, I have been able to look at the people around me and see what their needs are. …[S]mall actions aren’t technically “heroic,” but they are heroic to the people they are done to. Through journaling I have noticed that I can do “heroic” actions in my everyday life.”

Many of the students admitted that they could not imagine themselves in the situations of Oscar Romero or Malala Yousafzai or Sophie Scholl (three of the individuals we focused on during the course).  But many expressed in one way or the other the lesson I wanted them to see: that while we may reserve the term Hero (with a capital H) to the Romeros and Scholl’s of the world, heroism is not something reserved to a select group of people.  They all have the opportunities to display heroic virtues and engage in heroic acts.


Who Is Sent Out

I was struck this morning by the conjoining of the two readings for today’s Mass on this celebration of the conversion of St. Paul.  The first reading is one of the two accounts of the conversion contained in Act’s – this one, the first person recounting of the event by Paul.  The Gospel is Mark’s account of Jesus’ final appearance to his disciples.

Paul’s account ends with Ananias telling Paul, “you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard.”  And Jesus last words to his disciples are his instructions that they “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

We are reminded over and over again that the “sending out” did not stop at the Apostles. Yesterday at the final session of the series on the Creed I’ve been offering at Our Lady of Lourdes, we discussed our belief in the “holy, catholic, apostolic Church.  As the apostles were sent out, so was Paul, and so are we.

The sending out of Paul – the former persecutor of Christians – reminds us that God does not only call the best, the head of the class.  Over and over again, God surprises us by the fact that he invites even those we would not think of as being on the invitation list.

Jack Levison, author of Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life and 40 Days With the Holy Spirit (which I wrote about here and here) has just had another book published by Paraclete Press.  The book, Holy Spirit, I Pray, is a book of prayers to the Holy Spirit.

A slender, beautifully bound book, Holy Spirit, I Pray contains a series of prayers divided in categories – prayers for morning, prayers for nighttime, prayers for discernment, prayers for crisis and prayers for anytime.  Each prayer is accompanied by the Scripture text that inspired the creation of the prayer.

As I observed to parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes when I led a book study of one of Levison’s earlier books two years ago, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit often gets short shrift. We know that we get the gift of the spirit at Pentecost, some of us can even list the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on that person of the Trinity.  Levison observes in his introduction to this book, citing St. Basil,  the Holy Spirit is often seen as a medium of prayer and worship rather than as an object of prayer and worship.  (Clearly there are exceptions, and there are some well-known prayers to the Holy Spirit.)

There are many beautiful prayers in this book.  I thought I’d here share one of those that immediately resonated with me.

Holy Spirit
Spirit of Jesus
Spirit of Truth:
Ignite in me a passion for the truth
Instill in me a craving for knowledge
Inspire in me a hunger for wisdom.
Not just any truth, random knowledge, indiscriminate wisdom
But the truth about Jesus
who barked at his mother
who cried like a baby
who wore the towel of a servant and washed feeg
who prayed the night away
who broiled fish on a spring morning.
Come to me as
the Spirit of Truth
the Spirit of Jesus
Holy Spirit.

You might consider this book as part of your Lenten prayer.


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