Some Principles for Prophets Based on the Life and Teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

While the official title of this reflection is “Principles for Prophets” the unofficial title is My Feet is Tired, but my Soul is at Rest. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., used these words, quoting an elderly Black woman who said this during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She, though well into her 70s, had been walking to work for the better part of a year, to protest the law requiring Blacks to ride in the back of buses, and give up their seats to white passengers. It was a great sacrifice for an elderly woman, but she was willing to make the sacrifice to see justice done. And as Dr. King asked of her well being she said in her own way: My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.

And herein lies a great principle of all God’s prophets, that they were willing to suffer for the sake of God’s Kingdom, and for the sake of his Truth and Justice.

This weekend in America we celebrate the Birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recall the astonishing legacy he left, of what it means to be committed to God’s justice and truth. And we cannot fail to note how different things are in this country because of the struggle that he, and so many others undertook, to end the horrifying, embarrassing, and painful legacy of racism, and Jim Crow segregation. Such dramatic change came at great cost, as Dr. King and others suffered arrest, death threats, hatred, disrespect and endless other hideous outrages.

I am only 50 years old, but do still remember, living in the deep south from 1969-1971, that some of the “Colored” and “Whites” signs were still hanging, rusting away at the back of buildings. I attended my 3rd grade year, (in 1969), in what had been the “Colored” school just a few years before. It was a poor excuse for a school building: run down, little plumbing, sulphur water, leaky roof, dim lights, and poorly maintained. It had been, up until a few years prior, a separate but “equal” school facility. I couldn’t wait to get out of that school and go to the 4th grade,  and move over to the former “white” school. The outrageous difference between the facilities was obvious, even to my untrained, 9 year old eyes.

Thank God that some folks, like Dr. King, and that 70-some year old woman got angry enough and committed enough to end this hideous part of our history. And we ought not fail to honor the sacrifices they made to do it.

In what follows, I would like to articulate some principles for prophets, articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. For indeed, prophets are still needed today to speak out and work to end abortion, to address the lack of affordable housing, increasing threats to religious liberty, and to assist immigrants in the the legal morass that many of them face. Prophets too are needed to reach out to women in crisis pregnancy, to help secure the rights and dignity of the disabled, and to assist those returning from prison to reconnect with the community. Frankly there are endless opportunities where God needs to send his people to work for justice. In the principles that follow, lengthy though they are, Dr. King enunciates some basic understandings that all who would be prophets must grasp. Unless otherwise noted, all the quotes are from the Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Principle 1: Non violence. One of the most fundamental principles for any prophet is that he loves God’s people; yes, even his enemies. A true prophet in this land, loves America, loves this land and what she stands for. A true prophet loves God and his kingdom and wants to effect a marriage between the God he loves and the people he loves.

Hence, no true prophet will advocate violence or destruction. He will advocate a non-violent resistance of what is evil and unjust. He does have an anger, but this anger is born in love and does not seek to do violence, even to the enemy.

This love of one’s enemy of course is difficult and irksome, but God can do this for us. Many in the Civil Rights movement often remarked that Dr. King taught, it was not enough simply not to retaliate, we were actually to love those who hated and feared us.

Dr. King writes:

So we decided to go through a process of self-purification. We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” and “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?”

And elsewhere he wrote:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil –hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars –must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (Strength to Love, 1963)

Principle 2: No Tension No Change – Generally people like to avoid tension. But as the prophets well knew, sometimes the role of a prophet is to introduce tension, and to be willing to hold it. Prophets are often called to ask uncomfortable questions, to “call the question” and point to inconsistency and hypocrisy. This usually makes people uncomfortable. But prophets must learn that the role of a true evangelizer is to comfort the afflicted AND afflict the comfortable. There are just some things that need to be confronted in a loving but clear way. And tension is part of the picture.

Dr. King writes:

But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth….we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation….My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals. And thus We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Principle 3: Now is the Time – (Holy Impatience). There is the tendency for a human being, so easily overwhelmed, to postpone what they know must happen. Many of the Founding Fathers of this country knew Slavery was a terrible blight on the vision they had articulated, and yet, for many reasons, facing the slavery issue was postponed. Then too even after slavery, a mitigated form of the same institution (Jim Crow) descend on the South, especially. African Americans were often counseled to “wait” and that justice would “inevitably” come. But there comes a moment when a holy impatience wells up in a people and God delivers a grace to transform that impatience into action. For those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, “wait” is not a legitimate instruction and it serves only to deepen injustice.

To those who seek justice in the question of abortion, in the selective abortion of the disabled, in the lack of affordable housing, in increasing unemployment and so forth, the question goes up: “Are you impatient enough? Angry enough? Hungry and thirsty enough? Do you have a holy impatience, or are you just going to watch the news, shake your head, say “Ain’t it awful…Someone ought to do something about that” ??

Of Holy Impatience, Dr. King writes:

For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” ….I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;…. when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger” and your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

Principle 4: Persistence is the Key. It is not enough to get angry or be impatient for a moment. We have have to allow the Lord to put a deep hunger and thirst in us for what is right and be willing to stay committed to the course laid out for us in securing justice. Are you willing to go to bed tired? Are you will to say with the older woman quoted by Dr. King, “My feet is tired but my soul is at rest.” ??  It’s one thing to turn out to a pep rally and say “Yes!” But where will you be on Monday morning? Where will you be six months from now? An old spiritual laments: Some go to Church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out. Will you persist in the work that needs to be done or just dabble in it?

Of Persistence, Dr. King writes:

We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

Principle 5: Silence is Unacceptable – Many years ago W.B. Yates wrote: The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Too many supposed Christians remain silent in the face of injustice. Is it fear? Yes. Is it individualism that says, “Not my problem?” Yes. But in the end silence about injustice can come to equate to affirmation of that injustice.

Of the silence of the “elect” Dr. King writes:

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

He wrote elsewhere:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge and controversy. (Atlanta recognition dinner -1965)

Principle 6: Creative Anger – Most of us are trained that anger is a sin. I can be. But not all anger is sinful. Jesus was often angry. There are some things worth being angry about. We have to recover a more distinguished notion anger that accepts that some anger is given by God as a creative energy, as passion to set things right. Most of the prophets exhibited anger, but it was an anger born in love for God and neighbor, for truth and justice. One of the most fundamental gifts of Dr. King was to able to tap into the legitimate anger of many who suffered and opposed segregation and racism, and to channel that energy to creative ends.

Of this creative anger, Dr. King writes:

The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations. He has to get them out….If repressed emotions do not come out in nonviolent ways, they will come out in ominous expressions of violence. This is not a threat; it is a fact of history. So I have not said to my people, “Get rid of your discontent.” But I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled through the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.

Principle 7: The Church must be lighthouse not a clubhouse – Too many parishes and churches exist more for the social purposes of the members than as true outposts of the Kingdom, where the Word of God shines forth to transform the community. The Sodality debates with the Knights over who gets to use the hall for an occasion, meanwhile the poor go uncared for and un-evangelized. Parishes exist in neighborhoods where thousands have never been called to Christ, where the poor and the downcast are uncared for, where poor and single mothers hear the call of the abortionist, not the local pastor. Meanwhile back at the parish the main even is to argue about who left the kitchen a mess and worry about paying for the new roof since our numbers are diminishing. Why are the numbers diminishing? Many reasons, but among them is that, increasingly, the Church is seen as irrelevant building in the neighborhood rather than a refuge for sinners and and a place to find solidarity and real solutions. Is your parish a clubhouse or a lighthouse?

Of this sad fact of too many churches and parishes, Dr. King writes:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the Church. But be assured, my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the Church, how could I do otherwise. I am the son, and grandson and great grandson of preachers. . Yes, I see the Church as the Body of Christ. But Oh!, how we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being non-conformists. There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period that the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was the thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But they went on with the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven” and had to obey God rather than man. They were small in number but big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be intimidated. They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest. Things are different now. The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.

Well, there you have it. I know it is a long article, but I pray, well worth reading. These are some important principles that Dr. King enunciated for those of us who are passionate for justice.

What about you? What are you passionate about? There are so many issues of justice that ought to concern us today: Unemployment, abortion, mothers in crisis pregnancy, affordable housing, dignity and help for immigrants, hunger, homelessness, the rights and dignity of the disabled and elderly, religious liberty and the list goes on.

But it’s not enough to say, ain’t it awful. The legacy of Dr. King and others like him is that on Monday morning, after the rousing Church service and call to Jesus, there must be a will to get out and do the work persistently and consistently. To say at the end of the day, “My feet is tired but my soul is at rest!”

Again, what of you? Next year in the diocese (I pray) and surely in my parish, the observance of the Birthday of Dr. King is going to have a practical aspect. Every one of our social ministries are going to be available to sign some new folks up for the Christian jubilee. And NO ONE ought to leave without committing to work in the area of justice that they are most passionate about and to which God summons them.

It is not enough to praise Dr. King. We have to imitate his example.

Hmm…My Feet Is Tired But My Soul Is At Rest

What Does Jesus Mean by "Dishonest Wealth?"

In the Gospel for this past Sunday (which I commented more on here: 25th Sunday),    Jesus makes reference to “dishonest wealth.” What does this expression mean? More literally the Greek μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας  (mamona tes adikias) is translated, “mammon of iniquity.”  Now “mammon” is a Hebrew and Aramaic word and has a wider concept than just money. It refers to wealth in general and, even more generally, to the things of this world on which we rely. But what is meant by the expression “dishonest wealth?” Why is it called dishonest?

There seem to be various opinions and theories. None of them absolutely exclude the other but they do include some differences in emphasis:

1. It refers to wealth that we have obtained in dishonest or illegal ways. Now I personally think that this is unlikely since the Lord’s advice is to take this “dishonest wealth”  and give it others. But the usual remedy, if I have stolen from others, is to return what I stole to them. It is true the Lord’s advice follows a parable where a man stole (or embezzled) money. But the Lord is not praising his theft, but rather, his determination to be clever in worldly matters. The Lord wishes his disciples were as clever and thoughtful in spiritual matters. Hence it seems unlikely that the Lord means by “dishonest wealth” merely things we have stolen. If we steal we ought to return it to the rightful  owner, not make friends for ourselves of third parties for our own ultimate gain.

2. It refers to the fact that money and wealth tend to lead us to dishonesty, corruption and compromise. Since it tends to lead to iniquity it is called (literally) the mammon of iniquity. It is a true fact that Scripture generally has a deep distrust of money. For example:

  • How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:24).
  • Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Tim 6:9-10)
  • Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. (Prov 30:8)

It’s funny that, knowing passages like these, most of us still want to be rich! But at any rate,  this interpretation sees the expression as referring more to where money and wealth lead rather than to money and wealth themselves. Of itself,  money is not evil, neither is wealth.  But they do tend to lead us into many temptations, to corruption and unrighteousness. Hence mammon is called “unrighteous” or “of iniquity.” Some also consider this manner of speaking to be a type of Jewish hyperbole since it assigns unrighteousness to all wealth,  even though it only tends to lead there.

Over all this position has merit but I personally think it is incomplete and needs to be completed by a wider sense of unrighteousness. Simply chalking something up to Jewish hyperbole (exaggeration) may miss the fact we are not simply to dismiss hyperbole in Scripture. I have often found that the Jewish hyperbole found in the Scriptures is there for a reason. The usual reason is that we are being asked to consider that the exaggeration my not be a total exaggeration after all and, that  there is more truth than exaggeration in the hyperbole. This notion is developed in the third theory.

3. It refers to the fact that this world is unjust,  and thus, all its wealth has injustice and unrighteousness intrinsically attached. We live in a world where the distribution of wealth, resources and money are very unevenly and unjustly distributed. Now world wide economies are very complicated matters and there may be any number of reasons for this. Some areas of this planet are just more fertile than others. Other areas have more oil etc. There is often a role that corrupt governments play in unjust distribution as well. It is a true fact that we are sometimes unable to effectively help the needy in certain countries because corrupt governments and individuals divert what is intended for the poor. But there is just no getting around it, this world has a very unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and resources for any number of reasons. We, in America, live at the top of the system and we cannot wholly ignore that our inexpensive goods often are so because workers in other parts of the world earn a mere pittance to manufacture or harvest our cheap goods. Much of the convenience and comforts of our lifestyle are provided by people who earn very little for what they do, often without medical benefits, pensions and the like.

Now again, economies are very complicated and we may not be able to a great deal to suddenly change all this. But we ought to at least be aware that we live very well and many others do not, and that our high standard of living is often the result of the cheap labor elsewhere. When I buy a shirt in the air-conditioned store and take it in my air-conditioned car back to my air-conditioned house with a walk-in closet, it ought to occur to me that the person who made and packed this shirt probably doesn’t live nearly as well as I do, earned very little for the work  at that I can buy the shirt for less than $20 for reasons like this.

Now I am not calling for boycotts, (they probably just hurt the poor anyway), and I am not sure exactly how we got to such inequities in this world. I know it annoys me when some people simply want to blame Americans for every ill there is. There are other factors such as international corruption, bad economic theory and the like. There’s plenty of blame to go around. But the fact is, this world is an unjust place and every bit of wealth we have is somehow tainted by that injustice.

So this final theory is not so quick to call Jesus’ expression “Jewish Hyperbole.” Rather it considers as quite real the notion that worldly inequities are so vast and and at so many levels that all the goods, comforts and conveniences of this world are tainted, are steeped in unrighteousness and inequity. None of it is clean, none of it is fully righteous. In this sense, Jesus rightly calls it “dishonest wealth.”

If that is the case, then what to do? Jesus is not unclear, for he goes on to counsel that we befriend the poor with our “unrighteous mammon,” that we be generous to others who are less fortunate. We who live so well need to remember that the monetary cost of a product may not fully express it’s true human cost. If we have been blessed (and boy have we been blessed) then we are called to bless others.

A final disclaimer – The question of poverty and or worldwide economies are complicated. I do not propose simple solutions. I am not an economist,  I am not a socialist, I am not a communist. I am simply a Christian trying to listen to what Jesus is teaching. I am trying to internalize his teaching that I ought not be so enamored of the wealth of this world. For, it is steeped in unrighteousness even if I don’t intend that unrighteousness. I think I hear the Lord saying, “Be on your guard with money and worldly wealth. It’s not as great as you think. In fact, if you don’t learn to be generous, it may well be your undoing.”  There is a powerful  scripture addressed to us who have so much. It seems to offer hope for us if we follow its plan. I would like to conclude on it:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life  (1 Tim 6:17-19).

You know I would value your thoughts, distinctions and additions.

About 20 years ago I toured an old coal mine in Pennsylvania near Scranton. I was amazed at the conditions and hardships the coal miners had to endure. I have often thought of them and that tour when I turn on a light or an appliance since our power plant is fueled by coal. My comfort comes at a higher cost than my bill suggests.

Justice for the One And for the Many

 Perhaps you’ve read that something horrible happened in Washington State early Sunday Morning. Here is a brief press release:
PARKLAND, WA (KPLU)A gunman killed four police officers at a Parkland area coffee shop Sunday morning. A massive manhunt is underway in Pierce County to find the shooter. The shooting happened at 8:15 a.m. at Forza Coffee on Steele Street South, near McChord Air Force Base. The four officers were with the Lakewood Police Department. They have been identified as Sergeant Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards. The four were in full uniform, wearing bullet-proof vests. They were working on their laptops, beginning their day shifts, when the gunman entered the coffee shop and shot them at close range.
Police are seeking Maurice Clemmons, age 37, in connection with this case. Though there is little doubt that he is the killer, even if he is not it is still stunning that a man like this is walking our streets. Here is a brief summary of his criminal record:
  1. Sentenced to 5 years for robbery in Pulaski County, Aug. 3, 1989.
  2. Sentenced to 8 years for burglary, theft and probation revocation in Pulaski County, Sept. 9, 1989
  3. Sentenced to an indeterminate amount for aggravated robbery and theft in Pulaski County, Nov. 15, 1989
  4. Sentenced to 20 years each for burglary and theft of property in Pulaski County, Feb. 23, 1990.
  5. Sentenced to 6 years for firearm possession in Pulaski County, Nov. 19, 1990.
  6. Some sentences were concurrent and some consecutive. But the total effect of all these sentences was a sentence of 108 years.
  7. On May 3, 2000, Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted Clemmons’ sentence to 47 years, 5 months and 19 days, which made him eligible for parole that day. The Parole Board granted his parole July 13, 2000. He was released Aug. 1, 2000.
  8. Clemmons then returned to prison for a July 13, 2001 conviction for robbery in Ouachita County, for which he received a 10-year sentence. He was paroled March 18, 2004.
  9. In May of 2009 Clemmons punched a sheriff’s deputy in the face, according to court records. The Officer was responding to a domestic violence call. As part of that incident, he was charged with seven counts of assault and malicious mischief.
  10. Most recently Clemmons had been in jail in Pierce County for the past several months on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child. He was released from custody just six days ago, even though he was facing  at seven additional felony charges in Washington state. Clemmons posted $15,000 Bond for release.

So there you have it, 13 felony convictions, including aggravated robbery and theft, third-degree assault, and second-degree rape of a child.

Even should he be found not connected with this horrible murder, there are many questions. What is Maurice Clemmons doing walking the streets? How could Governor Huckabee have paroled him? How did he obtain release from prison so shortly after offending again in 2001? Yet again he evaded serious assault charges and, most grievous of all, he was released from custody after raping a child! Can it really be true that $15,000 is all it takes to walk free after raping a child? Should Maurice Clemmons be walking our streets? Surely not.

So, What does this have to do with a Catholic blog? Simply this. I want to raise with you a consideration of  justice  and well ordered love. In considering questions of justice it has been most common in the past 40 years to have the emphasis fall on the rights and needs of the individual. There is clearly a place for such considerations. Justice cannot always be merely what the majority thinks. But neither can the common good be wholly set aside. This is especially true in matters of public safety. The record above shows that a very dangerous man is currently walking our streets. This is neither just nor is it sensible.  We may all want to show some leniency from time to time. Severe justice for first time offenders may not always be warranted. But there comes a time when greater charity and justice has to be shown to the public and the common good must outweigh any personal charity we may wish to extend.

The current record of our Criminal Justice System is that we simply do not seem to have the will to keep even very dangerous criminals locked up. They walk away from lengthy sentences after very short times. They usually offend again and we still let them go early from subsequent sentences. In the popular mind social justice is usually equated with the rights of prisoners. But true social justice cannot forget the common good and must weigh it in the balance with prisoner rights.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. ….The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people’s rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party. (CCC # 2265-2266)

It is therefore clear that we do not detain and/or punish to exact revenge. Rather we do so for a twofold purpose: to protect the common good by ending the disorder caused by wrongdoers. And, secondly for the medicinal purpose of correcting the guilty party insofar as possible.

Somewhere it seems we have lost balance. Too often the common good is neglected, even wholly set aside in decisions related to criminal justice. Public authority must discover anew its grave duty to the common good and particularly to the lives of others. Good intentions are not enough. Real people get harmed and killed when we get the balance wrong. Ask the families of the four police officers killed. Ask the many people who were held up at gun point by Mr. Clemmons. Ask the child who was raped by him.

From 2000-2007 I was pastor in a very rough part of town here in DC. We just called it the “hood.” Every week there were shootings. At least once a month a murder took place on our streets. Two of the murders took place right on Church grounds, one during the school day when our school was in session. In every case, the perpetrators of these murders had rap sheets a mile long: armed robbery, car theft, selling and possession, attempted murder, actual murder. But they walked our streets. Arrested on very serious charges they were out in days. When trial finally came, sometimes years later,  they had already offended in other ways. When sentence was passed they served only tiny portions of their sentence and were back out. Nothing, it seemed, would cause a re-evaluation of this revolving door “justice.” And in the hood we lived with fear we should have had. We experienced crime we shouldn’t have.

The common good is not some abstraction. It is about real people. We cannot simply toss the rights of prisoners and accused to the winds. But neither can we simply disregard the common good.  The murder of these fine police officers is just as much a matter of justice as poor prison conditions or overly severe sentencing guidelines. True justice is about balance. Individual rights? Yes. The Common Good? Yes again.

Pray for these brave officers and their families: Sergeant Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold, and Greg Richards. Requiescant in Pace.



Is the Pope A Democrat?

It is not unusual for people who read encyclicals from a political viewpoint or to read a political viewpoint in to them.  Such is surely the case with the latest Encyclical by Pope Benedict Caritas in Veritate.  Clearly, it touches on the the much debated issue of social justice. While Church teaching in this matter isn’t all that complicated, the method of implementing it is debated. Should the poor be cared for by expansive Government programs, or by initiatives based more in the private sector? How are private property rights balanced with the universal destination of all goods? And so forth.

Some in the media see Caritas in Veritate as largely an affirmation of what we Americans would call Democratic (Party) social policies.  Some lament this fact, others celebrate it. But honestly do you really think the Pope means to speak in such simple categories? As with most encyclicals the Pope (especially this one) speaks with careful nuance and balance which is often missed by the sound byte oriented media. The Pope is speaking from Catholic Social Teaching which has a trajectory and history well removed from American Politics. We need to be careful not to over simplify the Pope here.

Just to show how two authors (both conservative) come away with different impressions look at the following two quotes.

There is also rather more in the encyclical about the redistribution of wealth than about wealth-creation — a sure sign of Justice and Peace default positions at work. And another Justice and Peace favorite — the creation of a “world political authority” to ensure integral human development — is revisited, with no more insight into how such an authority would operate….It is one of the enduring mysteries of the Catholic Church why the Roman Curia places such faith in this fantasy of a “world public authority,” given the Holy See’s experience in battling for life, religious freedom, and elementary decency at the United Nations. …. The incoherence of the Justice and Peace sections of the new encyclical is so deep, and the language in some cases so impenetrable, that what the defenders of Populorum Progresio may think to be a new sounding of the trumpet is far more like the warbling of an untuned piccolo. George Weigel In National Review Online

To be fair, Weigel also finds thing to praise in the new Encyclical. Yet still it is clear that he struggles with what he sees as a big Government solution.

But now consider another reflection from the Catholic League that takes away a rather different notion from the Encyclical:

The best way to serve the poor, according to the pope, is not to create bureaucratic monstrosities that cripple the dignity of the indigent. “By considering reciprocity as the heart of what it is to be a human being, [the principle of] subsidiarity is the most effective antidote against any form of all-encompassing welfare state.” Similarly, the pope admonishes us not to promote “paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need.” In other words, the tried and failed, dependency-inducing welfare programs that mark the social policy prescriptions of the poverty industry are seen by the pope as a disaster. Not exactly what those who work for HHS want to hear. Statement by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

So here is the point. Be careful about simply accepting what one author or group says about how to understand this encyclical. It is carefully written and nunaced, based in a long tradition of Catholic Social teaching which cannot be said simply to affirm one or another political party here in the USA. Our is not the world the Pope lives in nor is it the template with which he thinks. We cannot reduce Papal teaching merely to American political categories. The Pope is Catholic

Hearts as large as the World

handsTo Love is to Serve

Discovering our Catholic Hearts

When Catherine of Siena, an Italian Lay Woman and Doctor of the Church was a young adult she decided she wanted to love God with her whole soul, mind and heart.  She thought she could best do that by spending her days in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in a small room (she called it her cell) in her house. She left the house only to attend daily Mass.  After a short time of this practice, she heard God’s voice. She records in The Dialogue(the story of her life) a conversation with God. God says to Catherine, “if you want to love me as much as I love you, than you need to serve your sisters and brothers.” God, in a sense, pushed Catherine out of her cell and into the world.  Catherine discovered the face of Christ in those who were dying of the plague and Catherine preached peace to her sisters and brothers who were at war with one another. Catherine learned that to love God is to serve the world.

The Archdiocese of Washington is taking up the theme of service and love in a one day Social Ministry Conference on Saturday June 13.   See for more information.

The day features keynote presentations and break-out sessions on the Church’s mission to proclaim the Good News of Christ’s love for the poor and how the Church carries out this mission, locally, nationally, and internationally. There are workshops for teens, young adults and adults. Participants will have a chance to gather with Catholics from all over the Archdiocese of Washington and to explore the relationship of theology, prayer and service. The day will conclude with a prayer service with Archbishop Wuerl.

Catherine’s experience of taking her love for the Lord to the streets taught her that her “cell” was within her, that she could stay close to the Lord in midst of the noise and distractions of  daily life. Most of all Catherine discovered a heart as large as the world. She discovered a Catholic Heart!