Feast of St. Ephrem & Syria

Ephrem-horz

Fourth-century Christian St. Ephrem (left), aka “the harp of the Holy Ghost,” is the only Syrian recognized as a doctor of the church. He wrote more than 1,000 poems, many of which were put to music or to chant.

Pope Benedict said: “Poetry allowed [St. Ephrem] to deepen his theological reflections through paradoxes and images. His theology became both liturgy and music at the same time: He was indeed a great composer and musician.”

Currently, there are an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. (Right, Syrian refugee.)

With St. Ephrem, take a moment to pray for the people of Syria and the woman in this image.

“O Lord, make the priests and kings peaceful;
That in one Church priests may pray for their kings,
And kings spare those round about them;
And may the peace which is within Thee become ours, Lord,
Thou that art within and without all things!” –St. Ephrem

“Lay me not with sweet spices,
For this honor avails me not,
Nor yet use incense and perfumes,
For the honor befits me not.
Burn yet the incense in the holy place;
As for me, escort me only with your prayers,
Give ye your incense to God,
And over me send up hymns.
Instead of perfumes and spices,
Be mindful of me in your intercessions.”
(From The Testament of St. Ephrem)

 

Douglas Kmiec on Birth Control, Bishops, Religious Liberty, and ‘Obamacare’

All this hoopla from the Catholic Bishops Conference on birth control, and from the Vatican on religious liberty, and from everybody on “Obamacare” can leave one wanting to ignore the papers, radio, and TV and just bury one’s head in the sand. But, in the end, all that really gets you is a sandy head and grit in your lashes.

If you’ve got 15 minutes to read and think (and I ask that seriously because most of us don’t), then I’d commend to you Douglas Kmiec’s essay War No More … Or, At Least, Peace With Obama published this week in the National Catholic Reporter.

Kmiec, a constitutional law professor at Pepperdine, carefully thinks through the forces surrounding the contraceptive debate, health care, religious liberty, the Supreme Court deliberations, Obama and the Catholic bishops, and frames them with American jurisprudence and Catholic moral teaching. It’s worth reading the whole thing. But here’s an excerpt to get you started:

When the president chose to not grant an exemption from the mandate that employer-provided insurance should include contraceptive coverage, some bishops called the decision an act of war on the church and religious freedom.

With due respect, I believe this overstated matters considerably. This is especially so, since the president responded promptly to begin discussions on how the ethical concerns of the church might be met more satisfactorily. In particular, the president proposed that no Catholic employer would be directly asked to supply contraceptive coverage; instead, that coverage would be provided by the employer’s insurance company.

To a good many theologians, this worked well enough to avoid formal cooperation with evil, but left unanswered how the problem could be avoided where a Catholic employer did not use a third-party insurer, but was self-insured. Discussions continue, with some now suggesting that it might be possible to create a public entity by implementing regulation to offer the contraceptive benefit in this self-insured context in a way that similarly separates a Catholic employer. Continue reading “Douglas Kmiec on Birth Control, Bishops, Religious Liberty, and ‘Obamacare’”

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Michael Moore: ‘If You Fail to Feed the Hungry, You’ll Have a Hard Time Finding the Pin Code to the Pearly Gates’

capitalism_a_love_storyLGEWho knew that shock-doc film producer Michael Moore was Catholic?

The maker of Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Sicko, sent a letter this morning promoting his new movie Capitalism: A Love Story that hit theaters last week. Moore’s e-mail is about as much of a “faith testimony” as you’ll get from most Catholics. (We tend to keep our faith on the inside and wear our “works” on the outside. Show, rather than tell.)

Capitalism: A Love Story is Moore’s version of the Pope’s latest encyclical Charity and Truth (read my cliff notes A Love Letter from the Pope), but alot more fun.  Both deal with the most critical question of our day: Is capitalism a sin?

In Bruce Headlam’s New York Times profile of Moore last month, Headlam teased out an interesting take on Moore’s faith-inspired prophetic vision, including Moore’s claim that he got his street-theater sensibilities from radical Catholic prophetic priests Dan and Phil Berrigan.

Headlam wrote:

As much as Mr. Moore sometimes plays a comic-book version of class warrior—Left-Thing vs. the Republic of Fear!—his politics are not grounded in class as much as in Roman Catholicism. Growing up in Michigan, he attended parochial school and intended to go into the seminary, inspired by the priests and nuns who, at least until Pope John Paul II, inherited a long tradition of social justice and activism in the American church. … Along with a moral imperative, Catholicism also gave a method. Mr. Moore idolized the Berrigan brothers, the radical priests who introduced street theater into their activism, for example, mixing their own napalm to burn government draft records. Their actions were a form of political spectacle that, conceptually, is Marxist—workers seizing means of production and all that—and it influenced some of Mr. Moore’s best-remembered stunts.

So, if you weren’t on the list that got a letter from Michael Moore this morning, read on:

Friends,

I’d like to have a word with those of you who call yourselves Christians (Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Bill Maherists, etc. can read along, too, as much of what I have to say, I’m sure, can be applied to your own spiritual/ethical values).

In my new film I speak for the first time in one of my movies about my own spiritual beliefs. I have always believed that one’s religious leanings are deeply personal and should be kept private. After all, we’ve heard enough yammerin’ in the past three decades about how one should “behave,” and I have to say I’m pretty burned out on pieties and platitudes considering we are a violent nation who invades other countries and punishes our own for having the audacity to fall on hard times.

I’m also against any proselytizing; I certainly don’t want you to join anything I belong to. Also, as a Catholic, I have much to say about the Church as an institution, but I’ll leave that for another day (or movie).

Amidst all the Wall Street bad guys and corrupt members of Congress exposed in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” I pose a simple question in the movie: “Is capitalism a sin?” I go on to ask, “Would Jesus be a capitalist?” Would he belong to a hedge fund? Would he sell short? Would he approve of a system that has allowed the richest 1% to have more financial wealth than the 95% under them combined?

I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what’s left for everyone to fight over. Jesus said that the rich man would have a very hard time getting into heaven. He told us that we had to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you’d have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.

I guess that’s bad news for us Americans. Here’s how we define “Blessed Are the Poor”: We now have the highest unemployment rate since 1983. There’s a foreclosure filing once every 7.5 seconds. 14,000 people every day lose their health insurance.

At the same time, Wall Street bankers (“Blessed Are the Wealthy”?) are amassing more and more loot — and they do their best to pay little or no income tax (last year Goldman Sachs’ tax rate was a mere 1%!). Would Jesus approve of this? If not, why do we let such an evil system continue? It doesn’t seem you can call yourself a Capitalist AND a Christian — because you cannot love your money AND love your neighbor when you are denying your neighbor the ability to see a doctor just so you can have a better bottom line.  That’s called “immoral” — and you are committing a sin when you benefit at the expense of others.

When you are in church this morning, please think about this. I am asking you to allow your “better angels” to come forward. And if you are among the millions of Americans who are struggling to make it from week to week, please know that I promise to do what I can to stop this evil — and I hope you’ll join me in not giving up until everyone has a seat at the table.

Thanks for listening. I’m off to Mass in a few hours. I’ll be sure to ask the priest if he thinks J.C. deals in derivatives or credit default swaps. I mean, after all, he must’ve been good at math. How else did he divide up two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish equally amongst 5,000 people? Either he was the first socialist or his disciples were really bad at packing lunch. Or both.

Yours,
Michael Moore

‘A Hungry Man Is An Angry Man’: Christians and Muslims Together in Overcoming Poverty

Christians and Muslims attend Mass in Baghdad as a celebration for Muslims rebuilding the church.
Christians and Muslims attend Mass in Baghdad as a celebration for Muslims rebuilding the church.

The Vatican’s inter-religious dialogue council sent a “Happy Id al-Fitr” message to Muslims around the world as they come to the end of Ramadan on Sept 19-20 by inviting them into common cause on ending poverty.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims reflect more deeply on the real meaning of life by being close to God and their neighbors. As part of this, they heighten their awareness of the needs of others, especially the poor, though fasting and practices of charity.

Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty looks at poverty that is the result of human sin and the loss of human dignity but also at poverty that is chosen and embraced as an example of one’s humility before God.

Indonesian priest Markus Solo serves in the middle of enormous tensions and violence between Muslims and Christians and between people of genuine faith and extremists. Around the world, Solo says, poverty “is getting worse after the recent economic and financial crisis. Everybody knows that poverty is a real and bitter challenge for people living in the developing countries, which also happen to be religious ones.”

The Vatican message noted a link between poverty and extremism or violence, a theme Father Solo echoed. He quoted the English proverb: “A hungry man is an angry man.”

Here’s an excerpt from the Vatican’s invitation:

On the occasion of your feast which concludes the month of Ramadan, I would like to extend my best wishes for peace and joy to you and, through this Message, propose this theme for our reflection: Christians and Muslims: Together in overcoming poverty. …

In his talk on the occasion of the World Day for Peace, 1st January 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI distinguished two types of poverty: a poverty to be combated and a poverty to be embraced.

The poverty to be combated is before the eyes of everyone: hunger, lack of clean water, limited medical care and inadequate shelter, insufficient educational and cultural systems, illiteracy, not to mention also the existence of new forms of poverty “…in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty…” (Message for the World Day of Peace, 2009, n. 2).

The poverty to be embraced is that of a style of life which is simple and essential, avoiding waste and respecting the environment and the goodness of creation. This poverty can also be, at least at certain times during the year, that of frugality and fasting. It is the poverty which we choose which predisposes us to go beyond ourselves, expanding the heart.

As believers, the desire to work together for a just and durable solution to the scourge of poverty certainly also implies reflecting on the grave problems of our time and, when possible, sharing a common commitment to eradicate them. In this regard, the reference to the aspects of poverty linked to the phenomena of globalization of our societies has a spiritual and moral meaning, because all share the vocation to build one human family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – conduct themselves according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility. …

The poor question us, they challenge us, but above all they invite us to cooperate in a noble cause: overcoming poverty!

Read the whole message here. (As an aside, this message also references JPII’s 2001 address on establishing a “common ethical code,” particularly in the financial industry. It’s worth a read.)