Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Jesuit Social Research Institute connects the dots!

A Revolution of Hope: Occupy Advent and the Vatican

by Alex Mikulich, Ph.D.

We live in a moment of economic, social, moral, and spiritual impasse. Wondrous technological achievements fail to assuage our possessive individualism, fail to end extreme poverty, fail to cultivate life-giving connections between the rich and poor peoples of the earth, and fail to nurture our universal rootedness in the earth’s ecosystems.

Scandals in nearly every major societal institution erode public trust and any sense of our shared responsibility for each other. Technological prowess advanced through wars and multiple capitalist practices fail to care for the most vulnerable among us as they wreak ecological devastation and threaten the very existence of our planet.

Left to our own idolatry, the result is more of the same—insatiable consumer desire, increasing cynicism, politics and economics driven by the self-interest of the powerful against the common good, and the “presumptive” resort to violence as the solution to conflict.

In this time of global and national decline, economically, socially, and morally, how do we take up the spiritual task of waiting this Advent? For what or whom do we hope in this season of longing?

As I prepare for Advent in this time of impasse, I suggest reflection upon the unlikely congruence of two divergent resources: the Occupy movement and the Vatican’s recent statement on global financial reform, “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” which is available online here.

In the words of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, the authoritative office within the Vatican with the highest responsibility for Catholic social teaching, “the gap between ethical training and technical preparation needs to be filled by highlighting in a particular way the perpetual synergy between the two levels of practical doing (praxis) and of boundless human striving (poiesis).”[1]

That is a theologically sophisticated way of emphasizing the need both to integrate spirituality and ethics, individually and collectively, and restore the primacy of spirituality and ethics over capitalism and finance.

How do we begin this work in Advent?

The Occupy movement practices a way of waiting and listening I find instructive for this Advent in this moment of societal breakdown. Each word and phrase spoken by every speaker is repeated, chorus-like, by the group. It is a way Occupiers slow down the pace of conversation to attend and listen to each other’s voices. It is also a way that Occupiers give priority to voices of those previously unheard or marginalized. As they listen to each other, Occupiers seek to hear the voices of those who have not spoken or have not been heard. An example of this practice may be found on YouTube here (“Angela Davis addresses the Occupy Movement,” October 30, 2011).

I am struck by the wisdom of this Occupy practice for Advent in the way that it calls us to wait and listen, wait and attend, wait and be with one another in the midst of societal breakdown. It is a way of attending to what the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace calls the depths of “human striving” for enduring goods of love, peace, and justice.

In the Occupy movement, if we listen and attend to the voices of the people, we hear diverse voices crying out for a different way of living, a different way of being in the world that values every voice, liberates every voice, and joins every voice in the common work of mutual uplift, healing, and new life.

Both the Occupy movement through this practice and the Vatican through its recent statement on global financial reform compel us to reflect on the need for a contemplative orientation that listens and embodies the cries of the oppressed, and their cries for freedom, for work, for liberation, and for new life in God.

Advent calls us to the spiritual labor of waiting and listening to each other, to those who are in any way oppressed, and to our deepest longings for love, connection, new life, and God.

Yet such waiting as re-orientation to the truly good is no easy task, for it demands “anguish and suffering,” as the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace puts it, as we struggle for love and justice in the midst of societal sinfulness and decline.[2]

This spiritual labor of waiting and listening, I suggest, invites people of faith to open ourselves to our shared vulnerability with all people and to our loss of meaning and empty imagination in the midst of societal moral and spiritual decline.

Precisely at this seeming “deadendness,” abandonment, and emptiness, I wonder if God might be calling us to experience transformed desire, personally and collectively, for new vision, love, courage, and hope that renews life across the face of the earth. Might there be a miracle of transformation in the midst of emptiness and poverty?

As the contemplative Constance FitzGerald suggests, the miracle is that contemplative cries from people and the earth are “no longer silent and invisible, but rather prophetic and revolutionary.”[3]

This is where the Occupy movement and the Vatican most closely converge. Both call us to wait and listen. If we attend and listen to the groans within ourselves, from peoples everywhere, and the from the earth, we may yet hear the cry of new life and a new creation. When will we groan with all peoples and the earth for God? In waiting and listening to these groans, may we find the Spirit yearning within us for the manger where the revolution of hope and love is born.

[1] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority,” in Origins: Catholic Documentary Service (Vol 41, Number 22, November 3, 2011), p. 349.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Constance FitzGerald, OCD, “The Desire for God and the Transformative Power of Contemplation,” in Mary Heather MacKinnon, Moni McIntyre, and Mary Ellen Sheehan, ed., Light Burdens Heavy Blessings: Challenges of Church and Culture in a Post Vatican II Era. Quincy, Illinois: Franciscan Press, (2000): 203-222, here 208.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, on Advent and Teilhard de Chardin

Advent: Gestating Hope into Reality


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, as even his critics admit, was a man of hope. Indeed his whole vision of things is generally criticized for being too hopeful. So, in trying to explain hope and advent, allow me a Teilhard story:

Teilhard was a scientist, and a good one, but he was also a Christian, a priest, and a man whose ultimate vision of things was formed by the gospels. Central to his whole system of thought was his rock-bottom belief that ultimately all of history, cosmic and human, would come together, in Christ, into one community of life and love (as promised by Jesus and as summarized in the early Christian hymn, Ephesians 1, 3-10). This vision was the wide framework within which he ultimately set his scientific theories. But he was surrounded by colleagues, both Christian and secular, who had a far-less hopeful view of things. One day he was challenged this way: "You have an enchanted view of history, believing that everything will one day culminate in a wonderful `kingdom' of peace and love, but suppose we blow up the world in a nuclear war, what happens to your schema of things then?"

His response to that question is a textbook definition of hope: "If we blow up the world it would be a great tragedy because it would set things back millions of years. But history will still one day culminate in a kingdom of peace and love, not because my theory says so, but because God promised it and in the resurrection has shown the power to bring this about, despite the things we do." That's hope, to be able to say: "It might take a million years or so longer, but it will happen because God promised it."

By what is this characterized? Let's begin with a certain via negativa. Hope is not wishful thinking, natural optimism, or an educated theory based upon CNN.

Indeed, hope is not wishful thinking, the simple longing for something wonderful to happen to us. I can wish to win a lottery, marry the most beautiful person in the world, or score the winning goal in the world cup, but that isn't hope. It's pure wish. Similarly, hope is not optimism; a natural temperament, however pleasant, which is perennially upbeat and always sees the positive side of things. Finally, hope is also not a positive diagnosis based upon a shrewd assessment of the facts. Jim Wallis once quipped: "Put not your faith in CNN!" The same holds true for BBC, CBC, NBC, ABC, ITV, SKY NEWS, and WORLD NEWS. One does not ultimately ground hope on whether the world situation seems to be improving or worsening. Hope does not go up and down like the stock market because, in the end, it is not based upon the empirical facts as these are reported on the news.

Hope is believing in the promise of God and believing that God has the power to fulfil that promise.

What is that promise? God has promised that history (our private histories, our communal history, and cosmic history) will one day come together in an ecstatic oneness, a heaven, a paradise, a community of life around Christ and in God within which there will be no tears and no death. This will not be a community of life focused on "food and drink" but one that takes it very breath from love, justice, peace, friendship, affection, and shared delight in a common spirit, the Holy Spirit.

And what power will bring this about? The power that God showed in the resurrection of Jesus, the power to bring a dead body back to life, to redeem what's been lost, to write straight with crooked lines, and to bring people together, despite and beyond hatred, sin, selfishness, mistakes, tragedy, resistance, death, and all that will ever be seen on CNN.

To live in hope is to live in the face of that promise and that power and, in that light, to fundamentally shape both our memories and our future. As regards memory, to hope is to look back on our lives and see no need to count the losses, underline the hurts, play the victim, or stew in bitterness because all our wounds and losses can be redeemed as part of a greater promise. The same holds true for our future. All our plans and schemes must reflect the wider plan of God and we, like Teilhard, should be prepared to live in great patience as we wait for the finished symphony.

Mary, Jesus' Mother, is the pre-eminent figure of this. She shows us hope: Not only did she believe the promise, she became pregnant with it, gestated it, gave it her own flesh, went through the pains of childbirth to give it reality, and then nursed a fragile new life into a powerful adulthood that saved the world. In that, she needs imitation, not admiration.

Advent is the season for us to imitate Mary's hope by, like her, gestating faith, God's promise, into real flesh.

Ron Rolheiser quote
RON ROLHEISER, OMI Speaker, Columnist and Author

Ron Rolheiser

Ronald Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Funny Thanksgiving video

Happy Turkey Day!

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aliens in Peru? ET call home!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aliens in Peru? Call home ET!

Did anthropologists really discover an alien mummy in Peru?

Strangely-shaped skull could be (but probably isn't) extraterrestrial in origin

by Katherine Gray | Last updated 2:14PM EST on November 21, 2011

Filed under: News | Computers
Scientists have posited that we might be able to spot alien civilizations on other planets by the light of their cities, but did aliens find their way to Peru, centuries ago? That's the question being asked by scientists and ET enthusiasts around the world after photographs have come to light of a mummy with a huge, strangely-shaped head.

An anthropology team led by Renato Davila Riquelme from the Privado Ritos Andinos museum in Cusco, Peru, discovered the remains, and initially reported that they were those of a human child, given that they were only 20 inches long. However, an unspecified group of Spanish and Russian doctors apparently examined the remains and have declared them extraterrestrial in origin. Their main reasoning seems to be the triangular shape of the head, oversized eye sockets, and the fact that the head itself is almost the same size as the rest of the body.

Of course, there could be a perfectly rational, Earth-based explanation for the oddly-shaped creature. Many cultures have performed artificial cranial distortion for various religious or cultural reasons, and medical conditions such as hydrocephalus, if left untreated, can also cause deformities in the skulls of young children. Four out of five unnamed scientists agree, though: aliens are much more interesting!

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Mick McCarthy SJ preaches at Fr. Quinn's Inauguration

Fr. Mick McCarthy, S.J., delivered a stunningly stirring homily at the Mass of Inauguration at the University of Scranton.

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Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., wows The University of Scranton

Br. Guy Consolmagno, S.J., wowed a crowd of 250, the vast majority students, at The University of Scranton Thurs night Nov 17 2011. His provocative and entertaining talk about his work as an astronomer for the Vatican Observatory helped students understand the wonders of creation and the wonders of God. Here's a clip he played of his appearance on Colbert.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Save the Altar Girls

You may have missed this in the media blizzard in which we all live. Well worth reading. In her forties, my sister told me how mad she had been as a little girl when she was not allowed to be an altar server.

We will learn to listen to women, or we will see the church wither even more than it already has in the past decades in Europe and the USA. Latin America, Africa and the rest of the world are seeing the revolution of women in all roles in society. Check out the "half the sky" website

The following post got 222 comments on America's blog.


Save the Altar Girls

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

T his is not a local story, but one that represents larger trends in the church—in the priesthood, the liturgy and in the role of the people of God. Recently Sts. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz., changed its policy on altar servers. From now on only boys may serve; girls may apply for jobs as sacristans. Why? The rector of the cathedral told The Catholic Sun that the cathedral is not alone in making this regulation. A parish in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., he argues, have found that replacing girls with boys as servers leads to more vocations to the priesthood.

These moves to limit laywomen’s access to the altar threaten to drag the church back into the pre-Vatican II world. One wonders if next the altar rail will return, another barrier between the priests and the people.

According to the rector, people who are upset about this decision concerning Mass servers make a mistake in considering it “a question of rights,” as if someone’s rights were being denied. But, he says, no one has a “right” to be a server or even more a priest. One must be “called” to any church office. When the secular world comments on who should be an altar server, he says, it has only an emotional view, unguided by the light of reason.

The key issue is the status of the baptized: that the laity may be called by the Spirit to offer their talents in various roles. The rejection of altar girls disregards the counsel of the Second Vatican Council that the charisms of the baptized “are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation.” By virtue of baptism, the council reminds us, “there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.” There is “a true equality between all with regard to the dignity and activity which is common to all the faithful in building up the Body of Christ” (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Nos. 12, 32).

That this call should be fully welcomed does not appear to be a priority in Phoenix. Yes, the Vatican instruction “Sacrament of Redemption” (2004) allows women servers, but it leaves the decision to local bishops. In Phoenix the bishop leaves it to the pastors. This pastor did not consult the parish council, he says, because its members are not theologically trained.

Another issue is the image of the priesthood today. Is it wise to re-enforce the sense of the priesthood as a clerical caste? Is the acolyte supposed to be like the page who serves Sir Galahad until King Arthur dubs him a knight? In a culture where parents want their daughters to have the same opportunities as their sons—in co-ed Catholic colleges, in the armed services, in athletics, in employment—the church can look irrelevant, even foolish, in shunting them aside. The more the priesthood is presented as an exclusive club, the smaller and more remote it will become. Those who put up barriers between themselves and the people should, using modern parlance, recall Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Look, how many times do I have to tell you? You are here to serve.”

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Inevitably the issue of women’s roles in the church raises the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood. Recently a cardinal in Lisbon and some bishops in Brazil, among others, also raised the question; but since Pope Benedict XVI, despite continued agitation, has reaffirmed the policy of John Paul II to allow no discussion of the topic, the matter of altar servers must be considered a separate and independent issue.

In no way should policies imply that women are second-class citizens—welcome to tidy up the sacristy, arrange flowers and clean linens but not to set the gifts at the altar or hold the sacramentary or censer. Rather, they must be welcomed into every service and leadership role, including catechists, lectors, chancellors and general secretaries of bishops’ conferences. (The diaconate for women remains an open question and ought to be explored.) Churches that invite all their people to bring all their talents to the welfare of the congregation will thrive. To tell a young woman that she may no longer pour the water on the priest’s fingers at the Lavabo looks like sexism. If the ban in these dioceses continues and spreads, perhaps women and girls will consider withholding their other services to the parishes, and men and boys, in solidarity with their sisters, will decline the honor of acolyte.

Having girls share serving opportunities with boys is an expression of their equality in Christ. Parishes must create a variety of social and service activities. A distinguishing characteristic of today’s young men and women, even when they are not “devout” in the usual sense, is their rejection of discrimination in any form. They are highly sensitive to any hint of exclusionary policies in organizations. Perhaps if more young people believed they could continue that commitment to equality as priests, more would be ready to follow a priestly vocation.

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Joe Nocera's The Institutional Pass

There is much to ponder in the wake of the recent Penn State scandal. Across the board, all institutions (and that certainly includes the church) need to improve, radically, the way things are done in order to safeguard children and insure that young adults are treated justly. As the Church has needed to improve, radically, the way children's safety is guarded, so schools have to look at the many ways, on multiple levels, that institutions profit off athletes' work. Joe Nocera's article in The New York Times is very thought provoking. - Fr. Rick

November 11, 2011

The Institutional Pass

“Joe is a devout Catholic,” a retired football coach named Vince McAneney told a reporter the other day. He was referring, of course, to Joe Paterno.

McAneney, 82, a high school coaching legend in Pennsauken, N.J., had known the 84-year-old Paterno for some 50 years, he told Randy Miller of The Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J., and was “heartbroken” to see his friend fired as the Penn State football coach for his involvement in the sexual abuse scandal that has so soiled the university. Describing Paterno as a devout Catholic was McAneney’s way of saying that his friend was still a good and decent man.

But to someone like me, who grew up in a Catholic household, the fact that Paterno was a regular churchgoer is part of what makes his actions — or, more accurately, his inaction — so inexplicable. By March 1, 2002 — the date, according to a grand jury report, that Jerry Sandusky, the former Paterno assistant, was spotted in the locker-room shower raping a boy believed to be about 10 years old — every Catholic was sadly familiar with the sex abuse scandal that had engulfed the Roman Catholic Church. They knew that predatory priests had taken advantage of their proximity and positions of trust to sexually abuse young boys, just as Sandusky appears to have done. They knew that church leaders had covered it up. And they knew the devastating consequences of the abuse.

Two months before Sandusky’s alleged rape, The Boston Globe had begun publishing its powerful series on clergy sexual abuse. Dioceses were being sued by lawyers for the victims, who, in turn, were coming forward to describe how the abuse they suffered as children had shattered their lives. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression were common themes.

More shocking yet, Catholics in Paterno’s own diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, Pa., understood these consequences long before the rest of the country. In 1987, Richard Serbin, an Altoona lawyer representing abuse victims, had sued the diocese. The suit was widely publicized in the local media — publicity that did not diminish much even after he won in 1994 because the diocese kept appealing. (It finally agreed to pay $3.7 million in 2004.) One of the victims Serbin represented was a former altar boy in State College — Penn State’s hometown.

Given that foreknowledge, how could Paterno, upon learning that one of his graduate assistants allegedly had seen Sandusky having anal sex with a preteen boy, content himself with mentioning it to his superior and then looking the other way? How could he have allowed Sandusky to maintain access to Penn State’s football facilities? How could the university have let him continue to run his youth camps on Penn State property — camps where he no doubt scouted potential targets? Everyone at Penn State who averted their eyes had to know they were doing something abhorrent. They knew from the experience of their own community.

Big-time college football requires grown men to avert their eyes from the essential hypocrisy of the enterprise. Coaches take home multimillion-dollar salaries, while the players who make them rich don’t even get “scholarships” that cover the full cost of attending college. They push their “student-athletes” to take silly courses that won’t get in the way of football. When players are seriously injured and can no longer play, their coaches often yank their scholarships, forcing them to drop out of school.

“College football and men’s basketball has drifted so far away from the educational purpose of the university,” James Duderstadt, a former president of the University of Michigan, told me recently. “They exploit young people and prevent them from getting a legitimate college education. They place the athlete’s health at enormous risk, which becomes apparent later in life. We are supposed to be developing human potential, not making money on their backs. Football strikes at the core values of a university.”

It is true that Joe Paterno ran a better program than most, and that no university outside of Notre Dame has benefited more from having a football team than Penn State. Its football renown helped turn a small-time state school into an important research university. But it is also true that, in 2009, Penn State football generated a staggering $50 million in profit on $70 million in revenue, according to figures compiled by the Department of Education. Protecting those profits is the real core value of college football — at Penn State and everywhere else.

What goes on in the typical big-time college football program constitutes abuse of the athletes who play the game. It’s not sexual abuse, to be sure, but it’s wrong just the same. For 46 years, Joe Paterno averted his eyes to the daily injustices, large and small, that his players suffered — just like Nick Saban does at Alabama and Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, and all the rest of them. When Paterno averted his eyes from Jerry Sandusky, he was just doing what came naturally as a college football coach.

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Sunday, November 06, 2011

What Would Jesus Do and Say About Occupy Wall St?

Fr. Malloy asks, ‘What would Jesus do and say about Occupy Wall Street?’

What does Jesus say about Occupy Wall Street? In the final chapters of Matthew’s Gospel we hear Jesus’ ringing calls for justice in our economic relationships.
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted,” according to Matt 23:11-12.
“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ ” according to Matt 25: 40.

On Oct. 16, 2011, Nick Kristof reported the following in The New York Times:
The top one percent of Americans possesses more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
• In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest one percent.

Here are some more facts to get us thinking.
22 percent of children in America live in poverty.
• 15.1 percent of Americans live in poverty. That’s 46.2 million people.
• Globally, 80 percent of Earth lives on less than $10 a day.
• Across our planet, 21,000 children die each day from preventable causes.

“The Pew Research Center said its recent polling shows that a majority of Americans — for the first time in 15 years of being surveyed on the question — oppose more government spending to help the poor. The deep budget cuts by the U.S. House earlier this year included programs that helped the poor,” Business Week noted.

This concern about the common good and justice for our seven billion brothers and sisters across the planet is not some Jesuit spin on Catholic morality. For years, Catholic social teaching has said much of what many in the Occupy Wall Street movement are saying today.

“There also exist sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel,” the Catechism states.

The Catechism also discusses the dignity of human beings. “The equal dignity of human persons requires the effort to reduce excessive social and economic inequalities,” the Catechism states.

Economic Justice for All, a publication by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also weighs in on Catholic social teaching.

“The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich; the rights of workers over the maximization of profits; the preservation of the environment over uncontrolled industrial expansion; the production to meet social needs over production for military purposes,” “Economic Justice for All” reads.

“The way society responds to the needs of the poor through its public policies is the litmus test of its justice or injustice.”

The Vatican recently called for the reform of the international financial system. Oct. 24, 2011, a division of the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, released a document on the
“Reform of the international financial system with a view toward a general public Authority.”
The church is calling for more sane and loving controls and organization of our ever-increasing and accelerating processes of globalization. The processes that result in horrific inequities and the destabilization of peace.

“In its annual Report of in 2007, the International Monetary Fund recognized the close connection between an inadequately managed process of globalization on the one hand, and the world’s great inequalities on the other. Today the modern means of communication make these great economic, social and cultural inequalities obvious to everyone, rich and poor alike, giving rise to tensions and to massive migratory movements.

“Nonetheless, it should be reiterated that the process of globalisation with its positive aspects is at the root of the world economy’s great development in the twentieth century. It is worth recalling that between 1900 and 2000 the world population increased almost fourfold and the wealth produced worldwide grew much more rapidly, resulting in a significant rise of average per capita income. At the same time, however, the distribution of wealth did not become fairer but in many cases worsened.

“What has driven the world in such a problematic direction for its economy and also for peace?
“First and foremost, an economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls. Economic liberalism is a theoretical system of thought, a form of economic apriorism that purports to derive laws for how markets function from theory, these being laws of capitalistic development, while exaggerating certain aspects of markets. An economic system of thought that sets down a priori the laws of market functioning and economic development, without measuring them against reality, runs the risk of becoming an instrument subordinated to the interests of the countries that effectively enjoy a position of economic and financial advantage,” according to the Vatican’s article.

The Vatican is calling people of good will (and institutions of higher education?) to “get smart” and figure out how to organize the global economic system in ways that recognize the inherent dignity of the person and the rights all enjoy as human beings.

One of the more controversial aspects of this document is the call to create and inaugurate “a true world political authority,” an idea first promulgated by Pope John XXIII in his 1963 encylical “Pacem en Terris”, or “Peace on Earth”.

Those who are engaged in the Occupy Wall St. movement, like the Vatican, realize the global economy is operating in ways that leave billions out in the cold, hungry and hurting. The goal of Occupy Wall Street is justice, the righting of relationships between various players in our global economic system. Jesus would support that, too. Would you?

Commentary By
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph. D.
Vice President University Ministries

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

First glance at the new Roman Missal

Okay. The New Roman Missal has some good features, e.g "Take this all of you and eat of it" (no longer "eat it").

But the elimination of the three Eucharistic Prayers for children is, IMHO, a big mistake.

And take a look at the drawing of the Last Supper on the other side of the title page. Notice the person whose head is shown leaning on Jesus' left shoulder at the Last Supper. Does that person look decidedly like a woman? Just asking. Some will welcome the image of a woman at the Last Supper (remember the old question, "Who did the dishes?"). Others will be scandalized by the idea a woman was present. Remember, I'm just asking... don't shoot the messenger.

And when I first picked it up, I thought the "chapel" edition was the Big Book. It's twice as thick and heavy as the old small Sacramentary. This new missal comes in volumes with real heft. I feel sorry for small altar servers....

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

David Brooks on the Wrong Inequality

IMHO, Brooks makes too light of the connection between the 1% and their taking so much of the pie, and the deplorable conditions of those on the bottom end of the scale, but his point is worth pondering. Even if we get (or force) the top 1% and the other fat cats to share more of their unjust share of the wealth, how will those at the bottom benefit if we do not provide education and other opportunities? Have we fallen so far that, even if we reduce inequality, the bottom 20% or 50% will not know how to reap the benefits? - Rick

We live in a polarizing society, so perhaps it’s inevitable that our experience of inequality should be polarized, too.

In the first place, there is what you might call Blue Inequality. This is the kind experienced in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston and the District of Columbia. In these places, you see the top 1 percent of earners zooming upward, amassing more income and wealth. The economists Jon Bakija, Adam Cole and Bradley Heim have done the most authoritative research on who these top 1 percenters are.

Roughly 31 percent started or manage nonfinancial businesses. About 16 percent are doctors, 14 percent are in finance, 8 percent are lawyers, 5 percent are engineers and about 2 percent are in sports, entertainment or the media.

If you live in or around these big cities, you see stores and entire neighborhoods catering to the top 1 percent. You see a shift in social norms. Up until 1970 or so, a chief executive would have been embarrassed to take home more than $20 million. But now there is no shame, and top compensation zooms upward.

You also see the superstar effect that economists have noticed in the income data. Within each profession, the top performers are now paid much better than the merely good or average performers.

If you live in these big cities, you see people similar to yourself, who may have gone to the same college, who are earning much more while benefiting from low tax rates, wielding disproportionate political power, gaining in prestige and contributing seemingly little to the social good. That is the experience of Blue Inequality.

Then there is what you might call Red Inequality. This is the kind experienced in Scranton, Des Moines, Naperville, Macon, Fresno, and almost everywhere else. In these places, the crucial inequality is not between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent. It’s between those with a college degree and those without. Over the past several decades, the economic benefits of education have steadily risen. In 1979, the average college graduate made 38 percent more than the average high school graduate, according to the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke. Now the average college graduate makes more than 75 percent more.

Moreover, college graduates have become good at passing down advantages to their children. If you are born with parents who are college graduates, your odds of getting through college are excellent. If you are born to high school grads, your odds are terrible.

In fact, the income differentials understate the chasm between college and high school grads. In the 1970s, high school and college grads had very similar family structures. Today, college grads are much more likely to get married, they are much less likely to get divorced and they are much, much less likely to have a child out of wedlock.

Today, college grads are much less likely to smoke than high school grads, they are less likely to be obese, they are more likely to be active in their communities, they have much more social trust, they speak many more words to their children at home.

Some research suggests that college grads have much bigger friendship networks than high school grads. The social divide is even starker than the income divide.

These two forms of inequality exist in modern America. They are related but different. Over the past few months, attention has shifted almost exclusively to Blue Inequality.

That’s because the protesters and media people who cover them tend to live in or near the big cities, where the top 1 percent is so evident. That’s because the liberal arts majors like to express their disdain for the shallow business and finance majors who make all the money. That’s because it is easier to talk about the inequality of stock options than it is to talk about inequalities of family structure, child rearing patterns and educational attainment. That’s because many people are wedded to the notion that our problems are caused by an oppressive privileged class that perpetually keeps its boot stomped on the neck of the common man.

But the fact is that Red Inequality is much more important. The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the 40 percent of children who are born out of wedlock. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the nation’s stagnant human capital, its stagnant social mobility and the disorganized social fabric for the bottom 50 percent.

If your ultimate goal is to reduce inequality, then you should be furious at the doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s. If your goal is to expand opportunity, then you have a much bigger and different agenda.

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