Thursday, June 10, 2021

 

   Congrats CRJ Class of 2021!!!

Baccalaureate Homily Cristo Rey Jesuit 

Baltimore  June 2021.

Rick Malloy, S.J.

Remember when you were a little kid, and you did something, and you’d call out, “Look at me!”

Well, we have been looking for you for these past four years.  Today we see you.  Young scholars.  Open to growth; committed to being life-long learners; ready to work hard in all arenas of life; burning with the desire to see a society of Justice; ready to love in ways that will make a world of peace and prosperity, joy and justice, hope and healing, faith and freedom, life and love.

It has been a long and trying year.  Classes online, the never ending Covid crisis, so much of life disrupted and disjointed.  The tragedy and pain of the loss of our beloved Gabby.  But through it all you have persevered.  You have applied to and been accepted by so many wonderful colleges.  From Morgan State to Morehouse, from Notre Dame in South Bend to Notre Dame of Maryland, from Loyola and Johns Hopkins here in Baltimore to Howard University in Washington, DC: on and on!  You are set to go and set the world on fire!

Let me today say something about fires, good fires and bad fires, and something about freedom.

St. Ignatius says, “Go and set the world on fire.”  There are two kinds of fire.  There are fires that burn down and destroy.  And there are fires that transform and give light.  Today, as young men and women for and with others, Go and set the world on fire with the transformative fires of justice and truth, peace and love.

Our faith in liberation begins with the experience of Moses.  He’s out in the desert.  He has run away from Pharoah.  He is living quietly and comfortably.  And he comes upon a burning bush, a good fire that reveals the presence of God.  It is a burning bush that is not destroyed by the flames.

From that good fire comes the communication of our mysterious God.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob says, maybe screams, “I have heard the cry of my people.  I have heard them crying out because of the slave drivers.  I am moved by their suffering.  I have come to rescue them.”  And so, Moses knew he stood on Holy Ground.

Holy Ground.  This is Holy Ground today.  Cristo Rey Jesuit, on Chester street, and online, is Holy Ground.  You stand today on the Holy Ground of your future, our future.

Class of 2021, you are poised to go on to college and careers.  You are like Moses.  You are like his sister Miriam.  You are called by God to work today for the liberation and freedom of those who are oppressed and enslaved.

Today, there are a lot of bad fires burning out there.  These bad fires need to be put out.  Some of Baltimore is burning.  Our environment is burning.  Our society is being burned by systemic racism.  Our politics are burning in the fires of polarization, misinformation and outright lies.  The destructive fires of prejudice and hatred directed at LGBTQ persons, Asians, African Americans, and Latinos and Latinas, are burning down norms of civility and truth telling.  There are thousands of fires burning on the Southern Border of the USA, La Frontera.  Thousands of people, many of them little kids, are fleeing for safety.  Their homelands are burning. 

But the good fires, the transformative fires, also burn.  The good fire of the bush that Moses saw still lights the way to God and community.  Out of that burning bush comes the Word.  The Word is transformative fire, the fire of God’s love that lights our paths. 

Go and set the world on fire with the transformative fire of God’s love.  Throw water on the destructive fires of hate and prejudice, injustice and political insanity.  Get busy.  Go and confront Pharoah.  Go and tell Pharoah to let the people go Free.  Go and make a world of Faith and Justice and Reconciliation.  Go and establish Social Justice in the land.  Go and love one another.  Go and worship the God who gives us the grace, the power, to do all these things.

Congressman John Lewis, the great civil rights leader, who was no older than you when he began to work with Rev. Martin Luther King in the early 1960s, said,

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair.  Be hopeful, be optimistic.  Our struggle in not the struggle of a day, a week, a month or a year.  It is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

That’s what Moses did.  He got into trouble with Pharoah.  That led to setting free the enslaved Israelite people.  The second Moses, Jesus, comes and begins his public ministry with the promise and challenge “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” 

St. Paul tells us “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).  Us… all of us… not just the few, not just the rich, not just the mighty…. Us…. all of us, free.  Jesus wants us all to be truly free.

Cesar Chavez, who organized farm workers in California once said,

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Out ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”  Chavez also said, “It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”

This awesome opportunity is your story.  Michelle Obama says, “Your story is what you have, your story is what you will always have.  Your story is something to own.”  Own the story of freedom, the story of liberation, the story of Moses and Jesus, of John Lewis and Cesar Chavez. 

Mrs. Obama also says,

You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms... you need to be preparing yourself to add your voice to our national conversation.”

Class of 2021, young scholars, you matter.  You are loved.  Go and Be like Moses and Miriam.  Go and be like Jesus.  Go and be like John Lewis.  Go and be like Cesar Chavez.  Go and add your voice and tell the story of Freedom of which Mrs. Obama speaks.  Go and bless the world, for you are blessed.  You have blessed Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.  Thanks for who you are.  Remember: You matter.  Go and make a world wherein we can all grow happy and healthy and holy and free.  God Bless you this day and all the days of your life.

And may our Good and Gracious God grant you all Joy for the Journey, Courage for the Choices, Faith for the Freeing, Hope for the Healing and Love for the lasting.  AMEN.

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

The Unfinished Work of the Civil Rights Movement

 Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D.

Jan 18, 2021

Director of Mission and Ministry, Cristo Rey Jesuit Baltimore

In the wake of the insanity and destruction on the part of right wing terrorists at the Capitol on Jan 6, 2021, we must reflect and realize what the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was all about, what it achieved, and how far we still have to go.

Early in his public life, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., just 27 years old, in the midst of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956, clearly articulated what the movement being born was all about: “The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community.”[i]

The Civil Rights movement was one of the most startling and transformative social revolutions in history.  I was born in 1955, a few weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  There’s no connection between the two events except in my own mind.  But the point is that I was born into a United States where segregation was legal, lethal and largely unquestioned.  And if you did question the status quo of race relations, racists would too often kill you.  The Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama honors 38 martyrs who gave their lives for the cause. [ii]

The peaceful, non-violent methods of the movement forced white Americans to realize their own morally objectionable beliefs, attitudes and discrimination.  The dignity and courage of the non-violent protesters, many of them young adults of college age, called the white majority to conversion and recognition of the justice of the African American community’s call for equality.

The Civil Rights Act was signed in July of 1964.  I was eight years old.  In less than a decade, the USA went from a segregated land to a community where we moved much closer to “liberty and justice for all.”

Prime beneficiaries of the movement were not just American blacks.  White opponents to the Civil Rights act added “sex” to Title VII of the Bill’s protections, thinking that would increase votes against it.  Along with “race, color, religion and national origin,” discrimination on the basis of sex would now be illegal.  The racists’ plan backfired, and the bill passed, changing the lives of all Americans for the better.

Ruth Ginsberg and the bio-pic, “On the Basis of Sex,” would never have happened without the Civil Rights Act.  Athletic programs for women in colleges across America would not exist.  Laws prohibiting marital rape would not be on the books.  Women would have no recourse if they did not receive equal pay for equal work.  And Kamala Harris would never have been elected Vice President.

Still, today women make only $0.82 cents for every $1.00 men make.[iii]  And racial disparities between different racial groups stubbornly persist.  Median Family Income USA 2019 was $68,703 with Asians/PI: $98,174; Whites: $76,057; Latinos: $56,113 and Blacks: $45,438. [iv] 

African Americans and Latinos/as are dying from Covid at a much higher rate than whites.  Saddest of all is the reality that black women and their babies die at twice the rate of white women and their babies.[v]  “Good!” I can hear some troglodyte racist mutter as he or she reads that sad fact.  Such overt and ugly racism is having a renaissance in the USA these days.  I hope those days are numbered.  But Jan 6th revealed hordes of dangerously misinformed people who will willingly believe lies and the liars who tell them.  They stoke the fires of hate.

True Americans, the majority of the 320 million citizens of the USA, celebrate racial and cultural diversity.  Anyone who strives to know and serve the true and living God welcomes the progress this country has made in the past sixty years.

African American Jesuit George Murry, Bishop of Youngstown Ohio, described the world our loving God desires for all.  It is a world where we not just get along, but form the beloved community envisioned by the Prophet from Atlanta.

“Imagine pulling people in from every neighborhood, from every walk of life, compelling them to sit down and share a meal together. You would have black and white and brown all together, rich and poor, gay and straight, progressive and conservative. Everyone’s mind would be blown when a vegan found a way to share a meal with a carnivore rancher, when a Black Lives Matter activist chuckled at the joke told by a Confederate flag-wearing Harley rider, and when a Trump enthusiast asked an undocumented immigrant to pass the tortillas.  Somewhere in all of the mixing and relating, the Holy Spirit moves! God’s blessed community looks like a smorgasbord of humanity, in heaven and on earth. That’s not to say that it is OK to hold onto our biases, even our moral failings, but we grow past them together.”[vi]

Like the good bishop, Abraham Lincoln, in his first Inaugural address called us to be friends, and not allow our differences to devolve into enmity.  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”[vii]

Let’s honor Rev. King who gave his life for justice and truth.  Let’s follow the better angels of our nature and grow past our prejudices.  Let’s reconcile, redeem one another, and bring into being the beloved community.

 


[iii]  AAUW. The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap. The Simple Truth about the Pay Gap (aauw.org)

 

[v]   Linda Villarosa, “The Hidden Toll: Why are Black Mothers and Babies in the United States Dying…”  The New York Times Magazine.  April 15, 2018.  Pp.30-39.   Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

 

[vi]  University of Scranton Graduation.  May 2018.   http://news.scranton.edu/articles/2018/05/news-grad_U2018_BishopMurry_Speech.shtml 

 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Why are People Poor?  No Living Wage. 


“Can I challenge your homily?”

“Sure,” I replied.

She wasn’t disrespectful, but obviously not happy with what I had preached at Mass.  Masks are required, and I had had to ask her to use her American flag kerchief to protect others as she sat in a front pew.  I thought that might be the source of her dissatisfaction, but that wasn’t it.

“First, Teddy Roosevelt had no right to create National Parks and forests.  In the beginning, we were 50 sovereign states.  Read the Constitution.”

I had praised the foresight of Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot in setting aside millions of acres for parks and forests.  I noted and praised their willingness to stand up to the robber barons of their day. 

“We are the United States,” I carefully replied.  “We fought a war in the 1860s over these issues.  We’ll have to agree to disagree.”

I had been preaching on the parables of the merchant who finds a treasure in a field and goes and buys it, and of a merchant seeking a pearl of great price.  Since the parables were about business people, I quoted Pope Francis: “Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all” (Joy of the Gospel, #203).

Gospel parables are to be understood on personal and societal levels.  Parables are striking stories with surprise endings that tell us about the Reign of God, how things will be when God and all of us are in right relationship, when “Justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  The Reign of God is a society of Peace and Prosperity, Joy and Justice, Freedom and Faith, Hope and Healing, Life and Love.

My challenger doesn’t see things that way.  Her vision of rugged individualism and dog-eat-dog crony capitalism is, in her mind, blessed by God and is not to be contradicted by some Jesuit priest.

But her vision is morally suspect.  If minimum wage had kept up with what it was worth when I was working as an orderly in a nursing home in 1975, it would be somewhere around $13.50 to $15.00.  It’s only $7.25 today.  I had also pointed out that we pay minimum wage (or less) to those who care for the most vulnerable among us, our elderly and our children.  Day care workers and those who serve in nursing homes earn so little.  I ask, “Why?”  And I get challenged.

“I run a business in Philadelphia.  I could hire more people if I didn’t have to pay minimum wage.”

I just looked at her.  I could not believe that after hearing me preach on a central idea of Catholic Social Teaching, that a living wage is a wage that can support a family, she is seriously telling me it is moral to pay less than $7.25 an hour.

Some rich Catholics often vociferously pontificate in favor of ending abortion, but have little time for Church teachings on the death penalty or social justice.  And for them a living wage is anathema, ridiculous, “socialist” insanity.  

Some wealthy people are willing to give a small portion of their wealth to help the poor, but when I ask why people are poor, and why wages cannot support a family, I’m a bad priest, a dreaded liberation theologian, and the greatest of all sinners, a “communist.”

But communism is simply a social system in which everyone gives according to their abilities and takes according to their needs.  Every normal American family is a communist society.  We don’t charge two-year-olds for their food, or make teens pay for their cell phones.

Crony capitalism and tax cuts, set up to benefit the top 1 percent, have hurt the vast majority of our fellow citizens.  Since 1980, income for the very rich has more than doubled; the bottom 90 percent’s share has barely risen.  In the 1960’s CEO’s made 20 times a worker; by 2019, they were taking 300 times more than their employees (Reich, 2020, p.15).

As an example, I noted Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, got $31 million in compensation in 2018 (Reich, 2020, p.15).  If Dimon worked 10 hours a day, 300 days that year, he was making $10,333 an hour.  Overall, he’s worth $1.6 billion.

“The market should set wages,” she told me.  (Hmmm… Is there no one who would apply to be CEO at JPMorgan for say $15.5 million a year?)

Jesus would say the market was made by and for human persons.  The market should be made for us.  We are not made for the market.

Even Mr. Dimon knows this.  In his 2018 letter to shareholders he stated, “middle class incomes have been stagnant for years.  Income inequality has gotten worse… More than 28 million Americans don’t have health insurance at all.  And, surprisingly, 25% of those eligible for various types of federal assistance programs don’t get any help. … Simply put the social needs of far too many of our citizens are not being met” (Reich, 2020, pp. 23-24).

The fact that so many share so little in our wealth should challenge us all.


Jesuit Father Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is the director of Mission Integration at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, and author of Being on Fire and A Faith That Frees, both from Orbis Books.

References

Reich, Robert (2020) The System: Who Rigged it. How We Fix It (New York, Knopf).


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Friday, December 25, 2020


Christmas 2020.  Covid Blues.  Christmas: Green Hope & Red Truth

Rick Malloy, S.J.

In 2019 it was, Stay away from negative people. In 2020, it was Stay away from positive people.

In 2020, I was so bored I called Jake from State Farm just to talk to someone. He asked me what I was wearing.

In 2020, The world has turned upside down. Old folks are sneaking out of the house & their kids are yelling at them to stay indoors!

In 2020, I saw a neighbor talking to her dog.  It was obvious she thought her dog understood her. I came into my house & told my cat.  We laughed a lot.

In 2020, Every few days you had to try on your jeans to see if they still fit. Pajamas trick you into believing all is well.

In 2020, we didn’t take showers (parfum de moi…) We just keep washing our hands.

In 2020, the virus did what no woman had been able to do before.  Canceled sports, shut down all bars & kept men at home!

In 2021, I need to practice social-distancing…. from the refrigerator.

 

All kidding aside, 2020 has been a year of years; a time unprecedented; an epoch of chaos, challenge, and change.  The year of the Covid shutdown, the year of Black Lives Matter Protests, the year of deathly dangerous and painful political partisanship.  One White House correspondent on Meet the Press summed up the year as “the year of alternative facts.” As this year ends, what do we really need to give one another?  I suggest we need to give one another the gifts of dialogue, truth and hope.

 

The philosopher Gadamer writes, “To reach an understanding in a dialogue in not merely a matter of putting oneself forward and successfully asserting one’s own point of view but being transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were(1991, p 379.  Italics added). 

 

What a gift.  To really reach understanding with one another.  To listen and learn from one another.  To stop shouting and asininely asserting.  To begin to hear and heal.  Hear one another’s hurts and fears.  Heal our wounds and weariness. 

 

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  So proclaims the Gospel of John.  The WORD, in Greek, the LOGOS, is much, much more than a mere one syllable utterance.  THE WORD means understanding has come to live within us, in our heads and hearts, in our communities and countries, in our cosmos.  THE WORD is the ground of being that undergirds all existence.   THE WORD is wisdom that reality is good and beautiful and true.

 

THE WORD is reason, the awareness that reality makes sense, that our lives have deep and desperately significant meaning.  Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Without George, Mr. Potter destroys social life, for the greedy and selfish do not live according to THE WORD.  The mean and mendacious, the stingy, sad, and sinful lot, live according to the lie, not according to the WORD of truth and faith and hope and love.  When lies rule, all is lost.

 

William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) observes:

 

“I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a café, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were” (Kindle edition, loc 5761 ff.).

 

This Christmas, we need truth and hope more than ever.  THE WORD is truth.  THE WORD is not just in touch with reality, or just corresponding to reality. THE WORD creates and sustains reality, permeates and penetrates all the pulsating beauty and bodacious being of existence.  THE WORD has become human and we see the glory.  THE WORD takes on our human being and transforms us, giving us grace upon grace upon grace (John 1:16).  In Greek, grace is charis, from which we get the word charism, meaning a divine gift, a transcendent power.  Thomas Aquinas says grace is the ability to do what we could not do before.

 

The great grace and gift of Christmas is light.  This year we are all mesmerized by the Star of Bethlehem in the night sky, the closest Jupiter and Saturn have been for 800 years (https://www.space.com/great-conjunction-jupiter-saturn-2020-fun-facts).  “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

 

We cannot see light, but light gives us the power to see.  This Christmas, let’s give one another, give our communities and countries, our churches and cosmos, the gift of looking for, seeing and appreciating the light, the light that makes life possible, and pregnant with the possibilities of new birth.  Carl Sandburg once said, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.”  This baby, this light, this WORD, is God’s pledge and promise that life will go on forever.

 

And isn’t that our hope?  That, despite it all, despite the destructiveness of our days, light and life, goodness and grace, faith and freedom, joy and justice, peace and promise, love’s crashing into our stubbornness (Damn it, for God’s sake, wear a Mask!) will win in the end.

 

We need to grace and gift one another with hope these days.  But how?  More than 325,000 in the USA and 1.7 million worldwide lost lives to Covid.  Political tensions can terrify.  Families stressed and strained by months of isolation and/or too much togetherness, now face holidays on Zoom rather than in the warmth of fireside with “fire water.”  No traveling.  No visiting.  No cheer.  A year without Easter and, the final insult, the cancellation of Christmas.  How hope? 

 

“Hope it the thing with feathers // That perches in the Soul // And sings the song without the words  // And never stops – at all” – Emily  Dickinson.

 

How hope? Sing.  Communicate.  Zoom.  Don’t eat too much junk food or drink too much wine, but indulge wisely and well.  Watch the movies. Decorate the tree.  Walk outside on a 15 degree, clear star filled night and let the awesomeness of the universe caress you.  Play with children.  Sit late at night, in a room lit by Christmas lights, and gaze on the manger.  Know God is with us. 

 

Isaiah proclaims: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.  You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing” (Isaiah 9:1).  St. Paul attests, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” (Titus 2:11).

 

Luke reveals, “And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:10-14).  And little Linus sagely tells us, “That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

 

Pope Francis addressed the world in an op-ed article in the New York Times on Thanksgiving Day.


“If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain.  … the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; there’s always a way out: “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

The pandemic has exposed the paradox that while we are more connected, we are also more divided. Feverish consumerism breaks the bonds of belonging. It causes us to focus on our self-preservation and makes us anxious. Our fears are exacerbated and exploited by a certain kind of populist politics that seeks power over society. It is hard to build a culture of encounter, in which we meet as people with a shared dignity, within a throwaway culture that regards the well-being of the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled and the unborn as peripheral to our own well-being.

To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.”

 

There’s the hope.  We can dream big.  We can come out of this crisis better.  We can allow ourselves to be less selfish.  We can open our hearts to feel others’ pain.  We can delve into dialogue and come out “transformed into a communion in which we do not remain what we were.”  To all who receive him he gives power to be sons and daughters of God (cf. John 1:12).

 

Have a Blessed Christmas.  Un Prospero Año Nuevo.  Jesus again begins the Dialogue.  He calls us to live and to love Truth.  He is our Hope.


And may we stay away from the frig in 2021.



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Saturday, December 19, 2020

    

      The Man Behind the Chair and George Bailey's Advent: 

An Advent Reflection on It’s a Wonderful Life

Richard G. Malloy, S.J. 

Author of Being on Fire Top Ten Essentials of Catholic Faith (Orbis 2014,  pp 137-139)


GEORGE:  “I’ve misplaced $8,000.  I can’t find it anywhere.”

POTTER: “You’ve misplaced it?”

God is working in our lives, even when we cannot see it.  It’s a Wonderful Life is a great story evidencing that faith fact.  A staple of the Christmas season, I’ve found this film to be fodder for faith reflection throughout the year, especially Advent.  George’s life is Christ like, even though he is unaware of the salvation God works through and for him. 

Saving his little brother Harry, George loses his hearing in one ear.  He saves Mr. Gower from a prison sentence.  George’s dreams of traveling the world, building bridges and skyscrapers, disappear in the long years of nine to five days when he takes over the Bailey Building and Loan rather than let the board vote with Potter to dissolve the small lending institution, so needed by Bedford Falls’ working classes (N.B. Especially for the immigrant, Catholic Italians, like the Martini family.  Providing for newcomers was not a popular political opinon in the 1940s).

George sacrifices his life so others may live in a small home with four walls and a bath, thus saving many from Potter’s slums.  He even helps out Iris Bick, risking his own reputation as small town tongues wag.  And through it all, he fails to realize what is really going on. 

The habits of a lifetime kick in, and, rather than blame befuddled Uncle Billy, George is ready to assume responsibility for the missing money.  In the moment of crisis, he is told by the malicious Potter, “You’re worth more dead than alive,” and George contemplates suicide.  It is then, as George approaches death, that the divine intervention occurs in the person of Clarence Oddbody, angel second class.  George’s outlook on life is revolutionized as he sees what the world would be like had he never lived.  Without George, the lovely, peaceful hamlet of Bedford Falls would have devolved into Potterville, a tawdry, bar-filled, hard town, filled with unhappy and sullen people.

The movie starts with prayers storming heaven, and one filmed ending had the entire cast kneeling and reciting the Lord’s Prayer together.  Director Frank Capra tells a tale of good versus evil, with a curious twist for 1940s Hollywood: The bad guy gets away with the money.  Potter is never brought to justice, and wheels away with the stolen $8,000. 

The only other person in the story who knows the truth is the man behind the chair.  He remains silent as Potter, his boss, rakes George over the coals.  With a word, this unknown, unnamed man could have saved George a great deal of anguish, pain and suffering.  But, like Pilate, he washes his hands of the matter, and George heads for the bridge.

First, George stops at Martini’s restaurant, and voices a prayer (Annie Lamott says the best two prayers are, “Help!” and “Thank You”).  George, not a praying man, asks God to show him the way.  George mistakenly thinks the answer to his prayer is the immediate response, a punch in the jaw.  He heads out into the blinding snow, crazed and a bit drunk, planning to end his life in the dark, cold swirling waters.

Again the habits of a lifetime of helping others inspire George to dive in to save Clarence.  And in helping one another, all is saved.  George goes through a period of uncomfortable growth in self awareness.  He struggles to comprehend the gift he’s been given, the chance to see the world as if he had not been born.  The truth explodes in his consciousness, and from Clarence’s mouth, “You really had a wonderful life.”

Mary Hatch-Bailey is the real hero of the story.  As a child she swore she would love George forever, and that love sustains and saves her husband.  Instead of descending into self pity and anger as her husband breaks down, she scatters all over town, telling people George is in trouble, and all those George has helped over the years come to his aid. 

Our spiritual journeys often parallel the outline of George and Mary Bailey’s story.  Advent is a good time to ask ourselves some questions the movie raises, questions that we may ask while waiting for the days of Christmas when we bask in the late winter glow of tree lights reflected in frosted window panes, our inner selves comforted by warm whiskeys and potent egg nogs.   It is more during the blustery and cold Advent days of late December, as the days shorten, that can we examine our souls and our attitudes toward our lives.

Are we grateful for our existence, even those parts of it that range from the mundane to difficult?  Do we realize our work in some way is being utilized by God for the furthering of the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated and for which he died?  Do we trust our lives, the lives God has given us, or are we too often dreaming and yearning for the unreality of some impossible existence, e.g., 100 lbs lighter or $1 million richer?  

Do we appreciate and cherish the loved ones close to us?  Are we willing to ask for help for our loved ones who are in trouble?  Where would George have been without Mary?  Where would Uncle Billy have been without George?  Where would we all be if some organizations and institutions like the Bailey Savings and Loan did not look out for, and care for, our well being and the common good?

Do we live our lives seeking power and prestige as Potter did?  Do we cooperate with the powers and principalities that crush people, keeping them mired in poverty and despair?  Are we silent like the man behind Potter’s chair as we see injustice perpetrated against the defenseless? 

As we pray these Advent Days, let’s realize that there is no resurrection without the cross, which means there is no cross in our lives that does not contain within it the seeds of resurrection.  George’s cross came in the form of a misplaced bundle of money.  Our crosses also will come.  Let us bear them with grace, dignity, courage and grace, knowing there is always a community on which we can rely.  In and through the loved ones in our lives, God again will win us the resurrection.


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Monday, July 20, 2020

Will There Be Racists in Heaven?




Will There Be Racists in Heaven?   
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D.
Director of Mission and Ministry Cristo Rey Jesuit Hgh School, Baltimore MD

“If you hate black people now, and you get to heaven and meet black people there, you’re not going to want to stay.  And that will be your hell.” 
Whenever I’ve preached on racism, it almost always gets blowback. 
“Father, there’s no place for politics in the pulpit.”
“You’re condemning all white people.”
And what someone said and was then reported to me, “He’s just another N***** lover.”
I was born three months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat.  In September of 1955, segregation was legal, lethal and largely unquestioned.  If you opposed racist policies and overt racists, you would not just get mocked on twitter; you would be murdered.  Yes, that’s exactly what happened to three young civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1964.  Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner were shot, and then buried in an earthen dam.
Yes, there has been progress.  Yes, two thirds of African Americans are firmly ensconced in the middle class, and Oprah is richer than the Queen.  Yes, we elected an African American president.
But “Yes We Can” has swung back to “No we won’t.” 
Think Charlottesville 2017.  Remember the murder of Heather Heyer. 
Think the massacre in El Paso, August 2019.
And now add the names Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery.
What does the Catholic Church have to say about racism?
Back in 1998 when racial tensions were exacerbated in Philadelphia, PA, the Catholic Archbishop Cardinal Bevilacqua promulgated a pastoral letter entitled “Healing Racism through Faith and Hope.”[1]  Bevilacqua wrote, “Racism a moral disease and it is contagious.  No one is born a racist.  Carriers infect others in countless ways through words and attitudes, deeds and omissions.  Yet, one thing is certain - the disease of racism can and must be eradicated is.    In short, racism and Christian life are incompatible.” 
He makes clear that we cannot be united with God if we are not united with one another. “Jesus is clear that this is a matter of holiness and a matter of salvation.  Our attitudes and actions towards others enter the mystery of our communion with God.  Racism is a sin that weakens and diminishes this sacred union....”
Prophetically he teaches, “Racism has been condemned as a sin many times…  For the truth to have an impact on us, for it to really set us free, it must become our truth.  It must be operative within us.  It must penetrate and ignite our minds and hearts.”
Last August, after the massacre of 22 people in a Wal Mart, the Bishop of El Paso Texas issued “Night Will Be No More,” an even stronger condemnation of racism.[2]
Bishop Seitz asks how we are to comprehend the massacre, another shooting that leaves us “feeling dazed, wounded, fearful and helpless.”  He asks, “How should we think about racism and white supremacy?”
He raises to consciousness the mystery of evil and how it seeps into our minds and lives in our hearts.  “This mystery of evil also includes the base belief that some of us are more important, deserving and worthy than others. It includes the ugly conviction that this country and its history and opportunities and resources as well as our economic and political life belong more properly to ‘white’ people than to people of color. This is a perverse way of thinking that divides people based on heritage and tone of skin into ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, paving the way to dehumanization.”
“In other words, racism.”
He charges that, “If we are honest, racism is really about advancing, shoring up, and failing to oppose a system of white privilege and advantage based on skin color. When this system begins to shape our public choices, structure our common life together and becomes a tool of class, this is rightly called institutionalized racism. Action to build this system of hate and inaction to oppose its dismantling are what we rightly call white supremacy.”
Bishop Seitz calls this the work of the father of lies (John 8:44) “incarnate in our everyday choices and lifestyles, and our laws and institutions.”
“God gave the earth to everyone, not just the privileged.   We must all work together “to ensure all our children have access to quality educational opportunities, eliminate inequality in the colonias, pass immigration reform, eradicate discrimination, guarantee universal access to health care, ensure the protection of all human life, end the scourge of gun violence, improve wages on both sides of the border, offer just and sustainable development opportunities, defend the environment and honor the dignity of every person.”
There is not an option to opt out.  “This work of undoing racism and building a just society is holy, for it ‘contributes to the building of the universal city of God….”
Here in the City of Baltimore, back in the 1960s, Cardinal Archbishop Shehan called for all Catholics to heed our obligation to promote racial equality.  He joined with other faith leaders calling for abolishing discrimination in rental housing and real estate.  For that, he received death threats.[3] 
I hope no one is contemplating violence against those who will build the new Mother Mary Lange Catholic school, a $24 million, 66,500 square foot complex in West Baltimore.[4]
Truth is truth.  Rev. Martin Luther King said, “We must all learn to live together like brothers, or we will perish like fools.”
In 2018, the United States Catholic Bishops forcefully stated that racism and racist attitudes and actions are destructive of human life.  All ways in which life is threatened contradict the love proclaimed by the Gospel.
“It is not a secret that these attacks on human life have severely affected people of color, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, targeted for abortion, have less access to healthcare, have the greatest numbers on death row, and are most likely to feel pressure to end their lives when facing serious illness.”
Our bishops teach that “racism is a life issue.”  They call us “to speak forcefully against and work toward ending racism.”[5]
To put it bluntly, to be Catholic is to be anti-racist.  In Christ, we are all brothers and sisters.  We are preparing ourselves for heaven by the way we live with and love one another now. 
There will be no racists in heaven.  Racists need not apply.
Jesuit Father Richard G. Malloy is the director of Mission Integration at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, and author of Being on Fire and A Faith That Frees, both from Orbis Books.


[1]    Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua.  1998.  “Healing Racism Through Faith and Hope.”  (Philadelphia Archdiocese).
[2]   Bishop Mark Seitz.  August 2019.  “Night Will Be No More.”  https://www.hopeborder.org/nightwillbenomore (Diocese of El Paso, TX)
[3]  Antero Pietila.  2010.  Not in My Neighborhood.  (Chicago:  Ivan R. Dee, Pp. 190-191).
[5]   United States Catholic Bishops Conference.  Open Wide Our Hearts. The Enduring call to Love. A Pastoral Letter on Racism.  Washington, DC, 2018, p. 30.  http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/upload/open-wide-our-hearts.pdf

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