Lesson 28- Christians United for a Better World
As I was ending my last program, I was commenting on the need to keep any utopian vision that wants to improve the world within the bounds of what normal human being want or are capable of doing. The best way to do this is to observe what is already being done and to give it a gentle tweak to steer it in the direction of God’s Kingdom. There is an old song title, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better”, that should be the operating principle for all Christians.
The Church is full of good, honest, intelligent, and talented people who often are the leaders and workers behind the success of many secular enterprises. If these same people were to view themselves as God’s agents who were placed in this world to establish His Kingdom by creating business enterprises motivated and guided by Wisdom, rather than profit, they would create a competitive challenge that the world could not resist. Their competitors would either have to copy them, improve upon them, or go out of business, all of which would contribute to establishing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”
There is no way that a group of organized, morally motivated, wisdom based people could fail in competition with a group of self-centered, morally blind, and short-sighted fools. I suspect that if we were courageous enough to challenge the world in every area of its activity we would discover the validity of Jesus’ statement, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be added unto you.”
The problem is that today the leaders businesses and corporation are beholding to their stockholders and thus their major focus is and has to be on the profits that their stockholders receive. Thus, indirectly and sometimes directly, the stockholders determine the direction and policies adopted by a business or corporation. And who are these stockholders? Well they range from private individuals, banks, pensions funds, organizations with surplus funds, and insurance companies. Have you ever wonder how insurance companies earn their money? It’s not just through the premiums that they collect from the insured. In fact, in many cases the premiums become secondary to their success. What the premiums provide is a “cash pool” that is available for making the money that is the real source of their wealth. They take these premiums and invest the money in profit-making enterprises and thus they become major shareholders in leading businesses and corporations. As such, they exercise a great deal of leverage in determining the direction and polices of these enterprises. Which brings me to my next observations.
In my last program, I described how St. John Neumann and Fr. Michael J. McGivney both created institutions that were designed to serve the financial and physical needs of their people. Bishop St. John Neumann established the Beneficial Saving Fund Society as a bank that would service the needs of his immigrant flock and Fr. McGivney created the Knights of Columbus as a “mutual benefit society” that, among other things, would provide insurance to care for the widows and orphans left behind when a member deceased. According to the encyclopedic article that I quoted, the Knights have 1.7 million male members and an insurance program that has more than $60 billion policies in force and holds the highest insurance ratings given by A.M. Best, Standard & Poor’s, and the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association. In other word, you can’t do any better.
Notice that this involves only 1.7 million males. In 2007, the Catholic population in the U.S. was 76,600,000 persons, which is about 25% of the total population. Estimating that roughly one-half are males, the number is 38,300,000. Even if we reduced this by half to account for young male children, we still have 19,150,000 males left. Now, if the Knights of Columbus has over $60 billion dollars in force policies with only 1.7 million males involved, what would it be if 19,150,000 Catholic males were involved? And, what would be their influence on the businesses and corporations in which they invested?
For 49 years I have been paying life insurance premiums to a secular insurance company when, if I had known it, I could have been receiving it from an agency that is identified with the Church. The same is true concerning the Beneficial Saving Fund created by St. John Neumann. Why shouldn’t that be the bank of our choice?
Why are so many of us ignorant of these options? Or why do some of us who know about it, fail to choose it?
Why do we choose to depend on secular institutions, which are often headed and staffed by graduates of our Catholic schools, instead of creating our own institutions headed and staffed by the same people. In the Philadelphia area these schools have already demonstrated they turn out a better product than the public schools at a much lower cost and are a prime example that in competition with other systems we can exceed or, at the very least, “hold our own.” It should have been the role of our schools to turn out students with a common vision of using their talents to make the world “as it ought to be” rather than being the sustainers of the “world as it is.” But that is what is missing in our schools. They excel in teaching the “3R’s that prepare the students to serve “the world” but they often fail to transmit the faith or the vision of the Judeo/Christian/Linear/Utopian/Concept of History. The fact that many of us have never even heard of this is proof of their failure. And, as the scriptures say, “without a vision the people perish.”
When our immigrant ancestors arrived here they probably weren’t any more aware or motivated by this vision than we are. They banded together and acted as a community simply because they needed to in order to survive. Through the parish structure they settled in ethnic ghettos where their common language, culture, and faith became the glue that bonded them together. And, in doing so, they demonstrated how a despised minority could survive and even advance in a hostile environment through the power of corporate action.
However, as time passed, and tolerance towards them increased, each generation became acclimated and absorbed into the major society. In a previous program, I have already described how these ethnic, parish communities gradually broke up as the returning GI’s from World War II married and began the movement away from the ethnic, urban communities towards the suburbs.
However, the truth is that Christians can never become acclimated to the “world system” because its agenda, based on the flesh, will always be at odds with ours, based on the spirit. Thus, our attitude should always be that of a people on their way to a Promised Land who, as they pass through history become a “leaven in the dough” to the people, cultures, and societies they touch. Our job is to transforms them rather than having them transform us. That is why in the Old Testament, God warned the Hebrews about consorting with and marrying their pagan neighbors and Jesus warned that we should not become “conformed to the world”. This does not mean that we can’t interact with them in any way, because that would be impractical. Rather it means we must always be aware that “their ways” are not “our ways” and, if anyone should change, they should by observing the examples we set for them. We should be a light to their darkness by living out the precepts of the Gospels.
It amazes and disturbs me that so many of us sing or hear hymns like “City of God” and “One Spirit, OneChurch” and fail to understand the message they contain. It’s as Jesus said of so many of those to whom he preached: “Having ears to hear, you do not hear; and having eyes to see you do not see.” Sunday after Sunday we hear, and hopefully sing, the words of hymns without thinking about the significance of their words. Take for example the words to the hymn, “One Spirit, OneChurch” whose words are:
We are a Pilgrim People; We are the Church of God …
A family of believers,; disciples of the Lord.
United in one Spirit, ignited by the fire…..
Still burning through the ages; still present in our lives
Come Holy Ghost; Creator Blest….
And in our hearts take up Thy rest
Come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
To fill the heart which Thou hast made
O Comforter to Thee we cry…
Thou gift of God sent from on high
Thou font of life and fire of love,
The soul’s anointing from above (Refrain)
If you want something to meditate upon, meditate on the key words and phrases in this hymn. “Pilgrims” are people on a journey who are just passing through. “Family”, a group of people who are intimately connected because they share common ancestors. “United”, to be bonded towards one goal or cause. “Spirit”, an energy that is necessary to accomplish any negentropic act. “Burning through the ages”, a passion that began long ago. “Still present”, it continues today. “Holy Ghost”, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, better know today as the Holy Spirit or energy of enthusiasm who renews the face of the earth. “Grace and heavenly aid”, the gift of God’s love that help us out of love for others. “Fill our hearts”, give us the love and wisdom that, according to St. Augustine, our hearts were made to receive. “Font of life and fire of love, the source of life and the negentropic energy that bonds all thing together. “ The soul’s anointing”, a blessing that God bestows on those He has called to serve Him.
If we truly understood and meant those words, it would become a vision that would transform the world and, may I suggest, it would enliven our youth who, because they lack a vision to invigorate their lives, drift aimlessly through life bouncing from one high to the next hoping that the next one will prove to be the one that can fill the emptiness inside. Eventually, if they don’t find a cause or guru to direct the energies of their lives, they either drop out of any involvement with the Church, or end up like many of the adults going through the motion of empty rituals that, although they originally had vitality and life, are now a pale imitation of what they were meant to be.
There is a big difference between a Mass celebrated by a group of true believers and one attended by those who are merely there through obligation. My oldest grandson attended a conference with 2000 youths from all over the country in Stubenville, Ohio and came back with a glow and enthusiasm for the Church. He spoke of the music and enthusiasm of the attendees and looked forward to the next conference. Later, he and I went to Australia to attend the World Youth Day with the same results. Four hundred thousand youths gathered to hear talks, sing hymns, and attend masses. The climax was when we walked ten miles to sleep in an open field and have the Pope celebrate Mass the following morning. However recently, after attending Mass with him at my parish with its usual uninspiring homily, lack of singing, and enthusiasm, he said, “This is why I go to the choir loft when attending Mass at my parish.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “It’s so dull that I listen to my ipod.” After reminding him of his experience in Ohio and Australia, I said, “The Mass is not dull. The people are because you can get out of it only what you bring to it.” But I knew what he meant because it not only the kids who feel this way. Recently while talking to a priest friend I mentioned how we were losing sincere people to Calvary Chapel, a nearby Protestant ministry. He said that one of his former parishioners who had done so told him that their services were fun and he enjoyed attending them. “The Mass,” he said, “Was not about fun. It was about worshipping God.”
I totally agreed. However, maybe we have misinterpreted worship in a Puritanical sense to mean being serious and quiet as though God was some sleeping giant who did not want to be disturbed. Consider that this is the God of the Universe that contains energy sources and explosive power that boggles our imagination. St. Ireaneas, a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple the Apostle John, once said, “The glory of God is Man fully alive.” We seem to be ignorant of the fact that David danced before the Ark of the Covenant and. The Old Testament is full of verses referring to tambourines, stringed instruments, shouts of joy and “making a joyful noise” before the Lord. It seems that we may have sanitized God to the point that He is boring when in fact He is the source of all energy and joy and His Holy Spirit is the spirit of enthusiasm.
Once again we should heed Hegel’s warning that any good idea taken too far becomes a bad idea. It’s good to be solemn and reverent, and it’s good to be joyful and spontaneous. However, solemnity and reverence taken too far becomes spiritless and joyfulness and spontaneity taken too far becomes raucous entertainment. The Truth is somewhere in the middle. To build a sense of community there must be participation and involvement and wherever they are missing, we are looking at the dying throes of that community. Nothing ever survives where there is apathy because it is the first sign of the entropic force of fragmentation and disintegration. And that brings me to another major point.
So far I have been talking about community within the Catholic Church and how powerful the impact would be on the world if we were to act in “common unity” with in our finances and behavior in the social, economic, and political realms. However, there is an bigger pictures that would have an even greater impact, that is, a united Christian world that spoke and acted with one mind.
I have nothing but admiration for many of our Protestant brothers and sisters and I pray and yearn for the day when the scars of the Reformation are healed and we join together to replace the rebellion that took place with the reformation that was the original intent. Every time a Protestant brother or sister returns to the Church, the Church is enhanced . And, every time a Catholic brother and sister leaves the Church because it is not living up to their expectations the Church is diminished. How can we rebuild and reform the Church if every person
who is alive and committed leaves and only those who are dead and apathetic remain behind. I once told my Protestant brother, “The devil doesn’t care if we have faith so long as we are not united. And he doesn’t care if we are united, so long as we don’t have faith. What he really fears is a faith full Church that is united.”
His favorite strategy is “Divide and conquer” and that was what happened when the Protestant Reformation got off track and turned into a rebellion based on individual private interpretation of the Bible which was taken as the sole source for salvation. As a result, just about every heresy of the ancient Church has been revised by one group of Christian or another. Some reject the Trinity, others the divinity of Christ, still others the humanity of Christ, etc… And the same division takes place on moral issues like homosexuality, abortion, artificial birth control, embryonic stem cells, and euthanasia. This is what happens when there is no recognized central authority with the commission and power to define and decide the final position. One thing is certain, without a central authority the unity that Jesus prayed for just before his ascension into heaven will never take place. And the same lack of unity happens in our Christian response to the world.
For years I have contributed portions of my tithe to various ministries, both Catholic and Protestant, that have organized themselves to deal with issues involving the world. At times I become disgusted when I find three or four ministries appealing for my help to deal with the same issue separately where their combined efforts would be more efficient and effective. For example, there are four ministries that involve Christian lawyers organized to respond to the efforts of the ACLU to impose their will on our judicial system. What bothers me is that all contributions to the ACLU go to one organization while my contributions are minimized by being spread across four. The same is true about Pro-life organizations and it seems like every few months another non-profit organization springs up appealing for funds to deal with a problem that already has four or five action groups. Once again we see a lack of “common unity” or community by Christians in general. And yet, without an organized effort, we will never have the impact that is needed to confront and change the world.
Recently, I came across three websites that illustrate what an organized effort can accomplish and I recommend them to my listeners as a first step in becoming involved with other believers in changing the world through united action. These websites, One million Moms.com; One million Dads.com, and One million Youths.com.state their purpose with the following statement:
“One million moms (which is a special project of the American Family Association) is an online community of mothers aimed at stopping the exploitation of our children, especially by the entertainment media (TV, music, movie etc…) It then asks:
“So, how can you (as one person), make a difference and influence the powerful Goliath of the entertainment industry? The answer is in your own hands. In 2005, roughly $8.8 billion was spent on movie tickets in the U.S. How much of $8.8 billion do you think came from those who call themselves Christians? According to The Barna Group, it was a massive $6.94 billion. Over 70% of the box office intake comes from people of faith.
With more than 170 million professing Christians in America, we have a powerful sling that can hit Hollywood between the eyes and leave a deep impression on its money-making mind. They are causing an entire generation to hate Christianity, and to use the name of Jesus Christ to express disgust.”
Did you hear that? What do you think would be the impact of 170 million professing Christians on every aspect of society if they were of one mind? What do you think would be the impact of even half this number? In fact, the numbers themselves don’t even matter. What matters is the perception that even a much smaller group gives of representing a greater number. The websites advertise themselves as representing one million moms, dads, or youths. Whether they really do doesn’t matter because even a fraction of this who speak out in opposition to something will always have a greater impact than a much greater number who say nothing. The Silent Majority will always lose to a Vocal Minority. And, if this is true, just imagine what the impact would be if it was a Vocal Majority that not only spoke out but acted on their statement.
Will it work? The websites list a series of successes involving the participation of advertisers in sponsoring programs and events that undermine family values. For example, the current issue concerns Daily Queen’s sponsorship of ABC’s “Secret Life of the American Teenager” which contained plots and language offensive to traditional values.
After giving a summary of the issue, the website states:
Sadly, Dairy Queen is supporting the negative influence of "Secret Life" by sponsoring the series with huge advertising dollars.
Please let them know that you do not approve of their financial backing of this program.
If you agree this series is inappropriate please send Dairy Queen an email letter asking them to stop sponsoring "Secret Life" through advertising.
When viewers of the website sent e-mails to Dairy Queen indicating their opposition, the results were:
“Dean Peters, Director of Communications and Public Relations of Dairy Queen, just contacted OMM and said they pulled their ad from "Secret Life" and no additional units have been purchased to advertise during this rotation. DQ has added "Secret Life" to their "Do Not Air List" and their "Restricted List." OMM has thanked Dean Peters and Dairy Queen on your behalf. No further action is needed.”
Could there ever be a better example how a group of coordinated people are able to impact society by voicing their opinion on an issue? It also illustrates how much more responsive our economic leaders are than our political leaders. They can’t afford to wait for the next election because it they don’t respond immediately, it will show up on their profit margin.
Other issues that are being protested are the nomination of “Family Guy”, a cartoon series that deals in vulgarity and explicit sexual material… Home Depot’s sponsorship of the Gay Pride Parade and others. What I like about this website is that it identifies an issue. Give you a summary of the problem. And then says, “if you agree” then send a email, thereby leaving it up to you whether you want to respond. And, if you are not good at composing your own emails, they include one that you can send or modify to your own taste. I personally believe that email written in your own words are more effective than those scripted by an organization. I was so impressed with these website that I decided to speak out on three of the issues and I’d liked to quote three emails to illustrate how one can express his or her opinion on some of these issues.
The first one involves the nomination of “Family Guy” for an Emmy.
One of the first signs of the collapse of any great civilization is the degradation of the Arts when hack writers resort to "potty humor" and "crotch humor" because they don't have the talent to be really humorous. When we start to honor this type of output, it is not only a sign of the lack of maturity by those who create it, but also those who support and honor it. Humorists, like Steve Allen, knew how to reveal the incongruities of life without resorting to what was infantile and in the gutter. It appears that those who have decided to honor Family Guy are, at the same time, dishonoring their own maturity.
The second one involves Wendy’s advertising support for Grey’s Anatomy
I am very concerned about the advertising support that your company gives to Grey's Anatomy whose programs often "cross the line" in content and theme. If we are known by the company that we keep, it seems to me that a business enterprise is known and identified with the programs it supports. Since I am careful about "the company I keep", I think you should be equally careful of the programs that you support. You are free to make you own decision in this matter, but I, as a consumer, am free to decide whether I, and my friends who are of like-mind, wish to support you as consumers. No one ever got more by expecting less, and the TV programming that we get will depend on what you demand as an advertiser and what I demand as a viewer. Let's do our country and the children that follow us a favor by demanding only what is the very best. P.S. I would really miss your boneless chicken wings.
The third one is in response to Home Depot’s decision to sponsor the Gay Pride Parade.
I am concerned about your active involvement and support of the Gay Pride Parade. I am not personally opposed to homosexuals as persons, since I know and admire some that I know. But I do oppose any attempt to portray sodomy and other abnormal sexual practices as something that should evoke pride. As someone who works with teenagers, I was shocked and surprised when I was asked by a young lady "Why is everyone gay?" and by a young man, "Why are all the girls lesbians?" Although it is good to teach our youngsters to respect the rights of others, it is not in the long term interest of our country to undermine and confuse the sexual norms of our society. Tolerance is one thing. Approval is another. I recognize that you have the right to spend your advertising dollars as you wish but I also have the right to spend my money where I wish. If you wish to have your company identified with this controversial social issue, then you must expect a backlash from those who disagree with you. The glory of capitalism is competition and if you don't like the product or policies of one company, there is always another, such as Lowe’s, available. You make your decision and I'll make mine.
I want to emphasize that this is the proper response in a society based on the belief of an individual or a group’s right to determine what they will support and what they won’t. To those who might complain that I am attempting to force my values upon them, my response is “if you disagree, write your own email.” People who remain silent on any issue must expect to live with the outcome determined by those who spoke up.
The glory of Capitalism is that it is the largest and most effective democratic institution in the world. Every one who buys a product votes. Through the dollars we spend we indicate to our business leaders what we desire and support and what we oppose. And they, in turn, must respond to the demands of the consumers or risk the fate of going bankrupt. Because of this, they spend exorbitant amounts of money trying to find out what pleases or displeases us. And once they know they will act on the information.
So, Christian consumers of the world unite. Let them know what we think through the ways we spend our dollars and through the emails we send to their websites. Take the first step towards Christian community action by speaking up. Remember, Jesus said, “I wish that you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Harsh words that need serious consideration by those who are concerned about their eternal fate.
Well, I see that my time is up.