Lesson 30- Summary And Conclusions [part 2]
This is a continuation of my summary and conclusions of the series of programs that I began in January on our current economic crisis. I can’t emphasize too much that this is a great opportunity for we, as Christians, to rethink the direction that our nation was going and begin to apply Christian principles based on Love and Wisdom. If as St. Paul said, the whole creation groans like a woman in childbirth awaiting the revelation of the sons and daughters of God, then this is one of those opportunities in history for us to contribute to the salvation of the world by leading it out of the Kingdom of Darkness and Ignorance into the Kingdom of Light and Understanding. The key to this is that we must adopt the attitude of “being in the world” but “not of it.” And the key to adopting this attitude is for us to create a counter-culture based on Christian community that, through its example, shows the world that by first seeking the Kingdom of God, everything else they ever wanted will be added unto them.
This will not be easy because it will mean a struggle to overcome old patterns and replace them with new ones. Not only will the “people of the world” resist the necessary changes, but so will many Christians because we have become “part of the world” and many of our vested interests are tied to it. But, as the scriptures say, “you can’t put new wine into old wine skins or they will burst.” Perhaps this means that those of us who belong to the older generation have too many ingrained needs and habits, and like the Hebrews that Moses led out of Egypt, they yearned for the “fleshpots” of Egypt, which symbolized slavery to the past, every time the journey to the Promised Land and freedom became difficult. According to the Bible, God decided that they couldn’t enter the Promised Land because Egypt was in their heart and, therefore, had them wander in the desert for forty years until most of them had died off. In fact, Moses himself, although he saw it from a mountain top, died before entering it. You might recall that this was the basis for Martin Luther King’s “Mountain Top” speech when, just before he was assassinated, he said to all those he had led through the civil rights movement that he had been to the mountain top and, although he might not get there himself, he had seen the Promised Land.
Thus, although my talks might find acceptance from some people of my own generation, I suspect that it is the younger generation, who don’t have all the cultural baggage that we have, will be the ones who will take the next step towards the creation of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. But no matter who it is, it will involve a struggle because all change has to overcome the inertia of static existence that seeks to survive by repeating known patterns. In other words, we prefer the devil that is known to the devil or angel that is unknown. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, noted the same tendency when he wrote: “experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” He then goes on to say that when things become unbearable, that is when we are willing to let go of the old and forge forward towards new forms. And, that hopefully, is where we are now and I pray to God that we have the sense to move forward rather than turn back towards that which is more familiar. If we go back, then we will become another miscarriage of history that developed to a certain point and then terminated the pregnancy because we lost our way.
If we decide to commit ourselves to creating the type of New World Order based on the principles of the Gospel which Pope Benedict XVI supported in his most recent encyclical, then we must prepare ourselves for a struggle. First, a struggle with ourselves as we try to reorient our minds and second a struggle with those who, fearing change, want to hang on to the patterns that brought us to our present predicament. Like those who, because they are out of touch with reality are technically insane, the want to keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results. So we shouldn’t think that to follow the Truth means the path will be easy. Rather we should remember that Jesus said, “If you want life and you want it fully, pick up your cross and follow me, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That is why, at the end of my last program, I ended by reminding us that, as Christian, we believe that Jesus, the Logos of God, is always there to help us in our efforts and when things become too difficult, he carries us and the burdens that are too much to bear. However, it is a win-win situation because two things are being saved by our efforts. The first one is ourselves and the second is the world. As followers of Christ we are part of the negentropic forces of the universe who, with our leader Jesus, are called to be reparation for its sins. Remember that reparation comes from the word repair and sin comes from a Greek word used by Greek archers that means to “miss the target”. Thus, Jesus, as the Logic of God, has an eternal commitment to repair the damage to his Father’s plan and we, as his body, are his operatives in this task. So, with this in mind, let us continue to analyze our role in this Cosmic Drama.
I have already noted that the key to our participation is for Catholics, in particular, and Christians in general, along with other people of “good will” to form communities because it is only through corporate actions and a common vision that we can have an effective impact on the world. I emphasize Catholics because, as a Catholic, I believe we have a special calling and that our parish structure is a model for the formation of geographical communities within an urban setting. I include others because they too share in the responsibility and benefits to be gained by following Love and Wisdom, which to us is simply another way of identifying God. If they can accept Jesus, as we do, fine. But if they haven’t reached that point, then a commitment to Love, which the scriptures say is God, and to Wisdom or Truth, which the scriptures say is Jesus, is enough to become partners in our enterprise. Remember, that Albert Einstein said that his idea of religion was to stand in worshipful awe of the Higher Wisdom that created the mathematical laws of the universe upon which all science is based and that all he ever wanted to do was to “understand the mind of God. Don’t you think that is enough to belong to the club?
To the Humanist Manifesto’s declaration “There is no God to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself”, we reply “There is no super-welfare state that can save us; we, with the help of God, will save ourselves.” I believe that it was St. Ignatius who said, “Pray like everything depended on God; and work like everything depended on you.” It’s time for “we the people” to grow up and seize control of our own destiny. And, for the first time in history, the means to do this are available in the form of Democracy, through which we can impact our political leaders and their policies, and Capitalism, through which we, to an even greater degree, impact our economic leaders and their policies. In past programs, I have already mentioned how we can begin right now by voting with our money and by joining the efforts of websites like Million Moms.com, Million Dads.com, and Million Youths.com to discourage advertisers from supporting programs that flaunt and undermine Christian values. And, of course, when election time rolls around we can make our voices heard in the political realm.
Once the concept of community cooperation and coordination is formed, the next step is apply the concept of self-taxation through tithing ten-percent of our income for the benefit of the community or to support the efforts of various ministries. Some people may find this too radical and so they should ease themselves into the concept of tithing by creating a “Lord’s Account”, which I described in an earlier program, through which they learn to psychologically separate themselves from that portion of their income. Or, others might want to start tithing within the family for the benefit of family members. Eventually, however, we should reach a point where the Christian community is a part of our family. If all of these seem too radical, then at least learn to put some portion of your income into a saving account for your own use.
The next step after forming a parish community is to make a commitment to the parish and its people. As I write this, there are numerous parishes in the Philadelphia and across the river in New Jersey that are closing down leaving churches, convents, rectories, and schools that once were thriving. Part of the reason, is the non-attendance of those, including unfortunately many of the young, who, although they continue to identify themselves as Catholics, no longer attend Mass or participate in the parish activities. According to the Catholic Standard and Times, only 25% of the Catholics in Philadelphia attend Mass on a regular basis. Some continue to return when a baptism, marriage or funeral occurs, but they soon return to their non-involvement. They are the “nominal Catholics” who never really knew what it meant to be Catholic and to say they left the Church is a misnomer because they never really belonged to it in any real sense. They are “in the Church’ but “not of it” while, at the same time, they are not only “in the world” but also a very real “part of it.” To lose them is to lose “dead wood” that draw some nourishment from the Church without returning anything. Their loss is regretted but not really missed.
The ones that will be sorely missed in the future are the young who, even after a Catholic education, drift away from the Church. I once tried to impress this on a pastor who was very comfortable because he pastored one of the most active parishes in the Archdiocese and didn’t see any reason for great concern. In an attempt to bring the extent of the problem to his attention I suggested that after the reading of the Gospel at his next Sunday Mass he should tell the people to remain standing. Then, ask those over fifty to sit down, followed by those between thirty and forty-nine. The first group, I said, was the Church’s past. The second group is the Church’s present and those who still remain standing are the Church’s future.
Then there is another group who, having come to a personal relationship with the Lord, and are alive with faith, are discouraged or frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm by many of those, who, although they are practicing Catholics, seem to be doing just that. Due to their lack of enthusiasm or any deep understanding of the Church or their Christian faith, they seem to be practicing to be something that they haven’t yet made a full commitment to be . Because they neither sing nor respond, they rob the Mass of its vitality, give a bad example to the younger generation, and drive away those Catholics who are looking for a deeper and more meaningful experience. They are the lukewarm whom Jesus was addressing when he said, “I wish that you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth.”
However, those who desert the Church because they are looking for a more vital experience are not without fault. They are “live wood” who could bring life to it through their own participation and enthusiasm but they choose instead to serve themselves rather than the Church. They are the wheat in the field who, impatient for the harvest and ignoring Jesus’ warning that prematurely pulling out the weeds might also uproot some of the wheat, have decided on their own to separate themselves from the weeds. In doing so, they harm the Church in three ways. First, they rob the Church of spirit. Second, through their words and example they often uproot others, who are wheat, and draw them away from the Church. And third, in order to justify themselves, they become opponents of the Church by adding fuel to the misunderstandings and negative stereotype that many of our Protestant brothers and sisters already have of the Church. In this way, they add to the further fragmentation and dissension among Christians and serve the interests of the devil rather than God’s. Jesus’ last prayer was that his Church would be one as he and the Father were, and we must assume that a divided Church serves the devil’s interests rather than God’s. I have often said, “The devil doesn’t care if we have faith so long as we are divided. Nor does he care if we are united so long as we don’t have faith. What he really fears is a united Church that is full of faith.” If “faith full” Catholics choose to desert the Church to join the thousands of fragmented Protestant churches, when will Christians ever speak with one voice and act with one effort? Instead of staying put and working to bring about the necessary reforms within the Church, they have joined a rebellion that was meant initially to be a reform. In other words, they have undermined the “common unity” or community that Jesus intended for the Church.
But there is yet another group who undermined the Church because of their lack of commitment to the parish community and many of us, including myself, have been guilty of this. It is those who have bought into “the world’s” theory that our present home is merely a stepping stone to a bigger and better home farther away from our neighbors and the hustle and bustle of the cities. In fact, we really shouldn’t refer to it as a home, because that infers a sense of warmth and connectiveness. Rather, it is a house that is an investment that will finance our next leap away from those who annoy, repel or threaten us. And, yet, in his book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis described hell as a place where, because every wish came true, the inhabitants were isolating themselves from each other because they didn’t want to or have to make any adjustments or concessions to the differences in others. As a result, the long time occupants of hell lived further and further out on the horizon in beautiful mansions but totally isolated from others. They had found the secret of hell which is to reach the point where the only person whom we can tolerate is ourselves and even that is burdensome. Offered the complexity and variety of heaven, they settled instead for the singular sterility of SELF. They had rejected the world of OTHERNESS for the world of SELFISHNESS and in doing so, they had rejected LOVE, who is God Himself.
In an earlier program, I described how, after World War II, there was a mass exodus by the returning veterans away from the ethnic, and often parish, communities in which they were born towards the greener pastures of the suburbs. Without knowing or intending it, they were trading off relationships for real estate. Only in the Italian communities in South Philadelphia was there any resistance to this new philosophy where, until recently, homes were passed from one generation to the next and, if a house came up for sale, the grown children who were forced to leave, would buy back into the community. In a sense, we could say that they were “in Philadelphia” but not “of Philadelphia” because they had carved out an area where Italy, with its traditions, culture, and values, survived and was successfully transmitted from one generation to the next. Would that it be for all parish communities. Instead, we see the empty churches, rectories, convents, and closed schools that tell the tale of those who preferred real estate over relationships.
But, as one book put it, “You Can’t Go Home Again” because the past is over and done with and all we have is the present and the future. So our attitude now has to be to “bloom where we are planted.” Perhaps, at some future time, our children or grandchildren, having run out of places to move, will return to a rehabilitated city and instill life back into those deserted buildings. But for now, if we truly value the parish community, we must first change our attitude about the purpose of home-ownership. Recognizing that there will always be legitimate reasons to move, we must rid ourselves of the idea that “house-hopping” away from our communal roots for no other reason than aesthetic or investment purposes undermines the survival and effectiveness of any community. And, if we have to move either for essential or non-essential reasons we should either reconnect with a similar community or work to build one where we are. For Catholics this obviously means to pledge our “time, talent, and treasure” to our new parish. Community does not automatically or necessarily happen but, like any relationship, such as marriage, it requires work and effort.
Only when this is accomplished is there any chance of creating a “capital pool” based on tithing, or committing to an insurance company like the Knights of Columbus, or considering self-insurance as a group. We should expect problems but that is what life is about. Our minds have been made for and even thrive on “conflict resolution.” If there were no problems, I think we would invent them just for the fun of it. That is, unless we think that heavenly bliss is “to have nothing to do but roll around heaven all day.”
As I’ve said, the sense of community does not automatically take place, especially since many of the newer suburban parishes are a conglomeration of people who have moved from different sections. Thus, where in the older ethnic parishes through time, inter-marriage and shared experiences, generation upon generations of neighbors had formed closed ties, often in the newer parishes the sense of connection with others is limited to a wave to a neighbor or a limp handshake in church at the “kiss of peace.” Therefore, what time, inter-marriage, and shared experiences had formed spontaneously in the older parishes, conscious planning and choice is required in the newer ones. How is this to be done? Well, we can learn from the experiences of others.
I presently live in a parish where some of the older techniques for neighborhood bonding are still practiced. Every summer there are block parties throughout the area where the streets are blocked off, music is played, games are organized for kids and adults, and food and prizes are plentiful. It a wonderful time for all and the local merchants often contribute to the festivities. However, the most important effect is that it breaks down the barriers among neighbors and reinforces the sense of community.
Another good technique is parish sports. When I was a kid, the men in the neighborhood formed a softball team that traveled throughout the city playing teams from other parishes. As a kid I remember the thrill it was to root along with other kids for our fathers, uncles, cousins, and neighborhood men as they competed.. These men became heroes in our eyes and role models for our manhood. They knew us and we knew them and that gave them power over how we acted within the community. Often they would challenge and correct us with the same power as our parents and, we listened. Any one who has ever dealt with the young will testify to the fact that there is a big difference in how they behave when they are known and when they are anonymous.
Unfortunately, by the time that I married, many of these practices had just about died out. My first parish didn’t have block parties and the men didn’t form softball teams. And, although I was involved with the guitar Mass in my first parish, I never participated in any parish sports. Thus, after thirty-two years, my acquaintances were limited to a few neighbors and those involved in music. Ironically, after moving to a new parish, I got involved with the bowling team from my old parish and I now know more people than I ever knew when living there. I regret that I didn’t find this out sooner.
One of the interesting thing about this league is that it is composed of men and women of all ages and of different skill levels, from those who barely break one hundred to those who bowl over two hundred. Since joining, I’ve seen four perfect three hundred games bowled. At the end of each year, new teams are picked from the pool of players, which gives everyone a chance to get to know more people on an intimate basis. We might say, it’s not whether you win or lose but how many people you get to know. And that is how communities are formed.
Bowling and other sports are excellent ways for people to interact and to get to know one another. This is especially true for young men and women. There is a great song entitled “Getting to Know You” in the movie, “The King and I”. And this is a problem many of us had to face in the mating game. How do you get to know somebody so as to determine whether he or she is the person to whom you want to make a life-committment. In my day it often was dances, where I met my wife. Today, it seems that bars have become the places for young men and women to gather and the mixture of alcohol and hormones carries its own dangers.
I once had a young, black female student who had come from South Carolina who told me that she preferred the South to the North. I was surprise because this was during the Civil Right era when the Black Community was going through a lot of upheaval. When I asked her to explain, she said, “In the South, young men and women traveled socially in groups where they could get to know each other as people without becoming boyfriends and girlfriends. In the city,” she said, “everybody wants to own or commit to the other person as soon as they meet.” Marriage is difficult even when you think you know the other person. But it is even more difficult when it is entered into with minimal knowledge. Perhaps that is why today there are so many broken marriages. They never really got to know each other from afar before deciding to form a closer relationship. Sports and other social events allows them to have shared experiences without making premature commitments to each other.
We also could learn a lot from our Protestant brothers and sisters who, because their congregations are often smaller, find it easier to form intimate relationships through a number of bonding techniques. Rural Catholic churches, with smaller congregations, also seem to have a greater sense of community because of their smaller size. However, Catholic parishes in the cities often have the problem of size to contend with. When your parish consists of 4600 families, as mine does, it is hard, if not impossible, to get to know everybody. However, the effort must be made to know as many as possible if a sense of community is to be formed. Nothing bonds people as much as eating together and the “after-service” breakfast or “coffee-and-donut” gathering in the parish hall or auditorium is an excellent way to accomplish this. But even this will not work, if the people don’t consciously make a commitment to attend for the purpose of building relationships. If the attitude continues to be, “get to mass, fulfill your obligation, and get back home as soon as possible”, then nothing will work because of the lack of commitment. As I said, community, like marriage, has to be worked at.
Another practice by our Protestant brothers and sisters that I have witnessed with my Protestant brother and his wife are faith-sharing groups in the home. Neighbors and friends gather, sometimes as often as once a week, in someone home and share their faith. The result is that every time my brother and sister-in-law change churches or move to a new location, they create a circle of friends who are committed to a Christian world view. I’ve experience the power and benefit of this myself since I have attended a faith-sharing group of Catholic men for over 20 years on the second Saturday of every month. We all attend an 8:30 Mass and then gather for coffee and donuts, followed by scripture readings, songs, and sharing. It’s something that has become essential to my own spiritual development and has bonded all of those who attend.
The success of this group and other like it has motivated the Archdiocese to promote the practice since it addresses one of the most serious problems in the Church: the lack of involvement by the men. A committee was formed to explore this problem and last March the first Men Spirituality Conference was held. Over 1200 men attended and, encouraged by its success, the second one is planned for next March at ArchbishopRyanHigh School when we hope to get over 2000 men attending.
Pope John Paul II often said that we should not be afraid because this is the Spring Time of the Church despite all the crises that we are facing. It is hard to believe this when it is estimated that somewhere around 70% of Catholic do not attend Mass on a regular basis. Yet, we must remember that in the Springtime the deadwood on trees and bushes are pruned away so that the full energy of the plant can be applied to the live wood. And that, I believe, is what is happening. But that energy will not be put to good use unless we have a clear vision of what has to be done. Everything that happens begins with a vision or dream and without it the people will perish. So let’s dream of a world “as it ought to be” and commitment ourselves to working towards its actualization.
In recent programs, I have used music to reinforce my theme and so I would like to end today with another song. This is one that was initially done by Elvis Presley following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Recently, through modern technology, they were able to create a video in which Elvis and Celene Dion sang a duet. Here is the sound track from that. The song is “If I Can Dream.”
If I Can Dream
There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can't my dream come true
There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear
We're lost in a cloud with too much rain
We're trapped in a world that's troubled with pain
But as long as a man has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly
Deep in my heart there's a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer, answer's gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there's a beckoning candle, yeah
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream come true, oh
Right now, let it come true right now
Well I see that my time is up.