Thursday, February 24, 2011

Catholic Bishops: Right on Workers' Rights

Here's a link to a Huffington Post piece on the Catholic bishops of Wisconsin coming together in defense of workers' rights to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.  On paper, the church has a pretty good record of supporting workers' rights -- witness, for instance, John Paul II's support for Solidarity in the 1980s.  (Sure, some of his enthusiasm was likely due to Lech Walesa's anti-communist streak, but there are other examples of JPII's record on this issue.)  I vaguely recall reading somewhere (not sure where) that even the arch-conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke once championed the rights of migrant farm workers.  (There, I finally said something nice about Burke.)

Of course, there's also a history of some members of the hierarchy thwarting workers' efforts to unionize:  for instance, Justin Rigali opposing the right of elementary school teachers in Catholic schools to unionize within the Archdiocese of St. Louis in the 1990s.  (Those elementary school folks were, for one thing, more poorly paid than their already poorly paid counterparts in Catholic high schools.  Perhaps not coincidentally, most of the elementary school teachers were female, while the high schools employed a sigificant number of male teachers.)

In any case, I'm glad to see the bishops in Wisconsin come down on the good side in this dispute with Scott Walker.  Social justice is still one of the winning cards in modern Catholicism; may this card be played with greater frequency, that's all I ask.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Transendental God, Ecology, and Vietnam's Future

Thomas C. Fox has an intriguing piece in the National Catholic Reporter.  He explores the interplay between women's religious communities (Catholic sisters, for instance) in Vietnam and the signposts that point to the forces that may help determine Vietnam's future.  Thanks to the insights of the women he is interviewing, he sees ecology as playing an essential role, along with a respect for God's gift of creation.

A brief excerpt from the article:
I asked the women sitting with her what they felt is the single greatest social challenge facing Vietnam today. Without coaxing and almost in unison the women said ecology. Unless the people attend to ecological needs, they explained, all other social issues will only get worse and the fabric of Vietnamese society will weaken.
Studies have indicated, for example, that one third to one half of the Mekong Delta, the nation’s primary food source, is in peril and could be under water in 50 years if expected sea levels continues to rise.
That ecology would be viewed by these women as Vietnam’s number one social challenge took me by surprise. But it was followed by another because they were coming to ecological issues through what was for them a relatively new spiritual framework: the presence of God in creation.
My spouse and I spent some time in Vietnam a decade ago, and we hope to make a return trip as a family in another year or two.  While I'll never claim a full understanding of a culture as rich and nuanced as Vietnam's, I can attest to both the beauty and the economic importance of the Mekong region, having made an all-too-brief day trip there during the three weeks we spent in the country.

I also have at least a simple appreciation for the co-mingling of Buddhism and Catholicism in Vietnam.  It is, of course, chiefly a Buddhist culture, though many Vietnamese self-identify as Catholic, and still others (a significant number, from what I've heard) identify themselves as both Buddhist and Catholic.  That may seem like a jarringly "hyphenated" identity to very conservative Catholics, for whom Buddhism probably sounds as strange as some just-discovered Martian faith.  In truth, however, Buddhism and Catholicism have--at least on a good day--much in common, including the call to compassion and a respect for all of God's creation, both that which is sentient as well as that which is inanimate.  (In other words, don't drill, baby, don't drill, at least not in ANWAR.)  

Fox closes his article with a lovely, and poignant, quote from Sr. Dang Thi Ngoc Bich:
God is a transcendent Creator, giving life to all creation. The task is clear. We need to preserve this creation.
 Amen to that.  Love God, love and care for what God has created.  And consider, on occasion, the consequences inherent in not preserving God's great gift of nature.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Isaiah's Words -- the Essential Calling

Here's the first reading from mass yesterday, which was the fifth Sunday in ordinary time.  It's from the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah.
Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.
Some days, the church seems to wander from the central, core mission that Isaiah sets out in this passage.  More specifically, at times the Roman Catholic church seems to view its core mission as keeping women out of positions of authority within the church; fighting the right of same-sex couples to enter into long-term, legally recognized, committed marriages; getting lawsuits tossed rather than recognizing the rights of the oppressed.

But there are times--lots of moments: small, quiet moments which don't receive much publicity and which are often best kept private--when people within the church (people within every faith tradition, really) do what Isaiah describes.  Thank God for those moments.  May there be more of them.  May each of us remember why God put us on this earth.  May we be open to serving God's will by serving the needs of those around us.  That calling--a calling given to each woman, man, and child in the church--is so much more important than the latest arcane decision from the Roman Curia, so much more essential to what it means to be a good Christian (or Jew, or Muslim--or, for that matter, a good Buddhist).

What is described in this reading is what I need to keep my eyes on this day, this week.  Through the grace of God, may I rise to the occasion.