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A reflection on “A Man for All Seasons”

On Dec. 12, 1966, the film “A Man for All Seasons” was released. And if it’s impossible to imagine such a picture on such a theme winning Oscars today, then let’s be grateful that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got it right by giving Fred Zinnemann’s splendid movie six of its awards in 1967 – when, reputedly, Audrey Hepburn lifted her eyes to heaven before announcing with obvious pleasure that this cinematic celebration of the witness and martyrdom of Sir Thomas More had beaten “The Sand Pebbles,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Alfie” and T”he Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” for Best Picture.
           
Intriguingly, though, “A Man for All Seasons” is a magnificent religious film – perhaps the best ever – despite its author’s stated intentions.
           
Robert Bolt’s introduction to his play, which led to the movie, makes it rather clear that author Bolt saw More less as a Catholic martyr than as an existential hero, an approach befitting the hot philosophical movement of the day (which was, of course, the Sixties). As Bolt put it:
           
“Thomas More…became for me a man with an adamantine sense of his own self. He knew where he began and left off, what areas of himself he could yield to the encroachments of his enemies, and what to the encroachments of those he loved. It was a substantial area in both cases, for he had a proper sense of fear and was a busy lover. Since he was a clever man and a great lawyer he was able to retire from those areas in wonderfully good order, but at last he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self.  And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff….
           
“What attracted me was a person who could not be accused of any incapacity for life, who indeed seized life in great variety and almost greedy quantities, who nevertheless found something in himself without which life was valueless and when that was denied him was able to grasp his death.”
           
Yet this portrait of Thomas-More-as-Tudor-era-existentialist doesn’t quite convince, because Bolt, perhaps in spite of himself, gave us a different More in his drama and later in his screenplay – a More who “grasps” his death, not as an existential stalwart, a courageously autonomous “Self,” but as a Catholic willing to die for the truth, which has grasped him as the love of God in Christ.  Thus when More’s intellectually gifted daughter Margaret, having failed to argue him out of his refusal to countenance Henry VIII’s divorce and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, plays her final card and cries, “But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?”, More replies, haltingly, “Well…finally…it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”
           
And not love of self, but love of God and love of the truth. For the God who is truth all the way through is also, St. John the Evangelist teaches us, love itself. And to be transformed by that love is to live in the truth – the truth that sets us free in the deepest and noblest meaning of human liberation.
           
There was something worthy and inspiring about certain aspects of existentialism: not the soured existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, which quickly decomposed into nihilism, but the heroic existentialism of a Albert Camus, who could not abide the anti-clerical Catholic progressives of his day and who sought a world in which we could be, as he put it, “neither victims nor executioners.” But it was Sartrean existentialism that won the day, at least insofar as one can trace a line from Sartre to contemporary narcissism, displayed today in everything from temper tantrums on university campuses by over-privileged and under-educated barbarians to voters across the Western world who seek relief from their grievances – some quite legitimate – in adherence to some pretty dreadful characters.
           
In this unhappy situation, we need the real Thomas More: the Thomas More who bore witness and ultimately “grasped his death,” not to vindicate his sense of self, but as the final and ultimate act of thanks for his having been grasped, and saved, by Truth itself, the Thrice-Holy God.   
 

St. Dominic of Silos

In 11th-Century Spain, if the king demanded something, he generally got it.  Not so in the case of one Benedictine monk, however. 
 
Saint Dominic of Silos stood his ground and, although he lost one monastery, he gained another,  greater one instead.
 
Born in about the year 1000 to a peasant family in Navarre, Spain, Dominic spent his early years as a shepherd, cultivating a love of solitude and prayer. In adulthood, he entered the Benedictine order, was ordained a priest and became abbot of the monastery at San Millan de la Cogolla.  When a dispute over monastery lands arose, the king of Navarre ordered the Benedictines to leave; when Dominic refused, he and two of his monks were forcibly removed and exiled.
 
They sought refuge in Castile; there they became part of the monastery of San Sebastian at Silos, which was in desperate need of reform. Under Dominic’s leadership, the house was reinvigorated both physically and spiritually and became one of the most famous monasteries in Spain.  It was reputed to be a place of healing, due primarily to the holiness associated with Dominic.
 
Dominic died in 1073 of natural causes.  His feast day is Dec. 20.
 
Sources for these articles include:
www.americancatholic.org
www.catholiconline.come
“Saint Dominic of Silos." CatholicSaints.Info. 14 June 2016.
 

St. Nicholas of Myra

One of the most popular secular figures associated with Christmas, Santa Claus, actually began as a very Christian saint – St. Nicholas.  Although we have few facts about this Fourth-Century bishop, the many stories which grew up about him, coupled with the widespread devotion people have expressed toward him in many times and cultures, give us a glimpse into the holiness of the man.  And the picture it paints is very appealing.
 
Nicholas was born into a wealthy family during the latter part of the Third Century on what is now the southern coast of Turkey; his parents, devout Christians, died in an epidemic when Nicholas was still a very young man. As a result, he suddenly found himself in possession of a fairly substantial fortune. However, rather than keep his money, he obeyed Jesus’ command to “sell all you have and give it to the poor” and distributed his earthly wealth among the poorest and neediest around him.
 
Nicholas was ordained a priest and was subsequently made bishop of Myra, a city in Lycia, which was a province of Asia Minor. Sources tell us that he was imprisoned during the Christian persecution, which took place under the Roman Emperor Diocletian but lived to see the legalization of the faith under Constantine. Likely present at the Council of Nicaea in 325, Nicholas died in the city of Myra on Dec. 6, 343.
 
Nicholas was known during his lifetime for his expansive generosity.  One of the most popular stories about him concerned a man who was too poor to provide dowries for his three daughters; at the time, a lack of dowry meant that a woman could not marry, and so it was likely that these girls would end up being sold, either into slavery or prostitution. When Nicholas heard of the situation, he is said to have gone to the house on three separate occasions, each time tossing a bag of gold through the window, thereby providing each daughter with the needed dowry.  According to legend, the gold landed in the stockings of the young women, which they had washed and hung over the fireplace to dry – thus beginning the tradition of hanging stockings at Christmas that persists to this day.
 
Miracles also were attributed to Nicholas after his death. One of the oldest stories tells of a young boy who was kidnapped from Myra by pirates who raided the city during the celebration of the saint’s feast day. A year later, as the child’s grieving mother prayed for his safe return, Nicholas is said to have appeared to the boy where he was being held as a slave, sweeping him up and returning him to his parents.
 
Another story has Nicholas restoring to life three children who were murdered by a wicked innkeeper.  Still another, which reportedly took place during the saint’s lifetime, says that while on a voyage to the Holy Land, the ship on which he was traveling was caught in a terrible storm. The terrified sailors were sure that the ship would be lost and that they would drown, but Nicholas calmly prayed for their safety. Within minutes, the waves were stilled and the storm abated, sparing everyone on board.
 
While many of these tales are unsubstantiated, their persistence over the centuries nevertheless point to a man who was both generous and holy, a model for those who would also live a compassionate life. There are many who claim him as their patron, among them children, sailors, brides and the country of Greece. 
 
His feast day, which falls near the beginning of Advent, is Dec. 6.
 
Sources for this article include:
www.americancatholic.org
www.catholiconline.come
Ott, Michael. "St. Nicholas of Myra." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.
“Saint Nicholas of Myra." CatholicSaints.Info. 11 June 2016.
 www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/
 

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: Patron saint of widows and seafarers

If you ever had an opportunity to attend Catholic school in the United States, you have Elizabeth Ann Seton to thank for it. The first American-born saint, Mother Seton, as she became known, would end up traveling an often painful road, which led from a privileged upbringing in New York to her eventual vocation as a Sister of Charity in Baltimore, Md.
 
Born Elizabeth Ann Bayley in New York in 1774, she was raised as a staunch Episcopalian by her father, Dr. Richard Bayley. Although the family moved in the highest social circles, Bayley made sure that his daughter learned early the value of love and service to others.
 
At the age of 19, Elizabeth married a wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. Together they had five children, and she felt, at the time, as if she had everything she could want.
 
Ten years into their marriage, however, life began to take a different turn. Seton’s business failed, and he contracted tuberculosis. In an attempt to recover his health, the family moved to Italy, where he had business friends. The move, however, saved neither him nor his finances; he died in 1803, leaving his wife an impoverished widow with five children to raise on her own.
 
While in Italy, however, she came in close contact with Catholicism for the first time through the Filichi family, who took her and her children in. Through their influence, she became deeply devoted to both the Real Presence and the Blessed Mother.  When she converted to Catholicism in 1805, the news was not warmly received by many of her strict Episcopalian family and friends. 
 
Although she considered entering a convent in Canada, then-Archbishop John Carroll (whose cousin Charles had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence) convinced her instead to come to the Diocese of Baltimore. There, she founded a school in 1808 to help support herself and her children; though it was a secular institution, it was run along the lines of a religious community.  In fact, when news of her Catholicism spread, many of the girls enrolled there were withdrawn by their parents.
 
As other young women began to join Elizabeth, the archbishop asked her to establish a free Catholic girl’s school in Baltimore, and the parochial school system in America was inaugurated. In 1809, Elizabeth founded the Sisters of Charity to run the schools, and from that point on, she was known as Mother Seton. Archbishop Carroll officially approved the order in 1812.
 
Both her order and the parochial school system grew. Although she contracted tuberculosis, Mother Seton continued to work with both until her death in 1821.
 
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s feast day is Jan. 4; she is the patron saint of widows and seafarers (two of her sons went to sea), and against loss of parents.
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
  
www.catholiconline.com
 
“Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton“. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 September 2016.
 
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.
 
 

'Act Justly, Love Tenderly: Lifelong Lessons in Conscience and Calling'

“Act Justly, Love Tenderly:  Lifelong Lessons in Conscience and Calling." By John Neafsey. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2016. 160 pages. Paperback: $22; Kindle: $9.99; Nook: $10.49.

Like the prophets themselves, John Neafsey’s latest book, “Act Justly, Love Tenderly," is both uncomfortable and comforting. The uncomfortable part asks us to reflect seriously on who we are and what that means for our vocation as Christians; the comforting part is the assurance that we are never expected to pursue that vocation alone. As Neafsey says in the last line of the book, “We can concentrate…on putting one foot in front of the other, and remember that God is walking with us every step of the way.”

The author has chosen for reflection a passage from the Old Testament prophet, Micah. Though the epigraph at the beginning of the book quotes Micah 6: 6-8, verse 8 is the actual focus of what follows: “This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” As simple as this passage sounds, the author goes on to state that appearances can be deceiving.  “According to Rabbi David Wolpe,” he notes, “Micah’s ‘only this’ may be the most understated ‘only’ on record.”

The book, in fact, begins with an examination of precisely what “only this” may mean for serious Christians. To do this, he refers to the experiences of two people (among others) who took up Micah’s challenge in very concrete ways. The first is Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th Century, who lost most of his family during the Holocaust; the second is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who, not surprisingly, was a good friend of Heschel’s. Each of these men, in extraordinary and heroic ways lived out the “only this” of Micah’s exhortation.

The author is quick to point out, however, that not everyone is called to large deeds; most of us, in fact, will be asked to be just, loving and humble in relatively small ways. What those ways may be vary from individual to individual because, as Neafsey points out, “Callings come to people as they are, wherever they are, in whatever circumstances they find themselves.” Indeed, he says that the first step to living out Micah’s words is to actively seek personal authenticity, the “who” we are and have been, in the words of the prophet, from our “mother’s womb."

"The link with vocation,” he says, “is that we are called, first of all, to be ourselves.”

The balance of the book explores in more detail the “triple summons” to justice, love and humility.  Part two delves into precisely what the prophets meant when they talked about justice. “We love justice not by devoting ourselves to an abstract principle or idea of justice,” the author says, “but by acting justly – by doing justice.”   

In part three, Neafsey talks about the true nature of love:  “…love is not only a feeling. It is also a choice we make or action we take, regardless of the feeling of the moment.” By way of illustration, he speaks of two life circumstances that are very familiar to us – parenthood and the care of our elders. Here, Neafsey turns to his own personal and powerful experiences, told in a way that will resonate strongly with most readers.

He closes the book with a superb explanation of humility and, given the values often espoused by our culture, it may be the most important part of the whole piece. He provides a sound explanation of just what it means to be genuinely humble, pointing out that this virtue is the linchpin that both love and justice hang on. “All of us…are called to become ever more humble, decent and loving persons,” he concludes, “while we have the chance.”

Author bio

John Neafsey is both an author and a licensed clinical psychologist. He has served as a senior lecturer in the department of theology at Loyola University in Chicago and is a member of the staff at the Heartland Alliance Kovler Center, a treatment program for survivors of torture, also in Chicago.

Prior to becoming a staff psychologist at Kovler, he worked for many years as a volunteer therapist there and was also involved with its graduate training program. Currently, he conducts intake evaluations with new clients and supervises clinical psychology trainees who work with torture survivors. He also maintains a private practice in Chicago.

Neafsey earned his master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola and his doctorate in clinical psychology form Rutger’s University. A member of the Collegeville Institute Seminary on Vocation across the Lifespan, he is the author of two other books, “A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience” and “Crucified People: The Suffering of the Tortured in Today’s World.” Both books were recipients of Catholic Press Association Book Awards.  
 
Neafsey lives in Chicago with his wife and two children and is a member of St. Gertrude Parish there.

St. Clement I

St. Clement I
 
Pope St. Clement I occupied the Chair of Peter in the very early years of the Church. Known as one of the Church’s “Apostolic Fathers,” he provided a direct link between the apostles who knew Jesus and the later generations who succeeded them.
 
The most concrete information we have about him comes from a letter he wrote to the Church in Corinth around the year 96. In it he admonishes a group within the community who were actively trying to split away from the established clergy, to instead seek reconciliation. Like other Apostolic Fathers of the time, he stressed unity over division and understanding over conflict.
 
“Charity unites us to God…,” he wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. “There is nothing mean in charity, nothing arrogant. Charity knows no schism, does not rebel, does all things in concord. In charity, all the elect of God have been made perfect.”
 
Clement I died in about the year 100, and his feast day is celebrated Nov. 23.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
 
www.catholiconline.com
 
Chapman, John. "Pope St. Clement I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.
 
“Pope Saint Clement I“. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 May 2016. 

“Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World.”

“Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World.” By Leonard Foley, OFM and Jovian Weigel, OFM. Edited by Diane Houdek, SFO. Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2016. 188 pages. Kindle: $9.99; Nook: $8.49; Paperback: $15.06.
 
Since the election of Pope Francis in 2013, many people, both Catholic and otherwise, have taken a closer look at the little Saint of Assisi who was the inspiration for the pontiff’s choice of name. Although St. Francis himself has always enjoyed a certain popularity – note the many statues of him for sale at garden centers, for instance – it is this pope’s lifestyle which has drawn more thoughtful attention to who his namesake really was.
 
That is why this book, “Live Like Francis,” will probably speak to great numbers of people. This present version (there were earlier ones, but this “iteration…opens this vision to people both in and beyond the Secular Franciscan community”) is more than a mere introduction to the life and spirituality of the saint; it is an invitation to journey with him, reflecting on his ideals and learning how to incorporate his vision into a world much in need of what he has to teach. As such, it is not a book meant to be consumed in one or two sittings; rather, it is a year-long pilgrimage that the reader is invited to make into the heart of God by way of the heart of Francis.
 
Indeed, the book is structured to allow the reader to do precisely that.  Divided into 52 reflections, one for each week of the year, we are invited to contemplate the Franciscan way of life through Scripture, writings by and about Francis, how these can apply to daily life and finally, a prayer to better understand and put into practice what we have just read. Sometimes the reflections seem deceptively simple but, as the authors, Father Leonard Foley, OFM and Father Jovian Weigel, OFM, assure us even before we begin, “You will find that you progress a great deal, even though the growth may seem almost imperceptible at the time.”
 
“The foundation of the Franciscan way of life is Jesus Christ and no other.”  This is what Francis discovered in the church of San Damiano centuries ago, and it is what the reader is invited to rediscover here and now. As the authors note, “To be Franciscan, then, is to attempt to be Christian, a disciple.”  This, of course, is not an easy path to follow, which is why Fathers Foley and Weigel bring us along one step, one reflection at a time. 
 
Almost without noticing, by mid-year, readers discover that they have entered deep waters, indeed, but by then, they are hooked. Like Francis, they discover that there really is no going back, just a greater and greater going forward. And that means taking what has been learned so far and bringing it into the world. “If we choose to follow Jesus and to lead others to His truth, we become modern-day apostles,” the authors note. “As part of our commitment to live like Francis, we are called to go out of ourselves to bring Jesus’s gifts of faith, hope and love to life in tangible, practical ways.”
 
Ultimately, of course, this is the point. As the subtitle of the book reminds us, these are reflections on “Franciscan Life in the World,” which is why the reflections in Parts Four and Five move us out of ourselves and into the mainstream of life. By the end, we have been brought on a pilgrimage that starts within but that must, to be genuine, have an impact on what is outside of ourselves. “Reach out beyond yourself as Francis did,” the authors conclude. “Reach out as Jesus did….Make your daily decisions on the basis of what Jesus said and did. Believe that the Spirit continually calls us together to form the Body of Jesus today.”
 
Author bio
 
Sadly, the two authors of this book have passed away, but not before they each added significantly to both Catholic and Franciscan spirituality.
 
Father Leonard Foley, OFM, was a long-time editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine and a founding editor of Homily Helps and Weekday Homily helps. A Franciscan friar for 62 years and a priest for 54, he was well known in his later years as a popular retreat master and a speaker for adult education programs. Although he wrote upwards of 15 books for St. Anthony Messenger Press, his best-selling work was “Believing in Jesus: A Popular Overview of the Catholic Faith.” Father Foley died on Easter Sunday morning in 1994.
 
Father Jovian Wiegel, OFM, was active with the secular Franciscans at the local, regional and national levels for more than 30 years. He professed his solemn vows as a Franciscan in 1943 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1948; he began his Third Order/ Secular Franciscan Order ministry in 1950 as a spiritual assistant.  He died peacefully in 2008.
 
Diane Houdek, SFO, who edited “Live Like Francis: Reflections on Franciscan Life in the World,” is the digital media editor for Franciscan Media and has written extensively for them.
 
 

St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo
 
To say that St. Charles Borromeo moved in the highest circles of his time would be an understatement.  Born in 1538 into Milanese nobility, he was not only related to the powerful Medici family of Florence, Italy, but was also a nephew of Pope Pius IV, who ruled from 1559-1565. Because of his family connections, Charles became a prominent member of the administration of the Church, even while he was still a layman; the unexpected death of both his father and elder brother, however, set him on a path that would become synonymous not with power and prestige but with charity and reform.
 
The Church of Charles’ time was undergoing a period of great turbulence; Martin Luther had instigated the Protestant Reformation and Rome was responding with a Counter-Reformation. Although many religious orders had been founded to help with Church renewal – the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, being perhaps the most prominent of these – an ecumenical council of the entire Church was necessary to complete needed reforms. The Council of Trent, which convened from 1545 to 1563, thus became known as the Reform Council. Due primarily to political circumstances, the Council met in a series of three periods, and it was during the last one, from 1562 to 1563, that Charles Borromeo proved himself to be such an able leader.
 
Charles was both intelligent and well educated, thus perfectly suited to the weighty responsibilities that were ultimately placed upon him. Although his family pressured him to marry when both his father and elder brother died, he chose instead to become a priest. It was about the time of his ordination (at age 25) that he participated in St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, an experience that changed him radically. From then on, until the end of his life, his purpose became not power but holiness, and he eschewed all luxury, devoting himself instead to charitable works and the poor.
 
Charles was named cardinal-archbishop of Milan in 1561, but because he was so involved in the workings of the Council, he was not permitted to actually live in his diocese until the Council proceedings were concluded. He deserves the lion’s share of the credit for keeping Trent in session, even as internal circumstances threatened to break it up. He conducted all correspondence at the end and guided the drafting of the Roman Catechism.
 
The close of the Council did not mean the end of Charles’ work. Upon returning to Milan, he found his local church much in need of religious education and practical reform. To help address these issues, he established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and founded seven seminaries designed to better educate and reform the clergy. 
 
Not everyone greeted his work with enthusiasm, however. Because he insisted on strict enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline, there was an attempt on his life by a group of disgruntled monks in 1569. Though he was seriously wounded in the attack, he was not killed.
 
Charles believed strongly that if he were to insist on reform, he himself had to lead by example. When famine struck Milan in 1570 and the plague followed from 1576 to 1578, it was the archbishop who fed and cared for thousands of his fellow citizens, even as civil authorities fled the city. Although the circumstances of his birth would have entitled him to wealth, luxury and honors, he did without them all to become as poor as his people. 
 
Worn out with work and the burdens that had been his since his youth, Charles Borromeo died in 1584 at the age of 46. The patron saint of catechists, catechumens and seminarians, his feast day is Nov. 4.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
 
www.catholiconline.com
 
Keogh, William. "St. Charles Borromeo." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 
 
“Saint Charles Borromeo“. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 May 2016.
 
 
 

The Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Mt 5:9)
 
As Catholics, how we live our faith can have a great impact on the violence and injustice that surround us.
 
The escalation of violence and shooting of unarmed African Americans by police and subsequent retaliation against police have shocked the conscience of the nation.
 
These were not acts of foreign terrorists. In July, two victims were African American men who were killed during an interaction with local police in Louisiana and Minnesota. Five were Dallas police officers fatally shot by a lone gunman expressing anger toward police officers.
 
These incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota are not isolated incidents. They are part of an ongoing nationwide epidemic in which police have shot unarmed African Americans. More recently the tragedy was repeated in Tulsa, Okla.; Charlotte, N.C; and San Diego, Calif.
 
Today, with the ability to capture everything on video via cell phones and police body cams, the public is able to examine these incidents closely, which has led to public protests throughout our country.
 
Police stopped the Minnesota victim because a taillight that was out on his vehicle. In Louisiana, the victim was selling CD’s on the sidewalk. For reasons that are not clear, the interactions escalated to the point of an officer shooting the victim.
 
The central question is: Are police dealing with the African American segment of the population in a manner inconsistent with the treatment accorded the white population?
 
To be true to our vocation as Christians, we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness in our society. We must also be peacemakers and always seek the truth by critically evaluating the facts both nationally and in our own community.
 
While we have not encountered the same type of racial incidents here in Vermont, we have seen an increase in violent crime and three fatal confrontations involving law enforcement since December. A well-publicized report commissioned by the Vermont State Police and conducted by the Institute for Race and Justice and the Center for Criminal Justice Policy Research revealed that troopers were more likely to stop African American drivers than white drivers. African American drivers who were stopped were more likely to receive a ticket or to be arrested for relatively similar offenses.
 
Records from the Department of Corrections, Census Bureau and the Department of Justice also show that people of color are incarcerated at a higher rate than the white population. A report from the research and advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, reveals that one in 14 black men in Vermont are incarcerated. In fact, Vermont is one of just five states incarcerating its black population at about 10 times the rate of white residents.
 
Before concluding that racism fully explains the above statistics, we would have to know more about all confounding factors such as the objective behaviors that resulted in a traffic stop and make a thorough analysis of all information pertaining to each encounter. Sentencing decisions are complex and include many variables. However, it appears bias may be a factor.
 
At the same time, society needs to understand that police, in Vermont and elsewhere, have an extremely critical and difficult role. It is essential for the public to be protected from criminal activity, whether violence against persons or property, or crimes such as harassment, or hazards like drunk driving. Every veteran police officer can share accounts of unimaginable tragedies encountered on the job.
 
Yet police officers are human and make mistakes. If these mistakes are motivated or enabled by racial bias, they need to be extinguished.
 
This too is a matter of justice.
 
Race is such a polarizing force in American culture that most of us have at least some tint of racial bias in our thinking. Individual Catholics must first confront their own biases. We must realize that all human beings are God’s beloved children, made in His image and likeness. We need to share that vision in the broader community.
 
With the Year of Mercy nearing an end, now is the perfect time to reinvigorate the spirit of mercy by working to eliminate racism from our culture. Fair, unbiased policing and sentencing and justice in the social and economic arenas are all essential to overcoming injustice. But also getting to know and engage with our neighbors is essential if the racial divide is to be broken down.
 
Those able to break down those barriers and so foster peace -- Jesus proclaims them blessed.
 
 

One Ordinary Sunday: A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass

“One Ordinary Sunday:  A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass.”  By Paula Huston.  Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2016.  256 pages.  Paperback:  $11.84.  Kindle:  $9.99.  Nook: $10.99.
 
In Paula Huston’s latest book, "One Ordinary Sunday," it is obvious from the first page that what she is presenting to the reader is anything but ordinary.  Subtitled “A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass,” this book is both catechesis and prayer, with a good dose of spiritual journey woven throughout. It is like a deep conversation over coffee with a good friend, talking about the things that matter most.
 
Huston is a convert to Catholicism and so came to the Mass somewhat late in life, which is one of the features I found most appealing about this book. Because she is looking at every part of the Mass with “fresh eyes,” even lifelong Catholics can discover new insights into a very familiar form of worship.  By spending significant time reflecting on each prayer and reading and gesture, she emphasizes that everything that takes place is there for an important reason; nothing is accidental.
 
The framework for the book is indeed, one Sunday – specifically the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (from the readings – which she includes in the text – it is Cycle A in the Lectionary.)  As a lector in my own parish, I particularly appreciated the lengthy explanation she gave regarding both the meaning of Scripture and its history.  She weaves in, for instance, a trip to Italy and how Michelangelo’s statue of David allowed her to explain this ancient king’s significance to a young exchange student who had grown up in what amounted to a spiritual vacuum – a vacuum, she points out, which is beginning to pervade all of Western society. In fact, she fills in quite a bit of both the theology and spiritual culture contained in what we know as the Liturgy of the Word.  For Catholics who feel that they are somewhat lacking when it comes to grounding in Scripture, her chapters on the four readings at Mass will be most welcome and informative.
 
Her teaching background remains evident in the rest of the book as well. Nothing is mentioned which is not explained fully. For instance, when talking about preparing the altar for the Consecration, she includes a short vocabulary “lesson” about everything the priest will use.  When talking about the offering of bread and wine, she explains how these elements “represent a cooperative effort between God and man” and why the Eucharistic prayer is formed the way it is. 
 
From beginning to end, her grasp of history is thorough and her grounding in theology is sound. In spite of that, however, she is not afraid to share with readers her own struggle to understand and live out the faith she so strongly professes.   There is always the sense that she could be the lady sitting next to you in the pew.
 
Which brings me to the final strength of this book; everything she says takes place in the context of a real Mass celebrated by real people. By the end, we feel as if we know her fellow parishioners almost as well as she does. Not only does she share their names with us, but their individual ministries, a bit of their personal history and why she feels so close to them. Consequently, when she reaches the epilogue, written a year after the rest of the book comes to an end, we can both feel at home with those who are still at St. Patrick’s and mourn those who have passed on.
 
“'One Ordinary Sunday' began as an attempt to explain the mysterious power of the Mass in my own life,” Huston says in the preface to this book. In doing this so splendidly, she has helped us reflect on its meaning and power in our own as well.
 
About the author
 
Like many converts to Catholicism, Paula Huston’s journey to the faith was long and not always straight.  “The first time I attended Mass I was nearly 40,” she admits in the preface to "One Ordinary Sunday." “And, like a lot of Sixties’ kids, for 20 years before that, I’d been away from church entirely.” But the “Hound of Heaven” she added, quoting from Francis Thompson’s famous poem of the same name, “was clearly after me.”
 
Huston eventually became, not only a Catholic, but a vowed oblate of the Camaldolese Benedictines.  The fiction writing she pursued as a National Endowment for the Arts fellow grew into spiritual non-fiction, and her first project was "Signatures of Grace," for which she was both contributor and co-editor.  She has also written "Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit," "A Season of Mystery: 10 Spiritual Practices for Embracing a Happier Second Half of Life," and "Forgiveness: Following Jesus into Radical Loving."
 
She and her husband, Mike, own a small, four-acre farm on the central coast of California.  She divides her time between that, her four young grandchildren, mentoring MFA students in creative non-fiction at Seattle Pacific University and the Camaldolese.
 
 
 
 
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