Rick Malloy, S.J., is a Jesuit priest and cultural anthropologist. He is the author of _A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century (2007) and _Being on Fire: The Top Ten Essentials of Catholicism_ (2014), both published by ORBIS Books
Monday, January 06, 2014
The Work of Christmas Begins by Dr. Howard Thurman
The Work of Christmas Begins
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is
gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back
with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the
lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the
prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To
make music in the heart. Dr. Howard Thurman was an influential author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Theology and the chapels at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades, wrote 20 books, and in 1944 helped found the first racially integrated, multicultural church in the United States.
Kevin famously said in Home Alone II, “You can mess with a lot
of things, but you can’t mess with kids on Christmas.”So when an anchor at Fox News (whatever that
is), said “Santa is White,” I thought, like Kevin, “I don’t think so.”She should have asked a six year old like me,
Leo. Well, everyone calls me Little Leo.
Look, all us kids know Santa’s
color.It’s Candy Cane.Red cheeks? On ruddy skin, mostly covered in beard?You know, Santa, chief of the elves and lives
in the magical village somewhere at the North Pole.My Dad says Mrs. Claus is always telling him
what to do.If he goes outside, Santa’s
color is mostly blue, because it’s a gazillion degrees below zero up
there.If the elves hit the eggnog too
hard and don’t get the toys made on schedule, Santa’s facial color is mostly
red.For a while he was brown because he
loves the Cleveland football team, and then purple when he jumped on the
Baltimore wagon for their miracle run last year.But mostly he’s green because he’s originally
from Philadelphia and is really an Eagles fan.So, Yo Santa, when we gettin’ a Super Bowl championship in Philly?
You get it?He’s Santa.He can be any color he wants.
As Kevin showed in the first Home Alone, we kids know how it
works.There’s a lot of guys dressed up
in Santa suits out there.They can be
any kind of people, and I’ve seen them all: fat, skinny, old, young, smart (those
ones never tell you you’re getting what you ask for.They say they’ll check with your parents
first) and some are a few light bulbs short of a fully decorated tree (they
promise you’ll get everything you ask for, but never deliver).I go to lots of toy stores, especially before
Christmas.You see, each of these Santas
down here listen to kids and then get the messages back to the real Santa up at
the North Pole.
The real Santa, he’s the guy like Tim
Allen in The Santa ClausE, who puts
on the real red suit and turns into the candy cane colored, humungous, guy who
gives toys to all the good little girls and boys.Lucky for me, Santa’s an easy grader.What ethnicity or color is he?Who cares!We kids just want toys.And my
Mom says we have to share some of our toys with other kids, so we always take
some gifts to the Salvation Army before Christmas.And we’re happy that Santa’s such a Communist
or Socialist (whatever those words mean.My Dad told me to put them in).We know that all the little kids get toys at Christmas.How cool is that?Wouldn’t it be great if real grownups thought
like that?All kids getting what they
need, just ‘cause they’re kids!Doesn’t
matter what shape or size, country or color.Santa serves all kids, all kinds, everywhere.
It would be a world like Bedford Falls
in It’s a Wonderful Life.The George Baileys would get to make the ways
the world ought to be.The Mr. Potters
would be watching Fox News all day and night, sitting there scowling and mad
like the Grinch, unhappy because everyone in Whoville had a house with a few
rooms and a bath.No one living in
Pottersville.That would be great.My Dad makes us watch that movie every
Christmas Eve before we go to Midnight Mass at eight o’clock at our
parish.My big sister, she’s thirteen,
she says the movie is boring, but she says everything is boring.I love it when Clarence, and then George, jumps
in the icy water and, at the end, when the angels get their wings.
At Mass, my Mom says we’ll hear about
something our new Pope, Pope Francis, wrote, The Joy of the Gospel.Dad
says Fox News gets it wrong.Fox says the
Pope’s against capitalism (whatever that is).Actually, the Pope is for everybody and love and peace and justice.Fr. Rick, who is writing this all down for
me, says I should tell the people what the Pope said.
“Whenever our interior life becomes
caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for
others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of
his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very
real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful,
angry and listless.…I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this
very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an
openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly
each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her,
since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, #2-3).
Joy!Cool.As Linus said, “That’s what
Christmas is all about Charlie Brown!”And Christmas and Jesus and Santa are for everybody, anyone who ever
lived.It’s like birthday parties.Everyone gets invited.Bishop Harry Flynn learned that when he
didn’t want to invite an African American girl to his sixth birthday
party.His Mom told him, “Fine.But you don’t invite her, you don’t have a
Bishop Flynn writes, “I still have a vivid memory of that
birthday party and of my mother warmly greeting the young African American girl
as she came up the sidewalk to attend the party. That single act made a very
deep impression on me” (Flynn 2003).”Duh! How dumb was that, not wanting to invite that little girl to his
party.Archbishop Flynn learned his
lesson and now he teaches us:
“Racism takes many forms, but at its
core it is a personal and social disorder rooted in the assumption that one
race is superior to another.…I believe that two broad types of racism need
to be recognized and resisted: individual and institutional. Individual racism
is evident when a person adopts attitudes or takes actions that are based on
the assumption of racial superiority. Such attitudes and actions violate the
rights and dignity of other people because of race.A second type of racism is institutional or
structural. This type of racism exists where patterns of racial superiority are
embedded in the systems and institutions of society. Such racism is less
blatant and more complex, but it exists nonetheless. It is present wherever
systems and institutions are created and maintained in such a way that they
provide privilege or prejudice for one race over others. This type of racism
can be seen, to varying degrees, in many of our social, economic, and political
structures, including the structures of our Church.” (Flynn 2003)
it’s me again, Little Leo.All I say is,
it’s time to root out racism, in our hearts, our lives, and all the insti…
insta… insti… That’s a big word…. Root
it out in all the places it exists.Most
importantly, let’s take racism out of Christmas.
a lot of millennial progressive Catholics, Katie Dorner feels like the
days of having to defend her faith from the negative perceptions of her
peers are coming to an end.
“When the Pope won [Time Magazine’s] Person of the Year I thought to
myself, it’s like advent,” the time preceding Christmas when Christians
prepare for celebrating the birth of Christ, “but for the church. He’s
bringing hope to the church and to the world,” said Dorner, currently
serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Los Angeles.
Catholic Millennials in the United States have come of age in a
dark era for the Church, largely defined by child sexual abuse scandals
and the associated sordid newspaper trial coverage. The challenge of
keeping the faith has been arguably harder for young progressive
Catholics, given the increasing gap between the Church and the general
population on social issues such as contraception and homosexuality.
During the worst years of scandal, as progressive Catholic youths
came of age they did what many Catholics have always done: they quietly
served the poor. And in many cases, they did so through a program run by
the very order Pope Francis came from: the Jesuits. Now, with Pope
Francis in the Vatican strengthening the church’s anti-poverty message,
they feel welcomed back into the fold.
McIree was raised in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin and graduated in 2006 from St.
Nortbert College, which he jokingly describes as “your typical
‘Airborne Toxic Event’-type small liberal arts school,” referring to Don
DeLillo’s famous depiction in White Noise.
Having gotten a taste of direct service poverty work on a week-long
college social justice trip to a Philadelphia homeless shelter, he was
looking forward to returning for the more intensive, year-long service
that the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) promised. In 2006, as whopping
cash settlements in clergy sex abuse lawsuits rained down nationwide,
Andrew McIlree, now 30, joined the JVC and left his 94% white and only
4% impoverished hometown for North Philly, where the population is 80%
black and Latino and 50% of families live in poverty.
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps was founded in 1956 for the purpose of
putting Catholic college kids into service for poor native Alaskans. In
the past half-century it has grown to a multinational, though largely
domestically focused, network known for sinking its volunteers neck-deep
in communities many Americans fear and deliberately avoid. Like the
Jesuit Pope Francis who envisions his ideal church as one that is
“bruised, hurting and dirty” from being in the streets serving the poor,
the JVC holds to the same belief that true service takes risks and
works directly with the impoverished.
The Jesuit tradition has had a strong emphasis on social justice and at times a close relationship to “liberation theology,”
which puts a theological primacy on advocacy for the poor and
oppressed. While by no means exclusively a progressive organization, and
open to all faiths and creeds willing to advance efforts rooted in this
tradition, the Jesuit Volunteer Corps tends to self-select from young
idealists who typically identify as progressive.
The year McIlree spent in Philly was the most violent of the decade. Nearly 400 people were murdered during his time there.
He and a small group of other JVs were assigned to live in a
brownstone in a section of North Philadelphia known for gun violence and
drug markets. “The first time I heard gunshots outside the house I
figured it must be a nail gun or something,” McIlree remembers of those
first days. “I was seriously lying awake wondering, ‘Who does
construction work at night?’” That winter, an abandoned squatter house
up the block went up in flames after the family’s sole space heater
exploded, leaving all of them dead.
McIlree worked in a day center for the homeless known on the streets
as “802” for its address on North Broad Street. The day center offered
the most basic services; showers for men who didn’t like bathing at the
cavernous, filthy and notoriously dangerous nearby Ridge Avenue shelter,
a vast stock of donated clothes, and a warm (or cool) space to spend
time, depending on the season. A homeless person could use 802’s mailing
address for receiving welfare or disability benefits, or to fill in the
home address space on that first job application after getting out of
prison. With no requirements for entry, the place attracted the city’s
chronically homeless—individuals who often reject more structured social
services due to their sobriety or medication compliance requirements.
This is the hardest homeless population to serve.
McIree learned that directly serving some of the poorest people in
America had challenges you don’t encounter unless you’re physically in
this space. There were men and women barely recognizable as human
underneath piles of ragged clothing. There was the smell of men and
women, some unwashed for months, who arrived wearing jeans stiff with
dried urine that day-center staff would help peel off and replace. Many
in the day-center crowd were severely mentally ill and unmedicated,
their behavior unpredictable, and others had assault histories. A
homeless former Army Ranger once, without warning, grabbed McIlree
around the neck and placed him in a choke hold before releasing him a
“One day a fight broke out between two of the guys at the day center
and one stabbed the other with a screwdriver before running off. The guy
who got stabbed rather than wait for EMTs stumbled off towards the
hospital near my house.” After getting off work, and while walking home,
”I followed a trail of this man’s dried blood on the sidewalk for
blocks.” It made for the kind of reflection on the violence of poverty
you’re not likely to experience unless you’re involved directly in a
At the same time, the service had its rewards. “On my days
off I would go to Dunkin’ Donuts and my homeless friends would be there
hanging out, and not realizing it was my day off they would run up
wanting to talk about whatever issues they were having. It went beyond a
typical job.” McIlree found it impossible to walk around Center City
Philadelphia in his free time without running into people living on the
streets who he knew.
This was the crucial experience, for McIlree: Somewhere along the
way, those that he served stopped being “the homeless,” the conceptual,
faceless mass that most Americans see when looking at society’s most
disadvantaged. The homeless had become people, individuals whose names
he knew and life stories he had learned.
It’s this message of direct contact with the needy that many are seeing emphasized by the new pope—in his inviting homeless men
to his birthday party, in washing the feet of prisoners at a youth
detention center, or lovingly cradling the head of a severely disfigured
man he saw on the street. His idea of poverty fighting involves sneaking out of the Vatican at night to serve homeless people in person.
Katie Dorner graduated from Gonzaga University, a Jesuit college in
Spokane, Washington, last May, and set out for her JVC placement at the
Dolores Mission Parish in East Los Angeles in August. She says she knew
she wanted to be a JV from her freshman year in college. She now serves
as a youth minister at the Catholic elementary school where she says her
daily duties involve creating safe spaces for youth in an often violent
community where families can be torn apart by deportation. “It’s hard
to be around a child whose father was sent away because of immigration
policy,” she says.
Dorner feels invigorated by the recent messages out of the Vatican,
and says her fellow progressive JVs feel it as well. “I live with five
other young women JVs and as feminists and allies of the LGBT community
we feel there’s more growth that needs to happen in the church, but we
love Pope Francis, we talk about him a lot,” she says. “He really
stresses the role of the lay community, so we’re really affirmed by who
he is. It’s just a special time to be here.”
current Jesuit Volunteers and leaders in the organization that have
been organizing new recruits for the poverty fight for years have all
expressed to The Atlantic in emails that the inauguration of a
Jesuit Pope has wired fresh voltage into their efforts. The JVC Facebook
page timeline is filled with Francis associated postings, and
discussion of the Pope's movements have lit up social networks of young
Catholic progressives around the country.
Anthea Butler, a religious-studies professor at the University of
Pennsylvania, sees the shift from sexual morality to poverty and social
justice in the Vatican’s messaging as less a break with the past than a
return to it.
“What Francis is saying is not new, this is the Catholic Church’s
teaching. He’s doing what Jesuits always do. Jesuits get gritty with it.
They get down in the dirt and do things. They know how to speak to lay
people. This is the core of who Francis is as a Jesuit, that he is out
working in the streets.”
In fact, in Butler’s estimation the radical change was the shift
towards extreme social conservatism in American Catholicism. “Francis is
pointing them back to Jesus,” she says.
McIree considers himself just another Jesuit Volunteer in a long line
of men and women who joined the organization and gave a piece of their
life to serve the poor. Regardless of whether their stories were told,
whether they were individually recognized or even whether Catholicism
was increasingly demonized in the eyes of the world, the church's
progressive members have always sought to embody the message Francis is
making a particular priority. But, McIree admits that it’s nice to have
the pope electrifying the world and winning broad support with this
message. McIlree feels vindicated after years of having to justify his
beliefs to peers that only saw the church's misdeeds.
"Of course it's great to have a Pope who's not from the old order,
especially after so many years of bad news in the church," he says,
adding: "It has definitely energized my spirituality, I'm going to Mass
every Sunday again and it feels great."
The Jesuit Volunteer Corp doesn't know yet if they'll see a big surge
of applicants looking to live Pope Francis's dream for the church as a
group of street hardened poverty fighters; it's too soon to gauge the
size of this year's applicant pool. But Andrew McIlree isn't convinced
the enthusiasm surrounding Pope Francis will directly translate into
more Jesuit Volunteers in American inner cities—the program's demanding
reputation precedes it.
"Everyone loves the idea of what the JVC about, but not many people are
willing to really live it. Just like so many people love the idea of
being a Christian: truly living as one is different matter."
Pray with the Pope today. He is calling us to end World Hunger. St Ignatius says, "Love is best expressed in deeds."
Every year, authors, journalists, teachers, researchers,
schoolchildren and students ask us for statistics about hunger and
malnutrition. To help answer these questions, we've compiled a list of useful facts and figures on world hunger.
842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. This number has fallen by 156 million since 1990.
The vast majority of hungry people (827 million) live in developing countries, where 14.3 percent of the population is undernourished.
Asia has the largest share of the world's hungry people (some 552 million) but the trend is downward.
If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.
Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year.
One out of six children -- roughly 100 million -- in developing countries is underweight.
One in four of the world's children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.
80 percent of the world's stunted children live in just 20 countries.
66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.
WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.
On Wednesday, while delivering a speech largely about income inequality
and economic mobility, a populist president invoked a populist pope.
After rattling off a laundry list of dire statistics, President Obama
cited Pope Francis:
“Since 1979, when I graduated from high school, our productivity is up
by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has
increased by less than 8 percent. Since 1979, our economy has more than
doubled in size, but most of that growth has flowed to a fortunate few.
The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our income -- it now
takes half. Whereas in the past, the average C.E.O. made about 20 to 30
times the income of the average worker, today’s C.E.O. now makes 273
times more. And meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth
288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this
country. So the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed. In
fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s
market economy. Across the developed world, inequality has increased.
Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about
this at eloquent length. ‘How can it be,’ he wrote, ‘that it is not a
news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is
news when the stock market loses two points?'”
This is a worldwide problem, as the pope made clear, but in this country it’s particularly pernicious.
A study released last month by the World Economic Forum surveyed nearly
1,600 world leaders from academia, business, government and the
nonprofit sector and found that of the top 10 trends facing the world in
2014, income inequality was second on the list. (According to the
report, the top concern was “rising societal tensions in the Middle East
and North Africa.”)
And although in America 51 percent of all income earned went to the
wealthiest fifth of the population while only 3 percent went to the
poorest fifth of the population, Americans were among the least likely
to view inequality as a serious problem in the spring 2013 Pew Global
Attitudes Project Survey.
And yet, it looms as a central problem in this country, but one that is
often invisible from ground level. We remain ensconced in our enclaves
of sameness: subdivisions planned by price point and urban oases of
affluence set amid vast deserts of urban poverty.
We are not likely to recognize the ravages of inequity because of our isolation from one another, but they are there.
In addition, there is less economic mobility in America than in many other wealthy countries.
As the president pointed out:
“The problem is, that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen
diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. A child born in
the top 20 percent has about a two in three chance of staying at or near
the top. A child born into the bottom 20 percent has a less than one in
20 shot at making it to the top. He’s 10 times likelier to stay where
The Economic Policy Institute’s “State of Working American, 12th Edition,” released last year, echoed that sentiment, finding that “U.S. mobility is among the lowest of major industrialized economies.”
And that mobility gap is compounded by a gender gap. According to a 2008 Brookings Institution report,
“Close to half (47 percent) of low-income girls compared to 35 percent
of low-income boys end up in the bottom fifth upon adulthood.”
And NPR reported
last month that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women’s
share of minimum wage workers is nearly twice that of men.
That is why it was important for the president to use his speech to
support raising the minimum wage, saying, “It’s well past the time to
raise a minimum wage that, in real terms right now, is below where it
was when Harry Truman was in office.”
Arguments against addressing income inequality often focus on the
possibility of undermining incentives for those at the top. But what
happens if and when inequality begins to undermine incentives for those
in the middle and at the bottom? Honest work should pay an honest wage.
That idea is part of the American social contract and one in danger of
We must ensure that our society rewards innovation, ideas and initiative
while also ensuring equal access to opportunity and more equitable pay
for workers. The American identity depends on it.
This is not an us-versus-them argument, but an all-of-us one.
Rush Limbaugh is an idiot. Pope Francis is just preaching the Gospel and the Catechism.
Rush Limbaugh once again demonstrates his stupidity (http://atlantadailyworld.com/2013/12/02/rush-limbaugh-blasts-pope-francis-as-a-marxist/ ). The Pope isn't preaching Marxism, as Limbaugh charges. Pope Francis is just saying what the Gospels, the Catechism and Catholic Social Teaching have been saying for centuries. Read Mary's Magnificat, especially Luke 1:51-53, the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12) or the Parable of the Judgement of the Nations (Matt 25:31-46).
human person... is and ought to be the principal, the subject and the end of
all social institutions" (GS 25 #1 quoted in The Catechism of the Catholic
the Common Good is to be understood "the sum total of social conditions
which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their
fulfillment more fully and more easily" (GS 26 #1; cf. 74 #1).The common good concerns the life of
all....It consists of three essential elements.First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. ...Second the common good requires the
social well being and development
of the group itself....Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and
security of a just order (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1906-1909).
duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes
even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may
be."As you did it to one of the
least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40 quoted in
Catechism of the Catholic Church #1932).
There also exist
sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women.These are in open contradiction of the Gospel
(Catechism of the Catholic Church #1938).
principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of “friendship” or “social
charity” is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. (Catechism of
the Catholic Church #1939).
is manifested in the first place by distribution of goods and remuneration for
work.It also presupposes the effort for
a more just social order where tensions are better able to be reduced and
conflicts more readily settled by negotiation (Catechism of the Catholic Church
problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity:
solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers
among themselves, between employers and employees in business, solidarity among
nations and peoples.International
solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace in part depends
upon this (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1941).
dignity of human persons requires the effort to reduce excessive social and
economic inequalities (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1947).
Social Teaching (http://www.cctwincities.org/CatholicSocialTeaching ):Welcome
to our pages on Catholic social teaching. Here you will find most of the official
social teaching documents of the Catholic Church and also a variety of
resources to help you explore this rich body of moral teaching.If you are an educator, you will also find
tools to assist you in teaching others to know and appreciate the wisdom and
the challenge that is embodied in this teaching.Catholic social teaching has been called
"our best kept secret," "our buried treasure," and "an
essential part of Catholic faith."We invite you to discover for yourself this "best kept secret"
of the Catholic Church. You can use the navigation bar on the left to find
the actual texts of the social teaching documents and also a variety of resources
to assist you in finding specific teaching on individual topics and issues. Don't
miss the annotated reading list which will help you find additional reading,
ranging from introductory works to more scholarly essays and books
“The Father sent the
Son into the world to defend the poor.” - St. Augustine
My life as a Jesuit Priest, college professor and Vice President for Mission and Ministry at the University of Scranton, calls me to preach a full and flexible Catholicism, a religion trumpeting the fact that God loves us (see my books _A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century_ (2008) and _Being on Fire: The Top Ten Essentials of Catholic Faith_ (2014) [both from Orbis books]). The God who is Love calls us to construct a world wherein all can grow Happy and Healthy and Holy and Free. Christians, as followers of Jesus, are all invited and impelled by the Holy Spirit to live a Faith that does Justice. Justice consists in the Righting of Relationships on both personal and societal levels. Jesus wants us to reach out to our sisters and bothers around the globe who suffer in poverty and share the wealth of the world. St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits) said it best: "Love is better expressed in deeds rather than in mere words."