No Trump, Not Not Trump

bridgeI post less on politics these days. Certainly not because I lack interest. Not because I’ve moved on from a state with fairly deep political sensibilities. Really, it’s more because I believe more in local politics. And since few of my readers are from my neighborhood, things that engage me might not mean much to them. So I write little about it.

When I first heard the “not Trump” meme, I was thinking No Trump from my favorite card game. I actually enjoyed the particular difficulties of playing hands without a trump suit–they have a challenge and a certain danger to them. There is great satisfaction in playing a long game: losing an extra trick early so that I can squeeze out something extra in the end. Reading the blogger’s advice at the hyperlink, I noticed this:

You must give something away first in order to achieve success later. Don’t immediately play all your high cards! It’s like an investment. Give up some of your losers at the beginning in order to “promote” your underlings in that suit. Then you can take control and reap the benefits afterward.

When I read about the various protests at a certain presidential candidate’s events, I wonder what it’s all about and why. If I were a Republican, and I felt strongly about the long-term viability of my party, maybe I would protest and speak out and blockade and stuff.

For the Not-Trump protesters who are non-party and not publicity plants of some sort, I have to ask: why bother? Are you a Republican? If not, why interfere in a game in which you have no skin? The man in question is not yet a final candidate for office. What is it to non-Republicans that he earns some measure of success among his supporters? I’d rather focus on the candidates (local and otherwise) that I prefer.

If some criticize Donald Trump as a celebrity, who is to blame for that status? Many Americans seem to want the easy path: fame, recognition, fawning adulation handed on a platter of good luck. Mr Trump is not the first presidential political contender to have enjoyed a first career as a celebrity media star. Unless more people get involved at the local level and work their way up, he might not be the last. Cue this: think about getting started.

This might be one of the few times I feel impatient with protesters. To be sure, they have the right to protest. And if Mr Trump gains a likely nomination, it may shift to a responsibility to protest. But otherwise, I see this as another aspect of the Hermeneutic of Subtraction. Trying to make things better by excising things we dislike is no effective investment. If nature abhors a vacuum, then other similar stuff will just fill the empty space.

If people are angry and upset about disenfranchisement, the economy, corruption, immigration, jobs, or what-not, then why not augment protesting with things useful, constructive and positive? Get informed about local issues. Go to town meetings and forums and get involved on a committee. Join a union. Get involved at school or at work.

To me, it seems that effective involvement is like playing no trump at bridge. Sacrifices must be made in the beginning to ensure success later. There is also the matter of compromise and cooperation with the partner’s cards. Working with others, playing a long game: that seems appropriate for a healthy American way of life. Why don’t more see it that way today?

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Amoris Laetitia 25: When Work Is Lacking

amoris laetitia memeSometimes, work is lacking for members of a family. It affects more than just the economy of community or a household.

25. This having been said, we can appreciate the suffering created by unemployment and the lack of steady work, as reflected in the Book of Ruth, Jesus’ own parable of the laborers forced to stand idly in the town square (Mt 20:1-16), and his personal experience of meeting people suffering from poverty and hunger. Sadly, these realities are present in many countries today, where the lack of employment opportunities takes its toll on the serenity of family life.

Pope Francis doesn’t mention it here, but finances are one major point of stress for many families, a trigger that eats away at family life.

Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here.

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Timing the Drop-Out

The Post-Confirmation Summit in Rhode Island last month addressed inactive Catholics after the “graduation” sacrament.

According to research conducted by The Dynamic Catholic Institute, 85 percent of young Catholics stop actively engaging in their faith after receiving the sacrament of confirmation. For many in the diocese, this number is alarming, as it not only shows low engagement among young people, but indicates a smaller number of future Catholic adults.

The handful of parishes I’ve served, with and without schools, leads me to a conclusion that would indicate we might better focus efforts at another “graduation” sacrament. First Communion.

My estimate is that two-thirds of Catholics families are marginally involved at best. They come to Church for the sacramental moments. Some might drop their kids off for one to thirty-five weekly hours of education or child-sitting (however that might be viewed by adults and offspring). If kids aren’t coming to Sunday Mass with their parents, I don’t think we can count parochial school or faith formation nights as “actively engaging” for young people. Not for more than a slim slice of the whole.

I don’t have reason to discount DC’s 85% figure of inactive baptized Catholics. That seems to fit with the numbers I remember from Iowa State. Out of 30,000-plus students, about 6,000 (give or take) identified as baptized Catholics. About 700 signed up as parishioners, and some hundreds more came for Family Weekend and Ash Wednesday, the main two days of “obligation.”

If the parish schools in the Ocean State are finding high percentages of Sunday-active families, then maybe the post-Confirmation effort there is sound. I noticed they surveyed kids as young as 12. I suspect that church disengagement is already complete by then for most young Catholics.

For the rest of US Catholics, I don’t intend to denigrate their schools. But the reality is that the lion’s share of their effort is made in the realm of secular education, not faith formation. The system works great for families in which the parents are disciples, more or less, and the focus for girls and boys is less education and more training for discipleship. For this conference, or any similar effort to be successful, it has to be about formation and apprenticeship as disciples. Until we get committed disciples in the seats–and that probably means parents on Sundays–I suspect religious education is useless.

And if we’re going to focus on post-Confirmation, I’m afraid we’re about six to ten years late to the fork in the road for most young people. And if Providence and other places are misreading the expiration date, then I would worry that practical steps won’t help much.

What do you think?

Posted in Commentary, evangelization, Parish Life | 2 Comments

Amoris Laetitia 24: The Dignity of Work

amoris laetitia memeWe continue with a reflection on work. Hopefully readers don’t see this as a diversion before the main topic. Remember, this is part of a biblical reflection. My sense would be to take the whole passage (Psalm 128) and reflect on its whole, rather than just be alert for what we might think is relevant to the planting and blooming of a family.

24. Labor also makes possible the development of society and provides for the sustenance, stability and fruitfulness of one’s family: “May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life! May you see your children’s children!” (Ps 128:5-6).

Not quite a diversion, but an apt reflection on the work of a wife and mother:

The Book of Proverbs also presents the labor of mothers within the family; their daily work is described in detail as winning the praise of their husbands and children (cf. 31:10-31).

This passage is used, but less often and only in part, at weddings. Again, I would be careful about taking the particular prescriptions of a culture of the ancient world and applying it wholesale to the present day. The point is that women work too, and work hard. Their labor is vital to a fruitful family.

The New Testament witness:

The Apostle Paul was proud not to live as a burden to others, since he worked with his own hands and assured his own livelihood (cf. Acts 18:3; 1 Cor 4:12; 9:12). Paul was so convinced of the necessity of work that he laid down a strict rule for his communities: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Th 3:10; cf. 1 Th 4:11).

I’m also reminded of the Benedictine tradition begun by that famous abbot of Nursia. Work is not just part of family life; it is part of the life of a disciple.

Remember: Amoris Laetitia is online in pdf format here. If one paragraph a day is too slow a pace for your personal curiosity, go there to read in full.

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Coma, As In Hair, Not Sleep

I like the mythological stories connected to the constellations of Earth’s sky. Often enough, some mortal gets rewarded for some effort of derring-do and in death ascends to the night sky to be admired and imitated by future generations. What to make of the faint collection of stars known by the Latin name Coma Berenices? Did the lady slumber? From the Greek, κῶμα is indeed deep sleep. But in Latin, it refers to hair.

Berenike IIQueen Berenike II of Egypt (in gold, left) didn’t make it to the heavens. But her hair did, supposedly. As the story goes, she worried when her husband went off to war and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite for his safety, making a vow to cut off her hair if he came home safe. He did. So she did. After leaving her tresses at the altar, they had disappeared by the next morning.

(Gold coin image credit)

King Ptolemy III Euergetes was most displeased by the disappearance, so the court astronomer pointed out a faint cluster of stars and convinced his sovereign that the goddess so approved of the offering, she placed it in the sky to honor the queen.

daniel in the denGood thing they didn’t have many (any?) astronomy charts in those days, as that collection of stars had indeed been noticed by earlier skygazers, who saw it as the tuft of a lion’s tail. Leo, in fact.

(Daniel and friends image credit)

Good thing the king didn’t know he was being sold a big cat’s end to calm him down. Care to speculate if the king found out whether his flunky would end up like Daniel, above, or with something as tame as a black eye, below left?

Black Eye GalaxyThe reality is, tail or tresses, Coma Berenices is a fairly faint constellation. I guess blondes don’t have more fun in space. This region of the sky does have some significant sights, though nothing much can be seen in it unless the observer is well beyond city lights. The north pole of the galaxy is here. That doesn’t sound significant for our small planet, but it means minimal galactic dust for deep sky viewing.

(galaxy image credit)

If you have a telescope or a collection of images, go to Coma for other galaxies (like the Black Eye Galaxy). There is also a minor meteor shower emanating from this constellation in the last days of Advent.

Check the star map below. CB is near Leo and Virgo from the zodiac, and a bit south of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). Here in the northern hemisphere, you can see these stars just about year round–but only in dark rural skies.


That ancient Egyptian astronomer had to wait for the promotion from tail to hair. It wasn’t until Tycho Brahe in the early 1600’s that Berenike’s hair was promoted from an asterism (think Big Dipper) to a real constellation (think Ursa Major), recognized scientifically. Like today, I guess geeks go for blondes, even four long centuries ago.

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Amoris Laetitia 23: The Work of Your Hands

amoris laetitia memeParagraphs 23 through 26 fall under the theme, “The Work of Your Hands,” citing the second verse of the Psalm which continues to guide our reflection in this initial chapter of Amoris Laetitia:

23. At the beginning of Psalm 128, the father appears as a laborer who by the work of his hands sustains the physical well-being and tranquility of his family: “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (Ps 128:2). It is clear from the very first pages of the Bible that work is an essential part of human dignity; there we read that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). Man is presented as a laborer who works the earth, harnesses the forces of nature and produces “the bread of anxious toil” (Ps 127:2), in addition to cultivating his own gifts and talents.

I would not read this with a sexist interpretation. We are all aware that women labor with men, if not directly alongside them. The last phrase above is key: people cultivate their gifts and talents, expressing them in such a way so as to provide for their own well-being and for their loved ones.


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Of Daniel Berrigan

Daniel BerriganI never met the man, but we did live in the same state for a number of years. I guess I was just too young.

I put this short piece from And the Risen Bread on my facebook feed, but not all my readers overlap.

“Miracles” by Daniel Berrigan:

Were I God almighty, I would ordain, rain fall lightly where old men trod, no death in childbirth, neither infant nor mother, ditches firm fenced against the errant blind, aircraft come to ground like any feather.

No mischance, malice, knives.
Tears dried. Would resolve all
flaw and blockage of mind
that makes us mad, sets lives awry.

So I pray, under
the sign of the world’s murder, the ruined son;
why are you silent?
feverish as lions
hear us in the world,
caged, devoid of hope.

Still, some redress and healing.
The hand of an old woman
turns gospel page;
it flares up gently, the sudden tears of Christ.

Who among us remain silent? Who pace the planet and fret? Who cries with the tears of the Lord?

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