HAPPY HOLIDAYS // from LeRoy, Bonnie, & Fergus
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“Christ Our King!” . . .
. . . “Thy Kingdom Come!”
(5:20 AM Wakeup Salutation & Community Response – Regnum Christi)
This essay was prompted by an online Associated Press story entitled “Vatican probes disgraced order’s cultish lay group”. (AP – 9/25/10 by Nicole Winfield).
I know something about Catholic religious orders not only because I am a fifteen year veteran of a monastic religious order (1949-1965) but in subsequent careers, I had a great deal of interaction with them relating to service of the poor and advocacy for the powerless.
The use of the word “cultish” in the AP headline piqued my interest. There is a great deal of media interest in the concept of “cults” – perhaps for no other reason than the word sounds dangerous or creepy, or dresses up a story that sells. Let me say right up front: one person’s cult is another’s religion. All religious groups manifest cult-like qualities, some more than others for sure, and some even to extremes, but it is always present. Outsiders look in and shout cult, insiders look out and say this is my religion. Let me also state that movements or causes – farmworker, civil rights, tea party, black power, pro-life, polygamy, gay and lesbian, pro-choice, militia, the list goes on and on, also exhibit cult-like characteristics – again, some more, some less. Outsiders look in and shout extremists or fanatics, insiders look out and say this is our cause, we have rights.
Who is the disgraced order mentioned in the AP headline? That would be the Legion of Christ (founded 1941) and apparently it is “disgraced” because its founder, Father Marcial Maciel, was a drug abuser, a pedophile, a plagiarist, and a financial schemer. He fathered perhaps as many as six children (sexually abused at least two of them) and supported his “families” with funds raised for the Legion. In short, Father Maciel was a fraud and lived a lie.
And yet, in the Catholic Church era of post- Vatican Council II (1965) when religious and priestly vocations have been reduced to barely a trickle, the Legion of Christ in 2010 is actively working in twenty-two (22) countries (including: Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Ireland, France, Germany, United States and Canada) has 800 priests and 2500 seminarians. The Legion has built schools, seminaries, universities, etc. Imagine! And more than that: Regnum Christi, a Catholic lay ecclesial movement founded in 1959 by the Legion of Christ, has 70,000 members worldwide. Their motto is: “Love Christ, Serve People, Build the Church”.
You have heard the age-old expression, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” If this is true, the line of the Legion of Christ has to be the straightest in recorded history because the line that Father Maciel drew was the most crooked of them all!
It is difficult to overstate the case. Not even taking into account whether or not Father Maciel was a legitimately ordained priest – having been previously dismissed from two seminaries as a young man, one has to question this – but there is no doubt that he was charismatic, a gifted organizer, a prodigious fundraiser, an embezzler, a plagiarist, a sexual predator and a drug addict. As the Legion of Christ grew, it became a worldwide multi-million dollar fundraising apparatus to support not only the good works of the order but also to buy influence and protection from Vatican officials – no, not bribes exactly, but a generous provider of personal services and financial support.
In fact, Father Maciel became such a revered and close friend of Pope John Paul II (1978-2005), that when eight former minor seminarians from the Legion of Christ who had been sexually abused by Father Maciel, tried to bring canonical charges against him, Pope John Paul refused to allow it. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) who was in charge of such legal matters told the seminarians: “I am very sorry, but it isn’t prudent (to bring charges) . . . Father Maciel is “very beloved by the pope and has done a lot of good for the church.” What an eternal shame! These men will never receive the justice due them – not even be granted their day in a Vatican court, because Father Maciel had purchased protection insurance. Put another way: his influence with the pope created what church officials deemed was necessary human collateral damage in order to preserve the good name and reputation of the church’s priestly caste.
However, the 65 year-long lie would soon be over. Shortly before the death of Pope John Paul, Father Maciel, age 83, resigned as head of the Legion of Christ – he knew what lie ahead. After Pope Benedict’s election, the pope – privately! – ordered Maciel to sever all relationship with the Legion of Christ and to live a life of prayer and penitence. This would be akin to a local parish priest hearing grade school confessions and granting absolution with the penance: “say three Hail Mary’s and sin no more.” No public explanation was given, and if you can believe this, no explanation was provided to the members of the Legion of Christ or Regnum Christi about why the pope removed and exiled Father Maciel. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary because the religious superiors in charge of the orders probably had known for decades about their founder’s double life. Mercifully, he died three years later in Houston Texas.
According to church teaching, all sins are forgivable, but some are judged to be more serious than others – telling a white lie is not the same moral failing as murdering your neighbor. Using the case study of Father Marcial Maciel – on a moral scale of sinfulness – how would you rank Maciel’s sins of addiction, embezzlement, pedophilia and plagiarism compared to the church’s sins of pedophilia cover-up, protection of the wrong doer, influence peddling, and denying a canonical hearing to the victims of Maciel’s sex abuse who seek justice?
In 1962, Cesar Chavez asked graphic artist, Andy Zermeño, to create art/graphics for his farmworker movement. From 1962-1970, Zermeno created hundreds of original pieces – including the movement’s eagle symbol – for El Malcriado, posters, calendars, flyers, etc. Forty years later – 2010 – Andy Zermeño has published an extraordinary homemade book – 155 pages, 282 ink drawings, 8 1/2 x 11 page size – of illustrated short stories portraying the development of the farmworker movement.
This homemade edition, autographed by Andy Zermeño – a veritable collector’s item – is available for $35 + $3 postage. Make checks payable to Andy Zermeño and send to: LeRoy Chatfield, 5131 Pleasant Dr. Sacramento CA 95822 OR use Donate link on Website: www.farmworkermovement.us
COVER PAGE / TABLE OF CONTENTS / TEASER PAGES
Not long ago I wrote a piece for the Dialogue about the young woman, a courtesy clerk at Raley’s Supermarket, who carried my wine purchases to the car and in route asked me, “What does wine taste like?”
I don’t know how you would answer such a question, but I was completely addled, stammered some nonsense, and then fussed about the elusive answer all the way home and for days afterwards. What in the hell does wine taste like?
Months later, thanks to a store clerk, not even half my age, who rang me up at Berman’s Liquors on the Lexington side of the Arlington border, I have the answer! He too offered to carry my wine purchases to the car but I was wary and told him why. I asked him how he would answer the question, “What does wine taste like?” “Oh, that’s easy”, he said, “you should have told her: wine tastes as pretty as you look.”
My dear readers, this young man from Boston has his priorities in order and will go far in this world.
“Robert J. Wussler, CBS Executive And Aide to Ted Turner, Dies at 73
Peter Keefe, 57, Creator of ‘Voltron’
William L. Murphy, 65, Ex-Prosecutor; Served in Staten Island for Two Decades”
– New York Times: Obituaries, Monday June 14, 2010
For obvious reasons, I do not expect to read my obituary in the New York Times – or anywhere else for that matter.
However, I do have a friend who read his obituary published in the Times and he had a very difficult time explaining to his family and friends how he could, at one and the same time, be very much alive, and yet have published a lengthy obituary about his death – especially with the Times being the “paper of record” and all. It was a paradox, he finally said: two opposites joined together, but both are true.
He made a good faith effort to inform the Times of its error but when he reached the obituary editor, she did not seem much interested in his call, dead or alive. Even though he did not know the deceased, he felt it would be honorable – the right thing to do – to contact the grieving family and acknowledge his concern about the mix-up: I am sorry for your loss, sorry the Times made it worse, and so forth, but it turned out they were not much interested either. What more could he do? In his own way, he had tried to smooth over this unfortunate mix-up, but no one seemed interested, so he dropped the matter and went on living.
I think it likely when my friend passes away – no time soon, I hope – the Times will reprint his obituary, especially because the work has been done and it’s sitting on a shelf, ready to go . . . Wait a minute! Do you think it possible the Times would take the position that because they published the wrong obituary the first time and being the “paper of record” and all, they would correct their error by publishing the obituary they should have published in the first place, the second time around? Where is Judith Miller when you need her?
I digress. My living friend’s obituary is not the subject matter of this piece – it’s about me!
I only read the trashy obituaries in the New York Times – inherited wealth, many marriages, a life marked with bouts of alcoholism and addiction, a corner table reserved at the Algonquin, children out of wedlock, and of course, the inevitable fight among the heirs – fascinating reading. Otherwise, I skim the obit headlines – name, occupation, age – AGE?!
This was the obituary message the Times delivered to me on June 14, 2010 – 73, 57 and 65! Holy Smoke! I am 76. What does this mean? Am I next? Past due? Was I overlooked? Not to worry?
My father was 56 when he passed away. I have no regrets, he said, I have lived a full life, and he meant it. When my hour arrives, what will I say? And will I mean it?
May 29, 2010
As dreams go, it wasn’t much, more like a fragment, but on the rating scale for vivid, it was intense.
It looked like a small motel room with you sitting on the bed, leaning back up against the headboard.
I was sitting in a chair to your right, towards the head of the bed, and Bill was sitting in the other chair, on your left, towards the foot of the bed.
You were looking at Bill and said: we have to go to Kansas City, it is Dolores’ 50th anniversary . . . we have to go.
I said: Jerry, you are asking too much.
End of dream.
Should this situation present itself in the light of day, I would add: I don’t care if it is Dolores’ 50th, I’m not going to Kansas City.
All the best,
As a young teaching religious brother in a Catholic high school in the late 1950s, I made up my mind never to expect gratitude – even a thank you – for my efforts, and I have not been disappointed.
A teacher (or an organizer) could live a couple of lifetimes and never receive a thank you, or even an acknowledgement, from those who benefited from the dedication and hard work – not a complaint, just one of life’s realities.
However, when an unexpected expression of gratitude does float by, grab it! You are not likely to see another.
(With permission), here is a response to my thank you note for a contribution made to my Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.
It means a lot to me too.
Look at what my life is and has been all of these years.
* I was part of the team that made the decision to have AARP file an amicus court brief that stopped the state of California from kicking hundreds of thousands of people off of their Medicaid. We were part of the winning side on that.
* I was part of the team nationally that organized the campaign to stop the privatization of Social Security. From the late 1990’s through 2005 dozens of us within my organization worked on the issue briefs, the campaign themes, the basic organizing that made this successful campaign a reality. We were able to move people, resources, political messages that framed the strategy that won that fight.
I can name a thousand other political efforts, campaigns, issues that helped specific people as well as big ideas that I have had the honor and opportunity to be part of, to lead, to organize, to contribute to and build.
Sorry to be so corny but I owe you. Every Monday morning you talked to all of us about Cesar, fighting for the poor, winning justice. I listened to every word and every message and every lesson, both ideological and technical that you gave that room full of activists. I learned discipline, organizing, political analysis and the science and art of change.
So, I chose this life and you taught me, you and Chris, what to do and how to do it. And, on a personal note, through all of this and all of the memories and work and sacrifices, I am a very happy person. Not many people can say they were able to be part of their dream. I can and I am not even near finished doing so.
No, LeRoy, I thank you,
Cesar Chavez Said . . . May 2010
Cesar Chavez said, “Are we a union or a movement?”
Eliseo Medina said, “We are a union!”
Cesar Chavez said, “We are a movement! We are a union!”
Eliseo Medina said, “ I am leaving!”
Cesar Chavez said, “I am not a labor leader, I will dedicate my next fast to life.”
Dolores Huerta said, “Cesar Chavez was right!”
The Los Angeles Times said, “Cesar Chavez was not a labor leader!”
Eliseo Medina said, “After thirty years, I was right to tell the Los Angeles Times!”
The Los Angeles Times said, “Eliseo Medina is a national labor leader!”
Eliseo Medina said, “I am a national labor leader!”
Kaiser Hospital said, “Dolores Huerta must leave our cafeteria!”
Eliseo Medina said, “Kaiser Hospital must tell Dolores Huerta to leave our cafeteria!”
Dolores Huerta said, “I will not leave!”
Kaiser Hospital said, “Eliseo Medina told us to close the cafeteria!”
Dolores Huerta said, “I am not leaving!”
Mike Casey said: “This is how a company union operates!”
Fred Ross, Jr. said: “This union-busting collusion with Kaiser is shameful!”
Eliseo Medina said: “I am a national labor leader!”
Cesar Chavez said: “Are we a union or a movement?”
“I Am Very Sorry, But It Isn’t Prudent . . .”
“It was better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith.” – Canon lawyer Martha Wegan in a telephone conversation with a clerical sex abuse victim, historian Jose Barba Martin. – New York Times/May 3, 2010.
“It was better for eight innocent men to suffer than for millions to lose their faith”.
On its face, this statement cannot be true. There is no relationship between the injustice of permitting suffering innocence and millions losing their faith. At best, Ms. Wegan’s comment is advice – a long-suffering appeal for sacrifice – one might give to a religious novice, or perhaps it is meant to sugar coat a bitter pill that must be swallowed by religious true believers in order to shield their religious superiors and/or the Church’s priestly caste from prosecution. At worst, it is a throwback to the thousand year-old canon law principle that clerical or church wrongdoing must remain forever secret, known only to church authorities, lest the faithful be scandalized and suffer the loss of their souls. What nonsense!
Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratizinger , is more truthful than Ms. Wegan, and pulled no punches, when he informed Bishop Talavera of Mexico that the Vatican would not file charges in this case: “I am very sorry, but it isn’t prudent”. It wasn’t “prudent” because the cleric who would have been charged with sexual abuse was “very beloved by the pope and had done a lot of good for the church.” None of this is about the loss of faith or scandalizing the faithful – not a bit! – it is about protecting the organizational church from accountability and about the Church’s supremely human system of influence-politics – knowing the people in power and ingratiating oneself with them.
In this regard, the Catholic Church is no better or worse, than any multi-national business corporation or NGO, which seeks to avoid criticism or charges of wrong doing especially about sex abuse – cover up by intimidating the accuser and/or trashing their career, or if pinned to the wall, negotiate a no-fault legal settlement on condition of secrecy.
Using this business model to stifle allegations of wrong doing in the Catholic Church is morally unacceptable and certainly hypocritical because the Church holds itself up as a divinely inspired religious and spiritual institution concerned about the eternal salvation of its members. Catholics are taught, and expected to believe, that the Pope – sometimes officially referred to as the Sweet Christ on Earth or the Vicar of Christ – is a direct successor of the Apostles of Jesus, and when elected as the Supreme Pontiff, was entrusted with the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Catholic Church defines itself as the Mystical Body of Christ.
These are all profoundly mysterious concepts with mindboggling implications that have been reinforced by two thousand years of institutional history and in the face of widespread international clerical sex abuse of children what kind of response should the Church be expected to make?
Thus far, the response has been pitiful – orchestrated cover up by church authorities, reassignment of the offending cleric to another parish, and when pushed to the wall, purchasing secrecy through financial settlements. Oh yes, I have read about the new “zero tolerance” policy of the U.S. Catholic Bishops but I have yet to read that a single U.S. bishop has resigned because of his hands-on involvement in the cover up. Where is the admission of institutional wrong-doing? Where is the institutional accountability?
Dare I ask, “What would Jesus do?” Or has this question been forever forfeited to the Comedy Hour programs to be used as a laugh line? If the pope dares to accept the title of Sweet Christ On Earth, then why not model Jesus? Or is this pope the person to whom Jesus referred when he preached: “They (church authorities) love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’ . . .” Assuming best case scenario – Pope Benedict XVI wishes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth – what WOULD Jesus do?
Of course I don’t know, but my wish list would include: (1) Discard the lavish trappings and accoutrements of noblemen and royalty inherited from the Holy Roman Empire. Put aside, the gold-threaded liturgical vestments, the bejeweled crosses, rings and chalices, the embroidered medieval headdress and gold crosiers, the ermine capes, silk cassocks and red silk slippers, and dare I add, the designer eyewear! What do any of these symbols of royalty and power and luxury have to do with the teaching of the Jesus of Nazareth? (2) Divest the Church of all ownership and any revenue relating to the Christian shrines of the Holy Land, including Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. For hundreds of years, these shrines have been flash points of contention, even armed conflict, among Christian factions, between religious orders, Moslems and Jews – the issue is always the same: ownership, power and money. Pilgrimages and tourism aside, what religious purpose do these theme park edifices serve? How do these shrines promote the Gospel values of living a good life?Jesus of Nazareth offered us a simple truth about life: all that was necessary, he said, was to love God and to love others, and then went on to show us how: I am the Road, the Truth and the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. Cathedrals, basilicas, churches, religious shrines, the Holy Land, are not Gospel values, nor do they promote the simple truth about life advocated by Jesus.
“A nun at a Catholic hospital in Phoenix, Arizona was automatically excommunicated after approving an abortion be performed on a patient in order to save the woman’s life . . . Olmsted confirmed McBride was “automatically excommunicated” because of her involvement in the abortion” (NewsCore 5/16/10)
Dear Mr. Bishop Olmsted,
Arizona is much in the news this month, and your contribution has certainly been a major one. Speaking of “automatic excommunication” I trust you will soon release an official announcement of excommunication for those U.S. Catholic bishops and church officials who orchestrated the cover up of more than 10,000 cases of clerical sex abuse involving children.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Catholic LeRoy Chatfield
The U.S. Catholic Bishops Cover-Up of Clerical Sex Abuse
(From 1941 to 1957, I attended Catholic schools and was taught by religious nuns and brothers, and occasionally by priests. During this educational period with seven years spent living in religious community devoted to monastic training and practice, and an additional eight years of serving as a religious teaching brother, I was never sexually abused by a religious person, nor did I know or talk with anyone who had been. Whether this fact disqualifies me from writing about the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse of children, or discounts what I write, I leave to the judgment of others. Good Friday 2010)
“Nobody nowhere, has confronted this crisis that belongs to all of society, in all cultures, in every religion and organization around. Nobody has confronted it better than the Catholic Church” – Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Easter 2010
I don’t know what’s worse for me: reading these delusional and self-serving words of the New York Archbishop at his Easter press conference, or watching him deliver them on YouTube while dressed in exquisite gold-threaded religious medieval robes, wearing a gold and white mitre, a headdress reminiscent of the nobility of the 4th Century, and grasping with his left hand a golden crozier, a 13th Century religious symbol of a shepherd’s crook used in caring for his flock.
However, the archbishop is right about the magnitude of child sex abuse in our country. Consider these recent U.S. statistics: “an estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse exist in America today. 30-40% of victims are abused by a family member. Another 50% are abused by someone outside of the family whom they know and trust. Approximately 40% are abused by older or larger children whom they know. The median age for reported abuse is 9 years old. More than 20% of children are sexually abused before the age of 8. Nearly 50% of all victims of forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling are children under 12”. darkness2light.org
Sexual child abuse happens, it is commonplace, it is a fact of life – past, present, and future. Some parents, teachers, counselors, relatives, doctors, priests and countless other professionals who interact with, and have responsibility for children, will sometimes sexually abuse them. Call it sinful or criminal, report it or be silent, prosecute it or not – the net effect of sexual abuse upon children is traumatic and devastating and will be felt for a lifetime.
The Catholic priests of the United States are well represented in the statistics of sexual child abuse. More than 5,000 priests – 4 percent of the clergy – were responsible for 13,000 accusations over a 50-year period. Father Thomas Reese. I don’t fault the U.S. Catholic Church for the existence of child molesters in their ranks, we are talking about human beings after all, how could it be otherwise? What I do fault is the organized institutional cover-up – this is the crime and shame of it! – orchestrated by U.S. Catholic bishops and their legal advisors. Why, in God’s name, would Catholic bishops seek to cover-up the existence of clerical sexual abuse of children, and how did they expect to get away with it? The how is easier to explain.
No-fault insurance settlements, a corporate business model of long standing, was used in the Catholic dioceses of California – and other dioceses as well. The preferred response to clerical child sex abuse was the payment of insurance money on condition of secrecy, without any admission of wrong doing, and the priest-abuser would be transferred to another parish and/or assigned to therapeutic rehabilitation. Case closed.
Ultimately, this financial cover-up – payment of money to victims in exchange for silence – turned out to be a failed policy because over time these no-fault insurance payoffs became so frequent and increased in such dollar amounts that insurance companies were no longer willing to provide coverage, or at such a premium level to make it financially unfeasible for local dioceses to afford. A new self-insurance system was developed to allow dioceses in California and other states to fund the church’s own defense and settlement costs. While this approach paid for another decade of cover-up, it was not enough to prevent the scandal from erupting wholesale in the national media because clerical sex abuse had become so widespread and been left unchecked for so many decades, the cover-up could no longer be contained. To date, the financial cost to the United States Catholic Church has been estimated to be more than $2 billion dollars – and it isn’t over yet!
But why were Catholic bishops committed to such a cover-up in the first place? Two reasons, I think. The first is because of a centuries-old canon law principle known as: “lest the faithful be scandalized”. In other words, bishops could devise secret methods to protect the Catholic hierarchy and priests from suspicion or allegations of wrong doing or corruption – and all this done for the sake of protecting church members from thinking ill of bishops and the clergy. This canon law rationale has been characterized by sociologist Father Andrew Greeley as “self-serving and self-protecting dishonesty.” And so it is.
Here are two examples of how the “lest the faithful be scandalized” works. In his history of the Inquisition, Dr. William Rule quotes 16th Century canon law: “A blaspheming clergyman may pay a deduction from the fruits of his benefice; but whatsoever is done or left undone, he must not be seen to do penance openly, lest the faithful be scandalized at the sight; but if he proves incorrigible, he may be deprived of his living.” Inquisition History (page 63) “He (the clergyman) must not be seen” is the necessary secrecy required to avoid giving the scandal.
And as professor Mark Silk notes in his book “Unsecular Media” (1998), this bankrupt church policy is not ancient history but remains in full force: “To this day, not only does Canon law specify ecclesiastical punishment for clerics who cause scandal by their misbehavior, but also in certain cases, canonical penalties are to be suspended if these cannot be observed ‘without danger of serious scandal or infamy.’ Better to let the punishment go by the board than to scandalize the faithful by publicizing clerical misdeeds.” This church regulation is somewhat akin to our country’s Great Recession policy of suspending law enforcement against banks because they were “too big to fail.”
The second reason why Catholic bishops felt obligated to cover-up clerical sexual child abuse can be traced to Hebrews 7 and Melchizedek. “Jesus, a priest like Melchizedek, not by genealogical descent but by the sheer force of resurrection life – he lives! – a ‘priest forever in the royal order of Melchizedek.’ ”
St. Ambrose, one of the four doctors of the Church in the 4th Century, taught: “Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.” In my years of Catholic life, St. Ambrose’s teaching had been reduced to the slogan: “once a priest, always a priest” – I must have heard it expressed a thousand times during my Catholic training and education.
In the mid-1500s, the Council of Trent ruled the sacrament of ordination conferred an indelible priestly character and that a return to the lay state was impossible. Laicization may strip a priest from the right to perform authorized priestly functions, but it does not undo the “priestly character”. In Catholic practice, once a male has been ordained into the priestly caste, a binding contract results: in exchange for a life of service and obedience to church authorities, the priest will be financially supported for life and accorded all privileges and protections associated with the authorized status of “priesthood”.
For most of the 20th Century, at least by extension, this teaching about the permanence of the priesthood was applied generally to religious brothers and nuns even though it was understood that in exceptional circumstances, and with great reluctance, the Vatican could dissolve permanently-sworn religious vows and return a nun or brother to the lay state. After the great exodus of nuns and brothers – and many priests – from the Church during the decades after the close of Vatican Council II (1965) and even with the newly-found realization that dispensations from final religious vows were more readily available than had been believed previously, this had no effect whatsoever on church teaching: “once a priest, always a priest”.
Another reason for the cover-up is the historical issue of “church and state”. The Church has never considered itself subject to the state. For centuries – long before the American revolution – the Catholic Church was the state, controlled the state, or was a separate but equal partner with the state. In the United States, the Catholic church tolerates and respects the state but vows no allegiance and brooks no interference from the state about church affairs.
Even the thought of turning over a child-abusing priest to district attorneys for prosecution was unthinkable – not even possible! Such action would have undermined hundreds of years of carefully crafted organizational independence from states and would serve only to undermine its authority and the priestly caste system. After all, the Catholic church is about salvation: sinners repenting, sinners being forgiven, sinners restored to the state of grace to be eligible for eternal salvation; the church does not exist for the sake of this world except to teach its members how to live in order to prepare them for the next.
For all these reasons, the United States bishops worked assiduously to keep secret the wrongdoing of clerics, and they felt justified in doing so, and were it not for the public outrage and private suffering of the victims – and the skill of their attorneys – it would still be secret.
Father Thomas Reese writes: “American bishops excused themselves by saying they made mistakes but were not culpable because of their ignorance. Sorry, this won’t wash. American Catholics wanted some bishops to stand up and say: ‘I made a mistake, I moved this priest to another parish, I did not think he would abuse again, I got bad advice, but I take full responsibility. I am sorry and I resign.’ ” Sad to report, no bishop has taken full responsibility, and no bishop has resigned, and they are institutionally incapable of doing so because they are members of the priestly caste.
How estranged they must find themselves from the Jesus of Nazareth when he preached to them about the dangers of church authorities: “Be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. . . . Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend’ . . . Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.” (Matthew 23) AMEN.
“What Matters Most . . .”
“What matters most is how you live your life, not what you have to show for it.” – Jenny Sanford
According to the dust jacket on her book, Jenny Sanford – first lady of South Carolina and ex-wife of philandering Governor Mark Sanford – came to learn this simple truth during her pre-divorce separation.
Simple truth, indeed.
Consider the life of Jesus, a mendicant Jewish preacher living in community, who traveled about the countryside offering a new interpretation – a simple truth – about life. All that was necessary to live a good life, he preached, was to love God and to love others. And to prove he knew what he was talking about, he went on to announce: I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.
Well, you can imagine how this teaching was received by the Jewish High Priests in Jerusalem. For this simple truth, he was indicted for blasphemy, preaching heresy, and scandalizing the faithful. He was put to death by the state.
Jesus left not a trace. He wrote nothing, he owned nothing, he disappeared from the face of the earth – but according to Jenny Sanford the most important thing about the life of Jesus was how he lived, not what he had to show for it.
How simple is that?
Do You Need Help? Are You OK?
No, I’m fine. Thank you. Are you sure? Yes, thank you, I’m sure. With that, she drove off.
It was toward the end of my usual route – a three mile walk that takes me through William Land Park and back through the neighborhood streets to home – that I ran out of gas. This has happened before, but not very often. I would find a place to sit, catch my breath, talk out loud with Clyde a bit, and then tool on home. If we were close enough to Larry’s Gas Mart I would get a small Pepsi and a small bag of Cheetos, which I would split with Clyde. But today I am alone, Clyde is gone for good and feeling drained by my emotional loss or my aging physical condition – no doubt, a bit of both – I begin to drag a bit.
There was no convenient place to sit, so I leaned against a fence. The Toyota Prius was idling in the driveway next door. Several minutes passed before the car slowly backed out and stopped next to me. The young woman – Hmong, I think, and with a small child in a car seat behind her – rolled down the passenger window and asked after me. How nice of her, I thought. Would I have done that? I hoped so.
But the reality was obvious: I was elderly, I probably looked confused and unsure of myself, and I was standing alone on a sidewalk going nowhere. What else could she have thought? I needed help.
Alas, the help I need is not available. Clyde will not return, nor will the energy of my youth. Leaning against this fence, catching my breath, resting a bit will have to suffice.
Loaves & Fishes is a Sacramento charity dedicated to feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless and any person who comes for such assistance is called a “guest”. In the mid-90’s George was a guest. He was also an alcoholic and had been for many years, probably for more than a decade. Tall and broad shouldered with brown hair, he could have been in his late 40s or early 50s – a youngish looking man.
Alcoholism comes in many sizes, but George wore the largest size available. On many days the police paddy wagon would find him collapsed face down in a vacant lot or alley or even in a downtown gutter – George was one of their regulars.
Much to my surprise, everyone liked George, especially the staff of Loaves & Fishes who knew him the best. A nice guy, friendly and considerate, genuine, a warm human being with a good sense of humor, they would say. And yet, at the end of the day, he was a drop-dead drunk.
Whether measured in months or years, alcohol would certainly kill George unless he stopped drinking. Everyone knew what needed to done and of course, he knew it too. Staff members talked with him about the need to stop drinking and pledged their help if he would agree. He listened politely, but it was to no avail. Life trudged on, George continued to pass out, and he was still very much liked when he was sober enough to communicate.
No one knows why, but one day he said he wanted to sober up and needed some help to do so. Months later George undertook the life of a recovering alcoholic and he looked terrific! New clothes, well groomed and with a professional haircut, his transformation was amazing, in fact, those of us who saw him only occasionally barely recognized him. What happened? What was so powerful in George’s life that would cause him to cast off a decade of alcoholism and begin a life of sobriety? If he knew, he didn’t say.
Shortly thereafter, he announced that his sister had invited him to a family reunion and he had agreed to go. This would be the first time in many years his siblings would seem him sober. He looked forward to the occasion and to the approval and support he was sure to receive. After his return, all went well until he began to drink again. This time the staff actively intervened and convinced George he should enter a highly touted rehab program in Oregon open only to veterans. He agreed to do so, arrangements were made. He stayed for a week, walked away and returned home. He continued to drink but many said it wasn’t as bad as before, that he was trying, and there was good reason to hope he would recover again. After all, he had done it once already.
Some weeks later, George collapsed face down in a vacant lot and when found was pronounced dead. The cause of death was intoxication.
I don’t know what to make of this true story. Is there any lesson to be learned? Could anything have been done to bring about a better result? Or is this story only about George and the personal cross he was unable to bear?
What I know about alcoholism wouldn’t fill a thimble but I do know this much: in New York City alone more than 25,000 people are hospitalized and 1,500 people die every year from alcohol-related injuries and illnesses. Our country is filled with Georges.
photo by jon lewis
I wish to believe these eyes will some day belong to those of a doctor or libraran, but my experience tells me otherwise. These eyes will forever belong to an impoverished person with little formal education and even fewer opportunities. I hope otherwise but unless the generational cycle of her migrant labor poverty is broken, even her children are will be condemned to a life of penury. Who will be the savior for this small one? Who is the one we have been waiting for? Or shall we continue to preach to others that life is a matter of making good choices and avoiding poor ones?
photo by Hub Segur (c.1972) (The word “Manong” is a Filipino term of respect for an older man.) One of the saddest chapters in our country’s history about the exploitation of farmworkers relates to the importation of Filipinos in the 1920’s and 1930’s to work for agribusiness. These Filipinos were not permitted to marry or to own land – they were used as cheap labor to subsidize California’s largest industry, agribusiness. Filmmaker Marissa Aroy will release her documentary “The Delano Manongs” in 2010 – a story of farmworker exploitation long, long overdue! Ms.Aroy writes: “the documentary will put the Manongs story in historical and modern day context, from the time they arrived in the US in the 20s and 30s to the time of their demise in the 70’s and 80s, and the significance of their legacy to thousands of Filipino Americans.” Amen.
The Perfect Dining Room Table
Have you ever thought of a dining room table as being a symbol of one’s life? I have.
You see, somewhere there exists your perfect dining room table, but you do not possess it. There are many reasons why you do not own this dining room table. The first one is that when you began your married life, you could barely afford the small table in the kitchen eating area, let alone a dining room table, or more likely, you could not even afford a place with a dining room. Or, if you were fortunate enough to be given a hand-me-down dining room table – and you had a dining room – you were grateful enough, but did not pretend, even for a moment, that this was the perfect dining room table for you – that table would have to come later.
As children came along, it became even more difficult to afford the perfect dining room table, there were more important purchases to be made, and you simply made do with the dining room table you had. The perfect dining room table would come later.
Or, if a beloved aunt passed away, perhaps you inherited her dining room table. Certainly, this new table was an improvement over what you had used for so many years, but you never confused it with the perfect dining room table you longed for – some day, you said.
Oh blessed day, your daughter is to be married and is in need of her own dining room table, why not give her yours? Of course you do, and besides, now that you are living in a downsized and empty nest, you can easily make do with the very nice table you have been using in the breakfast nook – but you are not confused, it will not become your perfect dining room table.
Grandchildren have arrived, and even though they live hundreds, or even thousands of miles away, that hoped-for day will certainly come when all the family will return again and sit down for the festive homecoming dinner. Alas, there is no suitable dining room table for this mythical occasion.
So today, after forty-two years of marriage with ten grandchildren chalked up to our credit, and after living through a half-dozen or so perfectly usable dining room tables, we purchased our perfect dining room table – sixty inches square that with two leaves will seat twelve.
I wonder, is this really our perfect dining room table, or at our age now, is this as close as we get?
Congress said, “Jose Canseco, did you bulk up, hit home rooms, and fill the seats?”
Jose Canseco said, “Yes sir, I did. Major League Baseball paid me twenty-eight million dollars to bulk up, hit home rooms, and fill the seats.”
Sports writers wrote, “Jose Canseco is a clown! He is trying to make a quick buck with his book.”
Barry Bonds bulked up, hit home runs, filled the seats, and broke the record.
Sports writers wrote, “Barry Bonds hit home runs, filled the seats, and broke the record.”
Major League Baseball said, “Barry Bonds hit home runs, filled the seats, and broke the record.”
The Grand Jury said, “Barry Bonds, did you bulk up, hit home runs, fill the seats, and break the record?”
Barry Bonds said, “No, sir, I did not. I hit home runs, filled the seats, broke the record, and used nutritional oil.”
But the Prosecutor indicted and said, “Barry Bonds bulked up, hit home runs, filled the seats, broke the record, and lied to the Grand Jury.”
Sports writers wrote, “It couldn’t happen to a more deserving player.”
Barry Bonds said, “Not guilty!”
Major League Baseball said, “Senator Mitchell will tell us if any players bulked up, hit home runs, and filled the seats.”
Senator Mitchell said, “Jose Canseco bulked up, hit home runs, and filled the seats, and others have said some players bulked up, pitched strikes, fielded balls, and filled the seats. And now, I announce to you: it is time for Major League Baseball to move on.”
Jose Canseco said, “Read my next book.”
What does wine taste like?
Whenever a bellhop asks me if I need help with my bags, I say, no thank you, I can manage. When a box clerk or store checker ask me if I need help out to the car, I say, no thank you, I can manage. YES, I do believe I can manage these things. I can walk, I can carry, I can lift – why do I need help? Certainly, others in grocery line look like they could use help, and perhaps some day, I will too, but in the meantime, no thank you, I can manage. Why then, was I being helped to my car by a young Latina woman who works at Raley’s, a major chain store headquartered the Sacramento area?
On this day, I had purchased 12 bottles wine, placed them in store-available six-pack carry containers and presented myself to the store checker for payment, and my 10% discount for buying a minimum of six bottles. She rang me up, gave me the discount, collected my money, and said: you know, these carry containers have been known to break when being carried to the car, and if a bottle should break, we cannot give you a refund. Why don’t you let the box clerk help you out, just to be on the safe side. I thought for a minute, this violated my long held principle that I could manage, but then if a bottle – or God forbid, two bottles should break, I would not get a refund. OK, I said, she can help me out to the car.
I led the way. The young Latina girl – was she 17 or as old as 19? – pushed the cart with my newly purchased six pack carry cases of wine and followed close behind. As we approached my pickup parked on the far side of the lot, she came up close by my side and said, Mister, what does wine taste like?
Christ, I thought, what DOES wine taste like?
Well, it is not sweet, I said. Is it strong, she asked? No, it isn’t strong, but it is a taste you have to get used to.
Jesus, I thought, what a lame answer. What DOES wine taste like?
I opened the pickup door, she safely deposited the two six pack carry cases onto the seat, and hesitated. I thought perhaps she was expecting a tip for helping me out, but I knew that box clerks were not supposed to be tipped, at least that is the conventional wisdom, or perhaps she was waiting for me to explain what wine tasted like, so I said, thank you, and she said, have a nice day. All the way home, I asked myself: what in the hell does wine taste like?
The lesson of this true story: unless you want to be confronted with unanswerable questions posed by the innocent, just say, no thank you, I can manage.
COMMENTARY: “Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworker Movement.” By Craig Scharlin and Lilia Villanueva. University of Washington Press © 2000
First, a few words of disclosure: During my tenure with Cesar Chavez and his farmworker movement, I knew and worked with Philip Vera Cruz from 1965 to 1973. Although twice my age, not only was Philip a colleague, but I thought of him as a friend. We participated, and many times sat next to one another, in dozens – perhaps, as many as a hundred – United Farm Worker Organizing Committee board meetings. Because of this personal relationship, I cannot be sure my comments about Philip Vera Cruz will be objective enough or sufficiently dispassionate, but the reader is forewarned.
By documenting the story of Philip Vera Cruz, using his own words, the authors, Craig Scharlin and Lilia Villanueva, have created a book of great historical significance and public service – at least for those even remotely interested in the organized and wide-spread importation/exploitation of immigrant workers by the service and agricultural industries of the United States. It is not an exaggeration to say that for more than a century, these industries have been built and subsidized at the expense of underpaid/exploited immigrant labor – and continues to the present day.
Using recorded oral history to create an interesting and readable book is far more difficult than it seems. Many such book attempts consist of little more than tedious-to-read pages of written transcripts – the story line is relentlessly linear, it lacks human texture and provides little perspective. Scharlin and Villanueva have sorted through the recorded words, smoothed out their rough and uneven edges enabling them to flow easier, and rearranged the chronological timeline to create a narrative line that is more interesting and reader-friendly – but most important: it permits Philip Vera Cruz to tell his story.
Cesar Chavez and his farmworker movement aside, Vera Cruz’s immigrant story of coming to America from the Philippines in the 1920’s to find work, send money home to the family, scratch out some formal education, and make something of himself is representative of the immigrant story for tens of thousands. Additionally, in Philip’s case, we are the beneficiaries of his thoughtful reflections and intelligent analysis about the role of immigrants in American society, the discrimination and humiliation they endured, and the organized self-help efforts they made to improve their status.
One of the most interesting and paradoxical sections of this book relates to the United Farm Worker management decisions about the operation of the Agbayani Village in the late 1970’s. The Village, the brainchild of Cesar Chavez, was built with volunteer labor and sited at the union’s compound, called Forty Acres, in Delano California. The purpose of the Village was to house elderly Filipinos at affordable rents during their retirement years in a clean, modern, and spacious setting. Instead of living in shacks and farm labor camps, these bachelors – Filipino immigrant laborers to the United State were not permitted to marry, own property or become a U.S. citizen – would be able to live out their lives in their traditional communal setting and have sufficient space for their extensive vegetable gardens and pets.
What a wonderful and universally acclaimed idea! After the Village was built and opened for occupancy, the political realities of the union movement clashed with the real-life needs of aging Filipino farmworkers. Unfortunately, the titular UFW head of the Village, Philip Vera Cruz, was caught in the middle and was unable to exert enough influence to change the outcome – my sense is, only Cesar Chavez could have changed the end result, but it may have been out of his reach as well. While it might be unfair and an overstatement to characterize Agbayani Village as a complete failure, it is certainly true that its ideals and goals were never reached, nor did it ever come close.
In the UFW history of the Delano Grape strike (1965-1970), there were two well-known and well-defined classes of Filipino farmworkers– the Filipino Brothers (strikers) and the crews of Filipino strikebreakers (scabs). Needless to say, the number of Filipino scabs far exceeded the Filipino strikers, and to complicate matters further, not even all the strikers lasted for the duration of the strike, and some of them returned to work in strike areas.
The UFW political problem: Who was going to be permitted to live at Agbayani Village? Strikers, of course, but what about scabs, and what about those who had left the strike? The political problem for the Filipino communities of farmworkers was different: Agbayani Village should be open at very affordable rents to all aging Filipinos, regardless of their strike history – an anathema to Cesar Chavez! A compromise of sorts was reached: Rents for the faithful strikers would be more affordable, and rates for all others would be less affordable. Even so, it turned out that both classes of rents were set too high compared to the existing Delano rents for a shack or a farm labor bunkhouse. Cheap rent was absolutely essential for retired Filipino farmworkers who had to live off meager social security payments and precious little personal savings.
But rent was not the only issue, there were special cultural needs of immigrant Filipino farmworkers that needed to be met – sexual relations and breeding cockfighting chickens
Because immigrant Filipinos, prior to 1950, were not permitted to marry (and therefore, create families), they lived communally and relied on the regularized “pay day” use of prostitutes to service the sexual needs of their various farmworker communities. This practice of prostitution was forbidden to residents of Agbayani Village, at least at the Village itself, as was the breeding of chickens for cockfighting.
Whether the titular head of the Village, Philip Vera Cruz, a property owner and now married (I have since been informed that technically Philip Vera Cruz was not married, but had formed a long term relationship with a UFW volunteer) was a UFW Vice-President or not, the hurdles of rental rate discrimination, too expensive rents, accepting the use of prostitution, and the business entertainment of cockfighting could not be overcome. For all its promise, Agbayani Village was soon on the wane – a wonderful, but culturally naïve and impractical idea.
In his oral history, Philip Vera Cruz provides thoughtful reflection about the tension created between various groups of Filipino farmworkers as a result of the UFW collective bargaining agreements. Historically, most farmworker strikes, especially strikes initiated by Filipino crews, dealt with the sole issue of “pay” – how much per hour, or how much per piece was the grower offering to pay? If the rate was too low, a spontaneous strike ensued. Sometimes, in response to the wildcat strike, the grower would bump up the rate a nickel or so, or just enough to get the Filipino crews back to work, but if Mexican migrants were readily available to pick up the slack, it might be “take it or leave it” time. The grower pocketed the pay increase demanded by the strikers and moved forward with replacement crews.
The UFW strike was not about wages, but about union recognition. Cesar Chavez wanted to weaken the stranglehold – the life-or-death control of the job – that growers held over the workers, thereby pitting one racial group against another, or even one worker against another, and all for the purpose of driving down wage rates.
UFW union contracts called for all workers to be dispatched to the available jobs through the union hiring hall – workers with the most seniority and in good standing with the union (dues paid up) – would be dispatched first, those with less seniority afterwards. But as Vera Cruz points out, the growers who used primarily Filipino work crews – especially crews who came back year after year to the same grower – used the traditional Filipino crew system to undermine the collective bargaining agreement and the union.
Example: Conversation sample at the ranch with a grower: Sammy, I have plenty of work for you and your crew, you know that, but the union says I can’t hire you. You have to get a dispatch from the union. Bring the OK from the union and your crew can go to work.
Conversation sample at the union hiring hall with the beleaguered UFW staff member: Sammy, we don’t have any job requests from that grower. He tells us he is full up. You have to go back and tell him to make a job request.
Repeating this circular who-gets-the-jobs scenario hundreds of times in the course of a harvest or pruning season angered/alienated many of the communal Filipino farm labor crews and undermined whatever confidence they had in the union – if they had any in the first place. There was nothing that Philip Vera Cruz and the other Filipino UFW leadership could do to prevent the growers from using their traditional Filipino crews to help undermine the union.
I was intrigued by Vera Cruz’s frank and poignant discussion of the relationship between the Filipino immigrant farmworkers and the family members left behind in the Philippines – especially siblings, nieces and nephews. Of course the primary relationship was the solemn promise that family support money would be sent home on a regular basis, especially to pay for the education of family members. But over their many years of absence from the family, combined with the harsh discrimination associated with their underclass status in the U.S., most Filipino farmworkers came to feel inferior and were ashamed to admit to family members back home their lowly American status. Philip recounts how one time he counseled a family member not to emigrate to America – one reason being, he did not wish to be seen as a farmworker by his now-educated and newly-minted career professional sibling. Another reason was he did not want to see a family member endure the racial discrimination that was so prevalent in the United States.
Finally, the personal history of Philip Vera Cruz with respect to Cesar Chavez and his farmworker movement – the United Farm Workers AFL-CIO – shows how it is possible for two people to have divergent views about the same set of observations. In this case, Philip talks about the role he played at UFW board meetings – I saw it differently.
Despite his unabashed and heartfelt admiration for Cesar Chavez as a person, as a leader, and as a policy-maker, Vera Cruz saw himself as the UFW board member who spoke up to challenge this or that union policy, or to defend a particular principle. He takes pride in the fact that occasionally, in the face of UFW board member opposition, he alone stood up for principle, and even though he was not successful in changing the outcome, at least he tried.
But others – and I am one of them – saw him, and his role, differently. During my tenure with Philip Vera Cruz, he rarely – very rarely – spoke at board meetings. He paid close attention at all times, he took copious notes, he often nodded his assent, and if UFW vice-president, Larry Itliong, was present and holding forth, he often grumbled and muttered to himself. (One time, Philip confided to me that he kept a gun in his car just in case, “Larry tries anything. . .” I interpreted this to mean that he would not permit Larry Itliong to personally attack him in front of other board members, or publicly show him up. During my tenure, I never heard Larry do so.)
Taking the floor, speaking up, and debating the issues did not happen, or if it did, I cannot remember any such occasion. In fact, in the eight years of my leadership position in the UFW, I have no recollection of Philip ever addressing a Friday night union strike meeting or speak publicly at the union leadership retreats held periodically throughout the year. I have no doubt whatsoever that Vera Cruz was critical of, and did not agree with, some of the UFW board decisions, but he made that known after the meeting in private conversations with others, including selected board members, and sometimes with me.
In truth, Philip Vera Cruz was something of an armchair philosopher/revolutionary, and had he lived two lifetimes, he could not have found a better audience than the farmworker movement. Literally, thousands of university students from throughout the world came to the Delano to learn about Cesar Chavez and his farmworker movement, but unless they volunteered to man the picket lines or traveled to the cities to work on the boycott, there was no UFW representative available to teach/inform/pay attention to these students – except Philip Vera Cruz. Philip did not picket nor did he boycott, instead he hung out in Filipino Hall, the meeting and feeding place for the Delano grape strike, or sometimes at Forty Acres, the union’s headquarters. For hours at a sitting, he lectured small groups of university students, sometimes even just one at a time, about the plight of California farmworkers, about the strike and boycott, about Cesar Chavez, about the abuses of the growers and agribusiness, about union democracy, about the capitalist system, about California politics, about racial discrimination, about immigration, and so on. He was the resident farmworker movement radical professor, and the more he talked, the more the student visitors loved it.
I have no doubt that some of the things, critical or non-critical, Vera Cruz might have wanted to say and/or debate publicly at a UFW board meeting – but did not or could not – he spoke about passionately with his visiting students, and it is only natural, I think, that having lectured, debated, and answered questions for eager students “semester” after “semester,” for more than a decade, that when he recounted his union career, he saw himself in this discussion/questioning role in all aspects of his UFW leadership position, including his public participation at board meetings. I saw it differently.
None of this – how Vera Cruz saw himself, how I saw him – makes much difference, and while I was not a participant at the time, reading his account of the confrontation that led him to resign his position on the UFW board, it is clear to me that he was pushed off. He had fallen out of favor with Cesar Chavez and the other board members – for reasons real or imagined, it makes little difference – and he was publicly challenged to pledge allegiance to board confidentiality, or to leave. He resigned; he was 73 years old.
I come away from “Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History” with three conclusions: (1) By dint of hard work, mutual support, and long suffering, Filipino immigrant farmworkers managed to survive and overcome the exploitation and discrimination they endured under the yoke of California agribusiness; (2) At great personal sacrifice, Filipino farmworkers scraped together enough money over a many-year period to help finance a better life and more educational opportunities for the families they left behind; (3) Because of Cesar Chavez and his farmworker movement, Philip Vera Cruz and the Filipino Brothers of the Delano Grape Strike, achieved an esteemed place in California history they could never have imagined.
The leadership of Loaves & Fishes asked me to deliver the eulogy for Sister Maria at the Memorial Service to be held in Friendship Park on September 13, 2007. I was pleased to be asked. It has taken me several weeks to arrive at this point of development, but aside from a word massage here and there, I believe it says what I wish to communicate.
Sixteen years ago, Sister Maria Fitzgerald visited Loaves & Fishes. After her tour, we met in my office where she told me: “I’ve been a nun for 30 years, and I am looking for an opportunity to work with the poor.”
Let’s stop for a second and reflect on what she told me: “I have been a nun for 30 years, and I am looking for an opportunity to work with the poor.”
Imagine that! In one sentence, Sister Maria had summed up the corporate mindset of the American Catholic Church dating back to at least 1950. Without meaning to do so, she highlighted the disconnect that exists between the Catholic Church as a corporate institution and the teachings of Jesus that characterize and define a Christian.
“Come blessed of my Father:
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you made me welcome,
Lacking clothes and you clothed me,
Sick and you visited me,
In prison and you came to see me.”
On that day, during her visit to Loaves & Fishes, Sister Maria had made up her mind to devote her life’s work to the poor – if I would allow her to do so.
I don’t think Maria’s decision should come as much of a surprise, after all, she was the religious daughter of Nano Nagel who in 1775 made the decision to devote her life to the oppressed of Ireland by founding a women’s religious order who would live among the poor and seek to improve their lives through education and by working for social justice. Sad to report, not long after Nano died, the church authorities who rule on such matters – along with the acquiescence of the order’s leadership, I have to admit – relegated the nuns back to the convent cloister to say their prayers and take their solemn vows. By coming to Loaves & Fishes to work with the poor, Sister Maria was simply picking up the torch lit by Nano Nagel two centuries earlier.
The mission of Loaves & Fishes is two-fold – first and foremost, it provides survival help in the form of food and shelter for the hungry and homeless of our community, but second, and very important, it provides the call, the opportunity, and the structure for people of faith and people of good will to practice the gospel teachings of Jesus.
Sister Maria Fitzgerald came to Loaves & Fishes to put the teachings of Jesus into practice. In truth, this is the same reason why many of you have come to Loaves. It is also the very same reason why many of our volunteers have come, and it is the reason why our donors generously support this work.
I knew Sister Maria well and I can say from personal experience she was a woman with many facets.
A feminist – men, but especially men in authority, although tolerable, needed to be dealt with;
an accomplished professional – her jail visitation department and volunteer meetings, her United Way speaking engagements, her fundraising outreach – all was organized, right down to the coffee and tea cups, the napkins, the pens and notepads on the table, the agenda and informational handout at the ready, and the desired outcome of the meeting well thought out in advance, nothing was left to chance;
a woman always impeccably groomed and stylish but dressed in the classical fashion of understatement, I would say;
a master – or should I say mistress – of conversation – large or small, short or long, witty or sad – all decorated with the lilt of her native accent honed in her beloved County Cork. She was a charmer with words;
and did I mention taskmaster? Yes, it’s true, there is no denying it. And woe to those of us who ever complained, even under our breath, about being overworked and underpaid. Nonsense, she would say, and proceeded to point out our time-wasting shortcomings and our lack of planning skills. On occasion she would come to me to complain that in her view a particular program director was not earning his/her keep, and she was concerned that as the director, I was not providing enough oversight and therefore – without meaning too, of course – I might be condoning this laxness. She could be tough, let me tell you.
Long before Friendship Park existed, Sister Maria began her Loaves & Fishes ministry in Brother Martin’s Courtyard. She came to know each guest by name – especially those who never responded to her greeting. Sister Maria chatted with the guests singly, and in small groups, to help wile away the waiting hours before the noon meal. Sister Judy used to refer to this conversational activity with our guests as “loitering with intent.”
Not long after, she founded the Jail Visitation Program and recruited dozens of volunteers to help her. It was she who finally convinced the Sacramento County Sheriff to facilitate jail access for her staff and volunteers to visit our incarcerated guests. Believe me, this was no small accomplishment, even though it is something we take for granted today.
Her last assignment at Loaves was that of fundraising. She founded the Development Department, and began an organized outreach, especially into the church communities, to drum up support for Loaves & Fishes. Again, her remarkable gift of speech and her heartfelt concern for our guests gave her entrée and sparked much favorable response. On behalf of the poor, she was a brilliant speaker.
In addition to these fulltime assignments, she served for many years on our board of directors.
Sister Maria left her imprint on Loaves & Fishes in many ways but none greater, I believe, than her outspoken commitment to the principle of non-judgmental acceptance. Truthfully, she served as the board’s conscience in this regard, and time and again, she spoke up at meetings to remind board members that for all our preaching and talking about being non-judgmental, our present discussion and proposed action fell woefully short.
In 2002, Sister Maria retired from Loaves & Fishes and returned to her beloved Ireland – a kind of repatriation, I think.
In March of 2005 she sent an email asking if I would provide an employment reference to one Sister Mary Malone.
I wrote back: “GREETINGS TO SISTER MARY MALONE,
It is not possible in a few sentences to adequately explain Sister Maria’s positive impact on the lives of homeless people in Sacramento. Suffice it to say she is revered by the homeless poor, the volunteers, the staff and the supporters of Loaves & Fishes – and her accomplishments are legendary. For many years Sister Maria served on our board of directors and always represented the needs of the poor even when some of us became too judgmental.
I am confident in saying that if your program includes anyone in need, or anyone who is suffering, or anyone who is distraught, or anyone who is difficult to deal with, then you have recruited the right woman.”
Sister Maria Fitzgerald was the right woman for Loaves & Fishes.
In her memory, my prayer today is simply this: may our Loaves & Fishes leadership remain true to its commitment of non-judgmental acceptance, not only in word, but in deed.
And may those who seek to work with the poor find their way to Loaves & Fishes, and be given the opportunity to follow their calling.
Maria, we miss you.
FIFTEEN YEARS AND OUT
Don Edwards, my high school classmate, and the other half of this Dialogue, recently asked me why I had not written an Easy Essay about why, and under what circumstances, I left the Christian Brothers, a monastic religious teaching order founded in France in the mid-1600’s? A good question, I responded, and promised to do so.
Along with Don, I entered the Catholic religious order at the tender age of fifteen, studied hard, became a monk, a high school teacher, a true believer – but abruptly left fifteen years later – in the mid-1960’s – to save the world.
As I began to reconstruct the why’s of my decision and struggled to find an appropriate place in my story to begin the account, it dawned on me – I HAD already written this chapter!
Forty-two years ago I had explained myself and the reasons for my decision, to every friend and supporter I had picked up along the course of my activist religious life. There is no need to reinvent what so easily tripped off my typewriter on November 12, 1965. Nor is there any need to edit or embellish it – it is what it was!
November 12, 1965
My dear friends,
This is rather a difficult letter to write but one that I feel obligated to send because of your interest and kindness to me in the past.
Very simply put: I am withdrawing (voluntarily) from the Christian Brothers in order to work full time for the National Farm Workers Association – a grass roots movement begun in Delano, California by Cesar Chavez to organize farm worker families in California. (For my non-Catholic friends): my withdrawing from the Christian Brothers does not mean that I have to leave or that I intend to leave the Catholic Church. I will once again assume the position proper to that of a “layman”, i.e., a member of the Church but without the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
My reasons for such a decision are really not very profound or complex. I just feel that I can no longer work on behalf of social justice at the level of abstraction that my life as a religious teaching Brother seems to indicate. Then too, my ever increasing involvement and identification with the poor only continues to widen the gap between my obedience to religious authority and my own understanding of what my life as a Christian must entail. Actually, the decision to make a decision was probably the most difficult part.
I must emphasize that it is not with an attitude of bitterness or hostility that I leave the Brothers. Quite the contrary! I will always be most grateful to them for the opportunities that I had to work with young men and women – that experience alone has been worth a lifetime to me. Then too, many of my closest friends are Brothers and will continue to remain so. In short, whatever “levels of consciousness” I have attained is due in large measure to my having been a Christian Brother.
As I have indicated, I will be working for the NFWA at a salary of $20 a month. I will serve as the Director of Co-Op Development. Our idea is to build a complex of Co-Op’s (clinic, pharmacy, credit union, garage, etc.) somewhere in the Valley – but this complex would be owned and controlled by farm workers themselves. Since almost all of these families make less than $3,000 a year, this idea presents some unique difficulties that must be overcome. My job – as I see it – is to attempt to organize these Co-Op’s by setting up their over-all economic and legal structures and to recruit professional men and women (doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, accountants, teachers, etc.) who will give us one or two years of their lives to work for the poor through the Co-Op at prices that farm workers can honestly afford to pay. We look upon this as a prerequisite for serious grass roots organizing.
I estimate that it will take two years to organize such a Co-Op – granting of course that it can be done! Since at the age of thirty-one I begin from “scratch” without financial resources, I will have to live in a kind of voluntary poverty for the next two years at least. By voluntary poverty I mean that I will have to live on $100 a month and buy (and support) a Volkswagen. Since the NFWA can only afford to salary me at $20 a month at this time, I am going to have to be dependent upon friends who believe in me enough to pledge, let’s say, $5 a month for a year to support my efforts at organizing.
Honestly! This is not a letter of appeal. God knows you have received enough of them from me in the past. I don’t want you to do anything for me or for the cause I believe in unless you really want to. I realize that what I propose to do will strike some of you as “crazy” or “naive” or “nuts” and maybe in two years time I will agree with you. But right now I am convinced that Cesar Chavez and the NFWA represents a true anti-poverty program that respects the dignity and integrity of the people involved.
For the first year (at least until June 1966) I expect to be operating mostly in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I have two “contact” offices:
San Francisco Area:
c/o Bonnie Burns
700 Church St. Apt 205
San Francisco, California
(Phone: MA 6-2281 – Evenings)
c/o National Farm Workers Association
For those of you who want to know what you can do, consider the following:
1. Keep me free to organize by contributing small amounts each month for my support.
2. Make a small contribution towards the purchase and support of a VW.
3. Let me know if I am welcome to stay with you for a day or two when I am in your area. Believe me, I won’t overstay.
4. Put me in contact with professional persons or persons with specialized talents who might want to work in a CO-OP situation at the grass roots level. Warning: this work will entail a kind of voluntary poverty and the living conditions will be very basic.
5. Arrange for me to speak to potentially interested groups about the NFWA and our CO-OP movement.
6. Refer me to existing Co-op’s that you are personally acquainted with so that I can visit and learn more about them.
Thank you, thank you, for all you have done for me in the past I hope that you will look with understanding on what I feel that I have to do to close one chapter in my life and begin another.
(Formerly: Brother Gilbert, FSC)
P.S. I suspect that my San Francisco address will be the fastest way to contact me – at least for the time being.
At the risk of casting a pall over our Dialogue, I offer this post.
Decades ago, I discovered that writing it down, gave relief to pent-up feelings and anxiety attacks – a sort of home grown and inexpensive therapy, I suppose. True enough, I am not obligated to post it in such a public manner, but at my age, how could it hurt? I am surely not the only old man to experience and harbor gloomy birthday feelings.
How should a seventy-three year-old celebrate his birthday? Take a hike? Climb a mountain? Get drunk? Feel sorry for himself? See a movie? Take a medical exam? Write a book? Go hunting? Watch TV? Go to work?
I chose work . . . and feeling sorry for myself.
Work, because I am alone, on the outer fringes of a throbbing organization, and won’t be bothered unless I choose to be. Feeling sorry, because the future, or what’s left of it, seems grim and unreliable. It’s not the fact of old age, it is the withering and drying up part of it that generate my feelings of gloom and foreboding.
I look at others who have gone before me: my mother, a relative, a neighbor, all lost touch with any reality. I see many others barely holding on, generally confused, drifting in and out. Yes, there are other, and different, examples. My father who died in his prime, a life of good health without doctors, save his final six months, and another, a super-charged friend and mentor who at age seven years younger than I am today, fell asleep reading, and never awoke.
The end, of course, is never in question, it is the means that begin to haunt me. Of course there is nothing to be done, no decisions to be made, no other path to choose, it will happen as it unfolds. I am not in charge.
But cheers! The day itself started with a wake-up greeting from my spouse of 41 years, followed by a birthday e-card from my dentist, a frightful invasion of privacy, I thought. Not long after, a call from my six-year-old baseball grandson, and one from my youngest child – there will be many more calls and cards to come before the close of the day, I’m sure.
I have to admit: it IS nice to be remembered, even on a birthday when spirits sag, but none of this familial attention will dispel the gloom – feeling sorry for oneself is deeply rooted and requires perspective, gratitude, peaceful hope and long suffering In the past, writing it down worked best of all, and may it again . . . soon.
P.S. The morning after: by the way, to help shake the gloom, it doesn’t hurt to drink a 1er Cru Pommard (2004) with your homemade birthday dinner of veal piccata
The pope has many honorific titles from which to choose, in fact, there are more than a dozen. For this small offering, I chose, “Sweet Christ on Earth,” which I read in Wickipedia, I think, is one of the most favored in recent years.
The Church of the Sweet Christ on Earth
Jesus of Nazareth founded neither Christianity nor the Roman Catholic Church. At most, he sparked a religious cult of followers, which hundreds of years later, evolved into an Emperor-sanctioned religion.
It was this “church” to which the Apostles Creed prompted allegiance: “I believe in the one holy catholic church.” The cult of Jesus was a way of life: “sell what you have, give the money to the poor, come follow me,” while the apostolic church of the 4th century was a creed, a code of precepts, a set of traditions – all governed by a priestly caste.
None of this is remarkable, most religions evolved in a similar manner, but what sets the Roman Catholic Church apart is its insistence that it, above all others, is the one true church, not a defective one. The justification for this exclusive doctrine states the church was founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and through apostolic succession survives to this day, and because of this unbroken continuum, it provides the only sanctioned way to achieve eternal salvation. All other religions and belief systems, while perhaps well-meaning and/or uplifting, fall short because they will not lead to eternal happiness.
There is nothing new here; the church has asserted its primacy since the days of the Reformation, but for some reason (institutional insecurity?) the pope issued a new papal edict this past week, which restates and reaffirms the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church: “Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church . . . Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.” Take that, my Protestant friends and colleagues! Greek Orthodox, nice try, but off the mark! Muslims and Jews, forget about it! Hindus and Buddhists, not part of the European tradition, therefore irrelevant to the question of eternal salvation.
Barely a day later, this Vatican news story was buried alive by even a bigger church announcement. Two days before trial, Cardinal Roger Mahony agreed to settle 500 pending sexual abuse cases against the Los Angeles Archdiocese to the tune of $660 million dollars. This was in addition to a previous $114 million dollar diocesan settlement made earlier in the year. All totaled, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States will have paid out more than $2 billion dollars for child sex abuse settlements dating back to the 1950’s. This dollar amount will continue to grow until every U.S. Catholic diocese settles their outstanding legal claims. Child sex abuse costs from Catholic dioceses throughout Europe will certainly add tens of millions of dollars to the final total.
What a sad, sad chapter in the seventeen-hundred-year history of the Roman Catholic Church, and it isn’t finished yet.
The day following the Los Angeles settlement, the papacy issued a media release that was headlined on the Internet: “Sex Abuse Not Just Catholic Issue, Vatican Says.” True, child sex abuse is everywhere present – even more than we dare to admit – in every religion, culture and society, but what makes this abuse unique to the Roman Catholic Church was the deliberate cover-up orchestrated by the U. S. bishops. Hush money in the form of insurance payouts and confidential legal agreements were used to buy silence from the victims and their parents. Only when the abuse became so pervasive and widespread that insurance companies, faced with an ever-growing number of aggressive lawsuits, were unwilling to take on more risk, did the issue make its way to the daily news of the public.
The rationale used by the U.S. Catholic bishops to justify its cover-up was reliance on a seven-hundred year-old theological moral concept: “lest the faithful be scandalized,” but of course, the real reason for the cover-up was the need to shield the bishops and the priestly caste of their church from the harsh judgment of the faithful. True, many of the abuser-priests were temporarily reassigned outside the diocese for extended periods of therapy, along with the assumption that at the end of the treatment period, they would be “cured.” No doubt some were, but most were not, and besides, who really knew if therapy worked, and who could predict future sexual behavior?
Therapy or not, child sex abuse or not, the Roman Catholic Church holds that: “once a priest, always a priest.” – an indelible stamp that can never be erased. Defrocking was never considered, the only pastoral option was religious confession and forgiveness. The institutional church code, along with the mindset of the bishops, dictated that these former, and now forgiven child abusers, must continue to be treated as priests; they had to be assigned to priestly duties, they were entitled to be supported financially throughout their lifetime, and they had to be afforded the respect due to them as chosen members of the priestly caste.
If there is a thin thread of connection between the Jesus of Nazareth and the Sweet Christ on Earth, I fail to see it. Finery, privilege, wealth, self-promotion, a position of impunity, a sumptuous life-style and medieval headdress blur my vision. Perhaps – just perhaps – the prophetic witness of these sexually abused children from the Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archdiocese will force me to continue looking until I find the connection – a form of tough love, if you will.
This is a very short story made into a Loaves & Fishes long one.
Have a nice Friday.
The Wrong Door
My office at Loaves & Fishes is little more than an enlarged closet but thankfully it has a fixed window that faces north. I say thankfully only because it would be too claustrophobic for me without one. The view is old-city urban industrial: four lanes of high speed, one-way traffic careening into downtown along with two light rail tracks, one going outbound, the other inbound. At least 40,000 cars pass this way each weekday. My window is tinted in such a manner that I can see out, but it is difficult to see in. Still, the light that comes in is a welcome relief.
Facing this speeding traffic is a newly remodeled two-story concrete block building which Loaves purchased and remodeled to house its legal clinic, the jail visitation program, and my office. The second floor is still unusable and will remain so until more funds are raised for its renovation. These office-type uses do not require a special use permit from the city, which explains why some of the other homeless programs were not assigned to this location.
The front door – the side of the building facing the traffic – is kept locked; it is a staff-only entrance. The guests of Loaves & Fishes are being trained to use the south side entrance because it is more oriented to the main complex and lends itself to better monitoring. Out of necessity, not by choice, I have become an integral part of the training program. When an unknowledgeable person comes to the incorrect entrance – the north side – and knocks on the locked door, my office is the only one available to respond. I do so.
By now the emerging training problem should be more obvious to you. With 40,000 cars passing by the building and viewing the five foot diameter-sized logo on the side of the building announcing, “Loaves & Fishes” a percentage will surely conclude that my entrance door is THE entry into the Loaves & Fishes complex. Today a person with food to donate knocked, a person with clothes to donate knocked, a DHL delivery person knocked, a person new in town in need of and locking for a hot shower knocked, a person with a light rail citation and no money knocked, a person who could only speak jabber knocked, and so my day went.
But my newly-found training assignment is not the point of this story, it is the person who knocked yesterday. “I have to tell you,” she swallowed, “my daughter is a run-a-way, and I was told I might find her at Loaves & Fishes next to a woodpile in Friendship Park. Can you help me?”
Put a dagger in my heart!
Don, you and I have raised many daughters, can you even conceive of knocking on a stranger’s door, swallowing, and beginning the conversation with, “I have to tell you . . .” This kind of encounter has happened to me before at Loaves & Fishes, but now after a retirement absence of several years, I was stunned and deeply saddened for this mother and her daughter, neither of whom I will ever meet again. Yet, I was proud that Loaves & Fishes exists, that I exist, that I was able to open this locked wrong door and listen to the heart-rendering words spoken by this woman.
Oh, that every run-a-way daughter, and every searching mother, would have their own Loaves & Fishes, and their own wrong door on which to knock.
Sitting on a foot stool in a corner of the darkened living room, hunched over to the point that my ear almost touched the cloth of the radio face, I listened intently, hoping, praying that my beloved Solons would make a ninth inning comeback – they don’t, a two-out long fly ball caught over the shoulder in deep center field and the winning run is left on second base, the game is over. I’m crushed! With tears welling up, I try to contain my emotions but mother notices. “If you are going to cry every time the Solons lose, I am not going to let you stay up anymore and listen to the games.” This time, I think she means it.
This is 1946, I am twelve years old. How can this triple-A minor league baseball game be such an emotional and heart-breaking experience for me?
Writing about this now, 60 baseball seasons removed, this not-so-isolated emotional occurrence is even more pathetic: these baseball games were sheer fantasies, only the final score was real. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the hitter digging in at the plate, the pitcher staring in and shaking off the catcher’s sign, and the manager charging onto the field to argue the tag with the umpire – all made up, all a fantasy created by the radio announcer. The embarrassing reality is I shed childhood tears about a baseball game that was conjured up by a media company to sell among other things, sausages and tamales.
True, the Solons played the league game, but the pitch-by-pitch recreation was based upon a telegraphic wire shorthand report that chronicled each play or pitch as the game progressed: “flied out to left”, “called third strike”, “stolen base, safe at second”, “close play at first, called out,” and so forth. The KFBK radio announcer, ensconced in a small studio in Sacramento hundreds of miles from the game itself, created the sound of the bat, provided typical baseball color commentary and played canned crowd noise, including typical baseball field chatter. I knew nothing of this. Using the announcer’s descriptive words and the urgency in his voice, I could visualize every pitch, every nuance of the batter’s stance, and I could follow the flight of the ball, especially the long doubles in the gap to right and left centerfields that might be stretched into triples. I hung on his every word.
Was my mother aware of the make-believe nature of these radio games? What about my father? If so, they never punctured the rapt seriousness with which I listened to the game. Surely, they would have said something. Or were they simply waiting for me to outgrow a childhood phase, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy? Years later, reading a newspaper article, I discovered the truth about these fantasy games, but by that time the Solons were defunct, the franchise relocated to another city, and the stadium property developed into a big box discount store. I don’t remember my reaction, most likely I had none. I have never devoted much time to retrospection. I was still young, there was no need to live in the past.
My childhood life centered around sports, especially baseball, and the entertainment it provided me. I taught myself to play by watching and imitating older kids, attending Sunday semi-pro games in our town, and reading the sports sections of newspapers and magazines or watching the sport newsreels at the Saturday matinee and one time, I found a how-to book at the library. I studied every baseball photograph: how the player wore his mitt, how he gripped and positioned the bat, how he wore his uniform and fashioned the bill of his cap, how the pitcher gripped the ball across or along the seams, and how the catcher cocked the ball by his ear to make a perfect throw to second. I played incessantly – playing catch with neighborhood friends, fielding ground balls thrown at me by my father, catching pop flies, and swinging a bat. A hometown semi-pro player once told me he swung a bat at imaginary pitches a hundred times a day to develop his eye and coordination – and so did I.
Growing up in a California rural town in the 1940’s – one urban square mile with less than three thousands residents – there were limited entertainment possibilities for pre-teen children. TV was years away, there was only one radio in the house to be shared by all, and just one movie theatre in town but only the Saturday matinees held out any hope of getting permission to go and the extra money for popcorn. Kids, boys especially, played outside and made up their own entertainment using their imagination. My first choice was baseball, I never tired of it.
Times have changed. I see my grandchildren enrolled at early ages into sports leagues – snappy uniforms, coaches, referees, league rules, professional-grade equipment, refreshments, clapping parents shouting out encouragement and instructions onto the field. If the child shows unusual or promising aptitude, and the parents are game, the organized sport can be played year-round.
TV, almost synonymous with professional and college sports, is available around the clock. How-to sports videos at every library, sports camps and day clinics everywhere available for a price and deemed advisable for children of parents who harbor sports ambitions.
I do not pine for a return of a 1940’s childhood, nor do I challenge the modern day highly organized sports programs for children, in which my own children now participate and promote. Times change, there is nothing to be done about it. But I cannot help but wonder if there is much room left for imagination, or whether a pre-teen can anymore truly savor the heartfelt joy of victory or even shed a painful tear of disappointment for their favorite team playing an imaginary game.?
I believe my new post speaks to this point, but from a different vantage point.
Throughout the centuries, the pope of the Roman Catholic Church has assumed to himself many honorific titles including: His Holiness The Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Vicar of Jesus Christ, and even more recently, Sweet Christ on Earth.
With all due respect, I propose a more fitting pontifical title for the current Successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, Pope Benedict XVI – Dumb Ass Pope.
Elected Patriarch of the West at age seventy-eight after a long career as an academic theologian and a high-ranking German cardinal, and followed by twenty-five years of rarefied bureaucratic experience – and sumptuous living – working inside the confines of Vatican City, this former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, penned a few sentences, which he gleefully read to a German audience of academics, and in the process inflamed the religious sensitivities of the entire Muslin world, approximately 1.3 billion people.
Satan’s hellhound in the Vatican, some called him; we shall break the cross and spill the wine, shouted others; we will continue the holy war of jihad until God gives us the opportunity to slit the throat of the cross-worshipper, cried others; and a huge crowd of demonstrators burned a white-clad effigy of the Vicar of the Apostolic See. Sad to report, a Catholic nun was also murdered and several Catholic Churches in the Middle East were firebombed to protest this religious slur preached by the Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City – and this is only Day Three of the official outrage.
Dumb Ass, indeed.
Instead of repeating a clever, third-party religious slur from a 14th century emperor against the Prophet Mohammed, this Primate of Italy should have used his entitlement perch to visit Muslim leadership far and wide asking two questions: what can I, the Servant of the Servants of God, do to bring peace to the world? And, working hand in hand, what can we do together to lift up the poor and the oppressed, whatever their religious affiliation? But alas, instead of a religious life dedicated to voluntary poverty, the practice of nonviolence, and personal sacrifice for the sake of others, His Holiness The Pope travels about with pomp and circumstance and political agenda. What more could we reasonably expect from the Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, the wearer of silk garments, medieval headdress, and fashionable eyewear?
Pontifical titles are meant to create the perception, dare I say illusion, that an anointed member from an exalted priestly caste is something more than merely human, not quite a divine perhaps, but nearly so. Unfortunately, this is precisely the wrong religious message for a world mired in abject poverty, racial and sectarian cleansings, and wars seeking to control natural resources and promote international consumer decadence. Respectfully, my title for the Bishop of Rome, Dumb Ass Pope, does much to reconnect the religious successor of the Jesus of Nazareth to our common humanity – a worthy objective, I think.
An email from my youngest arrived the morning after July 4th:
“I was thinking of you last night while lighting the fireworks for my friends. I always remember the fourth so vividly as a child: our tradition of going to the fireworks stand (spending too much money) and always having the best show on the block. I also remember the good old days of Old Sacramento on the third – we would pack up a dinner, find our spot on the lawn, us girls running around Old Sacramento before dark (the days when you did not have to worry too much about your children) and then as darkness hit, the show began. Thank you for the great memories of the fourth of July and always making it a great day!”
Don, let me tell you how nice it is to be remembered and thanked by one of your children, you should be so fortunate.
I inherited my love of the Fourth from my father. From my earliest years of recollection, I recall how much my father loved the celebration of Independence Day, especially the fireworks. Once he told me how fortunate he felt to have been born a citizen of the United States, a country that stood for freedom. Fireworks, he explained, were the symbol of our country’s desire to be free and it was important that the family celebrate even though I had to press my hands over my ears to muffle the sounds of the explosions. It was only natural then, when I had my own children, that I insisted upon fireworks to celebrate the Fourth.
Even now as empty nesters, Bonnie and I have traveled to Boston several years running to enjoy the Independence Day fireworks while visiting our daughter and her family. No, not the Boston Common fireworks, but the next town over, Needham
But this Fourth of 2006 was different. I did not celebrate, I was not interested in attending any fireworks display, I remained aloof – I’m sure it was because of the Iraq War. I was unwilling to allow any Independence Day celebration or the government’s public relations talk of freedom gloss over the immorality of my country’s war – a war that was unnecessary, a war that could have been avoided, a war that was predicated on falsehoods, a war waged by a Superpower because it could. And what was our president’s holiday message to our country? – keep on killing, stay the course, bring honor to the 2540 American dead by slaying even more Iraqi people. Anyone who can tell right from wrong must consider adding our country to the president’s list of countries who make up his simplistic axis of evil foreign policy.
I think of my father and his love of country. Would he have been so eager to celebrate the Fourth this year, as I was to avoid it? I hope not, but it might be so, I don’t know.
Have a nice Friday, Don.
I know that you are traveling in the fatherland. I hope this essay finds you in good health and a safe place. I have been fussing with this essay for awhile, perhaps too long, and it is time to let it go.
Today marks the end of the two thousand and eighth week of my marriage – our 40th Wedding Anniversary. Is it possible that 40 years have come and gone so quickly? 1966 – 2006, apparently so.
Bonnie and I – well Bonnie, really, because she is creative about such things – decided to celebrate the whole year, not just set aside one special anniversary day. Personal bias aside, I thought it was a splendid idea.
We started our celebration on the north shore of Kauai, a paradise we had never visited. Tragedy was averted when I was rescued by Bonnie and some hiking New Yorkers after I had stumbled, couldn’t right myself, and fell over the side of the Napali Coast trail, clinging to the steep mountainside for dear life – a very close call.
We followed this adventure by casting in with three other couples to rent an apartment on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the place from which I write this essay. One week a month, Friday to Friday, Bonnie and I live in San Francisco. What a difference a week makes!
On the magic day of the anniversary itself, our only planned event was to return to Bonnie’s parish church in the San Francisco neighborhood where we had been married. The church was half-full this Sunday morning, a sign of the change that has taken place in the American Catholic Church during these intervening 40 years. The makeup of the congregation had also changed: gone were the Irish, replaced by the Asians. And still another change: we were overdressed for this modern-day San Francisco Sunday worship service in St. Cecilia’s.
After the Mass, we caught the next bus on 19th Ave without even knowing where it went. We could have gotten off at the Golden Gate Bridge but neither of us have the stomach for the high wire heights associated with a walk over the bridge, so we stayed put until the end of the line, Fort Mason. A half-mile walk and we were celebrating with our first drink of the day at Ghirardelli Square overlooking San Francisco Bay and Alcatraz Island. San Francisco can be splendid on a beautiful day, and this was certainly one of those days. On to the Ferry Building for a light seafood lunch, this time overlooking the Bay and Treasure Island, and then it was home to South Beach for the afternoon. In the early evening, we walked to North Beach Restaurant for a 1995 Pommard, sweet breads (she), and veal scallopini (he) – a bit pricey perhaps, but a well-deserved and delicious anniversary dinner. (Our wedding night dinner was at Swiss Louis in North Beach, a favorite of ours, but it has long since decamped to join the other nondescript tourist restaurants at Pier 39) After dinner, we walked up Nob Hill to Top of the Mark to enjoy the traditional Irish Coffee and the panoramic San Francisco views. Finally, calling it an evening and a day well-spent, we made our way home by way of the N-Judah street car.
Our next point of celebration will be in Maine at the end of July to vacation with our East Coast daughter and her family. On to Florence and Venice in October and return again to Hawaii for Christmas and New Year’s on the south shore of Kauai with our five daughters, their four husbands, and our nine grandchildren, ranging from age 11 to 3. This Hawaii-close of our 40th year anniversary celebration will be the public, family event of our celebratory year.
It might be expected of someone who has practiced the art of marriage for 2008 weeks to impart some words of wisdom, or least a few tips, for those who may wonder how we managed to escape the 50+ percent divorce rate of our era. Sad to report, I have no such words of wisdom to impart. What I can say with great emphasis is that I was Grade B marriage material and I have arrived at this point in my life only because of the longsuffering and steadfastness of my wife. She guided, or more honestly stated, prodded and pulled me along, as I careened from career to career, abruptly ending some as quickly as I had made the snap decision to undertake it. She saved me from myself more times than I care to remember. A career person herself, she was the marriage partner who organized the family and kept everyone together and on track. Until you have met Bonnie, you have not met Superwoman.
You too, have attended wedding ceremonies of the children of your friends and colleagues, and have heard ministers wax on about partnership, compromise, two-way street, mutual commitment, each one giving 100% and so forth, but the reality is this: if a marriage can be successful, it is because one partner – yes, generally the woman – shoulders the burden of making it work, even when the wheels come off. For my part, I have been the beneficiary of Bonnie’s determination to keep our marriage and family together. This year of celebration especially belongs to her, and I’m most grateful she has included me.
Have a nice Friday, Don.