Know what it means to come home

FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 1, 2009:

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I’m reading right now called Home by Marilyn Robinson. It is the sequel to her very successful book Gilead. If you haven’t read either, they are well worth your time to pick up – great Lenten reading. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story as it tells of Jack, the black-sheep of the Boughton family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in his life. But, when I read that particular passage, I couldn’t help but think how fitting a description it is of our annual Lenten journey. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

Lent, after all, is a journey that is all about coming home to the constant and eternal faithfulness of our God. And this is the message in our Gospel passage from Mark today. Mark gives us a familiar story; that of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but Mark gives us the Cliff’s Notes version of it. We’re more accustomed to Matthew’s rendition which gives us the details of each of the specific temptations between Jesus and the Devil. But, Mark’s version cuts to the chase. We hear only that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, that the Devil tempted Him and angels served His needs. And, then, we hear from Jesus, who say, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Don’t be fooled by the brevity of this proclamation. Although Matthew gives us more detail, even this brief statement in Mark is packed full of meaning. Jesus, first tells us to “repent.” What does it mean to repent? We often think of the word “repent” in terms of sorrow. When we repent we are sorry for what we’ve done or what we’ve failed to do. That is true enough, but repenting, especially in its Lenten sense, has an added quality to it – the quality of return. When we repent, we leave our former ways and return to the ways of the Lord. Our sorrow for our sins doesn’t leave us in our sin. We don’t say “I’m sorry for my sins,” and then just keep on sinning. Rather, when we repent, we recognize that we have wandered, to use the language of my book, and that we need to we turn ourselves back around; not only express sorrow for our sins, but go back in the direction of home; in the direction of God. When we repent, it is the very beginning of the journey of return.

Secondly, Jesus tells us to “believe in the Gospel.” This belief is the effect of our repenting, our turning around, because you see for the believer, the Gospel is our home. When we turn away from sin, the home we return to is the home of the Gospel. We all know that the word Gospel means literally, “Good News.” Our return home is for us the good news of our salvation, the good news that God loves us, God cares for us, God desires us to be reconciled to Him; God wants us to come home. Whenever we are far from that home, God stands at the door just waiting for our return. So Jesus says, don’t just listen to that Good News, don’t merely consider it, but He commands us to believe it; He commands us to live it; to live in it, as we would our home. Hold that Good News in the certainty of our hearts with the knowledge that what we have heard proclaimed is true! We have wandered away from that Good News and during Lent we come to learn what it means to come home.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, we may find ourselves here today feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, sinful, even far from God. But, God calls each of us today to come home once again; to be renewed in His love and in His grace; to leave behind our sins; to turn around and head towards God once again; to be the people He created us to be. Just like in most prodigal son stories, there is nothing so great that would ever keep the Father from welcoming us back into our home. How strongly our God wants our own 40 days to bring us back into closer, more intimate relationship with Him.

So, my brothers and sisters, come home this Lent; return to God with all your heart; repent and believe the Gospel; the Good News that God loves you, cares for you, wants to hold you so very close to His loving and forgiving heart.

“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”

May God give you peace.

Poor Doogie

Neil Patrick Harris cracks me up!

Judas Asparagas

A child was asked to write a book report on the entire Bible. Through the eyes of a child:

The Children's Bible in a Nutshell

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, 'The Lord thy God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that.

Anyway, God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did.

Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden.....Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn't have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel.

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check.

After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat.

Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable.

God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbor's stuff.
Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humor thy father and thy mother.

One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town.

After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me.

After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore.

There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them.

After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mom is always saying to me, 'Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say, 'As a matter of fact, I was.')

During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Republicans.

Jesus also had twelve opossums.

The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him.

Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount.

But the Republicans and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead.

Anyways, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution.

God lets us wander

I read earlier this year the fabulous book Gilead by Marilyn Robinson and now I'm reading the sequel to that, Home. So far, it is also excellent. Here is a little snippet that touched me today:

What a strange old book it was. How oddly holiness situated itself among the things of the world, how endlessly creation wrenched and strained under the burden of its own significance. "I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us." Yes, there it was, the parable of manna. All bread is the bread of heaven, her father used to say. It expresses the will of God to sustain us in the flesh, in this life. Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.

Make a perfect dwelling place for the Lord

A thought for the day from today's Office of Readings. This is from a homily by St. John Chrysostom:

Practice prayer from the beginning. Paint your hosue with the colors of modesty and humility. Make it radiant with the light of justice. Decorate it with the finest gold leaf of good deeds. Adorn it with the walls and stones of faith and generosity. Crown it with the pinnacle of prayer. In this way you will make it a perfect dwelling place for the Lord. You will be able to receive him as in a splendid palace, and through his grace you will already possess him, his image enthroned in the temple of your spirit.

Set the world ablaze

ASH WEDNESDAY, February 25, 2009:

I heard an interesting Ash Wednesday story from a Eucharistic Minister a few years ago. This minister was in the midst of distributing Holy Communion when a man approached. The minister was about to offer him the Eucharist, but he waved it away, “I don’t want that. I just have a question. Can you give me my ashes after Mass is over?” The minister looked at him, bewildered, and nodded, “Um, yeah,” he said, and before he could say more the man said, “Great. Thanks,” and sat back down in his seat.

Further proof, if any were needed, that we just can’t live without our ashes. The Eucharist? Well... But, gotta have those ashes. Ash Wednesday is one of the most curious celebrations. It is a beautiful call to our conversion once again, every year. But, it is also a celebration that sometimes invites the strange. Today, we have four Masses and all will be full. In fact, we will see more parishioners today than we do on an average weekend. And yet, Ash Wednesday is NOT a Holy Day of obligation. Not one of us is obligated to be here today as we are each and every Sunday. I’ve heard some priests say that it’s because it’s one of the few times you can come to Church and get something free. This probably also explains the popularity of Palm Sunday. But, maybe there are other, better, deeper reasons too.

For one thing, the ashes we receive are enduring reminders of our Catholic identity – a way that we can continue to publicly show ourselves as believers, and bind ourselves together. In a culture that is increasingly splintered and split apart, the ashes on our foreheads proclaim to the world who and what we are. You could also argue that Ash Wednesday is such a part of our tradition, nobody wants to give it up. From our earliest days, we are brought to Church to get ashes – parents will even bring babies, to have them dabbed with dust. You feel somehow left out if you don’t get them. But I think there is something else to it, too. Something that cuts to the heart of life -- and death.

One day, a man got a call from his doctor, telling him that he had lung cancer. The doctor told him that there was nothing they could do. The man hung up the phone, and looked at his family, seated around the kitchen table, stunned. And he smiled. “Be of good cheer,” he said, “None of us gets out of this world alive.” My friends, that is what Ash Wednesday says to us. It is the great leveler.

Today, we are not brilliant or creative or dynamic or sexy or strong. We are not beautiful or powerful. We are not rich or poor, healthy or sick. We are not young or old. We are just simple sinners. We are made of dust, and to dust we will return.

Almost a year ago, we began the Easter season with a roaring fire outside of the Church – we re-lived the creation of the universe, and it exploded into hundreds of points of light: small, bright candles that were held by everyone in the church. We sang: “Christ Our Light, thanks be to God.” And we were made new. Now, it is a year later, and we are left with ashes. So for this one day we will bear that mark -- the remnants of a great blaze, the residue of a fiery faith that maybe has cooled, that isn’t as strong as it could be.

And for this day, we will let others see this mark, as a sign of repentance, and humility, and humanity. As the day goes on, we’ll forget about it, and suddenly catch sight of ourselves in a mirror, and realize: We are dust. And to dust we will return. And we will see others like us on the street and think: we have plenty of company.

Ultimately, that is all we are in this earthly life: dust. But we dream to be more. We know we can be more. And so we make this 40-day journey – joining Jesus in the desert – to strive to be better than what we are, and become what we hope to be. To become more than dust – to become, in fact, light. Burning, brilliant light. And so we join the psalmist and sing: “Be merciful Lord, for we have sinned.” We begin this long walk into the wilderness. Because we are dust. And to dust we will return. We wear this mark, if only for this day, as a reflection of where we came from, and where we are all destined to go.

But we are reminded of something else, too: it is the middle that matters. It is that lifetime stretching in between that matters. What will we do with that time? How will we live? What will we be? These 40 days are a blessed opportunity to carry those questions in our hearts – and in answering them, reconcile ourselves with one another, and with God. Let me recommend three things we can all do this Lent – one personal, one communal and one universal.

First, the personal. You know that even as I share these words, God is putting something on your heart that He wants you to leave behind. It isn’t the simple and superficial practices of giving up sweets or eating between meals. Perhaps it is something major and challenging like giving up the desire to gossip and tear others down; giving up the anger and rage that control your life; turning away from problems with drink, even drugs or pornography. Whatever it is, you know God is calling you to something specific, something personal, something that desperately needs to change if you are going to grow in holiness. Whatever this personal thing is, God calls us to prune ourselves, like we’d prune a plant, so that we may grow better in His sight.

Next, the communal. During Lent, we have many additional opportunities for our community to gather in prayer. We have daily Mass. We have repeated opportunities for Confession so you can purify your soul. We have Stations of the Cross on Friday night so we can meditate upon the sacrifice Christ made for us. If we are going to successfully navigate this time of penance and prayer, we need to do it together. We need to pray together, prepare together. We need each other. We can help each other. None of us should make this Lenten journey alone. Let’s travel together towards Easter joy.

Finally, the universal. This is a time to care about our community and our world. Use the money you are saving by giving something up this Lent and give it to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the needy. Find a worthy cause to give of your time, your talent or your treasure this Lent. Our small sacrifice can have a big impact on the lives of others elsewhere. Give not merely coins and dollars, but love and quite literally, life.

So, these are the things we can do – something personal, something communal, something universal. Let us pledge ourselves wholeheartedly this Lent that this may be a true and effective season of faith in our lives.

Hundreds of years ago, St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” This day, my friends look at the ashes, but think of the fire. And let us pray, this Lent, to set the world ablaze.

May God give you peace.

Ashes, ashes

Mickey Rourke saved by his Catholic faith

I have long had a special place in my heart for actor Mickey Rourke. Back in 1989, he starred in what I think is the best movie on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, "Francesco." With the Academy Awards this week, there was a lot of coverage of his "comeback" but here is an interesting article where he credits his Catholic faith for getting him through this tough time.

Hollywood star Mickey Rourke has told a British magazine that his strong commitment to his Catholic faith has saved him from slipping back into his formerly chaotic lifestyle.
Catholic News Agency reports that he told Female First magazine that he ensures he talks to his priest as often as possible, and the release of being able to offload his problems prevents him from having a mental "explosion".
He says, "I've talked to my priest a lot. I used to have to call him or the shrink when there was an explosion, because I was really good at not talking to anybody until there was an explosion.
"My priest is this cool Italian from New York. We go down to his basement and he opens the wine. We smoke a cigarette and I have my confession. He sends me upstairs to do my Hail Mary's. I mean, I'm no Holy Joe, but I have a strong belief."
Rourke revealed that he came close to committing suicide during his eight year addiction battle in a comment to Now Magazine, a British Gossip paper.
The 'Nine 1/2 Weeks' star, who suffered addictions to drugs and alcohol, said he was only saved from shooting himself in the head because of his faith in God.
He said: "If I wasn't Catholic I would have blown my brains out. I would pray to God. I would say 'Please can you send me just a little bit of daylight.'"
Mickey Rourke tried to commit suicide - but was saved at the eleventh hour by a priest."He talked me out of it and we started meeting. His name is Father Pete and he lives in New York. Father Pete put me back on the right track," the actor concluded.

Monthly Medjugorje Message

February 25, 2009:

"Dear children! In this time of renunciation, prayer and penance, I call you anew: go and confess your sins so that grace may open your hearts, and permit it to change you. Convert little children, open yourselves to God and to His plan for each of you. Thank you for having responded to my call.”

Mel Gibson in "The Colonel"

This is seriously funny!

NYC's new Shepherd

I am so impressed with and thrilled by the appointment of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as the new Archbishop of New York. He is a faithful shepherd of the Church, an man of Irish descent and a man with a great sense of humor. There were great stories on him in the New York Press today, but in particular, here are a few funny snippets from a story in the New York Post. He's a funny guy:

Before celebrating Mass at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, Dolan said President Obama had phoned him.

"He said, 'I just wanted to call and congratulate you and assure you of my prayers.' And I said, 'Thank you, Mr. President. I need those prayers.' "

"Well, I need yours, too," Obama responded.

"He said, 'You know, we're in kind of a tight financial situation,' " Dolan recalled. "And I said, 'If we can have a second collection or something, let us know.' It was a remarkably pleasant and enjoyable and friendly call."

Dolan's appointment, which had been rumored for weeks, came two years after Egan submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict, a requirement for bishops reaching age 75.

Like Egan, Dolan is considered a conservative when it comes to church teachings. And, like Egan - and all but one of his 12 predecessors in the New York Archdiocese - Dolan is of Irish descent.

"That's a sign of the Holy Father's infallibility, don't you think?" Dolan quipped.

Dolan takes Manhattan!

Very exciting news out of Gotham today as Pope Benedict XVI named Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan to become the new Archbishop of New York. Archbishop Dolan is generally considered to be a brilliant choice for this role and it is with great excitement that he takes the helm of one of the country's largest and most influential dioceses.

Here is the text of Archbishop Dolan's press conference this morning upon the announcement:

Thank you, Cardinal Egan, for your gracious words of welcome. To know you are and will be at my side is a genuine blessing indeed.Thank you, members of the media, and so many listening and watching with us this morning, for your interest and your welcome. You’ve made me feel at home already.

Thank you, most of all, to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who is alive in His Church, without whom nothing is possible, with whom nothing is impossible.

Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for your trust in naming me archbishop of this historic and vibrant Archdiocese of New York.My brother bishops, priests, religious women and men, seminarians, committed Catholics of this wonderful Church, I pledge to you my love, my life, my heart, and I can tell you already that I love you, I need so much your prayers and support, I am so honored, humbled, and happy to serve as your pastor.

To our cherished collaborators in metropolitan New York, our Christian, Jewish, Islamic and interfaith colleagues, my pledge to you of continued friendship; to our civic leaders, and so many neighbors, men and women of such good will, my assurances of a continued alliance in all that is noble in our devotion to this expansive community.

[In Spanish] My special greeting to our Latino brothers & sister, such a blessing to our Church and our community. I look forward to knowing and loving you.Thank you, Mom, family and friends at home in St. Louis, and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. It will be tough to leave you.

I come before you in awe, with some trepidation, knowing I have a lot to learn, -- about you and about this dynamic local church.. Yet I come so confident in God’s grace and mercy, and so hopeful in the dream that is ours for a “future full of hope” as promised by God.

I relish the blessing of spending the rest of my life as your pastor, neighbor, and friend.

You can view some video of Archbishop Dolan's welcome this morning here: Dolan Videos

Obama more popular than Jesus

Rochester, N.Y. (CNA) - Respondents to an online poll which asked them to name their heroes were more likely to name President Barack Obama than Jesus Christ.

The Harris Poll, conducted online among 2,634 U.S. adults between Jan. 12 and Jan. 19, asked respondents to name three people they admire enough to call a hero. Those surveyed gave spontaneous answers and were not shown or read a list of people to choose from.

Respondents most often named Barack Obama, followed by Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Mother Teresa was the tenth most often named, while God was the eleventh most.

“The fact that President Obama is mentioned more often than Jesus Christ should not be misinterpreted. No list was used and nobody was asked to choose between them,” Harris Interactive said in a statement.

In a similar poll in July 2001, respondents most often named Jesus Christ as their hero, followed by Martin Luther King, Jr., Colin Powell, John F. Kennedy, and Mother Teresa.

Asked to identify what they believe makes someone a hero, respondents named doing what’s right regardless of personal consequences, not giving up until the goal is accomplished, doing more than what other people expect of them, overcoming adversity and staying level-headed in a crisis.

Fighting poverty to build peace

This is from the current issue of America Magazine and is written by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, NY.

By Bishop Howard Hubbard

How will the world most effectively achieve peace? By fighting poverty. This central insight of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 World Day of Peace message has powerful implications for the current challenges facing the United States. Our nation’s internal economic struggles threaten to turn our focus inward rather than internationally. Pope Benedict’s focus on poverty around the world proposes a much more global vision, because difficult times demand a complex and comprehensive response. He points out a different way forward, a way inspired by the Prince of Peace. Humanity, Pope Benedict reminds us, is one family in God.

Where do we find solutions to our problems here at home? Candidates in the recent U.S. presidential election focused heavily on the domestic economic crisis and the beleaguered American middle class. Both are valid, critically important areas of focus. But the solutions for such problems, Pope Benedict suggests, also lie in the struggle against poverty abroad.

Ultimately, there is no competition between domestic and international needs, nor between poor persons and the middle class. It is self-defeating to demand choices between help for those who suffer in the United States and those who suffer overseas, or between aid for poor persons and those in the middle class. Reiterating Pope John Paul II’s warning that “the gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations,” Pope Benedict notes that we are dealing with a family matter. Concern for poor persons, both here and abroad, flows from the reality that humanity is one family in God.

Pope Benedict argues persuasively that assisting poor persons, especially in developing countries like Ethiopia, Haiti and Bangladesh, will help create “a world that is more just and prosperous for all.” He makes his point with a vivid image: “It is utterly foolish to build a luxury home in the midst of desert and decay.” He emphasizes that concern for the welfare of poor persons strengthens the common good of all and that addressing the needs of the most vulnerable improves the health of all. In the face of seemingly “either/or” choices, Catholic social teaching proposes “both/and” solutions.

Domestic Poverty

Before exploring the global focus of the pope’s message of Jan. 1, 2009, it is important to examine domestic poverty. In 2007 the official poverty rate in the United States was 12.5 percent, or over 37 million people. The rate for children was 18 percent, almost one in five. These rates will surely climb in the current recession.

The official U.S. definition of poverty is about $21,000 a year for a family of four. In urban areas with higher costs of living, the effective poverty rate is much higher than the official estimate. Many low-income families living near or just above this income level see themselves as working class or middle class, not poor. But the church’s “preferential love for the poor” embraces them as well. This special concern for the poor does not diminish concern for the welfare of those who are middle class or wealthy. Everyone benefits when society more fully promotes the well-being of all, especially those who are poor.

Pope Benedict highlights the importance of building “participatory institutions” and a “civil society” internationally that enables nations to invest in people, fight crime, strengthen the rule of law and reduce poverty. As the former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ committee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, I have seen C.C.H.D. projects help poor people help themselves through the support of community-empowered, self-help organizations throughout the United States. This is a U.S. example of what is being done internationally to empower poor people to improve their communities.

International Challenges

Reducing domestic poverty will help to reduce global poverty because U.S. foreign policy can be only as strong as the nation is economically. Our country needs a solid domestic economy if it is to have the resources to help reduce global poverty. Paradoxically, in this age of globalization, the United States cannot improve its domestic economy unless it simultaneously invests in reducing global poverty. These investments unleash the potential of poor nations to contribute through fair trade to a robust global economy that benefits the common good of all peoples.

Poverty is widespread across the globe. An estimated 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. Such poverty assaults human dignity and robs people of their human potential. Fortunately, poverty is a disease with a cure. There are countless stories of poor persons and communities rising above crushing poverty. The mission of Catholics and others of good will is to work with the poor to achieve greater economic opportunity.

Time and again, the world has seen that poverty contributes to conflict and violent conflict contributes to poverty. This vicious circle is true within nations and between nations.
Headlines testify daily to the fact that desperate situations of poverty lead some people to do desperate things. There is vivid evidence of this in the crime rates of poor neighborhoods, and in civil wars and international conflicts. For example, the genocidal conflict in Darfur, Sudan is exacerbated by a competition over scarce resources, such as arable land and clean water; these resources have been diminished by desertification of the land as a result of human carelessness and global climate change. Similarly, the violence and division of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are made worse by the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Territories.

Violent conflict destroys lives and property and can reverse years of human progress. War is development in reverse; it deepens poverty. Poverty destroys human potential, breeds despair and violence and undermines human security.

Pope Benedict warns that “immense military expenditures” divert resources “from development projects for peoples, especially the poorest.” Excessive military expenditures create “pockets of underdevelopment and desperation” and “paradoxically” become “a cause of instability, tension and conflict.” This warning has profound implications for U.S. foreign policy. As the world’s leading arms producer, the United States should assume leadership to promote international disarmament and to reduce the arms trade, which the Second Vatican Council called an “utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor.”

The Mandate for Development

“The new name for peace is development,” Pope Benedict states, alluding to the words of Pope Paul VI. The pope then outlines steps in a comprehensive global development strategy to reduce poverty: improve solidarity between rich and poor countries; redirect military expenditures to human development; address pandemic diseases and the food crisis; and reform international trade and finance to reduce marginalization of low-income countries. He notes that children constitute almost half of those living in deep poverty worldwide, and asks that nations give priority to supporting mothers and families, education, access to vaccines, medical care, clean drinking water and initiatives to protect the environment.

In recent years there has been a debate over the role of development, defense and diplomacy (the three Ds) in U.S. foreign policy. The United States must give development a structure and capacity that raises it together with diplomacy and defense as the “third leg” of U.S. foreign policy.

What specific strategies can help the United States incorporate development as this third leg of foreign policy? First, development with a focus on poverty reduction must become the fundamental goal of foreign aid, including the participation of poor people and the involvement of local governments and civil society. Second, an emphasis not only on immediate humanitarian aid but also on investments in agriculture, health care, education and micro-credit programs will make a global development strategy more comprehensive and effective in the long run, as will the inclusion of strategies to combat climate change and reform international trade policies.

Third, such strategies will be bolstered by a gradual increase in foreign aid, to reach the international commitment by wealthier nations to allocate 0.7 percent of national income to global development.

Material and Moral Poverty

Most significantly, Pope Benedict highlights the relationship between material poverty and moral poverty, noting that “every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person.” Moral poverty that fails to respect human dignity contributes to material poverty. Greed, corruption and materialism undermine the common good of all. Material poverty demands concrete economic, social and political actions; but these actions will be effective only if they are shaped by people committed to what the Holy Father calls “profound solidarity.”

Morality matters in economic policy. The current national and global financial crisis has made this patently clear. Pope Benedict observes that too many economic actors were making decisions “based on very short-term thinking.” They lacked a commitment to “long-term consideration of the common good,” and by pursuing short-term gain in financial markets, they undermined the market itself. For this reason, markets, and financial institutions must be appropriately regulated for the common good.

Morality also matters in developing public policies that too often can be driven by ideology. Some countries promote anti-life population-control policies, although the world has reduced poverty even as its population has grown. Indeed, Pope Benedict says, developed countries “with higher birth-rates enjoy better opportunities for development.” The United States would do well to preserve the Kemp-Kasten Amendment that prohibits giving U.S. “population assistance” funds to any group that supports a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization, and should also reinstate the “Mexico City policy” that denies U.S. funds to organizations that perform or promote abortion as a method of family planning.

Morality also matters in designing effective responses to the AIDS pandemic. The recently reauthorized President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) increased resources for AIDS prevention and treatment, training health care workers and nutrition programs. The bill also provided balanced funding for abstinence and behavior- change programs that research has shown are highly effective in reducing infection rates in countries with epidemics. A bipartisan consensus rejected adding unrelated family planning and reproductive health services that would divert resources from life-saving interventions. Sadly, some advocacy organizations are seeking to overturn that carefully constructed bipartisan consensus. Our nation’s leaders should not go down this divisive path.

A Call to Further Action

In response to the pope’s call “to fight poverty to build peace,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services will reinvigorate the Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty soon. An initiative called “Catholics Confront Global Poverty” will be launched on Feb. 23 ( with a goal of helping to educate and mobilize U.S. Catholics to defend the life and dignity of people living in poverty throughout the world.

The initiative will offer six specific policy recommendations: first, an increase in poverty-focused foreign assistance to meet humanitarian needs and invest in long-term development; second, the promotion of foreign assistance reform that emphasizes poverty reduction, government accountability and the participation of civil society; third, a new approach to global climate change that focuses on protecting the poor; fourth, reform of trade and agricultural policies to stimulate sustainable development and protect small farmers; fifth, financial and political support of U.N. peacekeeping missions to reduce the violence that impoverishes many nations; and sixth, the application of significant resources for peacebuilding and diplomacy to areas where existing conflicts threaten to turn violent.

Together with the domestic poverty initiatives of the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and the Campaign to Reduce Poverty of Catholic Charities USA, this new initiative represents a “both/and” approach to poverty at home and abroad. In the words of Pope Benedict, it is important that “people everywhere feel personally outraged by the injustices in the world. ” Only then can people work together to “redress the marginalization of the world’s poor” and “fight poverty to build peace. ”

Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard, bishop of Albany, is the chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Two years of A Friar's Life

Well today marks the two year anniversary of this blog and I have enjoyed writing it. I hope you have enjoyed reading it! I see we're just 45 viewers shy of hitting 30,000 today (which would be awesome!). Let's see if it happens!



Play ball!

Two buddies, Bob and Earl, were among the biggest baseball fans in America. Their entire adult lives, Bob and Earl discussed baseball history in the winter, and they pored over every box score during the season. They went to sixty games a year. They even agreed that whoever died first would try to come back and tell the other if there was baseball in heaven.

One summer night, Bob passed away in his sleep after watching the Yankee victory earlier in the evening. He died happy.

A few nights later, his buddy Earl awoke to the sound of Bob's voice from beyond.

"Bob is that you?" Earl asked."Of course it's me," Bob replied.

"This is unbelievable!" Earl exclaimed. "So tell me, is there baseball in heaven?"

"Well I have some good news and some bad news for you. Which do you want to hear first?"

"Tell me the good news first."

"Well, the good news is that yes, there is baseball in heaven, Earl."

"Oh, that is wonderful! So what could possibly be the bad news?"

"You're pitching tomorrow night."

Pelosi and the Pope

From Whispers in the Loggia:

Just dropped from the Holy See: a Press Office statement on the Pope's post-audience bacimano earlier today with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.With the meeting become a flashpoint in media, political and church circles alike (and both left and right at that), the following was released by the Vatican in Italian and English:

Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.

According to the Italian wires, the encounter between the pontiff and the California Democrat extended for some fifteen minutes.A lifelong product of church schools who's described herself an "ardent Catholic," the Speaker's solidly pro-choice record has landed her in the crosshairs before, most notably after Pelosi sought to defend her position in an August interview on Meet the Press.

From the mouths of babes

This young girl prepared this report for her 7th grade class. What eloquence coming from one so young.