Working Catholic – Community Colleges

Community Colleges

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Bill Droel

President Barack Obama is a champion of community colleges—not only in his recent State of the Union address, but regularly since the first days of his administration.

Tom Geoghegan, a labor lawyer here in Chicago, is not convinced. College, especially community college, “is not a sure route to the middle class,” he writes in Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). The context is all wrong. There are hardly enough stateside manufacturing jobs to sustain our service/knowledge economy. The U.S. trade deficit is over the top. Authentic worker participation in decision-making is rare. Plus, students carry too much debt on their credit cards and need education loans. Then, there is the high dropout rate—a topic to be examined in a future Working Catholic column. For these reasons and more, says Geoghegan, a push for more college does not automatically make us better off.

Read more

Too Much Sentiment, Part I

The Working Catholic: Too Much Sentiment, Part I

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 By Bill Droel

“A Christian worldview can exist in writing that is not necessarily Christian,” asserts Lisa Ohlen Harris in the February 2015 issue of a terrific evangelical publication, Books and Culture. Meanwhile, she continues, “our own [Christian] literature often lacks the bite and angst our worldview ought to embrace.”

Harris has in mind most of the novels in the “Spiritual” or “Christian Fiction” section of many bookstores—though there are not so many bookstores these days. She doesn’t like all the sweetness and sentimentality. “We do the same with Bible stories, sanitizing and simplifying them,” she says. “The story of Noah becomes a sweet means of counting by twos instead of a story of apocalypse.” Life, she reminds us, is not tidy. Most tensions are not resolved in a moment during which we “receive Christ” and shout “yes and amen.”  Indeed, many tensions are never totally over. Read more

Catholics outnumber other religions in Congress

Catholics outnumber other religions in Congress

CNS photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, kisses Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as he holds the gavel after being re-elected speaker on the House floor at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Boehner and Pelosi are among the 31 percent of House and Senate members who are Catholic.

By Mark Pattison/Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The numbers don’t lie. Once again, there are more Catholics in Congress than members of any other religious denomination. And the numbers stay strong term after term.

Even though Catholics account for only about 22 percent of the U.S. population — admittedly the largest body of religious belief in the country — they make up 31 percent of the House and the Senate.

If you’re looking for differences between the two major parties, there’s indeed some — but Catholics are still overrepresented in both the Democratic and Republican parties. There are 83 Catholics among the 234 Democrats in the House or Senate, good for 35 percent of the Democrats’ total, and 81 Catholics among the 301 Republicans in Congress, or 27 percent of the GOP’s total, according to figures issued in a Pew Research Center study issued shortly before the 114th Congress was sworn in Jan. 6.

What makes Catholics so eager to want to serve in electoral office, and what makes them so electable?

Daniel Philpott, director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, speculated there is a “strong tradition of social thought in the Catholic Church, more developed than in the mainline Protestant churches.”

Philpott pointed to the issuance of Pope Leo XII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum” as the starting point “where the church decided to engage the modern nation-state.” Philpott said the Second Vatican Council also did much — even more than the election of John F. Kennedy as the first, and so far only, Catholic U.S. president — to advance the notion of politics as a noble vocation. Vatican II’s endorsements of religious freedom, human rights and democracy left an imprint in the minds of Catholic laity at that time.

Closer to home, “the American Catholic bishops have for decades touted and advocated social justice as part of the mission of the church, it may be in part because of the immigrant character of the church” that led bishops to go to bat on such issues as workers’ rights and welfare benefits,

Frank Orlando, a political science instructor at St. Leo University in Florida, told Catholic News Service that Catholics benefit from voters’ strong preference for their elected officials to profess religious faith. He cited a 2013 Pew study that showed that 53 percent of those responding said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who was an atheist. By the same token, according to Orlando, only 8 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a Catholic candidate; that number more than doubles to 17 percent for evangelical candidates.

Pew statistics reveal that 20 percent of Americans now profess no religious belief or are atheists. But only one self-proclaimed atheist serves in the House, and she was only first elected in 2013.

The traditions of Catholic moral teaching and Catholic social teaching can appeal to Catholic office-seekers and voters across the political spectrum. “In a bad year for Catholic Democrats, they get replaced by Catholic Republicans,” Orlando said. “And in a bad year for Catholic Republicans, they get replaced by Catholic Democrats.”

Catholics have such appeal, Orlando added, that they can get elected in districts in the Deep South where the Catholic population registers in the single digits.

“John Calvin said the highest civil calling was good government,” said the Rev. Dale Kuehne, a political science professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. “It’s one of the highest civil goods you could have, and I believe that.”

Rev. Kuehne, ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church of America — “If there’s another minister with a degree in politics, I’d like to meet him,” he said — recalled when he taught political science for five years at a Baptist college in the Midwest. “The students would come to me and say how can we win and still be Christians,” he noted. “At St. Anselm, students would come up to me and say, ‘How can we win?’ It wasn’t that Catholic students were less committed to their faith. But there was a recognition that to get something done, you had to win.”

“I don’t’ think it’s unique to (people with) faith perspectives to want to make the world a better place. If you have a faith perspective, you should want that. I think a lot of people get into it for that reason,” Rev. Kuehne said. “I think some people lose their way.”

The Pew tally of Catholics in Congress included Rep. Michael Grimm, R-New York. who won re-election despite a 20-count federal indictment on charges of tax evasion, tax fraud and perjury. One week after he pleaded guilty to a single count of tax fraud and admitting to perjury, wire fraud and hiring undocumented immigrants in December, he said he would resign from Congress before the new Congress was sworn in. And, on the day the new Congress was seated, the former Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, a Catholic, was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty on 11 felony corruption charges.

“Original sin is an equal employer,” Philpott chuckled. “Nobody’s exempt from original sin.”

– See more at: http://www.catholiccourier.com/news/world-nation/catholics-outnumber-other-religions-in-congress/#sthash.ZduEaGaO.dpuf

Time to Renew Your Membership!

Dear Friends on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord,

In one month, we will be gathering for our annual Catholic Labor Network Gathering as part of the USCCB’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. I hope that you will be able to join us. If you have not registered yet, you can do so at: http://tinyurl.com/csmg2015

I would like to invite you to renew your membership in the CLN, or if you are not a member, join for the first time. For the very reasonable dues of $25.00 for an individual member, you can help support the regular newsletters, the advocacy, and the ongoing evangelization of our Catholic Social Teachings as they relate to work.

Attached is the 2015 Membership Form. You can also go to: http://www.catholiclabor.org/MembershipForm_2015.pdf for an online copy of the application.

Blessings,
Fr. Sinclair
CLN-Spiritual Moderator

Pope Francis: Concern for the Poor is Rooted in the Gospel, Not Communism

Bg_logo_ftPope Francis: Concern for the Poor is Rooted in the Gospel, Not Communism

Discusses Ethics Within Social and Economic Systems in New Interview

Vatican City, January 12, 2015 (Zenit.org) Junno Arocho Esteves | 42 hits

In an interview with Vatican journalists Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi, Pope Francis said that concern for the poor is in the Gospel, and not an invention of communism.

Excerpts from the interview were released by the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, and is part of new book entitled “Papa Francesco – Questa Economia Uccide” (Pope Francis – This Economy Kills).

The book, which profiles the social teaching of the Church “under the direction of Pope Francis”, was released today in Italian.

Among the issues discussed by the Holy Father was the current state of capitalism and globalization. While saying that globalization has helped many out of poverty, the Pope noted that inequalities have arisen. Read more

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Pope Francis Describes 15 Ailments, Sicknesses, and Diseases in the Vatican Curia

Pope Francis Describes 15 Ailments, Sicknesses, and Diseases in the Vatican Curia

In his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, Pope Francis described various ailments, sicknesses, and diseases “that we encounter most frequently in our life in the Curia.” Francis said, “They are illnesses and temptations that weaken our service to the Lord.” While intended for the Curia, Pope Francis is highlighting some problematic behavior that can easily apply to the average Christian, as well, making his remarks relevant for not just those in the Curia. Here are the 15 ailments described by Pope Francis:

  1. Considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable,’ neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body.
  2. ‘Martha-ism’, or excessive industriousness, the sickness of those who immerse themselves in work, inevitably neglecting ‘the better part’ of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Therefore, Jesus required his disciples to rest a little, as neglecting the necessary rest leads to stress and agitation.
  3. Mental and spiritual hardening: that of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves behind paper, becoming working machines rather than men of God.
  4. Excessive planning and functionalism: this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant.
  5. Poor coordination develops when the communion between members is lost, and the body loses its harmonious functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra of cacophony because the members do not collaborate and do not work with a spirit of communion or as a team.
  6. Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease, or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord, of the ‘first love.’
  7. Rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the color of one’s robes, insignia and honors become the most important aim in life.
  8. Existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honors.
  9. Chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren.
  10. Deifying leaders is typical of those who court their superiors, with the hope of receiving their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, honoring people rather than God.
  11. Indifference towards others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships.
  12. The funereal face: or rather, that of the gruff and the grim, those who believe that in order to be serious it is necessary to paint their faces with melancholy and severity, and to treat others – especially those they consider inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance.
  13. Accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential emptiness of the heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but simply to feel secure.
  14. Closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself.
  15. Worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power.

Workers’ Participation

Workers’ Participation

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by Bill Droel

Catholicism opposes collectivist or state-controlled economic approaches. At the same time it opposes an unregulated market and rejects magical economics, as implied in metaphors like rising tide, invisible hand and trickle down. Throughout the industrial era and now in our post-industrial times, Catholicism draws upon its principles of participation and subsidiarity to advocate for an occupational order or solidarism. This concept is known in France as corporatism, in Belgium it is called delegates for personnel or in Germany it is co-determinism or works councils. In the United States Catholicism translated solidarism as industry council plan. (When I say Catholicism, I mean that Catholic doctrine includes economic principles. That doctrine is derived from Scripture, natural law and experience and it is available to all people of good will. However, I admit that few Catholics have ever heard about their social doctrine.)

Tom Geoghegan argues for an occupational order in his latest book, Only One Thing Can Save Us (The New Press, 2014). He draws upon the successful German economy and thus uses their terms: co-determined boards and works councils. In a previous book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? (The New Press, 2010), Geoghegan mentions the Catholic influence on the German model; though in this latest book he leaves out that connection.

Members of a company’s works council are elected from among shareholders and employees. Shareholders always are in the majority and a shareholder is always the chair. In Europe the employee members belong to a union, but this union factor is not essential to the solidarism model. A works council is more than an employee suggestion committee; it has some authority. The council is not involved in setting wages, pensions, health benefits and the like. It concentrates on day-to-day operations like scheduling, departmental flow and improvements to the production process or to delivery of services. The result is a more motivated workforce with lower levels of discontent. Of course, not every works council is perfect. However, the standard model of company directors detached from the actual work space is, as the economic collapse of 2008 amply taught us, flawed in practice and, says Catholicism, flawed in theory.

Geoghegan is not observing our scene from a reclining chair. He can be seen every day in a Chicago courtroom, a neighborhood luncheonette, a train station, a union hall, a community theater or a church basement. Geoghegan is aligned with many causes and charities around our city. His book seeks something that relieves government of some regulatory impulses yet at the same time something that puts brake shoes on ragged laissez faire capitalism. It comes wrapped with several provocative ideas:

  • That under proper conditions unions might be better off not representing everyone in a workplace.
  • That a college degree may not be the ideal for most young adults if our economy remains as it is.
  • That nurses are uniquely poised to make our economy more inclusive.
  • That credit card consumption cannot possibly lift our economy absent a prevailing wage for all families.
  • That the Chicago Teachers Union is a positive influence (a topic of controversy around my city).
  • That clumps of fast food workers and others who walk off the job for a short time put meaningful pressure on the Democratic Party and, to a degree, the Republican Party to address family life issues.
  • Geoghegan loves our country and its legal, economic, political and educational systems. His ideas are the subject for a subsequent Working Catholic column.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Service Projects

Service Projects

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Bill Droel

This is a sign of the times: Thousands of Catholic young adults now participate in service projects and even in a year-long volunteer corps. These volunteer opportunities are not only offered through Catholic schools, religious orders and agencies. Other denominations and secular institutions also have service projects in which Catholics serve along with others. Volunteerism is hardly new in our country, though service requirements in school, mission trips in college and post-grad volunteer corps are recent developments—at least in their current scope. In the old days young adults more or less sought out volunteer opportunities on their own, for mixed motives: to change society, to learn from a charismatic leader, or (in my case anyway) to meet women. Today’s young adults, their program leaders and the service agencies are all to be applauded.

Michael Laskey of Camden, writing in U.S. Catholic (11/14), wonders though if “the default approach [to young adult volunteering] is out of whack.” He is all for service but, he asks, how many young adults really form a relationship with those they serve? Like most North Americans, Laskey admits to a “preference for the quick fix.” Volunteering often becomes a one-way effort to get the job done, Laskey finds. Do young adult volunteers, he concludes, ever “confront any suffering or ask difficult questions about the world” or about themselves?

At one time Laskey’s own forays into volunteerism were premised on tackling “solutions to injustices.” He came to think that maybe it is better to “start with relationships.” His acquired approach, he says, seems more in harmony with Pope Francis’ themes of going to the peripheries to build “a culture of encounter.”

“Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world,” writes Pope Francis. “Often it is better simply to slow down, put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others.”

Francis intends to encourage people and so admits that some might feel “offended by my words.” Yet, he continues, the dominant culture likes “the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional.” Christian service, by contrast, should first be about encounter—not “simply an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need, a kind of charity a la carte.” And second, it should “make an impact on society” by “working to eliminate structural causes of poverty.”

It is hard to create bridging relationships, says Paul Lichterman in Elusive Togetherness (Princeton University Press, 2005), his case study of nine volunteer and advocacy projects that explores the tension between lending-a-hand service and partnering. The less fortunate can seem inscrutable, Lichterman admits. So the best-intentioned volunteers often proceed with partial understanding, unconcerned with the larger map of the culture and civic world around the needy. The volunteers complete the task, yet have loose connections to the less fortunate and even to one another—not only in direct service projects but in policy campaigns, like for example those concerned with a living wage or with eliminating trafficking.

Young adult volunteering is a marvelous development. Its graduates are included in the powerful 2%. But their project leaders and the young adults might reflect on their experience with an eye toward the public arts of encounter: How will this experience carry over into my career and family life? Does this experience, perhaps in synergy with Catholic tradition, suggest any principles that can be used on my job or in my own culture? And did I develop an appropriate public friendship with my fellow volunteers and those we tried to serve?

Droel is editor of INITIATIVES, a newsletter about faith and work. Get INITIATIVES and Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ fuller thoughts on a culture of encounter, from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $10 pre-paid).

Thanksgiving Images

Thanksgiving Images

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Bill Droel

Our image of Thanksgiving Day is influenced by famous paintings, including from 1915 The First Thanksgiving by Jean Louis Ferris (1893-1930) and from 1943 the still popular Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). These images serve a purpose even though they compress history and though celebrations in most homes are not as serene as the paintings.

The Statue of Liberty is second only to “that star-spangled banner” as a symbol of our beautiful country. It is also a fitting image for Thanksgiving even though again historical facts about the statue have been compressed.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the son of Italian immigrants to France, was involved with a circle of people who considered the French movement for liberty to be their gift to the United States and they raised money to donate a statue symbolizing that gift. A preview of the gift appeared at the Philadelphia Expo in 1876, but it took until 1880 before a complete statue was delivered to the U.S. embassy in Paris. The French circle wanted the gift to keep moving in the sense that the U.S. should support and sustain liberty among freedom-seeking movements around the world.

It wasn’t until 1886, however, that the statue was dedicated in New York’s Upper Bay. In the meantime a private fundraising campaign in our country was needed to secure the statue’s site, particularly to finance its pedestal. Part of the fundraising was the auction of a 14-line sonnet, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). Her ancestors were Jewish-Russians who emigrated here before the Revolutionary War. At the time her poem was commissioned, Lazarus, sufficiently known in literary society, was volunteering at Emigrant Aid Society on the Lower East Side. The poem was mostly neglected but in 1903 it was written on a bronze tablet and only in 1945 was it mounted on the statue’s pedestal. The poem and the statue came to represent the thankful generosity of our country’s residents. So thankful, in fact, that we could open our hearts to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

The statue’s symbolism of thanksgiving is, of course, reinforced by its proximity to Ellis Island. (I’m biased toward my home state of New York. But for the record, Ellis Island is mostly in New Jersey and Liberty Island itself is in New York.)

From 1892 to 1954 thousands of immigrants (including my grandmother), having just passed by the Statue of Liberty, gave thanks on Ellis Island for their arrival to our land of opportunity. Each generation of arrivals enriched our country with creativity, social capital, culture and faith—gifts to subsequent generations. Thus the table prayer on November 27, 2014 is not only one of thanks for God’s bounty, thanks for the privilege of residing in this country, thanks for the family and friends gathered, but also thanks for our ancestors and for those new arrivals who keep the gift moving.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free newsletter about faith and work.