Gratitude Deficiency

Gratitude Deficiency

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Bill Droel

The coins on our counter and in our pockets carry the slogan “Out of Many, One.” But that is not a common theme in our society nowadays. Instead, writes Jeremy Engels in The Politics of Resentment (Penn State Press, 2015), the operative slogan is “Out of One, Two.”

Democracy plays out differently in various times and places. It means, however, that the populace can routinely hold the powerful in check. Democracy is an alternative to authoritarianism, oligarchy, dictatorship, totalitarianism or aristocracy. James Madison (1758-1831) and other founders of our country wanted a democracy in which citizens had power, but not in free-wheeling anarchistic style. Madison promoted the wide interplay of factions. Each faction would advance its agenda. Each group had to play on a large political field and thus could not succeed without the backing of other groups that shared some part of the original agenda. In forming a coalition the group had to temper its agenda.

In our society, Engels details, Madison’s factions (e pluribus unum) are reduced to two (e unibus duo). It is us against those whom we resent. The silent majority resents the loudmouthed pleaders. Those with hard-working family values resent immigrants who supposedly take away jobs. Those who in theory exhibit a Christian lifestyle resent Muslims who supposedly want to take over.

Meanwhile, the powerful elites become more powerful because the mechanisms for democratic accountability are neglected. The grievances of the populace are “channeled at the wrong targets,” says Engels. Resentful rhetoric, as heard on some radio shows and at campaign rallies, is counter-productive. The audience might momentarily feel charged-up; ready to counter their cultural opposites. As Engels convincingly shows, however, the resentment “does not hasten justice.” It actually perpetuates suffering because it locks the aggrieved group into victim status. Instead of honing the political skills that lead to change, resentful groups wallow in blaming, name-calling and pointless behavior.

The rhetoric of resentment contains lots of violent metaphors that eventually have an effect on conduct. Engels clearly states that no direct line exists between, for example, a candidate or radio host who plays to resentment and, for example, a crazed shooter in a school building. Violent language does though create a culture of fear, a culture with weak restraints.

One of Engel’s five chapters is largely given to Sarah Palin, who recently endorsed Donald Trump for president. She obviously does not favor acts of violence. But a close reading of her talks reveals violent terms aplenty. She paints herself and her followers as victims. To Palin, “the other” is not a legitimate political opponent, but a hated evil enemy.

In recent years some people (lay people, some parish staff, a few bishops) have brought the nastiness of the culture wars (a metaphor) inside the church. They don’t let faith enlighten public life; they use the resentments of public life to define our faith. They may think our times require a holy crusade (metaphorically). Their posture, however, certainly achieves the opposite of what they desire. In fact, their ideological notion of religion is dangerous. Their backwards approach is similar to that of radical Muslims who use an ideology to interpret God’s revelation.

The opposite of resentment is gratitude; both an individual attitude of gratitude and a public politics of thanksgiving. To be continued…

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

Who Is Next?

Who Is Next?

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by Bill Droel

There has always been a strain of anti-Catholicism in our country. For example, Catholics were attacked (verbally, quasi-legally and even violently) through the mid-1800s by public leaders and small groups. The U.S., it was said, is for natives, not for papist immigrants. During the 1850s an entire political party, The Know Nothings, ran on this anti-Catholic platform; supported by vile religious slurs in newspapers, scandalous cartoons and discrimination signs in places of employment and housing. In the 1920s another nationwide group formed to oppose Catholicism. It had strong chapters in the Midwest (especially in Indiana) and the West. Its name was Ku Klux Klan. In the 1950s the violence-prone KKK became associated with anti-black sentiment in the South.

Catholics gained acceptance during World War II and thereafter through their contributions to our country’s struggle against Nazi ideology (a movement that wanted a so-called pure race). Catholics were respected after the War because of their stance against communist ideology (another movement with exclusionary tendencies). The 1960 election of President John Kennedy (1917-1963) symbolized acceptance for Catholics. Although U.S. Catholics now surpass other Christian denominations in education attainment and average income, it is a mistake to think our country is free from Catholic-haters.

Given our history in this beautiful country, Catholic citizens should be on the front lines in protest against anyone who says an entire religious group is unwelcome on our shores.

A nation by definition has a responsibility to secure its borders. At the same time our nation is founded on the premise that a fresh start begins here. Further, the U.S. is proud of its history as a “beacon on a hill” and proud of its national poem: “…from her beacon hand glows world-wide welcome.” The U.S. regularly tells other nations to practice pluralism. The U.S. on occasion even scolds intolerant nations. And, as during World War II, the U.S. is sometimes willing to take up arms against a nation that persecutes an entire group of people because of their religion or ethnicity.

It is proper and necessary for the U.S. to turn away some foreign individuals from our harbors, or our airports, or our Canadian and Mexican borders. An individual should normally not enjoy our land of liberty if they do not qualify, particularly if they pose a threat to national security. To turn away an entire ethnic or religious group, however, violates the very freedom our country espouses.

Donald Trump, the showman from Queens, New York, belongs to a comparatively small Christian denomination. Its members—like Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Baptists and others—should be on guard against nativist exclusionary rhetoric. For once notions of a pure group or impure group gain credence, any group could be next. It was once Jews, Catholics before that, Muslims now. The religious group to which Trump belongs, should his prejudice spread further, might soon hear: “You’re fired. Get outta here.”

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

 

 

Esau and Jacob

Political scientist Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015), who died in October, fought against a dominant approach in social science that constructs abstract models to then be used in devising and evaluating public policy. Instead, Wolin turned to the history of specific societies. From them, he derived lessons that apply to modern situations.

In a well-known essay, Wolin looks at the saga of twins Esau and Jacob, as revealed in Genesis (See 25:19-34; 27:1-49). He then explores the difference between an  individual who lacks context and a relational person who is rooted in family and community traditions. The older twin Esau, you remember, sells his birthright to Jacob. Their father Isaac is then tricked into bestowing the ancestral blessing on Jacob the younger brother.

A birthright, Wolin explains, is a unique and irreplaceable inherited collective identity. A birthright is an honor, but it implies commitment. It denies that solitary individuals are thrown into the world and allowed to make unencumbered choices. Instead, the birthright (which is one’s package of family and community traditions) bestows on its recipient all the treasures of the ancestors but includes the obligations as well. Yet Esau and now many people in the United States, Wolin feels, would say the disappearance of familial obligation, especially obligation to the elderly, is not “a loss but a relief.”

Wolin calls this wholesale embrace of unencumbered individualism the contract theory of society. It replaces thick stories of familial honor and obligation with an assessment about the near-term additions or subtractions to an individual’s interest. Little regard, explains Wolin, is given to the meaningof the inherited situation. Nor do individuals consider “the possibility that [because of this or that choice] I could be better off but that we [will] not.” The contract theory rests on shaky premises, he writes.

The part of the Esau and Jacob story that many of us miss is that Jacob’s little coup d’état was a disaster for both him and his brother. They feared and fought one another most of their lifetime. Only at the conclusion of Genesis does Jacob imperfectly attempt to end a pattern of isolation, resentment, retaliation and more isolation.

In popular contract theory, individuals are autonomous and society starts afresh each morning. But in reality, Wolin continues, there is never a single moment when all individuals “have no prior history” related to economic class, religion, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, and more. The contract theory “is deeply anti-historical.” It posits “a memory-less person without a birthright.” The contract theory is really “collective amnesia.”

Our goal as North Americans is not to be enslaved by the past. The democratic idea that we are allowed to rise above the education and economic level of family or class is an advance in God’s plan. But the price for our ragged individualism is high. Far too many have become unattached from a collective story. A large number of isolated and resource-impoverished seniors is but one example of our lost sense of ancestral gratitude. A contract society, as it turns out, is not dynamic. Today’s society is populated by free-roaming individuals making so-called free choices, yet ours is a static society— economically and especially spiritually. Individuals presume they are choosing, but they are not participating. Without the power of collective memory, says Wolin, true participation, which is “originating or initiating cooperative action with others,” becomes a rarity, not the norm.

The challenge is to draw upon the best values of our parents, grandparents, and other heroes in the faith as we create and fashion what Genesis calls Eden:literally, “a home out of the earth.”

Droel is the author of Monday Eucharist (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8)

First U.S. Saint

She is the first U.S. citizen to be an official saint. But it almost didn’t happen.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, MSC (1850-1917) and half a dozen others from the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart arrived in New York Harbor in March 1889, following a difficult Atlantic Ocean crossing. Italian priests serving in New York, the story goes, sent disturbing reports back to Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini (1839-1905) of northern Italy. The U.S. church, largely populated by Irish-Americans, treats Italian immigrants as second rate, those reports said. With the blessing of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) Cabrini was thus dispatched to remedy the situation. Church officials in New York promised her a house, a school and an orphanage.

Upon arrival, Cabrini met with New York’s Bishop Michael Corrigan (1839-1902) only to learn no preparations were made for her. Paul Moses recounts the scene in his illuminating study, An Unlikely Union: the Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (New York University Press, 2015). “I see no better solution to this question, Mother, than that you and your sisters return to Italy,” Corrigan said. “No, not that, your Excellency,” Cabrini replied. “I am here by order of the Holy See and here I must stay.” Keep in mind that until the 1978 administration of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), the Holy See was an Italian-run operation.

Corrigan, Moses explains, was not against the pastoral care of Italian immigrants; he even spoke a little Italian. Corrigan and his Irish-American clergy simply thought the new arrivals were a problem. They did not want to lose the loyalty (and donations) of the slightly better established Irish-Americans who were reluctant to share with the Italians.

The half-hearted pastoral outreach in the U.S. church consequently reinforced the Italians’ preference for household piety and popular devotions; expressions of faith not dependent on approval of a local pastor. This popular religiosity only spun the wheel round again. The Irish-American parish leaders faulted the Italian immigrants for low Mass attendance, low financial giving, deficient knowledge of doctrine and susceptibility to evangelical Protestant outreach.

Cabrini, whose feast is celebrated each November, wasted no time on discouragement. She moved forward, not only in New York but across the country, including here in Chicago where she died. In total Cabrini founded 67 schools, orphanages and hospitals. Her Missionary Sisters, who are now headquartered in Radnor, Pennsylvania, continue to serve in those types of institutions plus in social service agencies, legal clinics, prisons and more.

The tension during Cabrini’s time between established parishes and new immigrants is similar in some respects to the situation with arrivals from Mexico—though that wave of immigration, contrary to a stereotype, plateaued a decade or more ago.

Mutual respect between Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans came about as the new arrivals developed leaders within the neighborhood, the parish and the workplace. The Italians acquired confidence and public skills, but not necessarily inside church settings. Local precincts, unions, schools and civic institutions valued their contributions. The other dynamic, as Moses charmingly shows, was intermarriage. Respect occurs organically as an Irish-American wife enjoys the conviviality of an all-afternoon dinner at her in-laws, while her Italian-American husband gives-and-takes at the rambunctious family gathering of his Irish in-laws.

There are unique pieces to this century’s Mexican-American story. The schools for leadership—the unions, precincts and parochial schools—are not as strong as in the past. Stable industrial jobs with benefits are few. Family culture has been eroded by the superficiality of the pervasive individualistic culture, fortified by mindless media content. Yet the Mexican-American plot line is the same. The drama may well progress slower than it did for Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans. Be assured there are still Cabrini-like saints among us, people fighting daily for the safety and progress of our immigrants.

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

First U.S. Saint

First U.S. Saint

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by Bill Droel

She is the first U.S. citizen to be an official saint. But it almost didn’t happen.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, MSC (1850-1917) and half a dozen others from the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart arrived in New York Harbor in March 1889, following a difficult Atlantic Ocean crossing. Italian priests serving in New York, the story goes, sent disturbing reports back to Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini (1839-1905) of northern Italy. The U.S. church, largely populated by Irish-Americans, treats Italian immigrants as second rate, those reports said. With the blessing of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) Cabrini was thus dispatched to remedy the situation. Church officials in New York promised her a house, a school and an orphanage.

Upon arrival, Cabrini met with New York’s Bishop Michael Corrigan (1839-1902) only to learn no preparations were made for her. Paul Moses recounts the scene in his illuminating study, An Unlikely Union: the Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (New York University Press, 2015). “I see no better solution to this question, Mother, than that you and your sisters return to Italy,” Corrigan said. “No, not that, your Excellency,” Cabrini replied. “I am here by order of the Holy See and here I must stay.” Keep in mind that until the 1978 administration of Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), the Holy See was an Italian-run operation. Read more

Esau and Jacob

Esau and Jacob

Droel_picture

by Bill Droel

Political scientist Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015), who died in October, fought against a dominant approach in social science that constructs abstract models to then be used in devising and evaluating public policy. Instead, Wolin turned to the history of specific societies. From them, he derived lessons that apply to modern situations.

In a well-known essay, Wolin looks at the saga of twins Esau and Jacob, as revealed in Genesis (See 25:19-34; 27:1-49). He then explores the difference between an individual who lacks context and a relational person who is rooted in family and community traditions. The older twin Esau, you remember, sells his birthright to Jacob. Their father Isaac is then tricked into bestowing the ancestral blessing on Jacob the younger brother. Read more

NRA Is a Front

NRA Is a Front

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by Bill Droel

According to a popular opinion, the National Rifle Association is the primary obstacle to gun safety. Progress is possible, if only the NRA would modify its extremism, this opinion says. Even President Barack Obama, speaking in the wake of the Umpqua Community College massacre, implicitly endorsed this opinion of the NRA. He asked responsible gun owners to question the organization.

The Industrial Areas Foundation is not buying this popular analysis. The NRA is merely a front for gun manufacturers, says IAF, a 75-year old network of community organizations founded in Chicago. The real obstacle is seven or so major companies that carelessly market unsafe consumer products. Their corporate behavior contributes to violence on city streets and in schools. Read more

Milwaukee Labor School

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Bill Lange, Milwaukee

Let me follow up on Bill Droel’s very important article on Roman Catholic Labor Schools. I would like to recount Milwaukee’s experience with the Cardijn Center and Labor Schools and propose an expansion to a model, similar to Cardijn, which is already underway.

Milwaukee’s experience with Catholic Labor Schools is related to the Cardijn Center established in 1949 by John Russell Beix – a Milwaukee diocesan priest. The Center was more than a labor center; it promoted the Christian Family Movement (C.F.M.) and was a social and education center for young people from Wisconsin farms looking for work in industrial Milwaukee. An educational emphasis was on the new understanding of Catholic Social Teaching prompted by the encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno. The Center was named after a priest, Canon Joseph Cardijn of Belgium who founded the Young Christian Workers Movement. Cardijn insisted that Catholics get involved in every day politics. His method was – observe, judge and act. Cardijn was inspired by Popes Pius X, and XI’s emphasis on Catholic action. Read more

Goodbye Trump

Goodbye Trump

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by Bill Droel

Don Trump is out. Don Quixote is in. Worldly self-regard is out. Regard for others is in. That’s the analysis of this Working Catholic blog no matter what happens in the polls or in state primaries. It’s percolating; though it is not evident to many of the new tycoons, or to so-called celebrities, or to many people in media. It emerged after the collapse of our individualistic marketplace in 2007-2008. It temporarily resides in both the disillusionment and the dreams of many young adults. Soon it will guide young adult behavior—not all of them, but at least the powerful 2% who will, in turn, change the world.

Young adults—in ones and twos and eights—are seeing through the gimmickry culture of corporate Amazon, of the phony success of ragged individualists and the selfish privileges of the media darlings of the moment. Instead, these young adults seek something that Don Trump can never have: credibility.

That’s why young adults are attracted to Pope Francis in whom they sense an alternative worldview. That’s why they get involved with causes like Fight for $15 or Black Lives Matter; why they look for jobs with NGOs or in city schools or among the intellectually disabled and the like. They don’t have all the specifics yet. They are at an ambivalent stage. But many young adults, in whole or in part, increasingly feel that the pursuit of wealth in itself is no longer exciting and worth their total investment.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) wanted his students to make a lifestyle out of their sporadic positive impulses. It happens, he said, as people acquire virtue. To do so requires progress on parallel rails.

On one rail are, in Aristotle’s term, intellectual virtues. They come by way of theatrical productions and by reading literature, history and biography. Try Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1802-1885). Its protagonist, Jean Valjean, is continually misunderstood, loses all his possessions, and is accused of terrible deeds. He is someone Trump might scorn, yet he is heroic.

Try any novels by Charles Dickens (1812-1870). The heroes, though flawed, are the children and workers that the Scrooges of this world rob of dignity.

Go back a long way and read about St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), using one of the handful of newer biographies that leave off a sugar-coating. Francis was born into privilege, then inwardly he was conflicted and then he spent all his remaining years in downward mobility.

And then there is the other Donald, the total flop who tilts at windmills in the novel by Miguel de Cerantes (1547-1617). If the nearly 1,000-page Don Quixote seems forbidding, try a similar story by Graham Green (1904-1991), Monsignor Quixote. On Don Trump’s TV show, Don Quixote would surely hear, “You’re fired!” But to describe him as a person who doesn’t succeed is, of course, to miss the point. He takes the scenic route to unassailable dignity; he fails big but with a pure heart.

On Aristotle’s other rail are the moral virtues. These, he said, are acquired only through habit. According to Aristotle, it does little good, for example, to participate on Saturday in an anti-hunger walk. The key is to volunteer at a food pantry the following Saturday and then next month to look for a career with an NGO involved with community improvement.
There is a tension between how things are now and how idealists want things to be. To put it all together a young adult needs a friend. Not someone on social media, but someone who, over coffee or beer, will reflect on this tension. Those two friends then need the steady companionship of four or five others—people who want to stay in the tension between how things are and how they could be. These are friends who want to realistically act on behalf of others.

It is not easy because mainstream culture is no longer based on face-to-face solidarity, on neighbor-to-neighbor community. For now the way has to emerge among young adults one adventure to the next, one Sancho Panza and Don Quixote duo at a time, one small group here and another there. No matter. Trump and what he represents are done. You read it here.

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

New Labor Schools

New Labor Schools

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by Bill Droel

Bishop Blasé Cupich received several invitations to speak with union groups after he arrived in Chicago in November 2014. He declined for a time. But after nearly one year Cupich went to Local 130 Plumbers Hall this past September at the request of the Chicago Federation of Labor. There he delivered a 50-minute, pro-union address. The next-day’s newspapers highlighted Cupich’s challenge to what he accurately called “so-called right-to-work laws,” as favored by our Illinois governor and others. “The Church is duty bound to challenge such efforts by raising questions based on longstanding principles,” the bishop said. “Lawmakers and others may see it differently, but history has shown that a society with a healthy, effective and responsible labor movement is a better place than one where other powerful economic interests have their way and the voices and rights of workers are diminished.” Read more