The Working Catholic: Scientists

by Bill Droel

Pope Francis recently uttered what should be regarded as one more ho-hum statement: “Never before has there been such a clear need for science.” This comment, given to a group of scientists, is notable only because many people (Catholics included) think that Catholicism in general and specifically the papacy oppose science.

The confusion can be attributed in part to a lack of knowledge about the Catholic approach to the Bible, explains Heidi Russell, the author of Quantum Shift (Liturgical Press, 2015).
In the United States the default setting for appropriating the Bible is fundamentalism–strict literal fundamentalism, soft or convenient or situational fundamentalism, or a widespread haziness on the historical background of individual Bible books. Catholics, by the way, are among those who use the default setting on occasion.
Russell told U.S. Catholic magazine (11/16) that once while waiting around in a concert venue she met a consistent fundamentalist. The gentleman was so consistent that he gave up his faith. Why so? He read that on the fourth day God created the sun and light. (Genesis 1: 14f) But he also read that on the third day God created plants and trees. (Genesis 1: 9f) “So how could you have plants before you had sun?” Russell could only reply: Sorry, we’re Catholic; we approach Scripture differently.
It is easy for atheists to think they can rattle Catholicism, continues Russell. Those atheists trumpet a theory (like multi-universes) that seemingly contradicts something the Bible, presuming that Catholics pull isolated pieces out of context and then read those verses literally. And lo and behold, some Catholics (including at times a bishop or two) react to the scattershot salvos from atheists.

“The Blue Cross” by G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is among the best of about 50 mystery stories featuring Fr. Brown as the sleuth. The criminal in this story disguises himself as a priest, but Fr. Brown uncovers the ruse. How did you know, the criminal asks him? Because in a prior conversation, Fr. Brown replies, “you attacked reason… It’s bad theology… I know that people charge the [Catholic] church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth the church makes reason really supreme.”

Is that true? What could it mean to say that the Catholic church “alone on earth” affirms reason or science? To be continued…

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

Income Chart

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel and John Erb

In a series for this blog we say that the majority of U. S. families are economically stressed. Some worry about income and expenses now and then during the year; some worry every week. The chart in this installment of our essay is an imperfect attempt to make a point about income in our society.

The Wealthy, the Top 5%

This entire top 5% category could be conflated. But we divide it into three sections to note the stratification among the wealthy. The top-top people are far above anyone else.

Percentage of Families = Top 1/10% of Families.

Income = Over $2million annually. This top 1/10% is stratified; that is, the top-top ultra-wealthy are deriving an income even greater than the super-wealthy.

Description = These families are winner-take-all types in sports, business, communications and the like. This type of family lives in luxury. Their excess goes to investments thereby adding to their wealth. (This essay does not focus specifically on the unprecedented wealth gap.) Private equity executives are on average getting $211million salary per year. Major bank executives average $22million. A well-known TV newsperson now gets $20million. The University of Michigan football coach gets $9million.

******

Percentage of Families = Next 9/10%.

Income = Average of $1,150,000 each year. Of course, there is a significant geography variable. The income of families in this category is higher in the suburbs around New York City than it is for Alabama or Mississippi families in the same category.

Description = These are top professionals. They have significant surplus after their expenses. Most of the surplus is invested. This category is distinguished from the top 1/10% only because the annual increase in their income is at a smaller rate than the runaway super-wealthy.

******

Percentage of Families = This category of lower rich makes for about 4% of all families.

Income = From $300,000 to $1million, again with a geographic variable.

Description = These are executives who, for example, manage a state-wide chain of drug stores or retail stores; some surgeons are in this category as are some sports agents; it also includes some commercial bankers, college presidents, a lawyer in acquisitions and mergers and the like. Workers in this category routinely clock 60 or more hours per week.

The Traditional Middle-Class

Percentage of Families = About 15% of all families are in the upper middle class. These families, as with those in the categories above, have a degree of security.

Income =$111,000 to $250,000.

Description = These are pharmacists, college administrators, some college teachers, some doctors, some real estate developers, some local bank executives. These families are susceptible to drop-offs in income, but they recover. These families have retirement savings.

******

Percentage of Families = About 20% are in the standard middle class. This is where the economic stress line begins. These families are employed, but still experience periodic income shortfall.

Income = $86,000 to $110,000 with some overlap with upper middle class.

Description = These are teachers, social workers, some information technology workers, some health service managers. This category also includes some municipal workers in a union and some contractors. These families have some savings and can be homeowners. However, an illness, a divorce or a downturn in the local economy poses a setback.

******

Percentage of Families = About 10% are lower middle class. Somewhat regular economic worry sets in below $85,000.

Income = $57,000 to $85,000. Our nation’s median income is currently $56,000, which is at the bottom of this category. Half of all families are either wealthy or middle class; the other half earns less than a middle class income.

Description = These are families with a job, though not a secure one. They are retail floor managers, computer technicians, cable installers, some teachers, some registered nurses, government office workers, some service workers. Some of those in this category might hold a college degree; others have taken college courses but not completed a degree program.

The Working Class
This section (in two categories) includes about 50% of all families.

Percentage of Families = About 20% of all families are in the upper working class.

Income = About $34,000 to $56,000 with fluxion year-to-year. Our nation’s median income ($56,000) comes at the top of this category.

Description = These are people in the service industry, in retail, in fast food; also in sales, data entry, licensed practical nurses and more. They are prone to unemployment episodes.
These families have no discretionary income. In a given month they often spend more than they make. The difference between earnings and spending is offset with government programs, tax credits and mostly with debt—first credit card debt, and as necessary with payday loans. A $400 emergency (a car repair or medical situation) can mean a payday loan and the downward spiral that the loan’s high interest causes.
******
Percentage of Families = About 30% of families are in this category of working poor.

Income = Less than $33,000, including subsidies.

Description = Included in this category are parents who work in restaurants, are seasonally employed gardeners, or who sell scrap metal and repair cars for neighbors, are home health aides and the like. Plus those who work “here and there,” but are regularly experience unemployment.

Family Stability, Part III

The Working Catholic by Bill Droel and John Erb

In this and previous installments on this blog site we attempt to put a small frame around the expansive topic of family stability. We now come to a controversial juncture.

The Lifestyle Variable

Income parallels family stability. Family stability parallels lifestyles–some lifestyles are conducive to family stability, others less so. It is important, however, to repeat that the relationship among these three factors (money, lifestyle and stability) plus other factors is not an easy cause-and-effect. That is, we cannot say that because there is a strong association between a specific lifestyle and stability, a change in lifestyle automatically causes more stability or less stability.
Further, we recognize that people do not wake up each morning and choose a lifestyle. It is like one’s spirituality. Despite what the self-help gurus imply, one’s spirituality is to a significant degree conditioned by one’s heritage, by the surrounding culture and by many experiences. A lifestyle too is in part an imitation or rejection of one’s parental example, an imitation or rejection of one’s cultural environment and a continuation of or break with one’s many experiences.
And finally—because this is controversial—this essay does not measure love; as if anyone can do so. All types of families cherish their members and love their children. Just as all types and income levels of families are capable of callousness; a parent in any income bracket can be distant from his or her children.

Family living arrangements or lifestyles can include a two-parent married family, two-parent non-married family, one-parent family with one partner for that parent, one-parent family with multiple partners for the parent and more. Upper economic class families, for the most part, are of the two-parent married type and, as this essay shows, those families are relatively stable over the years. The median income for one of these married-couple families, presuming each parent is employed at least part-time, is $104,000. Many families in the lower economic categories are likely to be two-parent non-married families or one-parent families. These families have greater degree and duration of instability.

Interestingly, the education gap is a mirror image of this family stability index. In excess of 90% of college graduates use the institution of marriage and those families tend to be relatively stable. Those who lack a degree do not always marry. These families have higher instability.
The non-married type of lifestyle has been increasing. In fact, last year the majority of living arrangements in the United States were between unmarried couples. Interestingly too, there is no longer a race gap when it comes to marriage. That is, white families now have a percentage of non-married or single heads of the household that approximates the percentage among black families.
And as our chart to follow will show, a clear majority of Americans are economically stressed.

A Political Variable; Maybe Not

Pundits incessantly speak and write about a polarized citizenry. Our chart provides strong basis for a proposition that the polarization is not so much driven by political philosophies, as it is by economic insecurity. The number of Americans who are economically stressed continues to grow. Outsider political candidates will continue to appeal to the economically stressed. Yet, so-called Beltway insiders and many pundits dismiss these outsider challengers. That is because they are not really in touch with the financial realities facing a majority of Americans.
To repeat once more: Our chart (in the next installment of this series) shows that economic stress visits the majority of families—almost constantly for some.

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Family Stability

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel and John Erb

In a four-part series on this blog site we examine the factors that determine family stability or instability, which as we previously wrote, are namely income and a few socio-cultural trends. We stress that these factors do not form a neat equation nor does one of the factors necessarily cause another; simply that a few stability factors parallel one another.

The Geography Variable

First, wages and cost of living vary from state-to-state, from region-to-region. New York City is, for example, higher income and higher cost; Mississippi or Alabama is lower income and lower cost. To have a top 1% income in the New York City region requires nearly $1.4million annual (much higher for the top 1/10th%). Meanwhile, an annual income of about $100,000 equals top 1% in parts of Mississippi and Alabama.
Second, higher income families are concentrated within specific metropolitan areas and specific areas of a state. So too, lower income families are concentrated within certain city neighborhoods, certain rural areas or certain state regions. In the mythological Lake Wobegon Chatterbox Café, an unemployed farmhand can sit at a table with the town banker. That is unlikely anywhere else. Higher income people do not share the same space as middle income or lower income people—not even at the football stadium, or the airport, or at church.
Third, some commentators refer to cultural/political geography. They mean our country can be divided (or color-coded) into, on one hand, East Coast and West Coast and, on the other hand, Middle America. This essay, however, is on a different track. Instability and income stress touches the majority of families—blue and red, Coast and Middle.

The Education Variable

Prior to 1980 young adults in our country were adequately educated to meet the needs of the marketplace. That is, a sufficient number had sufficient education in the trades, accounting, secretarial skills, engineering and more. Since 1980 the needs of employers have steadily outpaced educational attainment. Thus, as is often said today, a college degree is a necessity. The word degree is crucial.
With individual exceptions, income strongly parallels a college degree: Those who have a degree also have some family security and a modicum of upward mobility. Those without a degree more likely experience instability and remain stuck at their family’s income level.
There are two related points to make about a college degree and income.
First, those young adults whose parents hold a degree are more likely to attend college than other young adults and they are much more likely to complete college. A young adult whose parents did not complete college is not as likely to enroll in college or once enrolled is more likely to drop out. Mentioning this college degree gap feels un-American because education is thought to be an economic leveler. A young adult who studies and works hard can, the theory says, do better economically than the previous generation. According to the American promise, no one is condemned to their parents’ income level. Unfortunately, this promising theory has not been the reality. Those born between 1960 and 1980 have, on average, a 60% chance of exceeding their parents’ income. Those born after 1980 have, on average, a 50% chance of ever exceeding their parents.
The second related point tells us that not all college degrees are equal. About 8% of those billionaires who hold a U.S. passport also have a Harvard University degree. Other Ivy League schools account for a similar percentage of billionaires. The remaining top 10% in income also hold degrees from Ivy League or major state colleges or in fewer cases from one of the well-known Catholic colleges. On the next step down, that of an aspiring upper-middle class family, the student’s degree comes from a Catholic college or a less prestigious state school; followed by other schools, public and private.
A quick digression about dropping out of college: In a public, four-year college about 60% obtain a degree within six years; about 40% have dropped out. In a private, four-year college the graduation rate is about 65% within six years; about 35% never finish.
A community college can be a start, but the full bachelor’s degree is the factor that parallels a better income. In Illinois, to take one example, only about 21% of community college students complete a program there within three years. Of those who begin at a community college only about 15% go on to a bachelor’s degree within six to eight years.
Why do students drop out? Tuition becomes too expensive; the tension between studies and a job becomes unmanageable; someone in the family is ill; the student or spouse loses a job; a baby is born. As significantly, though not as frequently discussed, is a student’s lack of confidence in study habits like perseverance, curiosity, concentration, resourcefulness, creativity and more. They are unprepared to take apart a textbook, to know what is important in class and what is not so important, to write paragraphs that flow one from the other, to stick with a problem, to manage time knowing when to take overtime on the job and when to concentrate on school. Rather than confidently finding help with their studies, too many students drift away.
To be continued…

Gaps–Part One

by Bill Droel and John Erb

For some time now, we have thought about the meaning of income levels in our society. Our main point in this essay is not so much the preciseness of the numbers, although we consulted several sources. This multi-part essay is one attempt to put lots of discussion into one format.                                                       In our professional settings (a financial advisor’s office and a community college) and in informal conversations, we sense that most of us have only a vague notion of economic realities in our country. Despite comprehensive books about inequality, despite newspaper articles about factory closings or about new business ventures, despite national political campaigns, most of us are fuzzy about how our situation compares with others and about our own prospects for economic stability and about the reliability of our economy’s promise: “Hard work will be rewarded.”
In normal conversations people do not speak too specifically about their income. Even in those situations where personal income is revealed, many people lack an up to date perspective on how their family compares to others. For example, $85,000 per year was once considered a good income, but for most Americans today this amount is often not enough to dispel economic stress.
Does our $85,000 income example include a pension or a retirement account? Probably not, because as each year goes by many more families have no guaranteed pension. That means families who deserve a secure retirement have to dedicate about 15% of earnings toward retirement savings. Social security benefits, under both Democrats and Republicans, have been reduced, and continue to trend in that direction. Thus, an individual’s own savings becomes more important for security in retirement.
In addition to concern about retirement, our $85,000 family is likely stressed these days because of health care insurance. There has been a 25% increase in insurance cost over the last five years for the middle class, even though the insurance mechanisms have supposedly been reformed.
And finally, there is college education for this family. Its cost was not proportionately a big part of a family’s budget even 20 years ago.
So, if a seemingly secure family is budgeting for retirement in a responsible way, has adequate health care insurance and is saving for college, there is not much left over on an $85,000 income.
The Gaps
It is true that the overall U.S. economy has doubled within the past 35 years. It is true that the average income has increased. The income gap, however, is growing. When it comes to income increase, 70% of it now goes to those already in the top 10% of income. More dramatically, the top 1/10% is gaining income far ahead of all others, including the next top 9.9%.
For half of all U.S. families, their share of the growing economy has shrunk significantly. This bottom 50% of families earns 12.5% of the country’s total income. Those in the top 1% in income actually get 20% of the total income in our country.
In addition to an income gap there are parallel social gaps. We stress that there is not an easy cause-effect relationship between these other gaps and the income gap. That is, it is wrong to say that if every family changed their behavior on this-or-that, those families would increase their income. Or that if somehow a family would simply move from here to there, that family would increase its income. It is likewise wrong to say that if only government had this social policy instead of that social policy, families would get with it and they would improve their income.
Nonetheless, some social and cultural gaps strongly parallel the income gap. Specifically, there is general correspondence (though not hard cause-and-effect) between income and one’s geography, one’s cultural setting, one’s educational level and one’s family stability. To be continued…

The Working Catholic: Silence

by Bill Droel

Martin Scorsese was vaccinated with “a Catholic imagination,” writes Fr. Andrew Greeley (1928-2013). For Scorsese this means that the use of Catholic images and themes in many of his films is “not a matter of choice but of necessity.” The Catholicism of the films, Greeley emphasizes, is not churchy. Sorrow for sins plus redemption “is worked out not in church.” The quest for holiness occurs in the messy world itself. For Scorsese and for others with a Catholic imagination, it is down-to-earth ordinary life that “hints of what God is like.”
The Catholic imagination also means that people are entangled with and obligated to their extended families, neighborhoods, religious orders and the like. This worldview is different from the dominant creed of libertarian individualism that equates freedom with maximum options. Catholicism says that it is precisely within constraining bonds that genuine though complicated freedom is found.
Two clarifications: 1.) Not all Catholics use a sacramental imagination and likewise a non-Catholic might have an analogical or sacramental take on the world and on God. 2.) To have a Catholic squint on things, a filmmaker or another type of artist, or any other worker might not be exemplary in every way, on every day. Scorsese, for example, has been married even more times than Donald Trump (who, by the way, is representative of the individualistic worldview). Scorsese admits he has sinned. But, he says, “I am a Roman Catholic; there’s no way out of it.”

Scorsese’s latest film, Silence, is a historical drama set in 17th century Japan. It is based on a 1966 novel of the same name, written by Shusaku Endo. Paul Elie, writing in New York Times Magazine (11/27/16), summarizes the plot, details the production process and connects the new film with Scorsese’s Catholic imagination.
Two Portuguese priests undertake a mission to Japan. They happen to be Jesuits, which accounts for the meeting Scorsese had with Pope Francis in late November. The missionaries are persecuted. As the plot develops, the tormentors present a choice: Continue to assert your foreign creed and face martyrdom or deny your creed and save other people. Thus the film asks: Do intentions count when determining morality? One interpretation of the film, as Elie writes, can be that “a seeming act of profanation can be an act of devotion if done out of an underlying faith.”
On the surface the film is about Jesuit missionaries. But its lesson is not churchy, just as its setting is not inside church institutions. Further, the film’s protagonist does not work things out by rising above the entanglements and obligations around him. Instead, he moves deeper into the limitations and only thereby—as some moviegoers might conclude—does he experience freedom.

Elie tells us that in 1988 Most Rev. Paul Moore (1919-2003), Episcopal bishop of New York, recommended Endo’s novel to Scorsese. From then until now, almost 28 years later, it was Scorsese’s passion to put the story onto the screen. Despite financial, legal and technical complications, Scorsese felt obligated (or more accurately, felt called) to complete the project.

A new edition of Endo’s novel is available from Acta (4848 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640; www.actapublications.com) for $16. The same publisher has two reflections on the novel: Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura ($26) and Faith Stripped to Its Essence by Patrick Reardon ($12.95).

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a free printed newsletter. Its next edition will feature a reflection on Silence by Greg Pierce.

Go Home

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP of Peru is rightly receiving awards these days for his role in developing liberation theology. His 1973 book, A Theology of Liberation, signaled the end within Catholicism of the Western European theological monopoly. It is also now worthwhile to recall Ivan Illich (1926-2002). In early 1964 he gathered several Latin American theologians and church leaders in Brazil. It was there that the methodology and major themes of what would become libration theology took shape. Thus, Illich “played a major role in fostering liberation theology” and subsequently in its propagation, writes Todd Hartch in The Prophet of Cuernavaca (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Illich was born in Austria and was ordained to the priesthood in 1951. Later that year he was sent to Princeton University to do research. He served among Puerto Ricans in a Manhattan parish. Cardinal Francis Spellman (1889-1967) was impressed with Illich and so appointed him a rector to a university in Puerto Rico. Illich, at age 31, was made a monsignor—the youngest ever in the United States.
Today, the required reading list for a college class might include one or another book by Illich. The class will be in education, philosophy or social science. Hartch’s contribution is to put Illich squarely inside Catholicism and inside the priesthood. “He is best understood as a Catholic priest of conscious orthodoxy grappling with the crisis of Western modernity,” says Hartch. Thus, Illich’s later critiques of education, medicine and other institutions are but further examples of his prime example, the church.
The church loses its mission, said Illich, when it adopts a modern business model with its preoccupation with status, obsession with money, a fondness for measurable outcomes, a disposition to bureaucratic processes, an overuse of vacuous language and more. Illich devised an unusual way of reforming the church. He started, Hartch details, “an anti-missionary training center designed to discourage would-be missionaries” at the very moment that the Vatican and the U.S. bishops made a significant commitment to sending missionaries to Latin and South America.
Illich believed that the church’s mission effort had lost its original aspiration. Like many modern institutions, the unintended bad side effects outweighed the good intentions. Programs directed from North America to South America under the banner of development amounted to more colonialism, he said. Illich, to be clear, was not against the church and its essential missionary endeavors. Nor subsequently was he opposed to medicine, education, transportation and the like. He felt, however, that once a threshold of modern bureaucracy had taken hold, the church impedes faith, the schools hamper learning and hospitals discourage wellness.
Hundreds of missionaries attended Illich’s center in Cuernavaca because it offered the best language class, the best cultural analysis and on-and-off again the latest theological insights—all the while telling the missionaries, in effect “to go home.”

Illich, like all prophets, was contradictory. For example, here was a missionary of sorts who came from Europe to New York, then went to Puerto Rico and onto Mexico saying that imported religious education and devotions are types of disabling help. No surprise then that his anti-missionary effort had contradictory results. The number of Western European and North American missionaries to Latin America indeed dropped well below the goals set by bishops. At the same time, members of religious orders and other missionary types went back into their North American and European settings with a passion for opening the whole church to its global mission, particularly its solidarity with the poor.
As for Illich, his influence on many Catholic leaders was significant but his footing within Catholic structures was unfixed. He was for a time in regular conflict with one or another bishop and with the Vatican bureaucracy. “Many have assumed that [Illich] was forced out of the priesthood or even that he renounced Catholicism,” writes Hartch. Not true. Illich knew and believed “that priestly identity was permanent.” During 1967 to 1968 Illich gradually withdrew from active priesthood so that he would not be a source of embarrassment. His precise status defied the usual categories—not exactly a leave of absence, not at all a suspension.

Illich was a radical thinker; a person willing to experiment. He was churchman, always “trying to understand the nature of the church and its relationship to his age,” Hartch concludes.

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

The Working Catholic: Heavenly Institutions

by Bill Droel

Once upon a time there was an elderly monk “who wove a basket one day; the next day he unwove it,” Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ (1904-1967) relates. “The basket itself did not matter; but the weaving and unweaving of it served as a means of spending an interval.” Only the soul was of value, the monk believed. For everything else, “what did it matter” whether a person wove baskets or constructed skyscrapers or composed symphonies?
This story, found in Murray’s classic We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition (Sheed & Ward, 1960), illustrates one tendency among Christians. To greater or lesser degree some Christians think that the earthly city is not their home and that everything we build will suddenly vanish. Heaven for them “is radically discontinuous with history, the arena of human effort and achievement,” Murray writes.

The other tendency, Murray details, is premised on the belief that “grace perfects nature,” that grace builds upon nature but does not destroy it. The dogma of Incarnation means that God’s kingdom begins on earth as it is in heaven. The earth is not “destined for an eternal dust-heap… Human effort remains real and really valuable.”
Of course, this world-affirming tendency can be taken too far. In the United States it is indeed taken too far. Some Christians, through a misinterpretation of Protestant theology, think that individual economic achievement is a sign of God’s favor. And even more mistakenly, many people who might call themselves Christian act as if grace is irrelevant; that material achievement is all that there is.

What is heaven like? The close friends of Jesus do not immediately recognize him in the post-resurrection appearances. That is because they are startled and because they have no prior experience through which to process resurrection. But something else is confusing. Jesus does not have his usual countenance. He is not identical to how he formerly was. This resurrection is decidedly not resuscitation. Yet, the New Testament insists on a bodily resurrection. Over and over, the early church fought against Gnostic heresies that said resurrection involves only the spirit, not the corruptible body.
Our own resurrection means a new body in Christ. There might be an initial moment of shock, but our resurrected body will be recognizable. That is, heaven is different from earthly life but is in continuity with it. Granted, the specifics about heaven are unknown. Those specifics do not need to be known. However, God has revealed something about creation, starting in Genesis, and has revealed something about redemption, including the Bethlehem event and Jesus’ carpentry job and many more earthly comings and goings. It is solid thinking then to conclude that our workaday efforts matter in God’s plan. The divine process is inextricable to our job, our care for family and home, our attention to the neighborhood and to our civic involvements.

I speculate that our institutions are heaven-bound. This is not heresy and in fact it is fully compatible with Catholic theology. I don’t expect to visit the motor vehicle department in heaven or to deal with the Internal Revenue Service. But in some sense the best aspirations contained in what we have created will be in heaven. Why would there be no sociability in heaven? No social peace or safety? No cooperation? No symphonies? No families? Our institutions here and now should, in my opinion, reflect as best as possible, the divine intention implanted in all of creation. Our institutions, though in need of daily reform, are heaven-infused and heaven-destined… in some sense.

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

The Working Catholic: A Nostalgic Society

by Bill Droel

After about 35 years of weekly gatherings, the members of my spiritual support group are now all retired. At our age we tend to recall the long gone car companies, the discontinued breweries and the great athletes of yesteryear. However, our group concludes that nostalgia is a temptation, that escapism is a distraction.
What applies to individuals is also true for our society. There is far and away too much energy given to inaccurate comparisons with a so-called golden age. There is unhealthy nostalgia overcoming social groups. It is a disease that short circuits correct analysis of situations and that often advocates counter-productive solutions. It proceeds like this: First, social nostalgia sees the current scene as one of decline. Then it imagines a golden age. Next, it picks out one factor associated with the golden age and campaigns for its restoration. The assumption is that one restored symbol from the past will usher back most of the fonder time.
For example, a faction within a parish decides that Christianity is losing out to secularism. It imagines a golden age. Then the faction picks out the Latin Mass as something that will restore calmness and stability. There is nothing wrong per se when a parish offers an occasional Latin Mass option or has a monthly Marian procession or any number of other old-time devotions. But none of these will inaugurate a golden age, which to be truthful never existed anyway. I was there; it was ok back then, but not golden.

Political leaders are harkening to a golden age, writes Yuval Levin in The Fractured Republic (Basic Books, 2016). These leaders—explicitly or subtly—first sow seeds of discontent. They then evoke “recollections of a lost ideal,” of a time before today’s decline. For the Democrats the ideal time was about 1965; for Republicans it was 1981. These leaders then use small pieces of history to suggest a restoration of peace and prosperity. Though presented differently, the narrative comes from both left and right. “Once upon a time,” the story begins. Once upon a time there were plentiful manufacturing jobs, prosperity from mining and steel, domestic security because immigrants were quickly homogenized, international supremacy because our president talked tough, respect for law and order. Oh yes, once upon a time.
Look, says Levin, this so-called golden era “was not the paradise that some now suggest.” Far too much verbiage is given to recovering the strengths of the post-World War II era. Of course we can derive some pertinent ideas from the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the administration of Ronald Reagan. But why focus on “how we can recover the capital we have used up” when the real challenge is “how we can build economic, cultural and social capital in the 21st century”?

In one’s spiritual life it is best not to ruminate about what might have been. Make an act of contrition and then act on the possibilities that await. In our political life it is better to quit dreaming about industries that will never return, about a world that preceded September 11, 2001, about Lake Wobegone’s seemingly wholesome culture. It is better to give thanks for the achievements of today’s society and to creatively act for more improvements.

By the way, I don’t remember any distinctive taste to Carling Black Label or to Falstaff nor do I remember ever riding in a Hudson or Packard. I did see Dick Allen play with the White Sox, after his years with the Phillies. I remember a great hitter who should be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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

Words Matter

Words Matter

Droel_picture

by Bill Droel

In 1984 Msgr. Jack Egan (1916-2001), who at that time was director of Human Relations and Ecumenism at the Archdiocese of Chicago, sent a memo about race relations to clergy and lay leaders involved with Chicago’s Northwest Neighborhood Federation and with Southwest Parish and Neighborhood Federation. Egan was reacting to A Declaration of Neighborhood Independence, issued by the two community organizations.

“The language contained in this Declaration is inappropriate, irresponsible and divisive,” Egan wrote. His memo objected to the Declaration’s “name-calling and vituperation” and more particularly to its “race-baiting” and its “tone of violence.”

A newly published book, Vanishing Eden: White Construction of Memory, Meaning and Identity in a Racially Changing City by Michael Maly and Heather Dalmage (Temple University Press), looks back at those days. The authors also report on interviews they conducted among those who were children in those neighborhoods at the time. Read more