A few weeks ago, I attended a day-long training to become a home visitor for our local conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The most compelling part of the training was the section on what poverty looks like, from the perspective of the person living through it. This segment of the training was led by a man who was born and raised in some of the roughest areas of Chicago and Minneapolis, who was hired by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a teen and loved and accompanied for years, through numerous trials and triumphs. Today he is a college-educated husband and father, a successful manager and talented speaker on the state and national level, and a Vincentian for life.
The training was thought-provoking and convicting; it, along with learning more about my own ancestors’ struggles with poverty before I was born, led me to want to dig deeper—which in turn led me to another unread book on my shelf: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
Sinclair was an influential muckraking journalist, author, activist, and political candidate at the turn of the 20th century. The Jungle is his fictional but detailed and realistic account of power, corruption, and poverty during this time, particularly in the stockyard district of Chicago. The book follows one immigrant family from Lithuania, who moves to America on the promise of plentiful work for good wages, and finds a corrupt system of capitalists and politicians of every stripe, at every level, keeping prices high and wages low, controlling everything from housing and food supplies in the neighboring slums to law enforcement, inspections, and elections—and driving workers to desperate measures to avoid death by illness, exposure, or starvation.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
I am writing this column from my parents’ log house in rural Michigan. Yesterday our Airedale Bruno and I drove 12 hours to get here. Half the time I listened to the news on Minnesota and Wisconsin Public Radio.
Public radio is in frustrating entity for me, and this long drive was no exception. On one hand, they interviewed interesting people about compelling topics and told wonderful stories that kept me awake and alert all morning and into the afternoon. On the other hand, nearly every story was presented with a left-leaning worldliness and a persistent godless optimism, as though this past year (and the previous three) were truly unprecedented and hellish, but now the right people with the right ideas, wielding power in the right way, can finally fix everything. Nearly all of the interviews were political, some were explicitly pagan—and none mentioned God in any meaningful way, except to reference the road not taken.
This is the divide that concerns me in our society. This is the fundamental, irreconcilable issue upon which there can be no compromise: Either God is real and created the universe and humanity according to His law and purpose, or He didn’t. Both views have profound implications on how we live together in this world.
Yesterday my spiritual brother Mike and I traveled to Perham to pick up freshly-butchered beef we were blessed to buy from Becky’s aunt and uncle. It was about a three-hour drive each way; the meat market was jumping when we arrive, and we also stopped at Disgruntled Brewing in Perham for a pint and Beck’s Burger Company in Staples for a very late lunch (or an early supper). All told, the venture took the better part of the day and evening, by the time we the meat was safely stowed in our respective freezers.
Of course, we had plenty of time to talk. The conversation started with the usual topics these days: the pandemic, the election, the upcoming holidays and how our respective families (immediate and extended) are managing the risk, the uncertainty and the deep desire to be together during times like these.
Our children need each other and us, and we need them.
Note: This post appeared as a bulletin column for Sunday, October 25, 2020, for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.
We are less than two weeks from Election Day. Some are looking forward to an end to political ads and debates; some are dreading a contentious aftermath, regardless of the outcome. Maybe you are excited because it’s your first time voting. Maybe you believe this election changes everything. Maybe you wholeheartedly support your candidate, or maybe you are holding your nose to vote against the other guy.
Regardless, it is important to realize that your choice matters. We spend a great deal of time discussing how we should vote, but the act of voting is also critically important. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches:
“Participation” is the voluntary and generous engagement of a person in social interchange. It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. … As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life.CCC 1913, 1915
Note: This post appeared in the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin for Sunday, October 18, 2020.
In case you haven’t notice, election season is in full swing. Pollsters, pundits and politicians are slicing and dicing the American people to predict what is likely to happening on Election Day and afterward. Republicans versus Democrats. Liberals versus conservatives. We are counted and calculated by culture, color and creed—to what end?
My son’s theology teacher recently gave me a copy of a book I’ve meant to read for years now: Society and Sanity by Frank Sheed. I started it last night, and for a book written in the 1950s, its relevance even in the first few pages is staggering. Sheed opens his book by making a simple and eloquent case: In order to create a society in which we humans can live together in peace, happiness and freedom, we must know what it means to be human.
We need a clear understanding of what we are and why we are before we can clearly conceive of our happiness and how to achieve it.