Book Break: The Jungle

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.

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Labor Day Book Break: The Long Loneliness

“He who says he has done enough has already perished.” – St. Augustine

One of the great, geeky pleasures of having college-age offspring is that my older sons are making great book recommendations from their own reading. I finished one such book this weekend: Servant of God Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness. My oldest son, Brendan, recommended it to me, and numerous times during the past few months, as I was sharing what was on my mind and in my heart, he asked me if I’d finished it yet.

I now know why: Day’s journey is very different from my own, but my desire to work and to serve appears to have a similar destination.

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Suffering For, Suffering With

It’s Independence Day: a time to celebrate life and liberty in these United States. We are blessed, even in these strange days, with much of the country under some form of quarantine, protests in our streets and ugly politics blaring from every screen and speaker. God continues to guide us with His providence, though we cannot see His ends.

One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is her defense of meaning. For example, not everyone distinguishes between liberty—freedom to do the good—and license—freedom to do whatever you want. That’s an important distinction with real outcomes for society: A culture that espouses liberty believes in good and evil, and facilitates the good—but a culture that embraces license ultimately finds no common ground, no good to support—so what happens when what I want conflicts with what you want? Continue reading

George Floyd: What Can I Do?

Blogger’s Note: This is a long post. I hope to do some shorter ones, rooted in specific Catholic teachings and principles. But I think I need to say a few things first. (Photo courtesy of a local Catholic friend, Jim Lang.)

* * * * *

For days, I have wanted to write and couldn’t—not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had too much to say, and most of it felt too easy. I re-read an essay I wrote from four years ago, when the dead man’s name was Philando Castile, then reposted it—but that seemed too easy, as well. Something was different this time. Something more needed to be said. Something else needed to be done.

I wanted to have said something so I could stop thinking. I even sat and began to type a time or two. But the only clear thought that came, again and again, was, “What can I do?”

I also worried about saying the wrong thing. It doesn’t take long online to discover that too many people are looking for fight. I’ve seen folks advocating violence, dismantling the reputation and character of businesses and strangers, and dismissing people entirely for using the wrong word in the wrong way.

And I am prone to vainglory (worrying overmuch about what people think of me) and have a hard time letting things go, especially when misunderstood.

So I’d much rather sit this one out.

With Philando Castile, I simply described the tension in my heart and mind. This time I leaned into that tension, not looking to respond, explain or excuse, but to see, hear and learn about myself.

Something is different this time. Something more needs to be said. Something needs to be done.

What can I do?

* * * * *

I can tell people where I stand. George Floyd’s killing is an outrage, and I am angry. This should not have happened and should never happen again.

Perhaps, like me, your first instinct now is to say, “Yes, but…”

Hold that thought.

Just sit in silence with the image of a six-foot-six man, created in God’s image, dying in the street, held down by police officers who would not help him and watched by bystanders who could not. Let that break your heart. Continue reading

Motherland of Mercy, Part 2: St. Faustina Kowalska

Blogger’s Note: This is the second of three posts along my path to the Sacred Heart about the three Polish saints whose loving example pervaded World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland.

St. Faustina Kowalska

“I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to my merciful heart.” — Jesus to St. Faustina

faustinaBorn Helena Kowalska in Głogowiec, Poland, in 1905, to a poor, religious peasant family. Felt called to religious life at an early age, but went to work as a housekeeper to help support herself and her family. Accepted to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) in Warsaw in 1924, and in 1926, received her habit and the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament. Began having visions of Jesus as “the King of Divine Mercy” in February 1931, instructing her in His love and mercy, asking her to to paint His likeness with the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You,” and to establish a feast of mercy in the Church. View a more complete biography here.

I have to admit, of the three Polish saints I am profiling, I know the least about Faustina. Unlike  Maximilian Kolbe, whose zeal for saint-making, boundless energy, and prolific publishing career made him known even before his martyrdom, or John Paul II, who was the most well-traveled pontiff in history and one of the most recognizable figures of the 20th century, St. Faustina lived out her vocation and mystical experience primarily in private. Like many Catholic mystics, she suffered poor health, and she died at just 33 years old. She is one of a handful of saints for whom an autobiography exists; it was written at the urging of her confessor, is some 600 pages long, and is on my reading list for this fall. Continue reading