Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Disgusted in Chicago

Wednesday greetings on a bright and sunny day here in Chicago.

Chicago is not an easy place to live these days. Yesterday, as I am sure most of you heard, a dash-cam video was released, showing the murder of a young black man by a white Chicago police officer. The tragedy occurred over a year ago. The "machine" that is Chicago politics should be ashamed that this video was not released sooner and that justice has been this long delayed. Our illustrious mayor sat on all of this for months and months. Some say that had the video been released before his re-election, he surely would not have been re-elected. Frankly, this is disgusting.

Last night, I took my parents, who are celebrating their 61st wedding anniversary today and are visiting from Boston for Thanksgiving, to the annual tree-lighting in downtown Chicago.

And there this mayor stood, just hours after the video was released, gushing about how wonderful our city is for families. The hypocrisy slammed me in the face.

So, on this day before Thanksgiving, I am reminded that there are way too many people in my city and in our country for whom there is little to be thankful when fear and hypocrisy run rampant.

Sorry for this downer today.

On a lighter note, I am looking forward to spatchcocking my turkey tonight.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Brimming Gratitude

Tuesday greetings to all.

This year's celebration of Thanksgiving will be a special one for me. In a few hours, I will go to O'Hare to pick up my mom an dad, who will be spending the week here in Chicago. Tomorrow is their 61st wedding anniversary; so glad to have them here.

One of the traditions developed at the Thanksgiving table at my home over the years involves this contraption:

Obviously, it is a vase filled with very long stemmed champagne glasses. Before the meal begins, the glasses are filled with champagne and each person, in turn, tells everyone gathered what it is for which he or she is thankful. I am a sentimental guy when it comes to moments like this, so I always find myself getting a bit misty-eyed.

As I sit here thinking about what I will say on Thursday when I raise my glass, I am listening to the "chatter" outside my office. I am hearing our customer care folks helping people over the phone. An occasional laugh arises from one of our departments. And I am struck at how grateful I am to serve and lead my colleagues here at WLP. This is an amazingly talented group of dedicated people. Gratitude for them is brimming.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Intentional Hospitality Right Behind Me

Monday greetings from the Midwest, where Old Man Winter reared his ugly head over the weekend. A little too early in the season to be greeted by this scene this morning as I headed toward our front door here in Franklin Park,

At Mass yesterday at Old Saint Patrick's, something happened after the closing song that I wanted to share here.

First of all, you need to know that as Mass begins every week, we are all invited to stand and introduce ourselves to those around us. I don't usually attend the 11:15 A.M. Mass; I usually go to an earlier Mass. So, when I stood up, I introduced myself to Lois on my right and to Mary Ellen behind me, among others. I remembered these two names, so when the time came to exchange the sign of peace, I used their names. After the closing song, Mary Ellen, seated in the row behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was a parishioner at Old Saint Pat's. I told her I had joined the parish several months ago. She said, "Well I haven't seen you here before and I just wanted to welcome you." I told her I usually go to the 9:30 A.M. Mass and then she said how happy she was that I was a parishioner. I told her to have a great week and she did the same.

Folks, that is intentional hospitality. My heart was warmed as I headed out the doors into the frigid air.

I hope your celebration of Christ the King warmed your heart.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

No Choice

It's a bright and sunny, cool day here in Chicago.

There is so much "talk" on social media right now about the closing of our country to Syrian refugees that it is deafening. What did we do in the days before these social media outlets existed, when we were given more than a few seconds to ponder what was going on around us and express our thoughts, feelings, and pronouncements instantly?

So, after these days of turmoil, I thought I had decided to let it all simply rest in me. Just needed some time to let it all settle. Then I realized how Western and selfish that decision would be, because I have a choice to stop thinking about it all. So, I ask myself, what do refugees do when they have had enough of it all? They have no choice. They flee. They flee to safer places for their families. They want to protect their children. They don't want a bomb to destroy what is left of their lives. They don't have a choice. They've gotta keep moving. So, I guess I need to keep pondering, in solidarity with them.

This is difficult, isn't it?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Jerry, what am I supposed to do?"

Last night I gave a presentation, "Getting Ready for Advent" to a great group of Catholics at Saint Cecilia Parish in Mount Prospect, Illinois.

There was a man sitting in the group with his wife and teenage daughter. He was gruff-looking and was wearing a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt. He was following my every word quite closely.

When I came to the part of my presentation when I began to speak about the upcoming jubilee year of mercy, I found myself talking about the recent terror attacks in Paris. I talked about the fact that Pope Francis said that he simply didn't understand how a human person could commit such terrible acts. I shared about how much all of this has troubled me so deeply. I said that to talk of mercy in the face of all of this is such a challenge.

The man in the sweatshirt then simply blurted out, "It is really difficult and hard to be a Christian right now." He went on with such passion and gentleness. "I know that I am supposed to love, but for the past few days it has been so difficult to do so. I don't know what I am supposed to do. Jerry, what am I supposed to do? How should I feel?"

I looked him in the eyes and said, "I think what you are supposed to do is what you are doing right now; struggling like the rest of us with what our Christian calling is in these very difficult times. And I think that's probably enough for right now. Just remember that our pope is struggling with it all as well."

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Turn My Hardened Heart Around

Tuesday greetings from the soggy Midwest.

Last evening, after having had dinner with an out-of-town relative here on business, I drove him out to the Adler Planetarium here in Chicago, where one can find a fantastic view of Chicago across Lake Michigan. As I stood there, looking at buildings that have recently added white, red, and blue lighting to show solidarity with the "City of Lights," I couldn't help but ache for those who lost their loved ones in this senseless act of violence and hatred. Here is a photo I took last night.

Pope Francis yesterday called the fact that some of the terrorists shouted that what they were doing was in the name of God "blasphemous." Here are his words:

"Such barbaric acts leave us shocked, and we wonder how the human heart can conceive and carry out such horrific events, which have shaken not only France but the whole world. Faced with these intolerable acts, one can not but condemn such an unspeakable affront to human dignity. I wish to reaffirm strongly that the path of violence and hatred does not solve the problems of humanity, and to abuse God's name to justify such a way is blasphemy!"

In my search to try to understand all of this, all I can really do is fix my eyes on the Lord Jesus, a sure sign of hope in this moment in time. As Advent approaches and we take our deep, longing breaths to prepare to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, my hope is that somehow the Lord will be made present as that enduring sign of hope in our troubled times. I don't want to sound like I am walking through life with rose colored glasses on, but I feel like I have nowhere else to turn.

As Advent approaches and the Jubilee Year of Mercy dawns, I will be trying to figure out how God's mercy figures in all of this. This Christian life is often hard, because I look for answers where there don't seem to be any easy answers. As someone whose heart has been hardened over the past few days, I am hoping for an outpouring of God's boundless mercy to help turn my heart around.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris: Struggling With It All

Monday morning greetings on this day when we are all still reeling from Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris. This is an unusually long post. But bear with me. On Saturday, I gave a mini-mission to a fine group of Catholics at Saint Maria Goretti parish in Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is a picture of the church's interior.

Frankly, I found myself struggling as I made my various presentations, because they were all colored by the recent experience of the terrorist attacks in Paris. When I got to the point of talking about the eucharist through the lens of "the table of reconciliation," I found myself deeply questioning what reconciliation and mercy really mean in a world marked by senseless acts of terrorism aimed at murdering innocent people, all in the name of religion.

At Mass at Old Saint Pat's yesterday, the children's choir led us all in singing Let There Be Peace on Earth after communion. The last time I recall singing that song at Mass was on the Sunday following September 11, 2001. "And let it begin with me."

I have always strongly held on to Blessed Pope Paul VI's remarks to the United Nations on October 4, 1965:

"Here our message reaches its culmination and we will speak first of all negatively. These are the words you are looking for us to say and the words we cannot utter without feeling aware of their seriousness and solemnity: never again one against the other, never, never again!
Was this not the very end for which the United Nations came into existence: to be against war and for peace? Listen to the clear words of a great man who is no longer with us, John Kennedy, who proclaimed four years ago: 'Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.' There is no need for a long talk to proclaim the main purpose of your Institution. It is enough to recall the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind."

"Never again war!" I find myself caught between this admonition and the justified anger I feel against those who perpetrate the kind of violence and hatred that was wrought against innocent people in Paris and in so many more places, all in the name of God. When we talk about mercy and reconciliation, are we to reach a point where we believe that God's mercy reaches into the hearts of those who would pick up automatic weapons and mow down innocent people; reaches those who would strap explosives to themselves and in an inconceivable act of suicide, murder all those around them who are simply living their day-to-day lives?

I saw this on Facebook on Saturday morning:

How are we to react when the Lord's clear command was to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us? Where do we turn?

Well. this morning, I sought out the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 2303 has this to say:
"Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbor is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbor is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm. 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45).

Paragraphs 2307-2309 go on:
"However, 'as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.' [Cf. Vatican II Gaudium et spes 79, 4]
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave , and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily on evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just war' doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good."

It is so difficult to try to apply the "just war" doctrine to the contemporary context. This is not like bygone days when countries waged war on other countries. This "war" is all about religious ideology and extremism. Who is the nation here that is the "aggressor?" We hear various terms to describe these aggressors, yet their whereabouts and motives are so hard for me to comprehend. Surely, the damage they are inflicting is "lasting, grave, and certain." Whether or not "all other means of putting an end to it must be shown to be impractical or ineffective" remains open to question because this is not a traditional kind of war being waged. How do we even sit down and try to settle this as a political issue when the kind of religious extremism that motivates the aggressor is something that most human persons cannot even comprehend as a legitimate starting point? Do those who are bombing places targeting these aggressors have "serious prospects of success?" This is probably the most frightening aspect of all. If something like this could happen in Paris, or in Ankara, or in New York, or in Washington, or in Shanksville, one wonders where and when the next eruption will take place. What kind of prospects of success exist, if they do at all?

Pope Francis, speaking about the killings in Paris, had this to say:
"I am moved, and I am saddened. I do not understand--these things are hard to understand.
He went on to say: "War is madness. Even today, after a second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction."
Pope Francis called the attacks "inhumane" saying "There is no religious or human justification" for the violence.

Friends, I harbor hatred in my heart for those who killed my sisters and brothers in Paris. And for this I am not yet repentant. I am praying hard to believe that God's love and mercy is bigger than anything my limited brain can comprehend. The words of Pope Frances are my own on this Monday. "War is madness. I am moved, I am saddened. I do not understand." But I am trying. And struggling mightily.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.