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Michael Vick, a god of second chances for some……the Prophets of ancient Israel would scream from the mountaintops in disgust and call us out for the unjust double standard!

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Michael Vick left federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas and was allowed to complete his 23 month sentence confined at home for the last two months. You probably know that Vick was found guilty of participating in dog fighting for “sport” where the animals were treated in ways so atrocious that I refuse to elaborate further.

But Mr. Vick has talent beyond his taste for the sport he finds in animal cruelty. He is a quarterback capable of performing up to NFL standards. Upon Vick’s release NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Vick would have to show him and the public genuine remorse before he was reinstated in the league. Vick’s sentence ended July 20, 2009 and before the end of August the Philadelphia Eagles, with the blessing of Commissioner Goodell, signed Vick to play for 1.6 million in year one with a second year option of 5.2million accompanied by incentives that could total an additional 3.0 million dollars. About 30 days of “remorse.”

So far I’ll bet you think I am just a tad bitter at the idea of this god of second chances.

Well you are right…..and wrong. I believe we do worship a God of second chances and we all deserve a second chance, tell me, as we look at our own lives, you disagree?

All things being equal let Vick have a second chance, yep go ahead Comissioner Goodell and the Eagles. After all, let’s face it, if he plays up to your expectations he should make the Eagles far more than the 9.8 million he stands to earn over the next few years. Maybe a soft drink company or some other nationally recognized brand name would even give Vick a chance to endorse their product, although I don’t see much of an opportunity to become the national spokesperson for the SPCA.

The Vick’s of this world and especially our country where all are “created equal”, those who enjoy celebrity status, cannot be the only ones given their second chance if we live in a society where justice is the rule of law. We do say that don’t we? That justice for all thing?

Every week a group of dedicated women accompany me to a conservation camp where women who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes serve out their time. Here they are trained to fight our California wild fires and for that receive a reduced sentence. These women are well educated or were highly skilled in the workforce before they made their mistakes and like Vick are serving their time.

But there is a difference! They are not celebrities, they cannot pass a football with precision accuracy, and no one is waiting to hire them upon their release for multi-million dollar contracts that benefit national organizations. In fact no one is waiting to hire them at all after their debt has been paid. They stress as their parole date approaches and they are given their $200.00 with which to buy a bus ticket home.

Why would the Prophets of Israel rail this injustice? Because again and again they tell us that if you want to measure the level of justice in any society you MUST look at those most marginalized. How any society treats the least of God’s children is the true measure of justice.

Therefore comparing Michael Vick, Roger Goodell, the Philadelphia Eagles, and similar stories of celebrity comebacks we can all recall to the fate of the women at the conservation camp: Bonnie, Sabrina, Jenny, Rosi, Tiffany, Colleen, Cynthia, Nancy, Janice, Sue, Janene, Kelly, Jen, Maria, Margarita, Ado, Breanne, and Emma we have, as a country, failed to meet even a minimum standard of justice.

“Just as individuals may sin, a society may also engage in social sin. Social sin is when a society embraces injustice as public policy or becomes so accustom to injustice it no longer sees its structures as an affront to human dignity.” Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation Stoltz/Tomkovicz, chapter 18 page 108.

I refuse to capitalize god in the heading of this article. This god of second chances is a false god whose name is invoked in vain. The God I know is one who demands that we give all people, according to their ability, talent, and sincerity, the same second chance after their debt has been paid.

Move over Martha Stewart, our God is looking at us. The difference that this god and our God sees is a failure to live out our American Creed. What the founding fathers stated as “self evident” has yet to be realized in this scenario and so many more like it in our land.

How can we make a difference? Maybe our winnings next season from the weekly NFL football pool won’t seem like such an honest “take” after all!

God Speaks To Us Through The Faith Of Our Seniors

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

February 2009 my father celebrated his 93rd birthday. He had recently had his drivers license taken away because of his age and progressing dementia. Living independently in Oregon for the past ten years he found himself homebound and by this time so confused he was no longer able to care for himself. Three months ago we moved him to Southern California about 5 minutes from our home into a very nice retirement community. The first thing was to have him evaluated by a several doctors to get a handle on how to care for him and what chronic conditions, if any, needed attention. Dad is in good physical health for 93 but his mind is failing as the dementia progresses.  The transition has been difficult but he is starting to settle into his new living arrangements.

In the retirement community there are about 15 Catholic residents. I volunteered to preside at a Communion Service every other Sunday and wondered what would happen. The service is posted on the calendar and every week we now have at least ten attendees.

The residents are so grateful to have a service in the small chapel on the grounds. While it is a priviledge to be able to do this the real wonder and awe is in the stories of their lives that they are so anxious to tell me before the service begins. The Church truly gathers in that small room on the second floor!

My father served in the U.S. Navy and was on his way home after being discharged when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He immediately re-enlisted and served another 3 years until the war ended. Dad served Mass on the Arizona each week and had he still been on active duty at the time would have been a casuality of the massive bombing as the Arizona was hit Sunday morning while Mass was being held.

There is a Yugoslavian woman who came from a very wealthy family but lost everything as the Nazi’s invaded. Eventually her family was rescued by Mrs. Roosevelt herself emigrating to the U.S. by boat. They left the family fortune behind and started a new life here in Los Angeles where she said they would do any work they could get to reestablish a life once lost. She constantly tells me that America is the greatest country in the world.

Another women confessed last week that she wanted to join the convent when she was 16 but her brother refused to let her go. She eventually married and raised a family but still felt she was always called to the religious life. She slept through most of the service, in fact I had to wake her up to give her communion! As I was about to leave she came up and grabbed my hand placing a waded up bill in it that at first I refused to take but she insisted. I put it in my pocket and when I got back to the church realized that she had given me $20.00. The gospel story of the widow who gave her last few coins immediately came to mind. (Luke 21: 1-4) I put her kind donation in the basket.

And one by one, in their advanced years they tell me the stories of their lives, as best as they can remember. They come to the service as they have been coming all their lives. They come ready to hear God’s Word, the few things I may have to say, and to receive the Eucharist with incredible joy. I think the word I’m looking for is gratitude.

Our seniors are scattered throughout society. We have inherited the world they formed for us, some good, some not so good. But they deserve our respect and attention. Timothy would tell them, they have competed well; they have finished the race; they have kept the faith!  (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)

They deserve our full attention because they have given us and our world theirs.

To all the caregivers, I salute you. You are active in a ministry that is one of the hardest yet one of the most selfless in giving.

When you see our seniors in the marketplace go out of your way to talk to and help them. If you have time volunteer at a senior center. The prophets of ancient Israel would challenge you to do this, the young Church portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles recognized the need to care for those who were struggling and from that deacons were born.

We are all one human family, one body. When we connect with those who appear to be weak we live the beatitudes. (Matthew 5:1-12) We live in the world the way it would be if God had God’s way with the world. In Jesus’ own words “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”

God speaks to us and has much to teach us through our seniors, can you quiet yourself long enough to hear His voice? What is your response?

On The Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Catholic Church

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Not long ago one of our regional bishops acknowledged that for him the last several years of his life have, in many ways, been the most difficult. During his homily the bishop posed this question to us. “Why have all of you chosen to stay in the Church through this time of scandal?” (He was referring to the priest sexual abuse scandal) And he was quick to point out that he was not expecting any of us would be able to answer that question so easily.

In fact the bishop’s question was huge. How could we so quickly explain our faithfullness in a sentence or two that would satisfy us, those who have left the church and those on the outside looking in wondering what holds us together in the midst of the ruins and constant bad press?

Bad things happen in our world. New York, London, Spain, the Middle East, North Korea and so many other places. Senseless  random and not so random acts of terror, violence and war that have taken thousands of human lives. We are outraged but no one wonders if the human race will survive, in fact the terrorists have caused more resolve to press on and not give in to those who victimize us. Firefighters and the police in New York will tell you this. So will Londoners who reacted much the same way as their predecessors during the Second World War. There is a solidarity within humanity that cannot be ripped apart by evil. Embedded in the solidarity, whether we recognixe it or not, is the love of our Creator.

On December 7, 1965 the Second Vatican Council published one of its major documents on the Church in the Modern World. It opens with these words;  “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially those of the poor or afflicted, are the joys and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.” Although written in 1965 these same words could have been proclaimed in the earliest Christian communites and they would have been just as powerful and true as they are in 2009.

Bad things happen in our world and bad things happen in our church that is as much a part of our world as any other institution. We believe that the institutional Church is unable to fail us when she guides us in matters of faith and moral doctrine. But humans in the church are not infallible, even those entrusted with the pastoral care of God’s people. As followers of Christ we have to acknowledge this fact not only in her ordained ministers (for we are far from perfect) but in her members as well. “For Christ,  while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.”  Romans 5:6

Richard Rohr in his book Everything Belongs speaking about the institutional church says it something like this:  The Church exists to lead us to the moon, she is not the moon herself. The next sentence in the Vatican document earlier mentioned here reads, “For thier’s is a community of people united in Christ and guided by the holy Spirit, in their pilgrimage towards the Father’s kingdom, bearers of a message of salvation for all humanity.”

Each week we do come back. And from the beginning we acknowledge that we are a sinful people. Individually and in community we bring with us all our joys anf failings and offer them along with the simple gifts of bread and wine to our God. We pray before him in solidarity, perhaps helpless alone, but redeemed together in the mystery of the Body of Christ.

In one gospel story Jesus transforms a gathering of many different people who become one in their need, one in the bread they share, one in curiousity and love for Christ that has brought them together. Taking a few pieces of bread and fish Christ works a miracle and feeds thousands. Christ empowers each one of us to perform our owm miracles of creating community when we give our time and resources in taking on the hard work of the Gospel: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, seeking out the lost and forgotten, teaching the Good News that it is God who is our loving father.

We Christians are people sent on a mission. And so during each week we carry with us a faith that allows us to see in our brothers and sisters the face of the Risen Christ. From a few pieces of bread and a couple of fish Christ fed thousands and there were leftovers! We are that bread, we are those few fish sent out in His place. That is what it means to be “genuinely human” and once we have tasted that, the unconditional love of God, how can we let human weakness, as inexcusable as it is, keep us away from coming back for more?

Really Understanding What Jesus Was Talking About

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Those who heard Jesus speak, including his own disciples, were oftentimes clueless as to what he was saying.  Even when he directed the point right at them, they looked around wondering just who he might be talking about. (Matthew 25: 31-46).  The needs of others, serious needs, were routinely being overlooked in favor of religious laws, or personal comfort and complacency.  Christ challenged them about that over and over again.

Here in the Conejo Valley, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles, most of us live in varying degrees of luxury.  Sure, some of us struggle at times to make ends meet, while others live in seven figure homes, driving the finest imported automobiles.  Overall though, we have a standard of living that exceeds the national average, not to mention that of the world.

As I was getting a carwash the other day, I wondered how many people in Bagdad were making a choice between the standard wash, or full service that included the wheel rims, or shoes as my son likes to call them, and a layer of triple-foam wax.

It is so easy for those who really struggle to go unnoticed.  Yet they are all around us, most often in unspoken silence.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of work with youth.  You’d be amazed at the number of children and teens we pass right by every day who are struggling in one way or another just to get by.  These are our children, the greatest in the kingdom of God, the ones Christ calls us to emulate and yet many of them are going on with their lives as best they can, neglected, alone and scared.

The teen behind the counter at a local fast-food restaurant who has no mother or father, no presentable clothing, is living with a friend and wondering how much longer the welcome will be extended before the street becomes home.  He goes unnoticed by us.  How could we know that from our brief encounter?  We just want our double-double and fries.

What about the child walking home from elementary school who will arrive at an empty house and wait for hours before mom gets home from her 10-hour day to prepare a meager dinner and provide some company with the little energy she may have left.

There is a lot of talk about justice in our land.  There is no real justice until the needs of the marginalized members in our communities are being met.  These children fall into that category.  So while we may not recognize them as we bump into them every day in the marketplace, let me assure you they are out there, often too scared, too proud, too overwhelmed to cry out for help.

You can make a difference.  And I can assure you of one thing, when you do your life will change in a way you cannot now imagine.  Why?  Reaching out to children in desperate need fulfills a part of the human spirit in us all that brings us life in abundance.

I recently became aware of a staggering statistic.  The known number of children in the state of California requiring foster care, those with no parents or family capable of caring for them, would fill the Rose Bowl to capacity.

Can you dare to dream of fostering a child?  Call a private foster family agency or the Department of Children and Family Services in the county and “just do it.”

Big Brothers and Sisters has hundreds of children waiting for mentors to step forward—small children to teens in need of mature adult role models.  Call today and begin to make a difference.

On this issue, as well as others, we all need to decide.   Do Christ’s words speak to us, or are we convinced he most certainly was directing them elsewhere?  That, my friends, is a dangerous assumption, because the words and wisdom of the Gospel are meant to challenge us all.

Lord, when did I ever see you in need and not come to help?  “And he answered them: I assure you, as often as you neglected to do it to one of the least ones, you neglected to do it to me.”

How can we make a difference?  How can we not?