Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sacraments on Demand

A few years ago we finally broke down and got cable TV. We had resisted it for a very long time. I was never that motivated. For one thing, because I worked in television for years and when I got home from work at the end of the day plopping down in front of more television didn't have a lot of appeal for me. And second, I felt like we didn't need any encouragement to spend additional time in front of the TV. My wife and I didn't need it, our children didn't need it.

But a few years ago we finally broke down. The kids were grown. My daughter was in college (and she lamented that we waited until she was out of the house before getting cable) and there were stories in the news about the switch to digital broadcasting, so you were either going to need to be connected to cable or buy converters or else buy new television sets. So we got cable. And it wasn't easy at first because we were apparently the only household in our neighborhood that didn't already have cable. The cable company couldn't imagine we weren't connected. But after some calls back and forth they finally came out and connected us.

And it's been nice having cable. I get to watch things I wouldn't necessarily see - movies, documentaries, cooking shows - things I very much enjoy. And our cable came with this very interesting feature called "On Demand." I didn't pay much attention to it at first. But I soon found there were times when I was in the mood to relax in front of the TV and there wasn't really anything on that interested me. I could go to "On Demand" and pick from a wide range of choices and "poof!" I could watch it. And this just amazed me - anyone connected to that cable system any time of day has the ability to choose something to watch, all controlled from their fingertips. No more trips out for a video rental, no more setting up my VCR to record a film at 2 in the morning so I can watch it later. The technology blew me away.

We live in an "On Demand" society, an "On Demand" world. It's not all that long ago that stores that offered convenience were only open from 7 in the morning until 11 at night - now they're open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I gassed up my car at 6:00 in the morning today. I carry a piece of plastic in my wallet that lets me have access to my bank account and cash 24 hours a day. And many times I don't even need cash - the little plastic card is all I need. I remember a couple times being up with one of my children in the middle of the night when they were very small and going and doing grocery shopping at 3am. The ability to do these things were unheard of not so long ago.

Yet as in love as we are with convenience and being able to acquire things on demand many of us have forgotten that our church pretty much offers us "On Demand" sacraments. I once heard it said that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Mass is being celebrated somewhere. We as Catholics pretty much have "On Demand" access to the Eucharist, yet we don't always seek it out. The other sacrament we pretty much have "On Demand" access to is the sacrament of reconciliation.

In the Gospel of Luke a woman that has sinned takes advantage of the opportunity to kneel before Christ in contrition. It is clear from her actions that her desire for forgiveness is genuine. And Christ understands that. Others criticize, because in that moment Christ welcomes the sinner, welcomes one that others deem "untouchable" - someone to be avoided, to be scorned. Yet Christ welcomes her and in that gesture demonstrates that all sinners are to be welcomed. That by our faith we can be saved.

Reconciliation on demand. The church offers it sacramentally. Yet so many pass it by, even avoid it. And I can understand that to some extent. The act of baring your soul before a priest and before God can be horribly intimidating. Admitting our sins, recognizing failure can be a very difficult thing for us to face, let alone share with someone else. Forgiving ourselves can be the most difficult thing of all. I've always said God will never beat me up as badly as I'll beat myself up over mistakes I've made, sins I've committed, people I've hurt. And some of those transgressions - even though I know I've been forgiven - I will carry in my heart to the day I die. Because everything I've done, everything I've failed to do is a part of my being, a part of what makes me who I am today.

That's how it is for all of us. We're human. Failure is what makes us human, and defines our humanity. Those unwilling to admit their failures, admit their sins - step outside of themselves and take a hard look at who they are - are only deluding themselves.

Sacraments on demand. What a brilliant concept! To open up our souls before God in reconciliation, and then be deemed worthy once again to accept His Son in the Eucharist is extraordinary. And this "On Demand" convenience is not something that has been made available to us in the last five years, or ten or twenty or fifty. It has been available to us for centuries. Available to us to the end of the age. Peace, salvation, through faith. On demand. All we have to do is seek it out.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Behold, Our Mother

The connection between a mother and her son can be a very special relationship. I know in my own experience my mother and I have shared a bond that has been unique among relationships I've had with people. I was the oldest of the children in my family and was the one that because of my place as the oldest often set the tone for the other children. I was the one that was made example of as I worked through the highs and lows of my childhood and adolescence. I was also the one my mother shared her pains and sufferings with. I was the one my mother shared her confidences with, the stories she didn't easily tell others, the secrets that she could bear no longer, all the bits and pieces of her life that made her who she was as a person, and by association made me who I am.

My mother has always symbolized two things to me - strength and faith. She has gone through a lot in her life. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and her stepfather was abusive both verbally and physically. She fell in love with my father and married him shortly after graduating high school and turning 18. She wasn't going to stay in the house with my stepfather any longer than she had to. My father came from a very poor family, worked at the plant where his older brothers worked. He drank hard as they did and became an alcoholic. At his worst he could be abusive and distant. As it turned out marriage wasn't much of an escape for my mother.

But she never gave up. She never lost her faith. When I think of people I've known in my life that have been people of great strength and faith my mother would be at the top of the list. She endured a marriage that most would have given up on and walked away from. She never gave up on God, even though many events in her life would have led others to question God's role if not existence.

Through it all she persevered. She stayed because of us children. She knew the pain of divorce and how it had affected her life. She stayed in a marriage that was at one time a shambles and has now seen that marriage become a relationship of love and respect as my father dealt with his problems and fought his way out of the clutches of alcoholism and found his way back to God. She has seen her children grow and lead successful lives and reward her and my father with grandchildren that love them completely and without the reservations and baggage that her own children carried with them.

Having had the experience of my mother in my life and how much she has meant to me it is easy for me to have a sense of how important Christ's mother was to him, and he to her. It is easy for me to understand her special place in all he did and all he continues to do. It is easy for me to understand why we all should look to her for guidance and strength. As she grieved at the foot of the cross Christ said to the beloved disciple "Behold, your mother." In that gesture Christ wasn't just turning over the care of his mother to the disciple. Christ was all about symbolism, and deeper meaning in everything he said and did. In that moment Christ speaks to all of us: "Behold, YOUR mother." OUR mother. Mother of us all. The mother we can turn to in our times of doubt and shame. The mother we can turn to when life doesn't make sense and we need to feel the safe embrace of her loving arms. The mother that is always there to pick us up when we fall, wipe away our tears, and send us on our way again.

"Behold, your son." Christ also turns over the care of all God's children to His mother in that moment. While His work as a man was nearly finished, Mary's work and relationship with us was just beginning. Because a mother's work is never ended. A mother's place of importance with her children is never diminished. Even when not physically present the spiritual presence of our mother looms large and active in our lives. She is always available to us to talk with, to share our troubles with as well as our joys, to seek out for security and guidance in our darkest hours. Just as Christ surely did.

When I think of that scene at the foot of the cross I imagine the disciple and Mary clinging to each other in love and mutual support. Surely it was their darkest hour. And that's the relationship we need to seek out with Mary. A relationship of love and support, a warm, passionate embrace, a relationship built on great trust and faith. On a day when we celebrate Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows, we can reach out to her as she reaches out to us - desiring to be enfolded in an embrace of love and faith. Mary, the mother of God. Behold, our mother.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Simply to Thy Cross I Cling

Yesterday we almost didn't have a priest for Sunday morning Mass. Our pastor Fr. Marty is out of town and since he likes to plan ahead he made arrangements for priests to be here to celebrate Mass this past weekend probably 3-4 months ago. But we haven't had issues in the past, and the priests that were scheduled to celebrate for us had both been to St. William of York before. The priest scheduled for yesterday morning also has a tendency to arrive at the last possible moment so there's always a little bit of sense of adventure and anxiety for me as the "one in charge" as I wait for him to arrive for the 9:00am Mass.

But yesterday was a bit different. As it got closer and closer to 9:00 I had a bad feeling. And when it became 9:01 and then 9:02 and still no priest that feeling became much worse. Because I was faced with the prospect of having to stand before a congregation of people that had gathered for Sunday liturgy and explain to them that we would not have a priest to celebrate Mass. And while I had been here for Mass as a participant the last time that happened here at St. William it didn't relieve my stress any that I may now have to be the one to make that decision.

Thankfully, I was able to get in contact with the priest and he finally arrived. And he was embarrassed and contrite for having forgotten to be here. But he did get here and all went well. And I was much too relieved to be upset with him.

Doing a Mass or communion service takes a great deal of preparation. Of course there's all the "little" things like making sure the candles are lit, the Lectionary is on the right page, the key is in the tabernacle - all things that I have forgotten to do at one time or another. The reflection or homily takes a lot of thought and consideration. In preparing for this morning's Communion service reflection I learned about Ember Days - does anyone remember those? Ember Days could be days of thankfulness for the harvest or fasting and prayer observed at specific times of the church year. In the pre-Vatican II church Ember Days were observed the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the week. This week following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross we would have been observing additional days of prayer and fasting. I love learning about the saints and the traditions of our church as I prepare to give a reflection. It helps me grow in my faith and helps me feel prepared and confident when I stand before a group of people.

If it had come down to doing a Communion service yesterday morning I know it would have worked out. I've done Communion services before and I know what to expect and what the guidelines are and most importantly I think know the compassion and understanding of the St. William of York community. I have stood before them and been strengthened by the support and love they have shown me.

But I think what has prepared me the most, given me the support I need and continually demonstrates God's love for me is the cross of Christ's sacrifice. My entire life I have been surrounded by this great symbol of God's love. The church I grew up in we often sang hymns on Sunday morning such as "The Old Rugged Cross" and "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Hymns that featured lines such as "In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me." That's what I grew up with. That's what I learned. That's where my strength comes from.

As Catholics we recall that symbol when we cross ourselves in prayer. I often wondered why people in the Latino community would often kiss their fingers after crossing themselves until a friend of mine explained they make a little cross with their thumb and forefinger and it's that cross they kiss. I once read that some believe the tradition of crossing one's fingers for luck actually originated as a way of symbolizing the Christian cross as a talisman against evil. We wear crosses, we surround ourselves with crosses. I love seeing the various depictions of crosses in cemeteries. It is the great symbol of our faith.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The cross of Christ's sacrifice. A symbol we can always turn to for strength and support. But most importantly, a symbol of God's great love for us as we know from the Gospel of John: For God so loved the world he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes might not perish but have eternal life and that the world might be saved through him.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

By Our Own Fruits

When I was growing up I had a cousin I was very close to. His father and my father were brothers - very close - and our two families spent a lot of time together. We got together at one point or another it seemed nearly every weekend. We occasionally vacationed together. I was the oldest in my family and my cousin the oldest in his. And even though he was three years my senior we hung around and did things together. I looked up to him because he was older and more worldly. And he always had a willing and dedicated cohort in me.

When he was in junior high I remember him inviting me to his bedroom one day. He was acting very secretive as we went in he quietly closed the door. He opened his dresser, pulled out a box and opened it to show me he had cigarettes. I was crushed. My father was a chain-smoker and I absolutely hated it. I was so disappointed that my cousin was now smoking. And while I'm sure at the time it was one of those experimentation things that most adolescents go through, I was certain it was the beginning of his journey on the road to ruin. As it turned out I wasn't very far from being wrong.

From that time on my cousin and I drifted apart, and over the next few years he did travel down that road. He stole. He fought. What started out as harmless pranks turned into serious property damage. He began drinking. And he fought some more.

We had never been in the same school until I reached high school. By that time we rarely saw one another, and the closeness we had had as young boys was gone. He was physically gone from the school when I got there, but his presence was gigantic. Every teacher that called my name in roll or met me for the first time asked me if we were brothers, or were related. It was immediately clear to me I was being judged by the horrible reputation he had for abuse and fighting there at the school. I remember I got so tired of people asking me if we were related my stock answer became "Yes, unfortunately." It was the only way I could think of to distance my name and myself from his bad reputation.

I think of my cousin when I read the passage from Luke's Gospel that states "For every tree is known by its own fruit." I was known - if just for a short while - by the tree that also produced my cousin. And as much as we may try to use old sayings in describing people like my cousin as the "bad apple" or the "black sheep of the family" it didn't lessen the impact on our family name, a name that for many people already conjured up images of alcoholism or hooliganism or abuse. And fighting against those misconceptions took a very long time.

We are known by our own fruit. Whether it's the fruit of our labors or the company we keep or the way we operate in the world. It's how we're known. And it goes well beyond saying the right things at the appropriate times. We have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I can't help young people develop their prayer lives if I'm not spending time in prayer myself. I can't help people understand the importance of slowing down, taking a break, being at peace if I don't see to my own needs for rest and rejuvenation. I can't journey with people in their relationship with God if I'm not actively working on that relationship myself. I can't help others understand the importance of participation in the sacraments if I'm not coming to the Eucharist in awe and adoration myself.

In that passage from Luke Christ also talks of the importance of building a strong foundation. And for us that foundation is built on prayer and the sacraments. Each one of us has to build a strong foundation upon which rests our faith. And then like a tree our faith can grow and flourish and bear good fruit. And it is by that fruit we will be known.

I pray for my cousin. I pray for all those that stray from the path. I pray for those that need help finding their way back to God. But most of all I pray for myself. I pray that God gives me the strength and understanding to continue to grow and thrive in my own faith. I pray that in times of darkness God lights my path so that in some small way I may help light the path of others. I pray that what I do may be pleasing to God, and for forgiveness when it is not. I pray that we all can always be people that listen to Christ and act upon His words. And in doing so, we will all be known by our fruit as faithful children of God.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Golden Rule Days

School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days. When I was young we were quoted the "Golden Rule" all the time. In school it was probably the first thing I learned. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It was repeated often, drilled into us, and despite the best efforts of many fine teachers the rule was often forgotten. Or perhaps not forgotten so much as ignored. And to be honest, my recollection was that others ignored it far more often than I did myself, because it seemed like I was often the butt of jokes and pranks and bullying. But I'm sure I inflicted my fair share of pain and suffering on my younger brothers as we grew up, so I suppose it evened out.

But evening out isn't the goal. Evening out almost has a connotation of reward, or retribution realized. I can't tell you how many times something has happened where I've seen myself or others get taken advantage of or worse and thought to myself "Oh, you'll get yours someday. What goes around comes around. Karma is going to catch up with you." And those weren't just statements - they were my hope. Almost prayers. I found myself being wronged and instead of praying for strength in adversity I essentially prayed that others would suffer the same fate (or worse) than I had. I hadn't learned anything from the experience. I had forgotten the "Golden Rule."

In the Gospel of Luke Christ addresses this wonderfully. He doesn't just say "Do to others as you would have them do to you" because this can be misinterpreted. He expands on it. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Give to everyone who asks of you. Expect nothing back. Be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. This passage from Luke is the essence of Christ's teaching in one convenient package. If we expect God to show us mercy, we have to be merciful towards others. We have to recognize the Christ that is within each person we encounter. When we show another mercy, we are showing Christ mercy. And that mercy will in turn be given us by God.

Loving one's enemies is a difficult thing. I was bullied a lot as a young boy. And it was very painful for me to see my son go through many of the same agonies. The constant fear and anxiety of each day, never knowing from where the next attack was going to come from. And it made my son very angry. And a lot of joy left his life. But he persevered. He didn't lose his faith, he never gave up, and he has consistently remained one of the most compassionate people I've ever known. Injustice angers him - whether it's racism, or sexism, or abuse or neglect. But he no longer allows himself to be consumed by the anger, and he is always willing to try and understand why things are as they are. And he always treats every person he meets with respect.

I think we all struggle with being judgmental. It's just so easy and natural and human to have knee-jerk reactions to the things that happen to us or that we encounter on a daily basis. I always get very upset when I see an adult screaming or hitting a child in public. And my immediate reaction is I want to go to them and scream in their face and see how they like it. But then I remember I had my own share of physical "corrections" growing up. And as I matured I came to understand why my parents used that form of "education" with me now and then. I understood that it wasn't their fault or that they were trying to be intentionally abusive or anything like that. They had been brought up a certain way and likely had been abused themselves, and it was all they knew. And it was difficult for them to break that pattern. But they eventually did, because that pattern was not continued through me. And I think I've learned that the best way to stop being judgmental is to work towards understanding. Understanding others, making an effort to understand their situations, and working towards solutions rather than merely reacting in kind.

Be merciful. Forgive. When I read this passage the theme that keeps coming back to me is humility. So much of what Christ teaches us is about humility. We all work hard to get ahead in life. To live comfortably. To achieve a level of peace. But that comfort, that peace cannot and should not come at the expense of others. We have been wonderfully blessed with God's grace. And like any gift freely given that gift needs to be freely shared. We must stand up for those that can't stand up for themselves. We must pray often and fervently. We must forgive so that we in turn will be forgiven. We must be willing to humble ourselves before God, and live that humility. It must become natural to our nature, just as breathing is natural to us.

Love. The greatest lesson of all. Love God, love all, and we shall in turn be loved. Do to others as you would have them to you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Trust in Me

How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and one of you said to the other "Trust me"? Or better yet, "What - don't you trust me?" I have vivid memories of when I was a boy and the Disney film "The Jungle Book" came out. There's that scene when the evil snake Kaa sings "Trust in me, just in me" simultaneously seductive and sinister. And like that snake singing oh so sweetly every day our trust is tested. Ads on television tout the latest fad diet or some exciting new product that will make our lives easier and last a lifetime. We drive in automobiles we trust will keep us safe if we're in an accident. We use products daily that we trust will work and more importantly not harm us. We put our lives' savings in banks and into investment opportunities based on trust and hope that our money - and perhaps a bit more - will be there when we most need it. We are asked to trust our government officials and church leaders and teachers and co-workers. And we place our trust in friends and family, knowing that a breach of that trust can be devastating. And most importantly, we are asked to trust in our God.

As I look around it seems as though trust - and truth - gets stretched, beat on and abused more and more with each passing day. In the news we are constantly bombarded with stories of people that have embezzled money from unsuspecting investors, ministers that have taken advantage of those they have been called to serve, elected officials abusing their position and the trust placed in them by those that elected them. We rarely hear stories of people that placed their trust and were rewarded. And someone who placed their trust in the lottery ticket they bought and won does not count. When was the last time you heard tell of someone who placed their trust in another and had that trust respected and nurtured?

It's frustrating and demoralizing when we are constantly barraged by so much negative information that leads some to believe they shouldn't trust anyone. And that's understandable. Placing your trust - especially in someone close to you - is an intimate and soul-baring act. It is a surrender, it is making ourselves completely vulnerable to another. I know when my dog completely trusts me or another person or even another dog. He'll lie on his back exposing his underbelly - the most vulnerable part of his body - in a display of total trust. When we place our trust in one another we are exposing to each other the most vulnerable aspect of who we are as people.

Perhaps those positive stories of trust are the ones we just don't hear about too often. And that makes sense as well. Trust - when it's respected - is a quiet thing, a humble thing. And yet we can read about stories of trust and hear about them any time we want. All we have to do is open our Bible. From God's first instructions to Adam to the closing words of the Book of Revelation scripture is all about trust. Again and again scripture relates great stories of those that trusted - Noah, Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Peter, Paul - the list goes on and on. There are those that placed their trust in the wrong people, such as Samson. Those that placed their trust in family members - such as Joseph with his brothers - and were rewarded with enslavement or worse. The entire book of Job is about trust, trust against all odds and all adversity. The Psalms again and again sing of trust - trust in the face of the enemy, trust in the face of evil, trust in the face of death. Trust through all things in God and the salvation He has promised to each one of us.

And of course, two great stories of trust - Mary and Joseph. Mary trusted in God in effect giving up her life to serve God and bear His Son. We celebrate and are inspired by her trust and devotion. And Joseph. Scripture tells us when Joseph learned of Mary's pregnancy he was prepared to divorce her quietly and move on with his life. But the angel of the Lord came to Joseph and in essence said "trust." Trust in God. Despite everything in your life and your learning and your understanding that screams otherwise you must trust in God. Trust that God will not lead you astray. Trust in the promises God makes to you.

There are rewards for those that trust. Salvation has been promised to us all if we trust. As people of God we must follow the examples of Mary and Joseph as models of trust and carry that spirit of trust throughout the world. Trust can be a burden. When someone places their trust in us it is an incredible responsibility, because we hold the essence of their vulnerability in our hands. We have to respect the trust that is placed in us, and be willing to share our trust with others. And most particularly, always trust in God as Mary and Joseph did and His promises for all of us.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Work of Human Hands

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about someone we both knew that had some kind of appointment scheduled for a Sunday. And my friend remarked that it seemed ‘weird’ because it just wasn’t the kind of thing you heard of being scheduled on a Sunday. Which was true. And I said it was because as a culture we had lost what it meant to observe Sundays as holy days of rest. Certainly, many of us retain that sense of Sunday being a day set aside for communing with God and taking a break. An opportunity, if you will to recharge our batteries for the week ahead. An opportunity to gather with family and friends to celebrate our bonds and our faith. An opportunity to do the things we love – whether it’s gardening, hiking, watching a football game, puttering around the house. An opportunity to tend to our soul rather than have our labor tend to the workings of the world. And I know often many of us have to work on Sundays. It can’t be avoided due to the nature of our careers. And many of us that do work on Sundays do the things that help others enjoy the sabbath. Whether it’s police officers or the newspaperman on the corner or television workers or store merchants all our lives are made simpler, safer, and more enjoyable by the work of others.

Because of our cultural shift away from the concept of a sabbath day of rest it may be difficult for many of us to grasp why Jesus incurred such wrath from the Pharisees when he healed the man with the withered hand. On the sabbath. In the synagogue, no less. In that culture in that time the sabbath was strictly observed in conformity with Mosaic law. As a faithful Jew you did nothing that could be construed as defiance – no matter how unintentional – of the law. And Jesus was a faithful Jew. And yet despite everything that said “no” Christ healed. It wasn’t reckless disregard and it wasn’t a way to thumb his nose at the Pharisees and embarrass them in their synagogue. Christ demonstrated that there is a moral imperative to do good that transcends law.

You may have seen stories in the news recently about St. Vincent de Paul parish in downtown Baltimore and their conflict with city officials because they were allowing homeless people to squat on their property. And I would guess that if the homeless people were hidden away there would have been little if any resistance. But these poor were living on a piece of property not only in full view but at an extremely busy city intersection. Not easily ignored. A place where many commuters and workers every day were confronted with the reality of homelessness in Baltimore. And it made people uncomfortable. It upset them. They began looking for ways to use the law against the pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church. And I know the pastor, Fr. Dick Lawrence. And I know for him this is a moral imperative. To be like Christ, serving the needs of the poor transcends the law. Serving the homeless – to heal – is more important than concern about whether or not a commuter feels compelled to look away from something they don’t want to see or acknowledge exists. A compromise was reached, which surprised me to some extent because Fr. Dick is not the type of person to compromise when it comes to serving the least among us. And the compromise? The homeless must vacate the property every day between the hours of 7am and 9am. Presumably so that the structures they use to protect themselves from the weather do not become permanent. Interestingly, between 7am and 9am – morning commuter rush hour – when the greatest number of people would be reminded and confronted with our moral obligation to serve the needy.

Christ’s action in the synagogue is not about justifying work on the sabbath. And while it can be assumed that it was part of the plan that set in motion events that led to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, I don’t believe that is the lesson we should come away with. The lesson of the healing of the man with the withered hand is that the moral imperative to do good and serve the needs of the least among us transcends law. And I’m not advocating that we all go out and start breaking the laws of the land to do good. But there are laws, dictates, conventional wisdom that is unjust. This nation was founded by people seeking relief from unjust persecution of their faith. This is a nation of people that has risen and stood against injustice here and in our world. Whether it’s been on the beaches of Normandy or the jungles of Asia or the streets of Mississippi Americans have stood up against evils both great and veiled for justice in our world. In the late 19th century when the industrial revolution was in full swing the Catholic Church stood up for the rights of the working class. In his wonderful encyclical Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII laid the foundation for what has become more than a century of Catholic thought on social justice in our world. Social teachings most recently addressed by Pope Benedict just a couple months ago in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate or Charity in Truth. In that encyclical Pope Benedict reminds us "While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human."

We have a moral imperative to do as Jesus did. To listen, to serve, to heal. To reach out to those in need. To rise above our discomfort and stand against injustice in our world.