Thursday, June 19, 2014

Catholic Parishes in NYC: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Michael Voris sounds off in this video about bad parish closings in the Archdiocese of New York and the bad Cardinal Dolan who's supposedly favoring bad liberal parishes to be kept open over good "traditional" parishes to be closed.  Michael makes it sound like a pretty bad and ugly scene in NYC.  He covers one potential parish closing that's created a certain amount of buzz among some of us, Church of the Holy Innocents in mid-town Manhattan, West side.  Here is an accounting by one blogger and another here.

I made a point of attending Candlemass at Holy Innocents a couple years ago, partly to attend a Candlemass service, but also to take in the restored Brumidi mural.  The Mass was beautiful, reverent and packed, but the church itself, exterior and interior,apart from the Brumidi mural, emodies the gritty, busy, dirty neighborhood where it's located.  Never a neighborhood where I'd choose to linger, I felt the same about the church sanctuary.

One visit for Candlemass doesn't mean much of course,and the church may just be in need of some tender, loving care.  It is the case that Holy Innocents is now under the direction of the good Fr. Rutler and it does appear that he was rather unceremoniously decamped to St. Michael's all the way west from Church of Our Saviour where he left behind a renewed spiritual life, aesthetic revitalizations along with many saddened parishioners.  All this accurately noted by Voris.

One of the things Michael Voris isn't accurate about and never fully explains is the Archdiocese-wide, Making All Things New initiative. Voris only mentions a "ten-year gallop" of closing parishes, a "massive contraction" in the diocese with a "hit list" where the litmus test for survival is how traditional the parish is, and if it's traditional, it goes on the chopping block. On one side is the good Holy Innocents, good Our Saviour and good St. Michael's among Voris's "thriving community" parishes list as opposed to the bad St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street (gay-friendly) and the deplorable Church of St. Francis Xavier on 16th Street (gay-friendly).  Michael Voris's analysis spirals ever-downward with doom, gloom and dire warnings.  Michael, why so much nay-saying with most of it not fully explained?

There's no mystery about Making All Things New.  It was previewed for us back in 2010 by then-bishop Dolan and he made very clear what would be happening to some of the 400 parishes in the diocese. They would be merged with others creating clusters and some will be closed.  There's a wealth of information on the initiative on the archdiocese website and it's reported on frequently in parish bulletins and Catholic media. My local parish regularly informs of the meetings, reports and progress of the initiative and most everyone is quite aware of the new clusters being formed, including the saddened parishioners at Our Saviour who, yes, do feel deprived of their pastor and in some sense their church.

Closer to home, in my own neighborhood, St. Brigid's was scheduled for destruction back in 2001.   Its closure had nothing to do with being either Voris's good or bad, though maybe it was ugly in the sense that it was literally falling down.  Located all the way over on Avenue B, St. Brigid's is as close to being as far east as you can get without being in Brooklyn and it's demise would have held little interest for anyone except its faithful parishioners. As one of them commented:  “I kept thinking: If we lived on Park Avenue or Madison Avenue, they would not be treating us like this.”  I don't think Michael Voris would have cared much about St. Brigid's either.  There was no way to spice up a plain old parish closing due to a decaying physical plant with no money to restore it located in a neighborhood over-run with non-church going college students, youthful out-of-town transplants and curious tourists who probably don't even know the church exists.

However, St. Brigid's survives today (with the inclusion of St. Emeric's) and is now in my "cluster" for a rather simple reason--$20 million from an anonymous donor.

Maybe a like-minded guardian angel will emerge for the Church of the Holy Innocents. And while the guardian angel is at it, maybe he or she can save all the other parishes in financial difficulty in the diocese, not to mention tossing a billion or so to help out a decaying urban Northeast center, New York City itself.  It's the stuff of a good mystery story to believe, as Michael Voris suggests, that the diocese is cash-strapped because it colluded with the devil to create a diocese filled with gay parishes.  The Archdiocese of New York is closing schools and churches, dealing with homosexual parishes, fighting the liberal vs. traditional battle and generally having to "make all things new" in much the same way that many dioceses across the country are doing I would think.
Where is our guardian angel?  Sir or madam, please bring us several million dollars and several hundred thousand faithful Catholics who have lots of children, love traditional Catholicism and want to live in New York City and keep its parishes alive.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Millenials Are A Mess

I saw an article entitled Why The Millenials Are Doing So Poorly and figured I should find out just how badly my kids are doing.  The article features a photo of a kid in a dunce cap.

Just so we know who we're talking about, according to the Pew Research Center, Millenials are those born 1981 to the present.  The Baby Boomers are defined by the years 1946-1964 and the Gen X-ers  are those born between 1965 and 1980. (Millenials are sometimes split into Generation Y born between 1975 - 1992 and Generation Z born between 1993 and present.)  Finally, the Silent Generation is the 1928-1945 group.

The results of a Pew Research Center Study are at least part of the reason that Mark Bauerlein from Emory University, the author of the article, is in abject despair about this age group who he essentially trashes in this article.  I read the Pew Research article he refers to and I even took the Pew Research Quiz to find out how "millenial" I am and I couldn't agree less with Bauerlein.  He's writing on Minding The Campus, a website whose focus I share (or thought I did), but, frankly, an academic is an academic. Nobody is ever okay except them.

A quick Wikipedia check of Bauerlein reveals him to be a convert to Catholicism and a liberal or libertarian on social and political issues.  He wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation.  He sounds a lot like Michelle Obama on The Tonight Show talking about knuckleheads.

Bauerlein notes that Millenials tend to vote as Democrats, give Obama a fairly high approval rating, lean favorably toward activist government.  But on the "quickie"quiz, Millenials identify as politically conservative in roughly the same proportion as the other age groups.

Bauerlein writes that Millenials "judge politics by how it affects them, and we see that personal-only perspective in their social focus."  While it is the case that a high percentage of Millenials have some sort of "social networking profile," it is also the case that a lot of people must be on electronic devices a lot of the time;  I text as much as a Millenial, I play video games as much as  Millenial (oh dear), read a daily paper as much as a Millenial (rarely if ever) and watch TV as much as a Millenial (rarely if ever).

A defining characteristic of Millenials according to Pew Research studies is disaffiliation.  Millenials "are at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics."  I find that to be anecdotally true among the Millenials I know including my own kids.  I don't think that's necessarily a bad trait.  Yes, it could reflect apathy or malaise but it may also reflect a healthy skepticism of the lines that have been drawn in the sand for the Millenials by their predecessors.

Millenials didn't come from nowhere.  They're  inheritors of a popular culture and a set of values that they didn't create or even help to evolve as did many of us Boomers, whose children the Millenials are.    Heaping criticism and disdain on them as Bauerlein does is mis-placed, uncharitable. Low marriage rates among Millenials, low levels of social trust, skepticism that God exists, where did it all come from? We have the opportunity to influence, mentor and educate this group. And the responsibility.  Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory, must cross paths with hundreds of students a year.   As Catholics, if that applies, and it apparently does to Bauerlein, we're called to evangelize the culture.

Get out there and get to work, man, and stop crying in your beer with grumpy articles like this one.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Is Meriam Ibrahim A Modern-Day Perpetua or Felicity?

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is the Sudanese woman sentenced to death in her native country of Sudan for having married a Christian.  Though Meriam professes Christianity, the government claims that because her father was Muslim, Meriam is a Muslim and therefore she's violated the (Muslim) faith by marrying a Christian.   The account of her husband, Daniel Wani, is, meanwhile, a bit confusing.  Apparently a Sudanese, he's variously described as being a U.S. citizen, a lawyer, living in the United States and here it states he's in a wheelchair and dependent on Meriam for everything.

Viewed from a Western, 21st century perspective, the story is hard to believe, bordering on the unimaginable especially when one considers that Meriam was sent to prison for her so-called crime of apostasy while 8 months pregnant, is in prison with her 20-month old son, is to be given 100 lashes and put to death by hanging.  Is it the 21st century or the 11th, 2014 or 1014?  Or is it perhaps 203 A.D.

The Future Victims of the Colosseum
Henryk Siemiradzki
That's the year Roman Emperor Septimius Severus ordered a group of Christians fed to wild beasts if they would not denounce their Christian faith.  Among them was Vivia Perpetua, then 22 with an infant son (Meriam is 27 with a young son), along with a slave, Felicity, who was pregnant when imprisoned and gave birth to a daughter in prison (as did Meriam).  Perpetua and Felicity, both young mothers, steadfastly professed their faith though gored and bloody. That they endured this most horrific of deaths in a Carthaginian amphitheater is a painful reminder of their astonishing courage and faith. Such martyrdom may or may not be in store for Meriam and I don't know that she's a Catholic, but regardless hers is a modern-day tale suggesting that the Christian persecution and heroism of darker times cannot be relegated to the ash heap of history.

The story of Perpetua and Felicity is easily accessible, but I read a particularly thoughtful account in a little book called Married Saints by John Fink.  You may find more here and perhaps here where you might also take a look at the author's book.

Friday, June 6, 2014


This is President Reagan's 1984 speech in Normandy commemorating D-Day; in the audience, surviving Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs. (It's said that the Ranger motto can be traced to one General Cota on D-Day.)  Note the Stephen Spender poem referenced by Reagan which is quite beautiful.

The Truly Great

By Stephen Spender 1909–1995 Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.
Share this text ...?

In contrast, there's President' Obama's speech of today.  Obama has difficulty evoking  those "who in their lives fought for life, Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre."  Actually, by unfortunate and clumsy contrast, Obama's words make up "the traffic to smother With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit."  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peter Salins, You Forgot The Real Magic Bullet

An argument is made in this article for universal preK as a way to address the country's education deficits particularly in the lower socioeconomic classes.  The author, Peter Salins, starts off by acknowledging that most attempts at pre-K programs, such as Head Start, have been failures and he points out why, namely, they were little more than daycare programs.

Salins explains that if these programs were content-rich, taught by qualified professionals and, if they were more fully integrated into the nation's education system, they could successfully provide the "cultural literacy" that is necessary for getting kids started on the right educational footing.  In fact, Salins suggests that we "scale up" preschool through the public education system so that all children can take advantage of it. In order for the effects of the pre-school to be lasting "we must fully incorporate preschool within the regular district educational system [italics his]. Under this rubric, school districts would extend their educational ladder by two years below kindergarten, creating an integrated pre-K-to-grade-12 curricular program -- accessible, without extra charge, to all local schoolchildren."  This sounds logical enough until one realizes that Mr. Salins, who himself is smart enough to have written a book about being smart, Smart Society, has overlooked the real magic bullet, the family.

Throughout history, being poor or coming from a lower socioeconomic bracket has not generally been an impediment to being smart.  Some of us need only think of our depression-era parents, my own for starters. My father was one of five children born to Italian immigrants, both mother and father largely illiterate with no English spoken in the home.  My father's mother died when he was 12 and his father was a man of erratic behavior and work habits. The family was held together by an older sister who became mother and homemaker as best she could.  She encouraged my father, a feckless student until his high school years, to go to college. He went on to enjoy a very successful career as a civil engineer.  One sister was a nurse, another a secretary.  In Salins' quick-fix world, my father and his sisters would have been in universal pre-K under the tutelage of some highly trained professional (in a bilingual program no doubt).  But they did fine without someone feeding them their ABCs in a high-powered cultural literacy classroom.  In its place, they had the family. 

My father's sister, my aunt, kept the family together  not because she cared whether her siblings would be smart, but because she placed value on home and family life. She knew instinctively that keeping her siblings close at hand was the best way to ensure continuity and security in their lives, an environment that would in turn give them the foundation to function confidently outside the family. Besides, if she didn't care for her own, who would?  

Salins himself acknowledges that the family is where it all starts. Though his article makes only one reference to families and one to single mothers,  he says that disadvantaged children come from families "unable to provide the cognitive stimulation" necessary to launch them on a solid educational path.  Salins has identified the problem, broken and disabled families, but, somewhat perversely, he has come up with a remedy that treats another problem--fixing government pre-K programs.  In so doing he leads us into a fine Catch-22 of treating the symptoms while leaving the root cause untouched, thereby giving rise to the same symptoms all over again.  Instead of again putting band-aids on pre-K programs, why not work on building up the family since the success of the former admittedly depends on the health of the latter?

If it were possible to develop a productive, educated society by having every government-run school district pour knowledge into the heads of three year-olds, Salins' enthusiasm for universal pre K might make sense. But the toddlers he's talking about are human beings who in addition to some cognitive literacy need stable homes with mothers and fathers who are their first teachers, their first defenders and their champions. Before young children can sit in a classroom, they need to develop an awareness of who they are, where they fit in, they need to learn social skills and self-control.

Salins will never find enough teachers no matter how highly trained to do all this. It's not the job of a pre-K teacher or any classroom teacher to provide what only the family is uniquely created for. Families don't have to be perfect to be effective and parents don't need to be as rich as Rockefeller or as smart as Einstein to fulfill their role.  They don't even need to be the greatest parents.  They just need to know how important they are to the development of their children.  

How do we change the culture of family life in our soceity?  Consider the fact that the average six-year old can rattle off the earth's endangered species and deems it a crime to hurt the rain forest, that the average teenager knows not to smoke, drink or use drugs, but, yes, to use a condom, that the average citizen knows that smoking is evil and getting fat is worse. Suppose as a society we cared as much about our mothers and fathers and children as we do about which elephant is nearing extinction, or whether a 16 ounce drink is healthy.  Start educating teenagers about the advantages of being married before having children. Let teen age girls and young women know that one route to poverty can be through single motherhood, that if you want to avoid that pitfall, practice chastity and get a high school degree.  Educate young men about the importance of fatherhood, of being a man and the rewards that go with the role of provider and protector.  Instruct young people that marriage is among the best protections against poverty, that stable homes produce the highest index of wealth.  Support churches and civic groups that work to build up and counsel healthy marriages and healthy families.  Re-examine divorce laws and structure the tax code in such ways that reward stable marriages and intact families.

Our society's magic bullet is not government-run education, but our human treasure in the form of our children and their parents.  The family, reasonably healthy, reasonably intact, but fully supported and strengthened by the society as a whole will do the work that no policy expert or expert teacher can come close to doing.

Friday, March 7, 2014

First "Stupid" Then "A Knucklehead"

Several years back, when it came time to do the college search, our oldest son decided to apply to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  Living in Manhattan, coming from an international private school, and, for us, a family with no military background, it was an unusual path to take.

It generated not a few comments from those unflaggingly progressive New York City neighbors and friends of ours, most of whom had nothing particularly nice to say either to our son or to us as parents.  One especially angry neighbor stopped me on 14th Street just in front of the post office to ask what was going on and she (yes, it was a woman) finally could contain her distress no longer.  Her face red and her stance belligerent, she yelled after me that "only a 17-year old would be stupid enough to do something like that." Shortly thereafter, when our son was a first-semester plebe at West Point, then-Senator John Kerry delivered his own version of what most of my neighbors had been saying a few months earlier. Kerry told a college-age audience that they needed to be smart and get a good education lest they get "stuck" in the military.

Well, our son did do "something like that" and while he's not "stuck in Iraq" he is now a 25 year old soon-to-be captain in the U.S. Army.  He's been a platoon leader, planned missions and conducted training sessions. He handles and is responsible for equipment valued in the millions of dollars.  He lives in beautiful country, but he's 3,000 miles from the rest of his family.  He works long hours with modest pay.

And according to First Lady Michelle Obama he's a knucklehead. 

Oh, it's not just our son by any means, and she wasn't singling out knuckleheads in the military.  She was more sweeping in her characterization of young people as a group of knuckleheads.  I happen to have three in my family.  As Mrs. Obama puts it, my kids would be among those young people who are "cookin' for the first time and slice their finger open."  Presumably, according to the first lady, when my kids and their goofy lot aren't bungling something in the kitchen,  they're out "dancing on a bar stool," drunk enough to fall off and get a concussion I would imagine. And since they're all knuckleheads, they won't have insurance so they won't be able to get their finger stitched up, that is, if they're even smart enough to think to go to the doctor.

The First Lady's shallow humor was a push for her husband's Affordable Care Act, delivered at the expense of the young people who helped send Mrs. Obama and her husband to the White House.  Her hapless remark, like Kerry's "botched joke," has been covered by a variety of sources and there's not much more I can add except to shake my head in the disappointing knowledge that the first lady has a lot in common with my neighbors and friends of eight years ago.  They were merely speaking their minds when they let go with their opinions on young people joining the military just as Michelle Obama let us know who she thinks is stupid.  While I applaud them their honesty, I find it remarkable that these unflattering, critical labels roll so easily off the tongues of, well, liberals who pride themselves on being tolerant and well-educated and smart.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are you a homophobe?

You just might be called one if you have any doubts whatsoever that college football player Michael Sam who announced a while back that he's gay, is courageous or made history.  You just might be labeled a homophobe if you're not rushing to acclaim his action as "unprecedented" and "postmodern".  You certainly will be consigned to the ranks of what the enlightened elite calls homophobes if you aren't at least proud, respectful, and supportive of Michael Sam.  Watch out!   Being cast as a homophobe in today's politically correct culture puts you on the negative side of the balance sheet.

Sam's statement has created somewhat more hub-bub than NBA player Jason Collins's announcement of last year perhaps because, as eligible for the NFL draft, Sam could be the first openly homosexual NFL player. But back in April, even Collins's moment of truth elicited a response from Barack Obama who referred to Collins's announcement as an "extraordinary measure of progress."

There's something curious about the matter if you stop and think about it for a minute.  First,  I really don't know any homophobes.  I don't know anyone who has a fear of homosexuals, who is so afraid  that he won't speak to a homosexual or who is so terrorized by homosexuals that he would cross the street to avoid possibly grazing shoulders.  I know of no one who would first inquire as to a person's sexual preferences before patronizing their business, calling them a friend or helping them as a neighbor. A homophobe is a rare phenomenon.

Second, both Sam and Collins seem intent on emphasizing that their identity is not their sexuality but their profession. Sam himself testifies that he's a "football player", that's who he is, that his sexual preference shouldn't be a "big problem" that being gay is "nothing" compared to the hardships he's endured in his life.  Jason Collins has offered much the same.  He doesn't have time to think about making history.  He wants to focus on his job.  He says that this is about Sam "just being a football player and me just being a basketball player and trying to help our respective teams win."   Obama himself had this to say. "We judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, not on their sexuality. I'm very proud of him."  

So if we judge people on their character and not on their sexuality, why are we talking about their sexuality?

In the current public discussion of these sports figures, having a same-sex attraction, being 'gay,' is characterized for us as nothing special, just another choice, an alternative life style, not a big deal.  Anyone who doesn't buy into that characterization is a homophobe.  Period.  The label is tossed off freely, carelessly---and with not the kindest intentions.   

The powers that be, that nebulous "they" have dictated that there will no discussion, no dissent, no ifs, no whys or maybes. If you don't care to agree--for whatever reason--that homosexuality is no big deal, then you, my friend, are a narrow-minded, nasty, backwards fool.  You are a homophobe.  Is nobody allowed a little time for introspection,  questioning, wondering?  How did homosexuality all of a sudden become no big deal after millenia of being considered something different? When did homosexuality become the norm?  Or is it?  Sam and Collins are telling us it's nothing, they're just regular guys but they and the chorus behind them are also telling us that they're different and special and courageous. For being normal?  Which is it?