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Jesus commanded us to love one another, but do we really know how to do that? Fr. Matt Stewart, SJ, reflects on the love of God that we are meant to embrace and share. Based on the readings for Sunday, May 9, 2021.
I love my niece and nephews. I love buffalo wings. I love…lamp?
I’m Father Matt Stewart, and this is my One Minute Homily.
The word “love” gets used in so many ways that it can be hard to figure out what Jesus means when he commands us to love one another. He tells us if we want to know how to love one another, then look at how he loves us, and how the Father loves him.
The love that Jesus has for us leads him to wash our feet, to feed us with his body and blood, and to lay down his life for us. The love of the Father for Jesus unites them in the beautiful and intimate dance of generous self-gift we see in the prologue of John’s gospel.
So loving one another involves sacrifice, care, intimacy, and generosity.
Jesus reassures us that when we love each other in this way we will experience complete joy because we open the door to true friendship with Jesus and remain in God’s love.
“To be honest,” Yunji told me, “I hardly ever speak English. I don’t have to because at the restaurant all the workers are Korean and at home, I speak Korean with my family.”
This is how our Friday morning language exchanges began. Yunji is the aunt of the leader of the Korean American Young Adult Catholics of Chicago organization, which I’ve gotten to know. Unlike some of the younger Korean Americans who were born in the United States, Yunji spent most of her life in Korea. This is her story as much as it is mine, and I could not have told it without her.
We would meet on Zoom with our coffee in hand. I would correct her writing and look for the right preposition to make her sentences sound more natural. Then I would belt out long vowels, discerning the distinctions between deo, do, and dyo. Seriously, why does Korean have so many vowels? I got used to being called Susaniim, a title given to religious people; the equivalent to Brother. People in Korea use a lot of titles: teachers are called “Teacher,” directors are called “Mr. Director,” and even waiters are frequently called “Boss.” In the beginning of our sessions, we kept it pretty basic, partly because of my limited language. “What color do you like?” Yunji would ask. “I like red,” I would reply, “but I like green more.”
She would share details about her life. This included a trip to LA to visit friends and also do a clandestine job interview with a restaurant that would sponsor her green card. We talked about our favorite foods. I sent her pictures of our house’s celebration of the lunar new year, which is celebrated across many different Asian countries. We had delicious Indonesian curry, Vietnamese noodles, and Korean rice cakes. Yunji sent back a picture of a pizza. Her family had decided to get Chicago deep dish that night, which made us both laugh. Other times were challenging.
“Everything is hard,” she wrote down for one of our writing exercises, “I feel like I am always not understanding things.”
I thought back to my own experiences as an expat in Korea, and how I tended to stick to my own English-speaking communities, because it was easier. I prayed for her at mass that night. A verbal intention. Something audible. Something defined.
One evening, I got a message on my phone: “Susaniim, I know it’s late, but please pray for me.” She told me about her frustrations trying to get a state ID card, and the lines she had to wait in and the hours she had to spend. She confided in me about wanting to go back to Korea but also the worries about what awaited her there. I was surprised, but I was also consoled to be the person from whom she wanted prayers. Another time, she asked me: “Why do you want to be a Susaniim? Why did you want to become a Jesuit?” I struggled to find the words in a language that was not my own. “I … together … God … want. People … also … together … every day… with God … is….”
My grammar was lacking.
The Korean language also has levels of formality, a source of frustration for the causal learner. However, for me the levels of formality proved to be a source of consolation. In one session, Yunji said to me: “You don’t have to speak to me with formal language. We are kind of like friends, so you can use informal language, susaniim.” Had I gotten to know this stranger so well in just a few months? It was one of those moments that made me appreciate the kind of experience these Friday morning sessions allowed me to have.
After the March shooting in Atlanta where eight people including six women of Asian descent were killed, we didn’t talk about it. I did not know if Yunji wanted to talk about it. I didn’t know if it was on her mind as much as the news suggested. It seemed to be a watershed, throwing light on years of anti-Asian discrimination and violence. It is a violence that is ongoing, as we learned last month when Yao Pan Ma, a 61-year-old Asian immigrant living in New York was assaulted and left on a ventilator and in a coma.
For my part, the March shooting and ongoing violence was not surprising. As I traveled from New York City to rural Pennsylvania last summer, I heard conservative attack ads on the TV and radio making disparaging and racist remarks towards Asians. And I felt paralyzed. I did not know what to do. I didn’t even know if it was my place to do something. “Just stand by our side,” was what one Vietnamese American Jesuit brother told me, that way we can feel supported. And that got me thinking that while I may not know what Asian Americans are going through. I can still be an advocate. I can still work towards making their voices heard.
“I want to write a blog post about you. About our exchange,” I said to Yunji during one of our Friday sessions, “if it’s okay.”
“It’s okay,” she said.
And we talked. We talked about her favorite aspects of American culture. No one asks you about your age. We talked about what scared her. People can buy guns so easily. We talked about her favorite ice cream flavor. Chocolate, but really, I like them all. I asked Yunji what she thought about all the incidents of anti-Asian violence. First, I was so scared and sad, but then I got angry. Honestly, I think those people who attack are just ignorant of Asian history. I asked her about living in Chicago. As you know, Chicago has a high rate of gun related crimes. So, I feel a little bit of danger. However, the racism in the United States is quite similar to the racism in Korea. Korea can also be racist against other Asians and Black people. I asked her how she felt as a woman, and she said she never thought of that before. I messaged her what she would change about the world if she could and what her hopes were for the future. I would like to change the Amazon rainforest back to how it was 100 years ago. And as far as the future, I really just want to find my way. Susaniim, please pray for me.
I did pray for her, that she would find her way some day. What I learned from my language exchange has been more than words and sentences. It has been more than grammar and pronunciation. I have learned how to talk to someone, someone with different life experiences. It’s something I continue to learn, how to speak and how to listen. Prayer is also like this. We learn to speak to God, and we learn to listen to God. However, we cannot go into the dialogue with our preconceived notions, with our own scripts. We cannot dictate how the conversation will go. Sometimes God just may surprise you, just like Yunji did when she asked me to pray for her and invited me into this friendship that transcends language and cultural divides.
Before St. Paul became a great preacher and apostle, he was known for persecuting Christians. Christopher Alt, SJ, reflects on second chances and the need to give people the freedom to change. Based on the readings for Sunday, May 2, 2021.
Change – even good change – is often difficult and unsettling.
Hi, I’m Christopher Alt and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
In today’s first reading, Saul tries to join the disciples. And out of fear, they say “NO WAY! Saul, we know exactly who you are and what you’ve done!”
But the disciples eventually do lean in. They listen to Saul’s story. They try trust; they risk relationship. Thank God they did. Otherwise, Saul may never have become Paul and the Christian community would have lost a great apostle.
Today, we can ask: What good is it to stereotype and typecast and hold people’s past against them? Why do we fall into familiar patterns and force each other and ourselves into rigid roles, even when we know they’re dysfunctional, and divisive, and will leave us feeling stuck?
Today, God is still building up the community. Becoming something new is a part of God’s plan. The question is: Can we allow others the freedom to change? And will we extend that same grace to ourselves?
“Unions used to be important, but they’re not necessary anymore.” It’s a line many of us have heard. We often associate unions with particular images of the past—steelworkers, auto manufacturing, coal miners, and railroad workers facing brutal conditions and low wages. These workers literally battled for protections and pay. With the decline of these types of jobs, many have a feeling that unions aren’t really necessary for protection. Yet, a dramatically increasing number of non-union workers have stated that they would join a union if they could.
So why don’t they?
The United States has not seriously updated its labor law in decades. Companies have the upperhand in almost every way to prevent unionization. Workplace protections receive little funding or enforcement. Frankly, workers don’t join unions because our system has made it as difficult as possible to do so. We need to change that. Let’s look at the current state of labor, the challenges faced, and how to address them headon.
The industries in which Americans work has changed drastically over the last 100 years, and even in the last several decades. In 1900, over 40% of Americans worked in agriculture. Today, that number is down to 1.4%. From 1900 to 1960, building trades and manufacturing made up 25-30% of jobs; today it is about 13%. By contrast, the service industry has grown to over 80% of the workforce. If one strictly associates unions with steel, then it is no surprise we may see their role as diminished.
Unions, however, have never been merely about safety harnesses and hardhats. They are primarily about justice.
One of the biggest challenges workers face today is job insecurity. COVID has thrown this insecurity into sharp relief. Workers increasingly rely on multiple jobs, especially gig jobs like driving for ride shares or delivering food. Under current federal law, workers who drive for these sorts of companies can be labeled “independent contractors” so that the company avoids paying all of the associated benefits and taxes. We might laud these tech companies as innovative, but really they’re simply following the worker-abuse playbook of generations past.
When workers do try to organize, companies have a clear advantage in breaking unionization efforts. For example, companies often mandate that workers attend meetings in which they are bombarded with anti-union propaganda. During their recent campaign for a union, Amazon workers were harassed with meetings, texts, and fliers in bathrooms with anti-union messages. Amazon actually hired more seasonal workers to throw off the votes. One might say, “But Amazon pays $15 and hour, so why a union?” Amazon workers face a myriad of injustices: urinating in water bottles because they aren’t allowed breaks; a lack of protections from the pandemic; and unbearable warehouse conditions.
Workers have only minuscule recourse for these challenges. Workplace protection agencies are often understaffed; corporations bust unions with impunity; workplaces fire workers who stand up for dignity and justice; and even when workers successfully unionize, the company often stalls bargaining in an attempt to break the unionizers’ will.
Amidst all of these challenges, economic inequality and injustice have spiraled out of control. From March to November last year, 647 billionaires got $960 billion richer. That’s a hard number to fathom, so put another way: they received $40,591 every second. Put another away again, the ultrarich got a welder’s annual salary richer every second.
In the last week, 18 million adults reported not having enough food in their household. Billionaires could give each of them $53,000 and have the same amount of money they had before the pandemic. That is not only unjust, it is vile.
Unions have historically been some of the most important institutions for leveling the playing field. They raise real wages, invest in communities, and ensure not only worker justice, but justice for the whole community. That’s because unions are workers, not some far off distant entity. They are the true and honest workers we encounter every day.
So how do we make them stronger?
One of the best ways to strengthen labor unions is updated labor legislation, specifically by passing the PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act. The act addresses numerous loopholes in outdated and outmoded labor law. For example, under current law, the IRS uses a series of twenty questions to determine whether someone is an employee or independent contractor. The PRO Act simplifies this into faster, more straightforward, more just ABC test. Doing so prevents rideshare companies, fast food franchises, and even universities from purposefully misclassifying workers.
The act additionally prohibits many of the union busting practices seen at Amazon. It specifically outlaws captive audience anti-union meetings, eases access to collective bargaining, and overturns “right-to-work” laws. Once workers do form a union, the law further prevents businesses from intentionally stalling bargaining. As a whole, the PRO Act is one of the most important pieces of pro-worker legislation currently in play.
While this legislation is important, it is not the sole fix for workers or inequality. A colleague recently pointed out to me that workers don’t just join unions, they form unions. Unions are a bond of solidarity between workers and their communities. If we really want worker and economic justice, we have to get involved.
Many unions participate in what’s known as common good or social justice unionism. This unionism ties together worker justice, community well-being, racial justice, and student groups into an effort to strengthen the community as a whole. It recognizes that worker justice is by definition tied to healthcare, housing, education, and more because workers are fundamentally community members. In Chicago, for example, teachers won and continue to fight for students of immigrant families, combat structural racism, and create healthier school buildings.
This kind of unionism demands something of you though. It means we recognize that workers are more than just someone who provides us with a good or service. They are our neighbors, and we work alongside each other for the good of our communities.
Pope Benedict XVI sums it all up in Caritas in Veritate:
What is meant by the word “decent” in regard to work? It means work that expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labour; work that permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one’s roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.
Some stories have so entered the public consciousness that we feel as if we know them even if we have never actually read them. Such is the case with Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The main twist- that the seemingly respectable Dr. Henry Jekyll and the criminal Mr. Edward Hyde are, in fact, the same person – is widely known. We even use the term “Jekyll-and-Hyde” to describe someone who has a darker side that is usually hidden from others.
If the ending, the point, of a story is known, why read it?
The answer, of course, is that the point is not really known at all. A story (a good one, anyway) is not contained in the ending. There is not “one point” which can be taken away as a piece of knowledge to be filed until needed. Each story worth reading contains a world, and just like the one that we all live in, that world is filled with meanings and mysteries.
When we do discover something so important as to be called “the point,” in stories as in life, it is not something that we know as complete and done. The most important things demand attention and repetition and contemplation. If we neglect to offer our time and our hearts to those points we find important…well, we miss the point.
With this in mind, I return again and again to The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (it is, after all, a short read). Each time I do, I find something else, another nuance, a slightly larger gap in the curtain. Here are some of the ways Stevenson’s great mystery has kept me exploring both the story and my faith.
Others Care For Us, Even When We Do Not See It.
The story opens with a man named Utterson taking a walk with his cousin, Enfield. Enfield shares about a chance encounter he had with an odious man named Mr. Hyde, who had entered one of the doors he and Utterson had just passed on their walk. Utterson is somewhat unsettled by this story, as he recognizes the door as being the back entrance to the house of his friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll.
Much of the action which follows is driven by Utterson as he reaches out to Jekyll in an attempt to help him. In the process, he connects with Dr. Lanyon, a mutual friend of his and Jekyll’s, who has had a falling out with the secretive doctor. Utterson works to bring the increasingly reclusive Jekyll back into contact with Lanyon and their group of friends, and is ultimately the one trusted by Jekyll’s butler to help when the situation grows more dire.
As Utterson criss-crosses London attempting to unravel the mystery and help his friend, I am struck by how Jekyll has no way of knowing the extent of Utterson’s efforts. Even if he could have some idea of how much work his friend puts in to helping him, Jekyll is consumed with self-interest and (except, perhaps, in the end) incapable of recognizing it.
Do I take the time to be grateful for what others do for me? For the efforts taken in order to help me, even when I do not see them, or falsely think I do not need them?
When It Comes To Good Works, What We Do Matters Far More Than What Others Do.
The most popular image of transformation in the story is of Jekyll mixing up a potion and drinking it down in order to take on the body of Hyde. As the story progresses, however, Jekyll finds that he does not have control over the transformations – sometimes the potion works, sometimes not. Hyde’s crimes grow increasingly violent and, realizing he cannot trust himself to remain in control the more he relies on the potion, Jekyll resolves to stop his experiment all together and live only as himself.
Jekyll feels remorse for the crimes of Hyde, and he seeks to make amends by supporting local charities around London. After several months of this, however, he begins to think back to his times as Hyde, enjoying the memories of his past crimes. When he begins to feel guilty about enjoying these memories, he comforts himself by thinking that he is so much better than other people because of how much money he has donated. As soon as this prideful thought enters his mind, however, he immediately turns into Hyde – no potion needed.
It is not a question of the facts: it is certainly believable that Jekyll, being quite wealthy, did indeed financially support more good works than the majority of other people. But, again, Jekyll’s own selfishness acts against him. He gives out of guilt, not concern, and thinks himself righteous for doing so.
Am I more concerned with the question of how much others are doing, than how much I am? Am I more ready to excuse myself than to excuse others?
It Is Not That One Man Is Two, But That What Seems To Be Two Men Is One.
It is Jekyll’s view that each human being is really a combination of two (or more) different personalities which leads him to create his potion. This view is a desperate one for him because he is tormented with conflicting desires: he wishes to do whatever he wants, without concern for others, yet he wants others to think well of him.
As the story’s mystery is revealed, however, it becomes clear that Jekyll’s hypothesis is not correct. The body may change, but Jekyll and Hyde are in reality the same man. The clash of desires within him is not resolved by the creation of Hyde. The same conflicted Jekyll who first concocted the potion is present after Hyde has committed his acts. Giving in to temptation does not make it go away.
Jekyll is not alone in wishing to push all of his undesirable traits and desires onto a different personality. It is a tempting thought, to consider that the only parts of me which exist are the positive ones and that the negative belong to “somebody else.”
But this is not the reality – and good thing too! After all, when we consider ourselves in relation to God (something which, for all his trials, Jekyll never did) we may recall the really important point: God loves us, not some person we think we ought to be. Once we recognize this, we can begin to work with Him to grow into being truly and wholly ourselves.
When I was in grade school, I used to love that day at the start of a quarter when my teachers would give us a new seating chart (I didn’t know then that my teachers were actually strategizing the best arrangement for their sanity).
There were so many possibilities – would I be seated close to my friends or not? Would I be relegated to the front row, stuck in the middle of the action, or find new ways not to pay attention from the back? Was I close to the pencil sharpener or bubbler? Was I near the map on the wall, such that I could stare at brightly colored states or countries all day, and not the chalkboard?
We would gather at the front of the classroom, anxious and buzzing in our baby blue polos, and my teachers would walk the rows, pointing at each desk and calling out a student’s name. Slowly, our new arrangement took shape, and we’d be that way for the next few months.
What always struck me most about this process was that when I finally took my new seat, the whole world of that classroom looked different. Sitting in one place for months on end puts a sort of glaze over the eyes. It’s like when I lived on the shore of Lake Michigan for three years – at some point, I almost forgot the lake was there. But with a new seat? Everything was new, hopeful. My mind was charged. My focus returned. I was ready to learn.
The gift of new perspective still invigorates me. In fact, I rearranged my bedroom just the other day. The two most used objects – the desk and the bed – switched places. Other objects – bookshelf, chair, dresser – stayed relatively put. A few things – lamp, laundry basket, small table – still search for a new spot. Whereas before, a window was behind me at my desk, now there’s a built-in bookshelf filled with photos and a smattering of sacred chotchkies – a drawing of young Frieda Kahlo riding a bike and a glass globe paperweight among them. When I’m on Zoom for class or meetings, people ask where I am. Everything looks different. As I type, I feel somewhere between the delight of getting the feel of a new car and the dread of unpacking a box of recently moved kitchen knick-knacks. Everything is saturated with a familiar unknown, and nothing has its place just yet. I need to be alert, to note how this newness feels, to take advantage of the ensuing energy.
I am a creature. I have habits. I like certain things to be predictable. But sometimes, seeing the world in a new way is just what I need, and just what is necessary.
We’re in the midst of newness. After over a year of necessary pandemic caution, a friend of mine went to the movies the other day. Inside a theatre! Another stopped on the way home and had a beer. Inside the bar! More and more vaccines go out each and every day.
We’ve got a new president who is coming to 100 days in office with decent approval ratings, and we’ve got an old president I don’t think about everyday anymore.
We’ve gotten verdicts in Derek Chauvin’s trial, the latest in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd and months of demonstrations that followed.
When I chat with most people about this summer, the language often used is that we’re getting back to normal. But I don’t think getting back to normal is the right way to consider what we’re headed for. Back to normal suggests we’re going back to things as they once were – to the old seating arrangement or bed location. Back to normal suggests we forget that people have died by the hundreds of thousands. Back to normal suggests that we’ll let our political leaders waste time and money on grandstanding that helps very few people. Back to normal suggests that we’ll go right back to old structures of injustice and white supremacy. That’s not the normal that I want.
I’m remembering the feeling of that new seating chart and I’m relishing in a new room. In theory, things could go back to normal – to the way they were – but they never did in school, and I’m sure not going to drag my desk across the floor again.
Things will never be the same after what we’ve seen and experienced. We cannot forget numbers of cases climbing, small red circles on tracking maps swelling, photos of hospitals overflowing, a man on his stomach dying as his neck is bent by the knee of a man on top of him, thousands gathered signs proclaiming that Black Lives Matter, election debates and results. We can’t forget these images. We can’t go back to normal, because for too long, the norm hurt people.
Everything must look different. My laundry basket can’t sit in the middle of my room forever, and people are still dying at the hands of disease, guns, poverty, and brutality. But, in this new arrangement, perhaps the energy and curiosity that accompany new perspectives may sustain us and generate change. Perhaps we will usher in something new entirely. I can only hope and do my part.
Growing up on India’s west coast, family trips to the beach were a highlight of my summer vacations. After a day of playing in the surf, we would sit on the beach, eating ice cream and watching fishing boats bob on the horizon against the backdrop of a crimson sunset. Occasionally, a boat would come ashore with nets filled with all kinds of fish. The fishermen would quickly sort the agitated dying fish into various bins and send them off to the market.
I was nine or ten when I first connected the agonizing tossing and turning of the netted fish to the delicious fish curry my mom frequently cooked for us. Previously, I had imagined that fish came from the market, already lifeless and unmoving. I remember feeling a pang of pain as I watched life slowly drain from the fish in a crowded net on the shore.
I also remember my mom looking sadly at the measly catch and reminiscing how the fish catch had declined significantly over the past few decades, how boats had to go further away from the shore to make a catch sufficient for a living.
Recently, I came back to these memories as my Jesuit brothers were discussing Fish Fries in various Catholic parishes in Saint Louis. As my brothers discussed the merits of tilapia over catfish and fried fish over grilled fish, I remembered the dying fish in the nets and pondered on our moral obligation to the creatures of the sea.
“What about fish?” is a common response to my stance against participating in animal cruelty by consuming factory-farmed animal products. Fish is often considered an acceptable option by those who avoid meat out of concern for the environment and animal welfare. Pescatarians believe that, in such situations, fish is a cleaner alternative to meat. However, the same issues of environmental degradation and animal suffering crop up with the fish industry.
We eat fish for pleasure or cultural reasons. We do not need to eat fish or any animal product for our survival and flourishing. We can get all the necessary nutrients from plant food.
It is true that Jesus ate fish. It is also true that for some indigenous cultures, fish is an essential part of their diets. In both of these cases, however, I agree with Christian ethicist Charles Camosy’s view that consuming fish is acceptable when alternative protein sources are either non-existent or in short supply. Indigenous populations tend to live in areas where the land is insufficiently fertile for large scale plant based agriculture.
However, the vast majority of fish consumption is based not in necessity, but preference. It would be a mistake to believe that our place in God’s creation means that our preferences have priority over the lives of other creatures. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2418) says, “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”
In the words of the documentary A Prayer for Compassion, “For a few moments, in which we are enjoying what is just a palette preference, we are taking what is most essential to animals, their very lives.” Eating fish in 21st century America is a palette preference, and nothing more. Killing fish through suffocation cannot be justified simply because we like the taste of their flesh.
Additionally, both our sources of fish, wild and farmed, have serious environmental issues. A recent New York Times article suggested that bottom trawling, besides damaging reefs, may release as much carbon as the aviation industry.
Furthermore, wild fish stocks have declined significantly due to overfishing in recent decades. My mom was right when she claimed that there used to be a lot more fish. The collapse of fish populations is not just a tragedy in its own right—it often means the poor go hungry first.
Indigenous and traditional fishermen are left high and dry because they do not have the means to fish in deeper waters, and they do not have alternative sources of food or income. Finally, catching wild fish is wasteful because many undesirable species of fish are also caught alongside the prized fish species. This bycatch is usually just tossed away, perpetuating our throwaway culture.
Aquaculture, while abating the problem of overfishing and wasteful bycatches, has its drawbacks. For example, on a weight basis, farmed shrimp meat is even more polluting than beef. In addition, these fish farms can cause tremendous water pollution due to the discharge of untreated waste.
The New Yorker recently carried a story of how a Chinese fish meal factory in Gambia had destroyed the coastline and local fish stocks to manufacture feed for fish farms in China and Norway. According to the author, “Gambia exports much of its fish meal to China and Norway, where it fuels an abundant and inexpensive supply of farmed salmon for European and American consumption. Meanwhile, the fish that Gambians themselves rely on are rapidly disappearing.” Unfortunately, farmed fish is no silver bullet to the environmental degradation associated with harvesting fish for our consumption.
Our ancestors ate fish and the Catholic Church has celebrated Fish Fridays for centuries. However, reexamining this practice because of the development of a fish industry that has devastating effects on our common home would be prudent. The oceans are not limitless as once imagined. Furthermore, today we have access to a plethora of plant protein meal options that generations before us did not have. These range from meals based in lentils, beans, and nuts, to fake meats and non dairy milks.
Jesus exhorts us to compassion and kindness towards our neighbor. Can I imagine compassion to include compassion for indigenous people whose livelihoods are challenged by overfishing? Can my kindness include kindness towards non-human animals, who are voiceless and powerless in the face of insatiable human desires for pleasure?
In the book of Genesis, God invites us to establish dominion over all creatures (Genesis 1:26). Can our dominion over non-human animals resemble God’s dominion over humans, a dominion built on love, care, and mercy?
I pray that our Catholic faith will open our hearts and widen our horizons to include all of God’s creatures in our web of neighborly love. Let us tread lightly on the earth and float gently on the ocean as we make our way to spending eternity with God.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep. Josef Rodriguez, SJ, reflects on the love of our shepherd and the love that we must show others. Based on the readings for Sunday, April 25, 2021.
I’m Josef Rodriguez, and this is my one-minute reflection.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus call himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. Any first century–or even current–bystander who heard that would stare at the speaker cross-eyed. “This guy would DIE for a SHEEP? Crazy!” But that is precisely the crazy amount of love that Jesus has for YOU!
Many of us know too well that there are those we follow or look up to that have disappointed us, hurt us, or abandoned us. But Jesus is the Shepherd, the Teacher, the Master who would never do that to us. We rarely hear about some social icon or political leader dying for their followers. But Jesus never withheld the cost of his life because he found each of us to be INVALUABLE. Now, if I’m surrounded by other persons whom Jesus sees in this way, shouldn’t I treat them with that same dignity?
These days, when opening the morning paper, it sometimes seems that movie news belongs in the Obituary section.
Like last week, when we learned the Arclight chain of theaters, including the Los Angeles location with its iconic Cinerama Dome, shuttered even as the city was reporting record low numbers from the pandemic. In the very first line of his article, Los Angeles Times staff writer Ryan Faughnder reporter decried that the closure “sent local moviegoers and filmmakers into mourning.”
If the Arclight’s closure feels like a certain kind of death for movie theaters, it’s certainly not unexpected. Movies have been sick for some time. And the pandemic is more late-stage symptom than root cause.
And yet here we are, only two days from the Oscars. The prototype of all award shows, the Oscars has given us everything from joyful acceptances:
To overcoming the one-inch barrier of subtitles to make history:
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) February 10, 2020
To what-the-heck-is-happening right now?!?!?
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) February 27, 2017
Still, we may wonder: with moviegoing in rapid decline, do the Oscars even matter any more? In a nod to nominee Aaron’s Sorkin predilection for a good courtroom drama, let’s consider the evidence:
The Case for the Prosecution: Why the Oscars Don’t Matter
Movies are a thing of the past. Think back to the last time you were in a movie theater- if you can even remember back that far! And before you get too nostalgic about the smell of movie popcorn, think about how much more comfortable you would have been watching from your big screen at home. No sticky floors. No need for your knees to be jammed up against the chair in front of you. Need to take a bathroom break? Just hit pause. And for goodness sakes, take your time. You’re not going to miss anything.
If we’re going to have an award show, it should be relevant to our culture. According to Conviva’s 2020 State of Streaming report, worldwide streaming rose 44% in the last three months of 2020. The average consumer now pays for five streaming subscriptions. And 86% percent of us report we intend to maintain or increase our subscriptions into the new year.
And what is a movie anymore, anyway? Maybe we should ask Steve McQueen- the director, that is.
Happy Birthday to the BAFTA-winning director, Steve McQueen! pic.twitter.com/mPKICBOehB
— BAFTA (@BAFTA) October 9, 2014
Not this one
McQueen won the prize for Best Picture in 2014 for his film 12 Years a Slave. But that was back when movies still mattered. This year, he did something arguably more impressive with Small Axe (available to Amazon Prime members for free), a five-part anthology series telling the stories of West Indian immigrants in London from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The first installment, Mangrove, is an immersive experience into London’s Notting Hill neighborhood told through the eyes of a Jamaican restaurateur. It is basically a much better made, far fresher version of Trial of the Chicago Seven, one of this year’s Best Picture nominees. The second, Lovers Rock, is a thrilling fusion of music and dance and storytelling. The Rotten Tomatoes synopsis says it all: “A singular viewing experience that perfectly captures a moment in time, Lovers Rock is a lovingly-crafted ode to Black joy.”
Watch any of these five pieces and they may well be the best thing you see all year. And here’s the kicker: they’re considered to be TV, and therefore not even eligible for an Oscar!
Speaking of eligibility, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, who votes for the films, hardly represents filmgoers at large. For all the talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion in Hollywood, the Academy is 84% white. 68% male, and a majority of its members are over 50.
Small wonder that the Academy hasn’t rewarded the stuff most people actually are watching. With the exception of Black Panther, the Marvel universe hasn’t been recognized by the Academy, nor has Star Wars or Harry Potter or the Fast and the Furious.
You want us to tune in for 3+ hours on a Sunday night to watch people handing out awards for movies most of us haven’t even seen? By a voting body we don’t even know, and who doesn’t represent most of us? Hard pass.
The Case for the Defendant: Why the Oscars Do Matter
We get it- moviegoing isn’t as popular as it used to be. But that doesn’t mean that movies themselves are. 17% of Americans watched a movie every day in 2020 and another 29% watched several per week. What matters is the art form itself, not the manner it’s being delivered. Capturing an entire story in the span of 90-150 minutes takes precision, craftsmanship, and creativity.
The Oscars is all about recognizing excellence in the craft. Even earning an nomination can have huge implications for filmmakers and get people to experience art they would otherwise never watch. The “Oscars bump” is real: nominations for Netflix titles Crip Camp (466%), Mank (702%), and a Love Song for Latasha (1802%!!) increased traffic significantly.
Just think about how many more people will check out Best Picture favorite Nomadland if it takes home the big prize on Sunday. That many more people will have an opportunity to engage feelings of grief, loss, and hope at a time when those are so pervasive in our lives. If Chloe Zhao wins Best Director, maybe folks will learn about her usage of real people as actors, and be blown away by her film The Rider.
Relevance is not the same thing as value. Just because the days of the summer blockbuster are a thing of the past does not mean that movies themselves don’t matter. Streaming has allowed the opportunity for more diverse voices to be heard and their art to be seen by more people. That’s a good thing. And while it’s true that the Oscars have been painfully slow to celebrate the films of women and people of color, that is finally starting to change.
It’s almost a guarantee that this year’s Oscars are going to have the lowest ratings ever. Heck, they’ve been sliced in half over the last decade. But maybe that’s just what the Oscars needs to innovate and improve the production. They hired Steven Soderbergh (the guy who made Ocean’s 11!) as producer, and he’s promised to shake things up.
“The most exciting thing about this show is that it is going to feel like a film,” Soderbergh told Vanity Fair. “Every nominee, every person that gives an award, will feel like characters in a film. What we want to do is have this three-hour movie in which some awards are given out. And part of that, I think, is for all of us to remember how much we love movies.”
Sign me up.
There’s no question that the Oscars don’t capture the zeitgeist of our time the way they once did. Movies aren’t at the center of popular culture any more, and the trends clearly show that they don’t project to be. The Oscars, in particular, clearly do not grip our collective imaginations the way it used to. Prepare yourself for the Monday headline decrying the lowest television ratings in Oscars history.
But that doesn’t mean the Oscars don’t matter. Films will be recognized and elevated to prime positions on our favorite streaming services. We’ll have our attention drawn to some great pieces of art, and have the opportunity to watch from the comfort of our homes and share our experiences with friends and family.
And the television production itself promises to be the most interesting in recent memory. Soderbergh has promised there will be no Zoom involved, and nominees will gather safely in person in Los Angeles’ Union Station and in a couple international locations.
So if you’ve got some time Sunday evening, tune in, to see what these folks come up with. If nothing else, given how much stress we’ve all been under in the past year, it’s worth celebrating for a moment how much we love movies.
Warning: mild spoilers below
Do you remember what travel is like? I think I’ve forgotten after more than a year of pandemic living. Although the dream of going to see other people and places might be slowly reappearing, it is still not a reality for most. It was in this spirit of missing traveling and seeing people that I watched Nomadland.
The film, based on a novel by Jessica Bruder, portrays modern-day day American nomads who travel the country, living out of vans, and working odd jobs to make ends meet. The film follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a widow from Empire, Nevada. She set out on the road after the plant where she and her husband had worked closed. But, Nomadland is about so much more than just an itinerant lifestyle. Fern’s story is one of loss, and we follow her as she continues to cope after the passing of her husband, the loss of her job, and the shuttering of the whole town in which she had lived.
Grief and loss are certainly significant elements running throughout the film. As we slowly discover, Fern and many of the other nomads, although traveling light in their vans, carry heavy emotional and psychological weight with them in the form of trauma, hardship, and grief. Many of them find themselves marginalized because of age, health, or poverty. But, in their journeys and relationships with their fellow nomads, they are able to find a new approach to life. They find support in one another in the midst of grief and loss. We see this especially in the community Fern joins called the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, a gathering for vandwellers established in Arizona by real-life nomad Bob Wells, who plays himself in the film.
Although she is initially reluctant to join, Fern eventually does for a time and seems pleasantly surprised to be among people with a similar approach to life. In one powerful scene, a group of nomads gathered around a campfire share the grief and loss that led them to choose van dwelling. One man is a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD; he feels like being out and away from city life helps him to be at peace. One woman has been van dwelling for the past two and a half years after the death of her father and grandfather. Another woman recounts how a friend and co-worker died just days before retiring, leaving behind an unused sailboat in his driveway. He is the one who encouraged her to not waste any time– not to leave her metaphorical sailboat in the driveway. In the wake of loss, either of loved ones or a way of life, these people chose to step away and find a new way of living, a more meaningful way of spending their time.
When I began Nomadland, I was struck by its bleakness. The scenery is stark, and the stories and struggles of Fern and the other nomads are the same. Many of these people have been pushed to the margins by a variety of factors, many of which are only multiplied in this time of pandemic. Yet, within that bleakness, there is a real beauty. And that beauty is embodied in the film’s wisdom figure, Bob Wells. Like the nomads around the campfire, they share with one another the struggles and losses that have led them to choose this different way of life. Fern shares the grief of losing her husband, her job, her home, her way of life. She has been trying to live in a way that keeps Bo’s memory alive.
Bob shares his own traumatic loss, of a son who died by suicide a few years prior. He recalls how he struggled to understand how to make sense of living on without him. In that struggle, he realized that he can honor his son by helping and serving people, especially this van dwelling population. It is this service, and these relationships, which return purpose to his life. He recognizes that so many of the vandwellers, especially since they are older, have experienced grief and loss. Bob takes comfort in that fact that in the van dwelling life there is no final goodbye. Instead, the farewell they always give is: “See you down the road.” Bob extends this even to the dead. He is certain he’ll see his son down the road and that Fern will see her husband.
So, despite the bleakness of these stories, I see Nomadland as an Easter movie. Our experience as Christians of moving through Lent and Holy Week and into Easter is one of confronting the tragedies of life with Christian hope. In that hope, we believe that tragedy and grief aren’t the end of the story.
Grief and loss are central themes in Nomadland. These, however, are not unique to the van dwelling population. They’re a part of the human experience. Grief is a particularly familiar reality in our lives at the moment. We have lost so many to COVID, and it is rare to find someone who has not mourned a friend or loved one in the past year. I know that I mourn not only the passing of some loved ones, including fellow Jesuits, but also the many changes we’ve experienced in our lives during the pandemic. We have spent so much time apart in the past year, whether that be loved ones we just haven’t seen in a while, or those who have passed away in the midst of this crisis. With its compelling characters and powerful words on grief, it’s easy for me to understand why Nomadland has been nominated for six Academy Awards. It speaks so powerfully to the experiences of tragedy that have been present to so many of us in this past year. Too, the wisdom of our Christian tradition harmonizes well with what Bob Wells shares that he has learned from his own experiences. There are no final goodbyes here; there is hope for restoration.
In one of the prefaces used at Masses for the dead, we are reminded that “life is changed, not ended.” Perhaps this is another way to describe the hopeful message of this film. It is true of those who have passed into death, but also for the way of life we might mourn having changed in these past months. Nomadland reminds us that there is reason for hope, even as we continue down what can be a difficult road. Those people we haven’t seen in a while, even those who we won’t see again this side of heaven, we look forward to a day we meet them face to face. This is the Christian hope we celebrate in this Easter season, the hope we are called to live and witness to. As Easter people, we can say with faith to God, our friends, and loved ones: see you down the road.
In late 2017, Pope Francis made international headlines for saying one word: “Rohingya.”
On a late November trip to the Myanmar that year, he had failed to condemn the government’s treatment of the Muslim minority in the Rakhine state in the west of the country. Human rights groups, and the United Nations, have called the Myanmar government’s persecution of the Rohingya people ethnic cleansing or even genocide. The government of Myanmar denies any wrongdoing, and rejects the use of the term Rohingya, denying them an identity as a separate group.
After his time in Myanmar, Francis went to Bangladesh, home to nearly three quarters of a million Rohingya refugees. There he addressed the Rohingya by their own name, as he had done earlier during addresses in Rome.
Popes are not only spiritual leaders for over a billion Catholics throughout the world—they are also diplomats. Popes often take on moral leadership on behalf of people facing oppression, both when they speak in Rome and during international trips.
For example, Pope St. John Paul II’s open opposition to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet caused violent clashes and gunfire to break out during a Mass he celebrated in Chile. Pope Francis crossed the front lines of an active war zone in the Central African Republic, visiting a mosque at which two people had been shot earlier that day. Perhaps most famously, historians look to St. John Paul II’s visit to Poland in 1979 as the beginning of the end of communist rule in his home country.
Given this role of the pope as an international moral figure, Francis’ near silence on China’s treatment of the Uighur people is surprising.
A Muslim ethnic group concentrated in China’s northwest Xinjiang province, the Uighurs have been a thorn in Beijing’s side for some time. For decades, the Chinese government has attempted to homogenize the country according to the culture of the Han majority; the Uighurs are among the most prominent minority groups who have bucked against what they see as an assault on their unique way of life.
In the past few years, the Chinese government has conducted “mass detention and unending surveillance” of Uighurs, which includes imprisoning nearly one million Uighurs in internment camps. As with the Rohingya, human rights groups, and the US government, have gone so far as to call China’s policy toward the Uighurs a genocide.
At the same time, Francis has sought warmer relations with Beijing. In 2018, the Holy See signed a deal with the Chinese government that seemed to set a path toward cooperation between Rome and Beijing on the appointment of bishops, long a point of contention between the two sides. Observers believe Francis’ goal is to unite China’s Catholics, who up until now have been divided into a state-sanctioned hierarchy and an underground church led by Rome-approved bishops.
Likely as a result, Francis has been mild in his criticisms of China’s human rights abuses. Despite his many overtures to faith leaders around the world, notably the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, he has avoided meeting with the Dalai Lama, a towering moral figure whose own Tibetan people have faced China’s persecution like the Uighurs. Francis has been silent on China’s crackdown on protesters and democracy activists in Hong Kong.
And, he has only recently addressed the Uighur situation, referring to them as a “persecuted” people, but this took the form of a passing mention in his new book.
Doubtless there are differences between the Uighur situation and other human rights crises popes have faced. Though a superpower, the Soviet Union of John Paul’s day was already wobbly and would soon see a rapid decline. China, on the other hand, seems to be on the ascendency in its global importance. John Paul had grown up in Poland under Soviet control, and had seen firsthand the reality of Soviet rule, whereas Francis has no personal connection to China. Unlike the Catholics of Poland, formally members of John Paul’s own flock, both the Rohingya and Uighurs are predominantly Muslims, for whom Francis can only speak somewhat indirectly.
Perhaps most of all, Francis is a pope bent on reconciliation. We can see his desire to bring people together in his efforts to build strong relationships with other Christian sects and Muslim leaders. He has also served as a mediator in international conflicts, helping to thaw relations between the US and Cuba as well as helping to bring peace to Colombia. Francis likely hopes that a friendship between the Holy See and the world’s most populous country may bear fruit down the road, and that good relations between Chinese Catholics and their government will ensure their safety more than the confrontational status quo.
Whatever his reasons, Francis’ China policy has drawn both supporters and vehement critics. An outspoken pope’s silence on the moral challenges of the world’s largest country will remain jarring. Despite his desire for reconciliation, in his delicate dance with China, Francis will likely earn as much ire as he does praise.
Jesus’ resurrection lets us know that pain and suffering never have the final word. Hunter D’Armond, SJ, reflects on Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, April 18, 2021.
Why does God allow us to suffer?
Hi, I’m Hunter D’Armond and this is my one-minute reflection.
Cancer. Earthquakes. Pandemics. I don’t know why God permits such things.
I’m sure the disciples had similar questions after their own friend and savior was crucified. But in today’s gospel Jesus appears to them with the simple message: “Peace be with you.”
Startled and filled with fear from this greeting, Jesus goes a step further to comfort them and shows them the scars on his hands and feet as proof that it is really him. And he also eats with them to show that he is not a ghost, but it is truly him in flesh and blood. He rose body and soul.
So while I don’t know why God allows us to suffer, I do know that in his passion and crucifixion Jesus suffers with us. And in his resurrection, he shows us that the last word is not pain, death, and suffering, but “peace.”
Does your local parish have a Spanish Mass? Maybe Vietnamese, Portuguese, or another non-English language?
It is a trend that has been growing over the past few decades, with 29% of U.S. parishes celebrating Mass in a language other than English as of 2010. Incorporating one or more ethnic groups into a single parish creates a “shared parish” where shared spaces are negotiated between ethnic groups under the umbrella of a single parish. These parishes welcome migrant communities and enrich the local church.
The shared parish fits with the times. We live in a transnational world of globalization and multinational corporations, along with unprecedented levels of migration.
The motives for migration to the United States remain varied. Violence, like the drug-related gang violence in Mexico and Central America, drives refugees and asylum seekers to leave their homes in search of safety, while pronounced economic disparity between the United States and many of its neighbors impels others to migrate in search of work.
In this milieu of a globalized world, the Catholic Church acts transnationally across borders and, in fact, is well positioned to do so.1 Migrants, particularly the large percentage from Latin America who are Catholic, benefit in various ways from the transnational nature of the Church. This is certainly clear in the proliferation of shared parishes. But it is important to note that the relationship is mutually beneficial, as the U.S. Catholic Church benefits from the richness and diversity brought by migrants.
Simply put: migrants need the Church, and the Church needs migrants.
The urgency of this attentiveness to the mutually beneficial relationship between migrants and the Church remains pressing in the United States. President Trump made anti-immigration policies a rallying cry of his presidency, beginning with shouts of “Build the Wall” during his campaign. He is out of office now, but the ramifications of four years spent weakening channels for legal entry, failing to address backlogs of asylum claims, and freezing hires in the Office of Refugee Resettlement have slowed the Biden administration’s ability to respond to rising levels of migrants in 2021.
Crowded migrant shelters filled with children are proving to be a serious test of President Biden’s first hundred days in office. Meanwhile, Republican senators have tabled any talks about pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants until the rising number of migrants at the border is addressed to their liking.
In contrast to unstable political rhetoric around migration, the official teachings and pronouncements of the U.S. Catholic Church stand in strong defense of migrants. There is a long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching supporting the rights of people to migrate.
The document “Strangers No Longer” published in 2003 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) along with the Catholic bishops’ conference of Mexico outlines extensive proposals for public policy changes in the United States in favor of migrants, including broadening legal avenues for migration, providing paths to legalization for undocumented migrants, and a review of enforcement tactics that lead to abuse, discrimination, and death. These are bold political recommendations coming from the Church, and they are desperately needed.
Migrants need the Church.
In the midst of anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, the Church can advocate on behalf of migrants’ rights, giving voice to those who are too often left voiceless. For example, in the wake of publishing “Strangers No Longer,” the USCCB formed the Justice for Immigrants campaign to unite and mobilize Catholic institutions and individuals in support of immigration reform. Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network are two other examples of Catholic organizations committed to defending the rights of immigrants and advocating for policy change.
Beyond advocacy efforts in the United States, various Catholic-based organizations are working to care for migrants at every step of their journey. Dozens of shelters along the migrant corridor through Mexico offer food, medical services, and a place to rest along the dangerous route through the country. Organizations like the Kino Border Initiative operate along the U.S.-Mexico border assisting those in transit and those who have been detained or deported. The Mujer y Familia Migrante program by Jesuit Migrant Services in Mexico provides supportive interventions for families separated by migration, including mental health support groups and revenue-generating projects. This host of ministries advocates, supports, and accompanies migrants in transit and upon arrival, and cares for the communities they leave behind.2
These efforts could easily be amplified and expanded if more parishes join the fray in advocating and working on behalf of migrants. While the messaging in official church teaching has been clear in support of migrants, this message does not always get filtered down to the pews of the average Catholic in the United States. Have you heard Church teachings on immigration preached about in your own parish? Migrants need support and advocacy from the Church, and not just from a select few parishes and organizations.
Just as importantly, migrants need the Church for the spiritual assistance their faith provides and the cultural connections drawn through Church participation. The migrant journey to the United States from Central America and Mexico is often fraught with difficulties and dangers. Many migrants pray for an intercessor, like the Virgin Mary or a particular Marian apparition, to accompany them on their journey. Rosaries or other small, portable religious artifacts are often among the few possessions that migrants bring with them. Migrants are drawing on their faith and religious experiences to find strength and hope along their journey.
Upon arrival in the United States, encountering a welcoming parish can help migrants adapt to their new context and feel connected to their homeland, especially when liturgies and ministry are offered in their native language. It can be a powerful emotional experience for a person to hear their native language used for public prayer in a country dominated by a foreign language and amid rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the public sphere.
For the advocacy efforts and humanitarian aid, for spiritual assistance and cultural connections, migrants need the Church.
The Church needs migrants.
The U.S. Catholic Church likewise benefits from the presence of migrants. Let me begin by stressing that this is not because of the baseless claims that the Church supports migration to simply fill churches. The Church needs migrants because they carry ideas, introduce skills, and build bridges across cultures.
Coming from a different country and context, migrants can bring a broader understanding of what religion is and where to find it. When Latin American migrants introduce devotional practices like home altars, or host public events like a celebration for Our Lady of Guadalupe, it enriches the U.S. Catholic Church.
Migrants can also model lay leadership, as some migrants come from remote communities without a resident priest. By necessity, this reality creates a culture of strong lay leadership. Bringing these experiences to the U.S., migrants can help to encourage greater participation from the laity in parishes here.3
Shared parishes between ethnic groups, including English- and Spanish-speaking populations, can be the source of meaningful intercultural encounter. Pope Francis has made “encounter” an important theme of his pontificate. He introduced this concept in his homily on the Vigil of Pentecost in 2013: “It is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.”
That being said, there is a high risk in shared parishes of “cultural encapsulation,” where distinct cultural communities function in parallel with only limited interaction in negotiating shared spaces. Maybe there are weekend Masses in English and Spanish, but do those populations ever intermingle? Just bumping into each other in the parking lot is not enough to engender mutual understanding. In fact, it can cause tension and lead to avoidance between groups.
But the potential remains high in shared parishes for creating social spaces of community dialogue where new perspectives can be offered and social networks can be grown across groups. Healthy dialogue can break down stereotypes and build relationships. This form of encounter benefits all, including migrants and native-born citizens in the parish.
For the new practices and devotions introduced into parishes, for modeling lay leadership, and for the opportunities for intercultural encounter, the U.S. Catholic Church needs migrants.
With rising numbers of migrants reaching our southern border, we need to be reminded of the mutually beneficial relationship between the Church and migrants in our transnational world.
Migrants look to the Church to provide service and aid along the journey and advocate for their rights when they are not given a voice. Migrants draw spiritual fruits from their faith to help them through the dangers and difficulties of migration, and they find safe spaces of comfort and strength where they can practice their faith in shared parishes.
The U.S. Catholic Church needs migrants for the new practices and devotions they bring, for the broader understanding of the faith they offer, and for their modeling of lay leadership. Shared parishes that bring together multiethnic populations are a source of great potential for intercultural encounter that can build bridges and create networks between groups. Rooted in faith and compelled by Church teaching, parishes in the United States need to respond to the signs of the times to create welcoming spaces and increased advocacy efforts on behalf of migrants.
We do not need a bigger wall. We need more bridges. Because migrants need the Church, and the Church needs migrants.
I carry a business card in my wallet, just one. Sinesio Flores, landscaping and housekeeping, it proclaims over contrasting trees and tools. I carry it as a reminder of Sinesio, a man who taught me much about giving and a little about God.
It took me some time to learn what God was trying to teach me through Sinesio, the man who, for over 25 years, kept the novitiate grounds a paradise, more heaven than Hollywood, with his care and hard work. But, God eventually got through as God has a way of doing.
Sinesio taught me that gifts don’t need to be big and they don’t need to be expensive, even if it seems insignificant, everyone has something to give. Love, the gift of yourself, of your care for another of God’s beloved, can touch deeply, as Sinesio’s care did, and say more than the shiniest wrapped gift.
The Jesuit Novitiate in Los Angeles is a green oasis in the midst of asphalt and traffic. I stared out the double doors at the end of the hallway watching Sinesio pass on the Bugatti, his nickname for his John Deer mower. If he saw me, he would shut it off and greet me excitedly. This was what I was trying to avoid.
I was returning from my apostolate, my twice weekly opportunity to practice being a Jesuit in the world outside the novitiate bubble1, and looking forward to sinking into the oblivion of nothing worthwhile. If I timed it right, I could squeeze past Sinesio, unnoticed, onto the computer and an endless feed of updates, advertisements and invitations from “friends.”
If I was caught, a greeting would turn into a favor and a conversation, just what I was trying to avoid. It seems odd now that I once tried to steer clear of these talks, conversations I miss, holy moments of communion. But, I learn slowly, historically choosing the hard way, not the easy way.
With time, and many failed attempts at evasion, my heart began to soften, moving from evasion to engagement as our laughter over the Bugatti as she choked on wet grass (again), or the same joke shared (again), grew into a friendship that lead to deeper conversations, holy spaces where God’s presence became apparent.
The softening of my heart had little to do with my own efforts. It was a result of Sinesio, of his kind and giving nature, of God working through him to get to me. Sinesio may not have known it at the time, but he was helping to form me as a Jesuit, as much as any priest or prayer.
There were always things for Sinesio to do, and he did a lot, as I and the other novices were reminded the few times a year he was away. Yet, this interminable list of chores never stopped him from shutting off his exotic ride, smiling from ear to ear and inviting me back to his office (the garage) for a cold one (bottled water).
It didn’t matter that there was a bigger fridge, with real cold ones, inside the door I had just walked out of. Sinesio had something to give, a bottle of water, a joke, conversation, and so he gave. Sinesio loved the staff and Jesuit novices of the novitiate, and he made this abundantly clear through the space he cared for and the laughter we shared.
I’d like to share one more memory of Sinesio, one I think he would laugh at and retell with joy. A memory that speaks of his love and care for the novitiate community. Nothing in Southern California is made for anything other than sunshine and this past December a downpour had turned Sinesio’s canvas, the novitiate grounds, into a marsh. But, Sinesio had a plan, something to give, or, at least, information to share. Sandbags, downtown at city hall, were available for anyone to use and free.
And, so we went to pick up some of these “free sandbags.” As we backed the truck up to begin loading, I was reminded that English was not Sinesio’s first language. FOR MUNICIPAL USE ONLY I kept reading as we hoisted bags into the back of the truck. How would I explain my detainment for this heinous crime I worried, as I continued to pilfer public property?
I figured that trying to explain to Sinesio that the sandbags weren’t actually free, and for anyone to use, would only have kept us there, with bags of evidence in the back of the truck, longer. Sinesio was showing his love for us by doing what he could, picking up “free” sandbags and trying to keep us dry. Maybe I should have said something but caring for others is contagious and I could see the joy on Sensio’s face as we grabbed “just a couple more.”
Sinesio joined the communion of saints December 8, 2020. He was a father, son, brother, uncle, faithful friend, and beloved member of the Jesuit novitiate for over 25 years. His final gift, the day he died, was a Christmas tree. It was a heart attack that got him. Which is appropriate, I think, since he would attack, with his heart, anyone he came across, a broad smile, joking and unafraid to show his love.
I text Sinesio from time to time, to let him know I’m thinking about him. He responds in little ways: blooming flowers and hummingbirds. The earth, Sinesio’s canvas, a reminder of the love he had for all of us.
Sinesio Flores . . . presente!4
May 21, 1961 – December 8, 2020
Photo courtesy of the author with permission.
Is seeing all there is to believing? When it comes to our faith, we rely a great deal on the witness of a community. Matt Stewart, SJ, reflects on doubting Thomas in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, April 11, 2021.
Seeing is believing, right? Or is it?
I’m Father Matt Stewart, and this is my one-minute homily.
Today, Thomas says that unless he can see the risen Jesus and touch his wounds, he won’t believe. I can empathize with Thomas. It would be much easier to have certainty if the risen Jesus would appear so I could see him, and touch his wounds.
Seeing and touching bring certainty. But throughout John’s Gospel it is not by seeing that people are primarily brought to faith, but by the witness of faithful people, handed on from generation to generation.
I can see and touch on my own, without the help of anyone else. But the kind of belief that Jesus calls “blessed” requires encountering people of faith, and placing our trust in their experiences, and then taking a leap of faith of our own alongside them.
And as we live out these lives of faith together, we may not be able to touch the physical body of Jesus, but we can certainly see and touch the Body of Christ.
Seaspiracy, the new documentary about global fisheries, has performed remarkably well on review aggregating websites and Netflix’s Top 10 list. Its reception among ocean experts, though, has been much less positive. The film is littered with factual errors, consistently misrepresents important ocean conservation issues, and draws conclusions that are not supported by the evidence. This is particularly disappointing because these profound inaccuracies risk obscuring the real issues the documentary brings to light.
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of some things that you probably want to know and that Seaspiracy got wrong.Do sustainable fisheries exist?
Seaspiracy describes sustainable fishing as “something that isn’t working and can’t even be defined.” Neither of these statements are true.
The fishery I’ve done much of my research on is incredibly sustainable: it is well-monitored, well-managed, and does no damage to non-target species or the surrounding ecosystem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 78.7 percent of fish caught and sold by commercial fishing vessels come from sustainable stocks. But what does it mean to say this?
There are two common definitions of sustainability that apply to fisheries. The first is quite broad. It comes from the Brundtland Report, a 1987 UN-backed attempt to reconcile economic development with environmental limits. The definition reads, “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While this definition is not perfect, it does contain the core idea behind sustainability: we shouldn’t be taking part in any activity that compromises the wellbeing of future generations. From this perspective, we can think of sustainability as social and economic as well as biological.
A narrower definition, and one that is more specific to fisheries, is known as “maximum sustainable yield,” or MSY. This is the definition the FAO is using for that 78.7 percent statistic I mentioned earlier. MSY is the maximum amount of fish that can be caught consistently year after year. If you fish at or below MSY, your fishery will be sustainable in this narrow sense of the term.
That said, there are still plenty of sustainability challenges, even for fisheries that are operating at or below MSY. Seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals are heavily impacted by fishing, just as land animals are heavily impacted by terrestrial food systems. Ghost gear (fishing nets, buoys, and other equipment lost or abandoned at sea) is also a big problem and a major, although not the leading, source of plastic pollution.Are the oceans going to run out of fish by 2048?
This claim gets repeated several times in Seaspiracy. It is simply not true. This projection, originally put forward in a 2006 paper published in Science, later turned out to be wrong.
The paper, led by Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, was based on some faulty assumptions having to do with the FAO’s database of global fishery statistics. A few years later, Dr. Worm was the lead author on a follow-up paper, also published in Science, that painted a very different picture of global fisheries. Management efforts that began in earnest in the 1990’s have had measurable success and many fish stocks are rebuilding or have been rebuilt, although overfishing is still a problem in many parts of the world. While fishing has caused severe declines in large, predatory fish species, a future of “empty oceans” does not seem to be in the cards.Are consumers able to make informed decisions about the seafood they eat?
Seaspiracy uses a combination of falsehoods and misleadingly framed facts to conclude that ecolabels like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and dolphin safe tuna are meaningless. These labels are far from meaningless, but it is difficult for consumers to make informed decisions about seafood.
I recommend eating MSC certified seafood or using Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website. Know, however, that neither of these systems are perfect and they will sometimes provide you with conflicting information because they use different rating systems.
MSC and Seafood Watch are great resources, but at the end of the day fisheries sustainability is really complicated, as I hope I’ve highlighted above. It’s not just about what species of fish you’re targeting, but also what gear you’re using, what bycatch is getting caught in your nets (or lines, etc.), what your impact is on marine habitats, and how much carbon you’re emitting along the way. At the same time, doing our best to eat sustainable seafood is not going to stop overfishing. For that, we need international cooperation and policy change.Is trawling just like bulldozing pristine Amazonian rainforest?
Seaspiracy memorably compares an estimate of the global footprint of bottom trawling with deforestation of the Amazon. It may be a tempting comparison, but bottom trawling and deforestation are just not the same thing.
When we think about deforestation in the Amazon, we imagine total destruction of local ecosystems and the potential of reaching a tipping point that would turn much of the forest into a dry grassland savannah. There are a lot of issues around bottom trawling, especially when it comes to dragging heavy fishing gear over sensitive habitat, but “total destruction” (at least in most cases) and “tipping point” are really not those issues. When trawls are used over soft, muddy parts of the seafloor, the damage they cause, while still real, is much more limited.What are the biggest threats to marine life and what can I do about them?
Although Seaspiracy’s depiction of marine biodiversity loss is a little more extreme than the facts allow, marine ecosystems are under threat.
Climate change is already the most significant human impact in some marine ecosystems and is the greatest long-term threat faced by our oceans. The oceans are getting warmer and more acidic and marine ecosystems are already undergoing significant changes. In Rhode Island, where I’m from, we used to have a thriving lobster industry, but lobsters have become more scarce, in part due to warming inshore waters. This trend is part of a general poleward shift in many marine species distributions. But climate change is not just about species distributions—some of the scarier possibilities have to do with changes to ocean circulation. Ocean circulation patterns are crucial to supporting marine life and it is not clear what the future will look like if some of these systems break down. The best ways to make a difference in the fight against climate change are to educate yourself and others, support political action for a just and rapid transition away from fossil fuels, and consider ways to limit your own carbon footprint.
As I highlighted above, unsustainable fishing practices are a real problem, even if they’re not the whole story. One thing you can do is support organizations working to improve food security and sustainability in the fisheries of developing countries, where there tend to be more ecological and social challenges. At the same time, fisheries sustainability has a lot to do with political and economic power. A more just world is a key prerequisite to sustainable fishing. Another option is to eat local, sustainable seafood or plant-based alternatives. You will never be able to eat a diet that puts no pressure on natural ecosystems, but changing what you eat does decrease your personal footprint.
Pollution from land-based sources is also a key challenge. You’ve probably heard a lot about marine plastics. Another important impact, especially in coastal waters, is nutrient pollution, mostly from agriculture and human waste. When we let our waste and fertilizer overload coastal waters, photosynthetic algae bloom, die, and decompose, leading to low-oxygen areas known as “dead zones.” Dead zones are spreading around the world, are exacerbated by climate change, and actively threaten marine life. Because dead zones heavily depend on local context, there is no cookie-cutter solution. Find a local environmental organization that is working on science-based, justice-oriented solutions to these issues. If you live in a watershed with a lot of agricultural runoff, you may want to find ways to support more sustainable farming practices. If you live in an area with poor wastewater treatment, consider organizing with others to support upgrades to local treatment facilities. I also recommend paying attention to how much stuff, including plastic, you consume and how much trash you produce. Try to limit your footprint in both areas.
Marine biodiversity is incredibly important, both because our oceans and the biodiversity they contain give glory to God in their own right and because we humans need healthy marine ecosystems in order to live on this planet. Balancing sustainability, food security, and justice concerns is a tall order, but if we all get educated and get involved, we can make a difference.
I’ve been sober now for almost two years. And this will not be my whole story with alcohol; it would not be edifying. Suffice it to say, I was a so-called “functional” alcoholic. Because of this, it took me a long time to question my unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Despite appearances, alcohol kept getting me into all kinds of interpersonal problems. I felt miserable during my last three years of drinking.
I stopped drinking during the last semester of my regency, a stage of Jesuit formation where we work in a Jesuit institution. My last binge led me to see how my story with alcohol was going to end. If I kept on drinking, I would have left the Jesuits and continued deteriorating. In this “moment of clarity,” I decided that I needed to stop drinking in order to live. Yet, I didn’t know what to do or who to ask for help. I experienced so many feelings of shame, and I feared I would be unfairly judged by my superiors. Nonetheless, I mustered the courage to ask another sober Jesuit I knew for help. With his support, I was able to finish my regency sober.
I was three months sober when I arrived at my theology community. Theology is the final stage of formation for a Jesuit seeking ordination to the priesthood. Immediately, I told my rector, the priest in charge of Jesuits in formation in the community, about my struggles with alcohol. He heard my story with compassion, and never once did I feel judged. To help me, he suggested I get in touch with Alcoholics Anonymous.
I welcomed the idea of going to A.A. because I knew I could not stay sober relying on my own self-will. When I was drinking, I had done a couple of month-long sober experiments. Once these experiments were over, I would resume drinking with even greater intensity to make up for the lost time. Sobriety is not a path I could walk alone.
I needed a community of people dedicated to a life of sobriety. Going to A.A. was an act of faith. I didn’t know what to expect. At first it felt somewhat awkward, part of it due to the stereotypes I’d seen in movies. But, listening to other people’s experiences, even if very different from mine, shed light on my own abuse of alcohol. Eventually, along with other A.A. members, I began to share my experience to offer strength and hope with others. I served for six months as secretary of my homegroup and I also helped start an online meeting. A.A. gave me the aspiration I needed to keep returning.
Alcoholics Anonymous is not just a fellowship, but a spiritual program. Putting down the drink is the first step. Then one has to work on character defects. It’s not enough to stop drinking; the drinker has to change. This is done by working the Twelve Steps.
The first steps made me ask myself questions about my own image of God and how I related to God. There can be a temptation in religious life to take one’s relationship with God for granted. Throughout my drinking, I kept God at a distance and found numerous ways of justifying my behavior.
I also discovered mere self-examination was not enough to bring about transformation. I would tell myself that I drank because of my upbringing or other life experiences. But, instead of using my insight to change, I used it as a reason to remain the same. It’s hard to let go of what’s familiar, even if it is painful.
Resentments are an impediment to contented sobriety. As part of my recovery, I wrote a moral inventory, i.e., a history of my resentments and my part in them. This helped me become aware of the ways I react to what upsets me. I also learned how to forgive others and myself. When I work the steps, I address my character defects and embrace a sobriety that is not just physical, but emotional.
A few months in recovery, I had a set of meetings near me that I would attend every week. Yet, the lockdown interrupted this. In some ways, however, the pandemic has been a blessing for sobriety programs. Online meetings have made it possible for me to connect with people all over the world. We have been able to support one another through pandemic anxieties without having to drink. Moreover, many of the Twelve Step principles helped me cope with the loss of control I have felt during this pandemic. This program teaches me to accept the things I cannot change with serenity and to trust God.
Sobriety is an ongoing journey. I have been able to meet other sober Jesuits in my community and we get together regularly to support one another. Truly, the opposite of addiction is connection. Part of the reason I didn’t reach out for help sooner was shame. I felt that my drinking was at odds with my being a Jesuit. I feared that I would be judged if I sought help. Vulnerability, however, is the antidote to shame. To recover from alcoholism, I had to heal from that shame by sharing my story and listening to others. Today, I can say that being involved in a Twelve Step group has saved my vocation and my life.
This post was authored anonymously with permission.
Jesus is Risen! Alleluia! Today we celebrate the triumph of the resurrection over sin and death. Christopher Alt, SJ, reflects on the resurrection through a parable about a father’s love.
The Lord is risen. Alleluia!
Hi, I’m Christopher Alt and this is my one-minute reflection.
An Easter parable.
A young boy stands at the water’s edge when suddenly an alligator lunges. The boy screams. His father runs to his rescue. A sight to behold: a tug-of-war between a gator and a father.
Later, in the hospital, reporters view the gator-made scars on the boy’s legs. “That’s nothing,” the boy says rolling up his sleeves, revealing deep marks on his arms made where his father held on. “I got these because my dad wouldn’t let go!”
Today is Easter. The beast of sin and death has been defeated. Jesus is alive!
Today, we hear Jesus’ alligator story. At some point this Easter season, why not share your alligator story with another; ask them about theirs. And then, together rejoice knowing that we have a God, who, no matter what, never lets us go!
Talk 6: Do You Love Me? The Resurrected Christ and Our Response | Live the Questions: A Holy Week Retreat
Also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, and everywhere you get podcasts.
This talk draws us into the Fourth Week of the Exercises and explores a question Jesus asks of all of us: do you love me? We begin this episode in Jesus’ tomb and consider the Paschal path – that path of success, misunderstanding, suffering, death, and redemption that we all experience. We witness Jesus resurrected and allow him to continue transforming our lives through the gifts of joy and consolation that the resurrection offers. And, to conclude our retreat, we engage the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love, a prayer made in gratitude that inspires us to continue our journey of partnership with a good and loving God.
- John 21:15-17
- John 20:1-29
- Luke 24:13-35
- Matthew 28: 16-20
- The Suscipe Prayer
Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will – all I have and possess. You have given all to me, and I give it all back to you, God – it’s all yours. Do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace – that’s enough for me.
Points for reflection:
- Where do you find yourself on the Paschal Path right now?
- When have you found yourself or someone near you in the tomb?
- When Jesus asks you if you love him, how do you respond?
- When you contemplate God’s love for you, what consolation arises? What gifts do you recognize? What do you feel called to give back?
Also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, and everywhere you get podcasts.
This talk considers Judas’s question to Jesus at the Last Supper: Surely, it is not I, Lord? Given our Holy Week experience, it moves us into the Third Week of the Exercises, and explores the suffering of Jesus on the cross as an essential part of the Paschal mystery of the Christian faith. In facing that suffering, we will also consider the ways we cause suffering, we experience suffering, and we accompany suffering. Using the story of Jesus’ Passion and death, we are invited to feel more deeply the fullness of our relationship with him by walking with him on the way of the Cross.
- Matthew 26:20-25
- Luke 22:39-65
- Luke 23:26-49
- John 19:31-42
Points for reflection:
- What lingers with you as you consider the Passion and death of Jesus? What parts of the story resonate? What images come to mind as you accompany Jesus?
- Where have you encountered suffering in your life? How can Jesus be a companion for you in that suffering?