An inventory on how well we love God
As Bishop Morlino continues his convalescence from heart surgery, I know he would like me to acknowledge his deep gratitude for all the prayers and expressions of love and support he has received.
He is also grateful for the excellent high quality care he has been receiving from the medical and support staff at St. Mary Hospital. We are blessed to have this great medical community in Madison and associated with the Church.
Please continue to pray for a complete and rapid recovery so that Bishop Morlino can once again use his special gifts for the benefit of the Diocese of Madison as our Shepherd.
Pray for Bishop Morlino and priests
Please be assured that during his time of recovery the necessary work of the Diocese will continue to be attended by the great diocesan staff, and especially with the help of our retired Bishops William Bullock and George Wirz. Of course everything appropriate only for the Bishop's personal decision will be reserved for him when he returns in six to eight weeks. There are good processes in place to assure that the work of the Church continues during unforeseen events.
Please pray also for the priests of the diocese as we gather in our annual three-day assembly next week. It will be a graced time together for prayer, rest, and reflection. Fr. John Fuellenbach, SVD, a theology professor in Rome will be the presenter. Bishop Morlino and all of you will be in our prayers these days.
By loving God fully
Whenever we encounter something so sudden and overwhelming as the heart surgery Bishop Morlino faced last week, it takes our breath away. Those in the path of the recent hurricanes face similar moments.
They come in one form or another to us all. They remind us of how fragile is our world and how quickly things can change. They also ought to encourage us to look at our priorities and
evaluate how strong is our spiritual house. As Christians, we should be people of hope even in times of the unexpected.
We can be people of hope
It is better, however, not to wait for a cataclysmic event to undertake such reflection. Scripture reminds us that we do not know the day or hour. Someone said that one of the worst
discoveries of man is the word tomorrow. We do put off until tomorrow what we could do and perhaps should do today.
Sometimes I joke with people about how comfortable they would be for family, friends, or even strangers to go through their closets, desk drawers, and other such personal sanctuaries. Many get an ashen look on their face. So would I.
It is amazing what we accumulate and the incomprehensible way in which we maintain it all. But that is just stuff, things we will some day leave behind. Someday someone actually will go through our closets and drawers. May they be charitable.
While there is still time perhaps we should think about how prepared we are to meet our Maker based on an inventory of love. Jesus told us that the great commandments are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we do so fully, we can be people of hope whether facing surgery or whatever else may unexpectedly come our way.
Even in unsettling times
How well do we "love" ourselves, not in a prideful but a respectful way? How do we treat God's gift of life and the temple of the Holy Spirit, our body? Do we live with integrity and balance in what we do and say? Do we use the gift of work and intellect for good? Do we see the challenges in life, our crosses, as opportunities to deepen our relationship with God and others?
How well do we love others? Do we treat them with respect as people gifted by God with life, appreciating the variety of differences there are among and between us? Do we share our resources, including ourselves, whenever there is a need, even when it may seem inconvenient? Do we acknowledge with grateful hearts, words, and gestures what others do for and mean to us?
How well do we love God's creation? Do we see God's power in His creation, which we are to steward well and pass onto future generations?
How well do we love Christ's Church? Do we approach the sacraments with awe and humility? Are we generous in sharing with the Church our time, talent, and treasure? Do we
value her traditions, acknowledge her history, appreciate her apostolicity, and respect her diversity? Do we form our conscience based on her teachings? In troubled times, do we look for the divine and forgive the human?
Ultimately how well we love ourselves, others, God's creation, and Christ's Church reveals whether we are truly loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
After reviewing that inventory, I have some work to do, starting today.
Minimum wages: Just wages are crucial way to preserve dignity of workers
Policy makers and citizens are currently debating a proposal to raise the minimum wage in Wisconsin.
This debate coincides with new data on the growing ranks of the poor, particularly in cities like Milwaukee.
The principle of just wages is one of the cornerstones of Catholic social teaching, which holds that work is more than a way to make a living: it is a form of participation in God's creation.
As Pope John Paul II writes in his 1981 encyclical, On Human Work, "work is in the first place 'for the worker' and not the worker for the 'work.'"
Ultimately then, the value of work is grounded in the dignity of the human beings who do it. Wages are a crucial way by which we recognize and preserve that dignity.
The Catholic tradition also teaches that human dignity flourishes best when rights are balanced with responsibilities. Thus the right of every person to a job is grounded in the twin responsibility to develop (at a minimum) our own God-given skills to the fullest and to provide for our own needs and those of our family.
This is why Catholic social teaching has long defined a just wage in terms of what is necessary to meet the needs of a family.
Employers, of course, have a responsibility to treat their workers justly, but this responsibility is not limited to them alone.
In the same encyclical (no. 77), John Paul II explains that this duty also extends to "indirect employers," that is, those persons and institutions (governments, financial institutions, labor contracts, etc.) that influence the structures and conditions of the workplace and that are responsible for "conditioning the conduct of the direct employer."
In a free market consumer-driven economy, one can argue that individual consumers should also be considered "indirect employers." When we insist on paying the lowest price for our goods and services, particularly our leisure pursuits, we should ask ourselves, "What can a worker buy with the wages they earn?"
Lowest pay in nation
The most recent data tell us that minimum-wage workers are unable to provide even the bare necessities of life. A full-time worker earning the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour currently makes $10,712 annually, nearly $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage (which was last raised in 1997) is actually $4.67 and falling. Even more striking, the buying power of the minimum wage in 1970 would be about $8 per hour in 2002 dollars.
When we eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels, play at theme parks, we are the "indirect employers" of those who help feed, clean, and otherwise care for us. In Wisconsin, the pay these workers earn is among the lowest in the nation. According to the Department of
Workforce Development, our state ranks 49th in the pay that its workers receive in the accommodations and foods industries.
'Only work should pay'
Some critics of the proposed increase in the minimum wage have argued that it is unnecessary since most who earn the minimum wage are high school students or single individuals who have relatively few expenses.
In fact, 47 percent of workers earning minimum wages in our state are 26 or older and over one-third are heads of households.
Raising the state minimum wage alone will not solve the problem of poverty, but it is a good start. It helps those workers whose dignity is in jeopardy. It makes the adage "only work should pay" ring true. And it commits us to live up to our duty as the "indirect employers" of workers who have not received a pay raise in seven years.
Barbara Sella is associate director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Class reunion: Turning back the pages
Recently we drove to Minnesota for a 50th class reunion.
This was not our class, mind you, but one of the first ones my husband Bob taught.
On the long drive to the little town of Holdingford, we were trying to recall some of the "kids" in that class, when it dawned on us that these were not kids at all, but most likely
grandparents themselves. How rapidly those years have flown by!
We found the town's population had grown a bit, from 500 to 800. As we knelt in church for the 4:30 Mass, we had to remind ourselves that this was a public school which was launching its reunion with a Mass of thanksgiving. Where else but in Stearns County, Minn., would you find that?
A large reserved area of pews was sectioned off for the golden-agers up front. When the priest offered his congratulations to the Holdingford High School Class of '54, I had my hands poised to applaud, but I soon noticed that no one else did. Just in time to prevent me from making a fool of myself.
Apparently some churches are not as warm and free as our home parish.
We found that in other ways the town had kept up with the times very nicely. The yards are prettier now than I remembered them.
On the other hand, I don't recall seeing garden centers bursting with potted pants and shrubs back then. That's a whole new American industry now, I guess - a lovely touch to make life more beautiful.
Another great improvement is the super highway system, I-94, that connects all these little towns like beads on a rosary, making it so easy to reach them: St. Cloud, St. Joseph (where my alma mater, College of St. Benedict, is), Collegeville, home of St. John's University (Bob's), Avon, Albany, Melrose, Sauk Center, etc.
A good thing, too, because our daughter Elizabeth was with us and wanting to visit not only the towns she lived in until she was six, but our beautiful campuses, too.
It was the visit to Melrose that highlighted our trip, however. The memories in the second town where Bob taught came flooding back.
The "off bounds" river that ran behind our house, where the three older boys had an adventure that nearly ended in tragedy. They built a small raft and were floating dangerously near a dam when their father found them.
The Catholic school where our three boys started their education now rebuilt and doubled, and the visit to the first home we bought for $6,000! There we found the same woman, a fellow
teacher who bought it from us 46 years ago, still living and happy to show us around.
I was amazed when Elizabeth looked at the pine paneled study off the living room and remarked, "Mom, didn't we have Gregory's coffin there?" She had been just two when that occurred.
When we moved from Melrose to Wisconsin, we left a bit of ourselves behind. Our baby, Gregory, is buried in a section of St. Mary's Cemetery reserved for infants. We found his small tombstone in this peaceful resting place among other small markers, and we took time to reflect.
Gregory was our fifth child, born when our oldest was just five, and his SIDS death had been a jolting reminder that our children were priceless gifts on loan from God, who can retrieve them at will.
Just a few feet away from Gregory's grave were three very large tombstones marking the site where four infants were buried, all from the same family. They had all died within months of their births in the early part of the century.
The third stone had the names of twins, one who died at four months like our Gregory, and one at six months. My heart went out to that poor woman and I wondered if she ever had children that survived. I thanked God for our 10 surviving to this day.
Elizabeth and I went out to buy some artificial flowers for Gregory's grave, but when we returned to the cemetery we were unable to stick them into the hard, dry earth.
Resolving to return with a tool, we awoke the next morning to pouring rain. Nevertheless, we were determined, even if I had to hold an umbrella over Elizabeth's head while she wielded the dandelion digger and the flowers.
When we arrived at the cemetery, however, the rain stopped and we found the wet earth primed and ready for our small token of love.
God was smiling on our small efforts, belated and humble though they were.
"Grandmom" likes hearing from other senior citizens who enjoy aging at P.O. Box 216, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538.
Voters: What Cardinal Ratzinger meant
Sound-bite politics usually make a hash of technical theological distinctions. That's what happened in the recent flurry of reporting and commentary on two sentences penned by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a letter he offered to the U.S. bishops as a "fraternal service," prior to their June meeting.
The letter was intended to clarify the question of a Catholic's worthiness to receive communion.
Here is what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:
"A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation with evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stance on abortion or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share the candidate's stance in favor of abortion or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons."
Applying this to the question of Catholic voters' responsibilities, the Detroit Free Press concluded that "anti-abortion Catholics can support pro-choice candidates, as long as they agree with the candidate on a range of other issues." The Washington Post
headlined its story, "Catholic Voters Given Leeway on Abortion Rights Issue."
Well, not quite.
"Formal cooperation with evil" is a technical phrase, underscoring that the pro-abortion Catholic voter, by embracing the abortion license and furthering it, is thereby cooperating in the death of innocents, which is always gravely evil.
Pro-life Catholic voters who vote for pro-abortion candidates despite the candidates' pro-abortion stance do not deliberately advance the death of innocents through abortion (thus "remote material cooperation").
But the crucial questions remain: When is this morally justifiable? What are the "proportionate reasons" that would lead a pro-life voter to conclude that a pro-abortion candidate's unacceptable position on the life issues can, in effect, be bracketed?
I can imagine one situation: when the choice is between two pro-abortion candidates and a voter opts for the pro-abortion candidate of a pro-life party in order to keep that party in
control of Congress.
That is not the situation that Catholic voters face in the current presidential contest or in most congressional races.
Priority of life issues
Why does the Church stress the priority of the life issues? Because it is always a grave evil to take the life of an innocent human being.
Because democracy cannot long endure when one class of citizens takes upon itself the "right" to declare other human beings outside common protection and concern.
That is what the Dred Scott decision did in 1858: it declared Americans of African descent outside the boundaries of the law's protection. That is what Roe vs. Wade did in 1973: it declared unborn human beings outside the protection of law. The right-to-life of every human being is the crucial civil rights issue of our time.
So here's the real question Cardinal Ratzinger's letter raised: What would possibly be the "proportionate reasons" that would cause a Catholic to vote, with a clear and well-formed conscience, for a candidate who's terribly wrong on the great civil rights issue of the day?
In his letter, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that "Not all moral issues have the same weight as abortion and euthanasia . . . . There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion, even among Catholics, about waging war or applying the death penalty, but not, however, with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
The "proportionate reasons" for pro-life Catholics to support pro-abortion candidates must be very, very weighty indeed. Catholics considering a vote for pro-abortion candidates must define what those reasons would be.
Theirs is a difficult task.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.