Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Holy Spirit Parishioner's Newsletter 10/28/07

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit
October 28, 2007

Zero-Sum Game, Slippery Slope, and Other Clichés
Too many times we look at situations as zero-sum games in which increasing one component must necessarily result in the decrease of another. When conflicts arise, people sometimes refuse to accept that another person might have a piece of the truth, because to do so would be a sign of weakness and a compromise of the “noble cause.” This is a destructive attitude and can be manipulated by others who see the conflict itself as beneficial to their own agendas.

The slippery slope is not everywhere—a step towards common ground does not have to plunge us into an abyss. It really is possible to have [Alert: cliché coming] a “win-win.”

“We have just pounded the drum again and again that, for churches to reach their full redemptive potential, they have to do more than hold services—they have to try to transform their communities. If there is racial injustice in your community, you have to speak to that. If there is educational injustice, you have to do something there. If the poor are being neglected by the government or being oppressed in some way, then you have to stand up for the poor.” from Bill Hybels, an Evangelical Christian, founder of the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, and very possibly the sin-gle-most-influential pastor in America

As Catholics we tend to be very wary of Evangelicals (as they tend to be of us). It is ironic that this quote from Bill Hybels could very easily have come from documents of the U.S. Bishops or a papal encyclical, but would never have come from the pulpit of Holy Spirit, at least in the current days. How is it that the grand tradition of Catholic Social Teaching has been completely abandoned in our Parish and that people who question this abandonment are vilified? “Transform our community?” Too controversial, let’s leave that to the Evangelicals!

Elementary Science
One of the Bishop’s recent Monitor commentaries brought back grade school memories. I will make the disclaimer that I agreed with the main idea of the commentary—that we can approach God through science. The more we learn in any field of science can bring us to a greater level of awe and faith. It was the assertion that because of our special knowledge of God, only Christians were capable of making any great scientific discoveries. I hadn’t heard something like that since Catholic elementary school. I should add that most of my classmates didn’t buy it then either. It was especially ironic that this commentary was published during the same time frame as Nobel Prize winners from all over the globe were being recognized for their various accomplishments.

Why is it that our church leaders feel such a great need to package God into a tidy little box that only certain people can touch? Wasn’t that the Pharisee’s greatest fault this weekend, to presume to judge and belittle the man beside him? Isn’t God big enough for us to share? Or may be the question is why aren’t we big enough and secure enough to share God? from fellow parishioner, Michelle Pena

Drown It in a Bathtub
Grover Norquist, an influential advisor to conservative politicians, has said that he wants to shrink government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” It is this disdain for government itself, or at least a certain view of the role of government, that leads some people to conjecture that when politicians influenced by Norquist (and others of his ilk) actually take control of government they do not take seriously the day-to-day tasks of making the machinery of government work. Amateurism, sloppiness, cronyism, and corruption tend to be tolerated—since government is seen as pretty much worthless anyway, who cares?

Some folks have a very minimalist view of a parish (and the Church)—coarsely put; they see a “store” where they periodically get their supply of sanctifying grace and pious platitudes. In this view, a parish is a purveyor of goods that are owned by the Church and what matters is the transfer of those goods, by the Church, to the parishioners.

With that mentality, it is not important that liturgy (and other parish activities) be done well or that the community be centrally involved in directing the life of the parish. What is important is that parishioners receive the goods—the rest is peripheral, and who cares?

Why Aren’t You Inside?
“Why aren’t you inside? Don’t you believe in the Blessed Sacrament?” spoken by a member of the parish to a group of parishioners gathered outside the church for evening prayer a few weeks ago.

Aside from the person’s rudeness in interrupting prayer, and aside from the fact that the gathered group’s prayer service had been thrown out of the chapel, the logical conclusion that comes from the joining together of the two questions is truly astonishing.

Do you think the person really meant to imply that if you believe in the Blessed Sacrament, then you cannot gather for prayer anywhere except in a chapel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament? Or to put in another way, did this person mean to say that anyone who gathers for prayer outside of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament does not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharistic celebration?

Whatever do you think the Gospel means when Jesus is quoted as saying, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them?”

Death Penalty Dying?
This week the Supreme Court will hear a case that challenges the constitutionality of lethal injections in carrying out death sentences. Since the ruling from the lower court, this case has created a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in the United States (since lethal injection is by far the most common method used).

In another development, the American Bar Association says in a recent report:
“Serious problems in state death penalty systems compromise fairness and accuracy in capital punishment cases and justify a nationwide freeze on executions. … every state with the death penalty should review its execution procedures before putting anyone else to death. …”

“After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed,” said Stephen F. Hanlon, chairman of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project. “The death penalty system is rife with irregularity.”

These two developments do not guarantee the end of the death penalty, or even a true moratorium, but they do seem to be positive signs that real progress may be on its way. It’s a shame that Holy Spirit Parish can no longer see its way clear to join with the U.S. Bishops and the last several Popes to pray periodically for the end of the death penalty and to help organize efforts to influence public policy on this issue—it must be too controversial.

Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at gbrazier@rgv.rr.com

Monday, October 15, 2007

Holy Spirit Parishioners' Newsletter 10/14/07

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo

Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit
October 14, 2007

Fatima in Brownsville
The diocesan Fatima celebration, held last weekend at the Basilica, was sponsored by something called America Needs Fatima, an outreach of The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property. Any organization with that sort of name just cries out to be looked into—at least a little bit.

This group is the United States version of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), an international organization founded in Brazil and based on the writings of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, particularly, Revolution and Counter-Revolution. According to the aims laid out in this book, TFP acts to oppose the anti-Christian process that has undermined Christian civilization since the 14th century, the “Revolution” of the study's title. TFP opposes liberal and egalitarian ideas, policies, and trends in both society as a whole and in the Catholic Church. It argues for the need for authentic elites in society that raise, above all, the moral tone of general society. Corrêa de Oliveira seeks to balance the notion of “preferential option for the poor” with support for the “natural elite” that exists in all societies.

Corrêa de Oliveira says that there have been three phases of “the gnostic and egalitarian Revolution,” which progressively undermines the Church and social order, have taken place: 1) the renaissance up to and including the “Protestant pseudo-reformation”; 2) the “Enlightenment” and French Revolution which ushered in modern political liberalism; 3) the Communist revolution. The final phases that follow (now taking place) seek to eradicate the Church and Christian civilization while applying more radical egalitarianism and implementing neo-paganism. [excerpted from Wikipedia and TFP’s website, http://www.tfp.org/ , emphases added]

Aside from the right-wing kookiness that attacks the basic notions on which our own country has been founded, this group puts itself in direct opposition to virtually all the social justice teachings of the Church since Leo XIII. Note also two examples from the website which are simply incorrect representations of Catholic teaching:

“If we want our acts of love, praise, thanksgiving and reparation to reach the throne of God, we must place them into the hands of Mary Most Holy.”

“This teaching of the Church condemning contraception is infallible through the ordinary pontifical Magisterium of the Church, that is to say, the common and constant teaching of the Popes.”

It is stunning that the Diocese of Brownsville would officially associate itself with a group that puts itself so much at odds with Church teaching. TFP isn’t calling for structural reform of the Church (as many progressive groups do), but is calling for the Church’s repudiation the Gospel mandate: peace and justice.

Graceful Steps
My last two weeks have involved a significant amount of time spent with doctors and nurses. That time has reminded me about an aspect of respecting life that we all tend to push aside – taking care of ourselves. All life has dignity and is created and loved by God, and we are to respect and treasure all life—including ourselves. That means the time worn catch phrases like “you are what you eat”, “make time to take time”, and “5000 steps a day” have a spiritual significance that we cannot ignore. Part of our daily prayer of gratitude to God is to take care of the gifts He gives us, including the gift of our health. Watching the unraveling of a family member’s years of ignoring a health problem and how many lives and emotions were affected was a great wake-up call to me. Maybe Adam and Eve aren’t that far removed from us, even if the forbidden fruit is now more on the lines of over-processed and fast food, the challenge is still the same. God loves me and cares for me, and I should do the same. A prayer of gratitude can be not only what comes out of my mouth, but what goes in it—not just on my knees but in my walking shoes.
from fellow parishioner, Michelle Peña

This month is a busy one for those interested in traditionally Catholic things: feast days of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Therese of Lisieux, The Guardian Angels, and Our Lady of Fatima; the month of the Rosary, and (if the Monsignor is to be relied upon) yet another Respect Life Month (how many of those are there each year, anyway?).

What about the Rosary? Saying it is an ancient prayer custom, going back to apostolic times, right? It is one of those essential things about being Catholic, like going to Mass, right? Actually, no on both counts.

The Rosary as a meditative prayer (with the Mysteries) began in the 16th century and as simply a recitation of 150 Aves began in the 12th century—the legend about St. Dominic is just that, a legend. In its beginnings in the 12th century the Rosary was a way in which the illiterate populace could mimic the monastic tradition of reciting all 150 psalms as part the monks’ weekly recitation of the Divine Office. The use of beads to keep track of prayer is something many religions have employed, particularly Islam. The Church functioned through the first 60% to 80% of its existence without the Rosary, so its recitation is hardly essential to the practice of Catholicism.

Many people find meditative praying of the Rosary to be a powerful spiritual experience; others don’t, choosing different forms of prayer and practice—it’s a big Church with lots of diversity of religious expression—St. Francis offers an example that inspires a another sort of expression of Catholicism: Pace e Bene, Peace and All Good Things.

Catholic Identity and Mega-Trends Revisited
Pope Benedict has spoken a lot about Catholic Identity in his brief pontificate and John Allen considers this one of his Mega-Trends in the Church today (see http://ncrcafe.org/node/782 ):

“Another major force is the relentless press for a stronger sense of Catholic identity, an impulse felt in virtually every area, from liturgy to education, from religious orders to the church's engagement with secular politics…. Like John Paul II before him, Benedict is keenly concerned that Catholics do not assimilate to this broader secular mentality. As the practical translation of this imperative, the church has seen a growing emphasis over the last 25 years on what sociologists call the “politics of identity”—efforts to reinforce distinctively Roman Catholic language, practices and belief systems, our markers of difference in a rapidly homogenizing world.”

Maybe this concern, more than any other, is at the heart of much of the emphasis, in some quarters, on traditional (and Catholic-only) pious practices (the Rosary, Adoration, Marian devotions, etc.), which arose in the Middle Ages when the celebration of the Liturgy became distant and removed from ordinary Catholics. It also may be at the heart of some people’s almost fanatical refusal to see Catholic social teachings as essential to living out the Gospel—these teachings demand that we be “in the world” in a way that some see as being “of the world,” a secular, hostile and definitely, not Catholic, world. An extreme emphasis on identity can distort authentic Catholicism by emphasizing the peripheral and runs the risk of re-ghettoizing Catholics in cocoons, detached from society at large.

$$$$$ Update
This weekend completes two years since the last financial report to the Parish, so here is a version of an “annual report,” for the 52-week period from 10/15/06 to the present.

The collection total of $674, 155.20 (taken from bulletin notations) fell $79,854.80 short of the supposed parish budget and was $2,536.85 less than the previous twelve-month period. If spending continued at the rate reported two years ago, the total shortfall was $180,852.32. As more and more time goes on, the relationship between budget, spending and income becomes difficult to keep track of.

Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at mailto:gbrazier@rgv.rr.com

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Help Needed - Join the Protest.

Members of Holy Spirit Peace & Justice/Pax Christi protesting the Border Wall.

No Border Wall group members protested outside Pharr City Hall on Wednesday evening. Inside, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was meeting with local elected officials to talk about the region's structurally suspect levees. Some say the levees should be used as a security barrier, instead of a border wall.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Action Needed NOW!

Send In Your Public Comments about the
Border Wall

Comments concerning the construction of Border Walls in Texas are being accepted as part of the Environmental Impact Statement. “Environmental Impact” is the impact on the human environment, as well as, on wildlife and the quality of water and air.

Please write, fax or e-mail your comments in by October 15, 2007.

Here are a few ways to focus your comments:

· Destruction of wildlife habitat.
The lower Rio Grande Valley has already been cleared of 95% of the brush. In an area considered one of the most biologically diverse in North America, any additional destruction of brush, including clearing 508 acres for construction of the Border Wall, will have severe consequences for wildlife. How will wildlife survive with their habitat limited by a wall? How will they get to and from the river, find food, shelter, and potential mates in habitat dissected by a wall? In some areas like Starr County, the Rio Grande is the only source of water for wildlife. Any animal that encounters miles of wall will have to travel long distances for a very basic necessity, water.

· Endangered & rare species.
The ocelot, jaguarundi and red-billed pigeon currently face the real possibility of extinction or extirpation. These are just a few of the endangered and rare species whose U.S. populations would certainly collapse with construction of the wall. The ability of rare species like the ocelot and jaguarundi to cross into Mexico helps keep wildlife populations healthy by maintaining a level of genetic integrity. Reduction of gene flow among or within populations will reduce the likelihood of long-term survival of these species. A formal Section 7 Consultation under the Endangered Species Act needs to be done.

· Violation of International Migratory Bird Treaty.
If construction of the wall takes place during the spring, as stated in the Federal Register, many migratory and nesting birds will be affected. The clearing of brush will destroy thousands of nests, many with young birds in them. This is in direct violation of the International Migratory Bird Treaty.

· Impact of construction.
What will be the impacts of construction? Of roads for vehicles and heavy equipment? Of lighting and transmission lines?

· Economic impact.
Access will be cut off for wildlife enthusiasts interested in wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking along the river. Eco-tourism brings more than $125 million to the RGV annually from 200,000 eco-tourists, creating 2,500 jobs in the local economy. What are the economic impacts of limiting access to refuges, state parks, and other public and private parks and natural areas?

· Community impact.
A wall could mean uprooting families from their homes and demolishing or cutting off access to historical buildings and community centers. How many people will lose their homes? What buildings will be destroyed? How will property owners gain access to their land? What will the presence of a wall do to property values? How will there be public access to cemeteries and historical and archaeological sites along the river? Will there be access in case of fire or other emergencies on the other side of the fence?

· Impact on agriculture.
Farming is still the backbone of the economy in the Rio Grande Valley. How much agricultural land will be taken out of production by the wall? How will farmers gain access to their land? To their pumps and irrigation equipment? How will they bring farm equipment onto farmland behind a wall?

· Impact on flood control.
All the walled areas are in a floodplain. Has the Army Corps or DHS coordinated with FEMA? How will the wall affect the flood control levees? Will the IBWC have access to the levees and input in the construction? Will future widening of the levees result in even more habitat loss on the south side (since the wall is on the north side)?

· Relations with Mexico and the rest of the world.
Mexico will perceive the border wall as an insult. How will this affect the bi-national relations and cooperation? How will the border wall affect US relations with other countries and its standing in the world? By building a wall around our borders, what kind of example is the US setting of a free and open democratic society?

· Problems with the EIS.
The EIS is geographically too limited. The EIS should look at total and cumulative impacts into the future. What about the impacts in other areas where a wall is proposed? How will the impacts of this initial proposed fencing change if the total amount of fencing called for by the Secure Fence Act is installed? What will be the environmental impacts of future needs of the wall such as maintenance and lighting?

· Inadequate public comment period.
The public comment period is less than thirty days. For a project of this magnitude, the public comment period should be extended. In addition, the Web site has been down everyday, for the last several days, which has severely hindered the flow of comments. What a trick!

Submit your comments to Customs & Border Patrol by one of the following methods:
~ E-mail: RGVcomments@BorderFenceNEPA.com

~ Mail: Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS C/O e2M
2751 Prosperity Avenue, Ste. 200
Fairfax, Virginia 22031

~ Fax: (757) 282-7697

** Be sure to include you name, address and identify your comments as for the RGV Sector EIS.**

The deadline for public comments is October 15, 2007!

For more information: http://www.notexasborderwall.com/

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Holy Spirit Parishioners' Newsletter 09/30/07

Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit

September 30, 2007

The Wall
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.
And when they've given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall. Pink Floyd

The No Border Wall campaign has developed quite a bit of momentum in the past few months and has started to make itself heard outside the Rio Grande Valley and border area. Whether enough voices will be raised nationally to derail the ill-advised wall is still very unclear.

The effort against the wall in the Valley has brought together disparate folks—environmentalists, business leaders, immigration activists, and those drawn to the issue by their understanding of Catholic social teaching (not mutually exclusive groups, of course). Our Bishop Peña has weighed in and made a strong statement when he participated in the Pachanga in the Park in Brownsville this past weekend. His strong words, echoing those of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), have been widely appreciated and widely praised by progressive Catholics in the Valley, not always noted for appreciating and praising his words.

They are only words, however, and that is the rub. What we have not seen is an organized effort within the Diocese and its parishes to put the fine words into real efforts at the grassroots, parish level to educate the faithful of the Rio Grande Valley about the Church’s teaching on immigration and to provide the parish infrastructure to support Catholics who want to influence public policy that supports that teaching. The Bishop’s words in Brownsville and in columns in the newspapers are great, but they are like the seed that falls on barren soil and is trampled under foot. The parishes should be fertile soil in which commitment to the Church’s social teaching can grow but that will never happen without organized effort and support at the diocesan level.

In our own parish we have a pastor who not only has no interest in the social teachings of the Church, but has engaged in a concerted effort to rid the parish of all activity directed toward educating parishioners about these teachings and all efforts to provide opportunities for parishioners to actually put those teachings into practice in the context of their parish life. The complete silence on the Border Wall or on any immigration issues in the parish is not surprising, but that does not make it any less scandalous.

Not every pastor has the inclination or the talent to be an articulate voice for the social teachings of the Church, but no pastor is entitled to remain ignorant of them or to actively prevent his parishioners from being voices, in the context of their parish life, for them.

Bishop Peña should ensure that every parish has, within its ministries and activities, opportunities for parishioners to learn what the Church teaches about social justice and to participate in efforts to implement those teachings. In his address last Saturday, the Bishop referenced Matthew 25 (“when I was hungry…” etc.)—this is how we are to be judged, not by the fervor of our pious practices.

Deep Thoughts
At 8:30 this Sunday morning there were about 250 people at Holy Spirit. When Mass actually began (late, of course) a few more folks had arrived, but the church remained far less than half full.

There were no altar servers, one lector did double duty as a choir member, and the projection screens, in several instances, failed to present the correct song. This is nit-picking, sure, but the sloppiness of it all reflects a disrespect for the Eucharistic community that is shameful.

Because of no altar servers, the Offertory became a Chinese fire-drill as people from the congregation tried to help out (you might wonder if certain other folks’ attempts to lend a hand would have been as well received, or even allowed). This was preceded by a homily that seemed to be motivated more by Stuart Smalley than the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

It is no wonder the building was less than half full.

Good Words
I am going to cheat a little here and just share some words that I just posted again in my kitchen. I am a big fan of quotes. Perhaps others might send in some of their own favorites as well.

Words to ponder and live by from Henry David Thoreau:

“Be not simply good, be good for something.”
from fellow parishioner, Michelle Peña

Francis, John, and the Three Theresas
“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss—of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not really existing.” Mother Teresa to her confessor, in 1959.

This week finds the Church celebrating the feast days of Francis of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux. We have also seen a lot press about Mother Teresa and because of that, renewed interest in John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. The mystics (John and the Theresas) all recount decades of feeling abandoned by God, of even having no sense of God’s existence. Anyone who has ever taken on the discipline of regular meditation has to have some sense of what these mystics are talking about—refusing to trust possibly self-delusional emotional responses is a radically honest way to approach God, but can still leave a person desolate when left in a very dark night. The mystics shouldered on because of faith, a faith that was not reinforced or coddled in any way, shape or form in their daily lives. Mother Teresa apparently carried out her great work with the poor with no “warm fuzzies” to make her feel good nor with any consolations other than the firm conviction that she was doing work she must do.

Francis of Assisi is not typically presented to us as a “dark night of the soul” sort of mystic, but there is no doubt that he suffered some sense of estrangement in his life. He was a zealous, maybe even fanatic, reformer, calling for the Church to abandon its luxurious ways and seek not only to help the poor, but to be poor. His message of peace did not resonate with an institutional Church engaged in the Crusades; he was even driven from the leadership of the religious community he founded. It is unfortunate that many times Francis is portrayed as some sort of medieval Doctor Doolittle, instead of a person with a strong voice crying out for peace and justice.

$$$$$ Update
Since 10/15/06:
Total below budget: $76,173.67 (last year same date: $74,851.58)
Total shortfall (including expenditures over budget): $173,286.67
Projected yearly shortfall: $180,218.14

A Papal Pronouncement
“The one who is head over all should be chosen by all. No one should be made a bishop over the unwilling; the consent and desire of the clergy, the people, and the order is required.”
Pope Saint Celestine I (d. 432 A.D.)

You would think such a principle would also apply, maybe even more strongly, to the parish level.

Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at gbrazier@rgv.rr.com.