Monday, July 14, 2014

Reductionism...What's that???

On Sunday, Pope Francis met with a group that is studying "an increasingly more inclusive economy". In the meeting he decried the tendencies of economic systems to reduce the human being to a simple means to an end, a cog in a wheel, a mere tool in a system that promotes economic imbalance. In this system, mankind loses humanity. (Notice the chart above - it doesn't even mention human beings.) And when we lose are humanity, what happens? What is the outcome of a society where the human is reduced to his or her productive capability and usefulness to the ends of an economic system? That is when the human being becomes dehumanized and disposable. (Neither the Pope nor I are criticizing or affirming any particular type of economic system, simply the inhumane ways people are treated in different systems.) It doesn't take long to look at the state of our world today, indeed our own country, to see the effects. Many are seen as a burden and looked at as persons who have lost (or never had) any usefulness. This shows an increased suicide rates particularly among persons over 65 who kill themselves 20% more often than the general rate (according to a New York Times article 8/7/2013). It shows in our willingness to "mercifully kill" those in terminal conditions instead of loving them and affirming their great value right up to the natural end of their life. It shows in our willingness to abort babies because their continued existence is seen as inconvenient or burdensome.
We as Christians, indeed as HUMAN BEINGS, should be railing against the reduction of the human person to their economic usefulness. Please work in your own life and in your treatment of others to affirm their (and your) great worth despite age, illness, infirmity or economic status. Each and every person is in need of others to show them their great value. How will you and I respond to that need?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Less is more

On June 13th of this year 17 of us from St. Michael Parish embarked on a journey to Belize, Central America. We drove to Omaha late in the day, spent the night in a Catholic school and rose early to be at the airport by 6:30 a.m. We flew to Dallas, waited a few hours and then took off for Belize City. We arrived at about 12:30 p.m. and there began a mission of challenge, self-discovery, hard work, meaningful worship, new friends, and great experiences.
The time was challenging because we lived in tough conditions. In other words, we lived much like the people of Orange Walk Town with whom we worked for several days. We slept on air mattresses in rooms that could be hot and stuffy, drank warm water, took cold showers, and fought off a multitude of bugs and other creatures.
We worked very hard on a variety of projects in and around Orange Walk Town. We erected a fence around San Juan Church, finished and painted the ceiling of the Church of Palmar, assisted in feeding the “poorest of the poor” at Mercy Mission in the center of Orange Walk, painted the inside rooms of a convent, sanded and stained pews, and painted the exterior of a church in just two and a half hours. Some of our group helped paint new Stations of the Cross for the San Juan Church as well as painting inspiring banners to be hung around the place we stayed (Muffels College). Note - Muffels College is not a college in the way we think of them - it was more like a junior high.
We attended Mass on our first Sunday in Belize at La Immaculata Church in Orange Walk. The priest (Fr. Smalls) is responsible for 21 parishes in the area so most of the parishes only get Mass once or twice per month. The music was wonderful (Latin American), the people were VERY welcoming and the Church was packed to the gills with many people standing outside by the open windows. It was Father’s Day so they had a nice presentation of certificates and small gifts for all of the dads who were present. They also sang a song in Spanish for all of the dads who had passed away. Although I couldn’t understand the words, I could tell it was an emotional song as dozens of people in the Church wept openly in love for their deceased fathers. We also had Mass every evening and fun programs in which to participate.
We met great people from the local area who opened their hearts to us in gratitude, generosity and hospitality. They were friendly, happy people. We also met many new friends who came from other parts of the United States to participate in the work camp.
I believe I speak for all who went on the trip in saying that it was also an experience of self-discovery. When we reached our hotel in Dallas on the way home we gathered in the dining area and discussed our experiences. Rhonda asked us what we were grateful for or what we learned. These are some of the responses:
· “I am grateful for school –the youth in Belize only go until the sixth grade and most cannot afford to go to high school so I am going to quit complaining about school.” (There is no public school in Belize)
· “The people of Orange Walk were so happy, so generous and so grateful for our help.”
· “Simplicity is the best way of life.”
· “The people were very joy-filled and proud of their homes, their churches and their families.”
· “God showed me what true happiness is. Despite the fact that the people live in poverty they are joy-filled and content.”
· “The people showed me a level of kindness I had never experienced before. I have never felt so at home when I wasn’t.”
That is just a sample of the many responses the young adults shared.  For me, I now appreciate the Mass (daily and Sunday) much more than ever. The people in the Orange Walk area live good and holy lives while only receiving the Eucharist once or twice per month. They are lucky if they get to go to Confession once per year. We truly are blessed (and maybe a bit spoiled) because we can receive these Sacraments daily if desired. I also learned that I had not yet appreciated the lesson I learned in Guatemala several years ago - people with very little are much more happy, content, faithful and family centered than people with much. To interact with the Belizean people and see the love of God beaming through their smiles and their open hearts was a humbling experience. It seems that less stuff means more God and simple living conditions lead to strong families and caring communities. I have to keep asking myself “When will I learn?” these simple but important lessons?!