Posts Tagged ‘JustLove’

Not such strange bedfellows after all…

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Recently while having a conversation with a friend over dinner – where I had asked my friend what the topic of discussion was at a cocktail party he had recently attended – we both began to bemoan the perfunctory “first question” that gets thrown at everyone once initial introductions are through: the ubiquitous “What do you DO”…my friend went on to detail that he found such talk both uninteresting and honestly invasive; while I, on the other hand, find these questions challenging and difficult to answer. You would too if your official job title was both as expansive and non-descript as “Justice and Peace Coordinator”, and – upon giving your answer – you often find yourself met with either quizzical gazes or looks of complete non-comprehension! I have learned over the years that rather than go through an exhaustive recitation of my job description only to watch my conversation partner’s eyes gloss over and approach a R.E.M. stage of consciousness, I concentrate instead on talking about one or several particular “hats” that I wear as part on my job responsibilities. In an effort to retain the listeners’ interest – and not bore them completely out of their skulls – I often begin with one of what could arguably be called the “cooler” (“cool” as in “neato,” not in temperature!) aspects of my job, that of Producer of Msgr. Kevin Sullivan’s satellite radio showJustLove on the social mission of the Church, which airs weekly on Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. Eastern standard time on Sirius/ XM’s “The Catholic Channel” 129. Because we record the show live at the Sirius/XM studios in midtown Manhattan, during our comings and goings – in the elevators, lobbies and hallways – we frequently have official and would-be “celebrity sightings”: a “who’s who “of musicians, singers, television, radio and motion picture personalities – a veritable smorgasbord of the famous, and in some cases infamous, which makes great fodder for cocktail party talk – certainly more conventionally interesting then some of the teaching, convening and public policy aspects of my job might be for many.


This “celebrity-centric” wrinkle in my week is entirely by happen-stance and due primarily to the function of the famous real-estate mantra “location, location, location”; it has little to do with the actual work that I do, and the two experiences seldom intersect…..however, when they do – it makes for some fascinating encounters (at least to me!). Recently in fact, while I was leaving the studio to accompany a guest downstairs, I had a particularly interesting run-in that I would like to share with you readers. As I walked down the corridor towards the lobby to meet the guest for that particular show (in the interest of honesty, I was actually coming from the restroom), I came upon our guest engaged in deep conversation with a woman whom I would describe as well- if provocatively – dressed, but for the fact that she was standing in the public area of the studio in her stocking feet. As I approached our guest and his conversation partner, it occurred to me that I had seen this particular woman before – never in person mind you, but many, many times on the television. I approached our guest and stood beside him, entering into the general sphere of their conversation – certainly close enough to hear. Prior to my approach, our guest had been discussing his appearance on the show with the woman; he explained – at her request – that he had been on the air speaking about the response that the local Catholic Charities agency in the Bridgeport Diocese had made to the families of the children whose lives were taken in that horrific episode of gun violence that had only taken place weeks earlier up in Newtown, Connecticut. Our guest’s famous conversation partner shook her head upon hearing upon this, and asked then what show and station he had been speaking on; when our guest announced “The Catholic Channel” the woman looked hard at him, leaned in close, and whispered into his ear in a manner which I was unable to hear. When she straitened up again, our guest then answered her that he personally believed that “human life began at conception”, and thought that while he could understand the concerns of a woman facing a crisis pregnancy, he himself felt that the prevalence of legalized abortion in our society was a terrible tragedy just the same. The woman then pondered a moment, and said that she felt very much the same way; she then stated that – although not Catholic – prior to her current career in entertainment she had been a registered nurse, and it was this experience in the medical field that had helped her to form her positions on the morality of abortion. It was at this point that I suppose she became aware of my presence, for she quickly turned to face me and asked quite curtly “who” I was; I answered that I was the producer of the show that our guest had appeared on. At this point, she then addressed both our guest and myself, and asked us to please not share her identity or opinion on abortion publically, lest it effect her popularity – that her agent, label and publicity managers would scream at her if they ever found out; we both in response stated that we would respect her request. It was then that her entourage – coat and boots and bags in hand – quickly whisk her out of the studio and onto a waiting elevator, which our guest and I also entered. On the ride down to the lobby – while our famous fellow elevator passenger was busy putting on her coat and boots with the assistance of three of her handlers – I undertook a quiet conversation with our guest about his performance during the show. Immediately, our famous friend turned and loudly inquired in an angry tone whether we were “talking about her”, to which our guest replied with a smile, “No – but we will later”….the tension was then only broken when he and I began to laugh in a mischievous way, and she – relieved – laughed too.


This certainly was one of the more unusual “celebrity close encounters” I have ever had over at the studio – as much for the seriousness of the conversation as for the intimacy of the encounter. But what stayed with me the most I think from the discussion was both this woman’s fear – paranoia almost – of disclosure of her opinion regarding abortion. In reflection, I suppose that the fact that her work is now located within the entertainment industry, any disclosure of an opinion that may be out of line with what could arguably be called the “liberal” cannon – legal abortion without restriction included – might indeed be met with severe repercussions which could affect her career and lifestyle. I guess there really in something to that saying “location, location, location”…in a similar way, later that day, another insight struck me in contemplation of the topic of the day’s radio program: efforts at addressing the epidemic of gun violence in our country. During the show, while recounting some of the week’s “Catholic news”, I had reported that Bishop Stephen Blaire – Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development had signed onto a letter – with almost 50 other religious leaders from both Catholic, and other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faith traditions – asking that Congress take action against the sale and use of assault weapons through such measures as mandating criminal background checks prior to gun purchases and making gun trafficking a Federal crime; measures which – according to most opinion polls – the public supports, and to which the National Rifle Association – a gun-rights organization considered by many to be the most powerful lobbying group in the country – had just that week given testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing. Because of the NRA’s perceived power – as well as the its famous ability to deliver single-issue anti-gun control voters in an election – many legislators are fearful to speak up in favor of gun-control legislation even if they may personally support such measures out of a concern that disclosing an opinion which might be out of line with what could arguably be called the “conservative cannon” could have severe consequences for their careers, and the lifestyles that it affords.


There are two things that I find particularly interesting about all of this – the first is that – despite the fact that each of the positions described above seem to originate at diametrically opposite ends of the political/ cultural spectrum -there are, to my mind, several fascinating parallels between the gun rights lobby and the supporters of legalized abortion – and I am not the only one to notice this. Both groups are organized to support the individual rights upheld by the United States Supreme Court – the freedom to own a gun, and the freedom to have an abortion. Both are concerned that the Supreme Court rulings that underlie their positions – the Heller decision for gun rights advocates, and for abortion supporters Roe v Wade  –though expansive are inadequate to protect their positions, and both will brook no dissent to their maximalist approach to gun rights or abortion: to the NRA, any ban on a certain type of gun immediately translates to Federal forces coming to your home to confiscate your guns, to abortion supporters – despite the once stated goal of making abortion safe, legal and rare – any restriction on abortion is seen as an “evisceration”. Even more so, what is needed is an expansion of abortion rights; this in a state where almost four out of every ten pregnancies ends in abortion.

The other thing that I find particularly interesting – although I am certainly not surprised by it – is the Church’s response to both guns and abortion. Instead of concentrating primarily on the “individual rights” involved in either owning a gun or obtaining an abortion, Catholic social teaching starts off instead by asking what kind of a society we want to live in and create: one in which autonomous individuals – often out of fright or perceived lack of alternatives – use their “rights” to protect their lives – as they see it – against “strangers” whom they perceived as potential threats, or instead one where such fear is met with alternatives – a net of social support which seeks to ratchet down potential violence before it erupts. In Catholic social teaching, such an approach – one where both the “lives” that people live, as well as human “life” itself matter immeasurably – is called pursuing a “Culture of Life”, and it is what we as Catholics are called to do.

Now, of course, according to classical moral analysis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, support for gun-rights– even the right to own an assault weapon – must be looked at very differently from obtaining an abortion: abortion in Catholic teaching is the intentional taking of an innocent human life and therefore always intrinsically evil, whereas simple gun ownership is not. As it is often said:  guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But this statement – while true – ignores the fact that with gun violence, people can’t kill people with guns unless they can get them. Will measures like these prevent every incidence of gun violence? The answer to this is of course no, but even if such measures prevent a few deaths like the ones experienced in the terrible tragedies this year in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown , Connecticut, they will be well worth the effort of pursuing…and while the numbers killed in gun violence – over 31,000 in America in 2010 – does pale in comparison to the 55 million lost to abortion since 1973, it is clear – at least to this Christian conscience – that something can and must be done to address both of these tragic figures.

It has been said that “politics makes strange bedfellows”…it’s my hope that in the pursuit of an authentic “culture of life”, we as a nation can begin to address every threat to human life and dignity across the board, and make such a stance not that strange after all.

Why Do You Look for the Living among the Dead…

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

One of the things that I think sets New Yorkers most apart from people from many other parts of the country is our distinct appreciation for the concept of irony – whether its in our humor (it’s no coincidence that the sitcom “Seinfeld” – perhaps the most ironic comedy ever produced on television – is set in New York City), or in recognition of the sometimes circuitous journey that life take us on, New Yorkers appreciate irony like almost no other people on Earth. Given this fact – and considering that I am a born & bred New Yorker – I have always found the events of Holy Week extraordinarily powerful. It is a week of events that to the common observer appears to begin with Earthly exaltation ending five days later in apparent weakness, humiliation and death…..and yet to believing eyes, these circumstances are quite the opposite – the events at the culmination of this most Holy of weeks signifying not the destruction of a particular life that those in authority in that time and place had intended – but instead, the beginning of life renewed for all of us; a sacrificial gift of love that created hope of life renewed for us all. It is for this reason that we Christians call the Friday of this week “Good” Friday – it is not because the things that happened to Jesus on that day were in any sense good: the conviction of an innocent man for reasons of politics and religious intolerance, His scourging and torture, and His eventual execution by the means employed by the governing authority of that day on a Cross, are by no means “good” things – neither today nor 2,000 years ago. No instead, we Christians call this day “Good Friday” because it was on this day that Jesus Christ took on the means employed by the governing civic and religious authorities of his day who intended to utterly humiliate, degrade and destroy him by those means, and yet – by the power of His loving sacrifice – He transformed these terrible events into the birth of hope for the world that has endured for the over 2,000 intervening years since that day when those in authority thought that they had finally “taken care” of what they considered to be their “Jesus problem”.

This thought about the irony of the fact that we Christians dare call the day of Jesus’ loving sacrifice “Good” Friday hit me recently when a colleague of mine – after I had returned from the Sirius/ XM studios with our Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan after the taping of one of his “JustLove” programs – asked me about the topics discussed on the air that day. I responded to her that that day, we had highlighted one of our “Catholic Charities Around the Nation” segments, and that the topic that we had discussed was a shelter – operated by Catholic Charities of the New Orleans Archdiocese – that assisted those who were victims of sexual assault and domestic violence to remove themselves from their abusive situations and begin to rebuild their lives in an atmosphere of support and respect. In response to my statement, my colleague challenged me how I could maintain a hopeful disposition when discussing a topic as horrible as sexual assault and abuse. To be honest, her question left me very shaken – and I truly had no adequate answer for her at that moment; she got me thinking not only about sexual assault and domestic violence, but about many of the topics that we had discussed during the show for the past several month – of the aftermath of the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan and the overwhelming toll of death and destruction that occurred in these places, of events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire whose 100th anniversary just occurred where many young working immigrant girls lost their lives due to a desire for profits over safety, of the tragedy of the shooting in Tucson in January that took the lives of 6 innocent people including a 10 year old girl born on September 11, 2001 – all these things terrible –and like those things done to Jesus that Friday  2,000 years ago – none of them in any way or any sense “good”.

My colleague’s question continued to haunt me for some time; like any good one, it had me search deeply within – asking fundamental questions about human suffering, about pain, about loss, about love, and about God. Blessedly, this searching on my part happened during the later stages of Lent and Holy Week, when our attention turns to Jesus’ own suffering and death. Answers to these questions are of course never easy, even those who were closest to Jesus during His life on Earth remained confused when confronted with His profound suffering, of His undeserved death. In Scripture, after the events of Good Friday, the women who accompanied Jesus – Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, all while the male disciples were in hiding – went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body with spices as was the Jewish burial custom of the day. I am sure that they were all three troubled by questions as they walked together to that tomb – questions about suffering, about pain, about loss, and about God – and they sought answers. When they had reached their destination, they found Jesus’ tomb open and empty. In answer to their questions, a messenger from God appeared to the women and asked them “Why do you seek the living among the dead”, informing them that Jesus was not there – and reminding them of Jesus’ words to them that His suffering and death would not be final, but that He would be raised up. God’s messenger did not then dismiss the women upon proclaiming Jesus’ triumph over suffering and death, instead he called them to action – enjoining them to “go quickly and tell the disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and He is going before you to Galilee”….for Jesus Himself at that time was not standing still but was on the move ahead of them…

Here at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, our motto is “Providing Help. Creating Hope.”; that motto is included in our logo, and appears in the shadow of a Cross. It is here, in reflecting on the words of this motto – in the shadow of the Cross, on this Easter weekend – that I believe I can begin to find an answer to my colleague’s question. If we, like the first Christians – those women who witnessed both the terrible suffering and underserved death of Jesus as well as His Resurrection from the dead  – can respond in action to the terrible suffering of this world, perhaps we can play a small part in creating the Hope that His loving sacrifice and Resurrection laid the foundation for on that first Easter weekend 2,000 years ago.

A Blessed Easter to you all!

Blessings of the Fourth

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Hi readers, and welcome to the summer! Glad that you are all checking back – from my last post update you know that recently I have been busy assisting our Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan with his weekly radio broadcast “JustLove” on the work of the Church in the world on the Catholic Channel on Sirius/XM Radio. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve done some terrific shows on both the tragedy of the continuing oil spill in the Gulf, as well as a different kind of tragedy – a moral one – in the continued use of the practice of torture for last week’s observance of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. I’ll have more to say on both these topics in posts to come, but for now I’d like to share with you a bit about what we discussed on this week’s show which we dedicated to the observance of Independence Day. On this week’s show we had two guest – the eminent Federal Senior Circuit Judge John Noonan, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as well as Dr. Patrick Griffin, Professor of American History at the University of Notre Dame. Judge Noonan spoke eloquently of what he referred to as “the luster of our Country” – the legacy of religious liberty that we American’s enjoy as a consequence of the First Amendment of our Federal Constitution – and Professor Griffin discussed some little known facts regarding the American Revolution – including the contribution of Catholics to the cause of American Independence.

While doing some of the background research for the show, I have to be honest and admit how astonished I was at the level of bigotry that existed against Catholics among the population of what was then the 13 colonies of the nascent United States:  at the time of the Revolutionary War, only three of the original 13 colonies allowed Catholics to vote; all New England Colonies except Rhode Island and the Carolinas prohibited Catholics from holding office; Virginia would have Catholic priests arrested for entering the colony; and Catholic schools were banned in every state save Pennsylvania. In the late 1760s and early 1770s, colonists routinely celebrated “anti-Pope days”, an anti-Catholic festival derived from the English Guy Fawkes Day (named for a Catholic who attempted to assassinate King James I and blow up the entire British Parliament – and these “festivals” included mock hangings and burnings of effigies of the Pope, as well as cartoons and orations linking the Pope to the devil and his minions. In fact, a little known action of the British Parliament in 1774 helped fuel some of this anti-Catholic sentiment and caused tremendous anxiety in the populace of the 13 colonies: in that year, the Parliament passed the Quebec Act – an enlightened law that let the Catholic Church remain the official Church of Quebec. This action on the part of Parliament appalled and terrified many American colonists, who assumed that this was a British attempt to subjugate them religiously by allowing the loathsome Catholics to expand into their colonies. In fact, no less of an American patriot then Alexander Hamilton said of this action of Parliament that “Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass an Act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such an extensive country?…Your loves, your property, your religion are all at stake!”

Thankfully, the great man George Washington rejected this Catholic bashing – though mostly for practical,  not philosophical, reasons: he was one of the first to recognize that a revolution based upon “liberty” would need to encompass a new approach to religious freedom. In addition, as Commander in Chief, Washington had to contend with the fact that Catholics were among the volunteers who were members of the Continental Army. Because of this fact, on September 14, 1775 Washington banned the burning of effigies of the Pope on “Pope Day”; and in fact, the practice of burning the Pope in effigies disappeared as a result of this decree. As a result of this tolerance, Catholic soldiers shed blood for the American cause: the Maryland militia was brimming with Catholics who helped thwart British raids from Virginia, and among the soldiers who had gone to aid Boston in its hour of need were Catholics from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In considering this little known but critical part of our own Nation’s history, I thought of how funny it was that despite how much some things change, other things remain the same. Folks who may be reading this in other parts of the country may not be aware, but in the past few months there has been a lot of intense opposition to the Muslim community here in New York City building houses of worship for their members – both in the Brooklyn Diocese as well as here in the Archdiocese of New York in lower Manhattan and in Staten Island. In voicing opposition to these plans, some opponents have cited traffic concerns, but the overwhelming amount of objections have focused on more intangible and frankly volatile issues including:  fear of terrorism, a distrust of Islam generally and a linkage between these two concerns in protesters minds. The recent case of the Times Square bomber has only exacerbated the situation. In response to these situations and the concerns that they raise, Archbishop Dolan wisely wrote in his blog that there are “legitimate and understandable concerns…about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build…(but) what is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome and religious freedom”.

I have to be honest that on reflecting on these situations, I have a personal history that very much effects my position on these matters. Frequent readers may recall that I have several Muslims among that great community of people that I call my friends; in fact there is a particular person in that community whom I consider one of my closest friends. I have mentioned him in a previous posting here before , and in fact – coincidentally – it was at a party on the Fourth of July I first met him. As with every human relationship be it at home in our families, at work or at play, our friendship has had its ups and downs. In fact – right at the moment – our friendship is going through a rough patch, the roots of which are – as with disagreements between friends – poorly chosen words, misunderstood actions, and hurt feelings. Added to that are some particular challenges and difficulties that come from being from two different places with different languages, cultures and customs. Still, difficult and challenging does not equal impossible. When it comes to arguments with family and friends, its always been my belief that the best thing to do is to extend to the other person “the benefit of the doubt” – for me, the relationship is almost always more valuable then the conflict that threatens it.

In a funny kind of way, this is exactly I think where some of the difficulties I discussed above have both their origin and at least some possible solution. I am almost certain that many of the people who oppose the Muslim community building a mosque in their neighborhood do so out of a place of fear and unfamiliarity, many – if not most – I’m sure do so with vivid memories of the horrors that our city endured on September 11, 2001 fresh in their minds. I share those memories as well. I also however share other memories: memories of good times shared with good friends – friends who are good people who may pray differently then I do, but who share a belief in a God who is Father to us all. I am mindful that the same prejudice that my good friends must endure today because of the unconscionable actions of 19 young men who were raised in the same faith that they were is of a kind with the prejudice that my ancestors in colonial New York may have encountered because of their faith as well. We should not forget that much of the prejudice that the non-Catholic, mostly Protestant population of the 13 colonies felt towards Catholics was born out of memories of religious persecution and wars that raged all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries – at the hands of both Protestant and Catholic forces. There is a reason that the Rolling Stones, in their Rock and Roll anthem “Sympathy for the Devil, put the line “I watched with glee while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the gods they made” in the voice of Satan; no theologians they, Mick Jagger and his band knew that God – the loving Father of the whole human race – would never countenance killing in his name.

As regards my friend and the difficulty that we recently encountered in our friendship; it is this day one of my sincerest hopes that he and I can extend to one another the “benefit of the doubt”, mend the fences that were broken, and resume to enjoy the great times, conversations and laughs that we enjoyed in the past; in a similar way, I believe it would be a wonderful thing if we collectively could  – in this season of Independence Day – follow in the footsteps of George Washington, and in the spirit of the “Father of Our Country”  extend to another community that worships God a bit differently then ourselves the “benefit of the doubt”, mindful of the wonderful spirit of religious liberty and tolerance that truly gives a “luster to our Country”.