Summer-time greetings readers: I apologize for being away for a while, but in keeping with the spirit of the season, the early summer found me traveling for quite a bit for both business and pleasure: a trip with my family to “Bella Italia” – with spiritually re-charging stopovers in Assisi & the Eternal City, as well as some business travel down to the “Big Easy”, where I was able to witness first-hand the on-going recovery that that remarkable southern gem of a city – and its even more remarkable, faith-filled people – are making after the devastation that was Katrina. All in all this summer-season has been one filled with blessed encounters, experiences and insight that I am so very grateful to God be given the opportunity to experience and share.
In sitting down and reflecting what to write this particular post on , as an intermittent blogger, there is another blessing and insight I’d like to share that I have of recent become aware of: that because some time passes between when I update my posts, the intervening periods allow for the development of some perspective on the topics blogged about. Occasionally, the time that passes winds up vindicating a point that was made – demonstrating that you got out in front of an issue and wound up being spot on; on other occasions, the weeks that pass give you the opportunity to eat a lot of crow! The latter situation happened to me only recently when upon my return from some of those travels I mention above, I was greeted at the airport with headlines in the local tabloids calling into question the credibility of the young immigrant housekeeper here in New York City who had accused the former head of the International Monetary Fund – a powerful Frenchman named Dominique Strauss-Kahn (also known as DSK) of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in midtown Manhattan, causing him to be indicted on charges and resign his prestigious position. As regular readers will note, I had previously blogged about this encounter, and – while maintaining the principle that all accused of a crime should be held innocent until proven guilty – had called into question how an individual who headed up an organization institutionally dedicated to fostering international development could treat a person – herself from a part of the world in dire need of such development – in such terrible manner. Now, it seemed – according to the headlines – that the case against DSK was beginning to fall apart at the seams…his accuser, a 32 year old immigrant from Guinea, was revealed to have admitted to – amongst other things – lying in her application for asylum from Guinea, thereby casting doubt on her credibility as a witness. Upon reading of these circumstances, I have to admit that I thought to myself that it is not difficult to understand why the accuser in the DSK case would not be entirely forthcoming about her background: people who are fleeing violence, war and repression in their home countries are understandably reluctant to be totally honest with authorities – experience is a powerful teacher, and often in the nations these people are fleeing complete transparency equals a death sentence. While misleading authorities in a criminal trial is never justifiable – and while the circumstance of the actual criminal case against DSK remain a matter for a jury of his peers to decide – it also remains clear to me that something really terrible happened in that hotel room, and – given DSK’s sordid behavior towards dozens of other women over the years – it makes it very likely that he was the instigator. So while my “perspective” on the particulars on the players in this modern day morality tale may have changed somewhat, my take on the basic premise that underlies this story – that every human person, no matter what their station in life, has inherent dignity and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect, is still valid – in fact, it is the exact reason that DSK deserves the presumption of innocence before his guilt is proven in the first place.
In giving this a little more thought, it occurs to me that the perspectives that we all have about many things are a lot like shadows that objects cast off in the bright summer sun. It is often said that we “see from where we stand”, and depending on the angle we view a shadow from, it can either look almost identical to the actual object that cast it off, or can be completely distorted. The shape of the shadow itself in no way effects the properties of the actual object it reflects, and any description of an object that we make based upon only viewing its shadow will be accurate only to the degree of how close we are standing to the original object….the further away we stand from the origin, the more distorted our vision becomes.
Considering this insight got me thinking about another situation that as it were has been simmering all this summer: the financial turmoil that continues to plague our economy – at home and abroad. Global markets and economies in a tailspin, investors reluctant spend their money on needed infrastructure and the jobs required to reboot the economy, and the down-grade of the United States “credit rating” by Standard & Poors after the completely dysfunctional debt-ceiling debate in Washington – it doesn’t take a mensa to get that our country is in real trouble. Politically, our government is practically at a stand-still; in an ironic twist of events, our nation has begun to have the conversations politically that every “highly-indebted nation” has had to have over the past several decades, that being namely: who in society will bear the burden of cost adjustments on the accumulated debt – creditors or debtors…workers or investors…rich or poor? From a religious perspective, while there is no one definitive Christian perspective to these questions, there are core, fundamental Christian principles at the root of these questions that should be considered when formulating a response. One of the most compelling of these is found in the 25th Chapter of Matthew, in which Jesus admonishes his followers to assure that “the least of our brothers and sisters” are cared for as if they were Jesus Himself. In response to this call – in the current crisis – an unprecedented number of Christian faith leaders has come together, with representation from the Untied States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, the Salvation Army, Bread for the World and Sojourners – to name a few, in what has been referred to as a “Circle of Protection”, calling on those with responsibility for the government’s budget to reduce future deficits without cutting the discretionary spending for essential programs that provide a safety net for the poor both here and abroad. While this approach is not the only authentically Christian approach to reducing the national debt, it is the one that most closely hues to Scriptural mandates and Catholic Social Teaching – especially as regards solidarity, the common good, and the option for our poor and vulnerable brothers and sister. While we do have an absolute moral responsibility – for ourselves, our children and our children’s children – to put our nation’s fiscal house in order and to reduce unsustainable deficits and future debt, we are called to do so as Catholics in ways that protect human life and dignity – especially among the “least of these”.
It does not escape my notice that the day I did a significant amount of drafting of this blog post was this past Monday – August 15th – the beautiful Feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, body and soul into heaven on the completion of her Earthly life into Heaven to be with Her Son Jesus. As we prayerfully consider the difficult decisions that lay ahead for us to make about the financial future of our country and our world, it would be good for us to consider Our Blessed Mother as a model – Mother to all human kind, when She chooses to deliver a message to the world on behalf of Herself or Her Son, She often choose to appear to those on the margins – the poor, the vulnerable – the very “least of these” that Her Son so poignantly spoke of on the Sermon on the Mount. If we use Mary as a model – stand as close as we can to the spot that she occupies illuminated by the Divine Love of Her Son, perhaps our vision will become less distorted, and collectively we will be able to do what is needed for the common good of all.