September 20, 2014

An open letter to Chicago’s archbishop-elect Blase Cupich

Dear Archbishop-elect Cupich: Eat at Burger King. By yourself. In street clothes. If you want to get to know Chicago and those of us who live here, go to the Burger King on Lawrence Avenue, just west of Western Avenue. And, as you’re eating your Whopper, watch the Mexican-American family that is likely to be eating there. The father is just off work, and you can see the weariness drip off of him. He’s got some menial job — in a factory, or as a bus boy, or perhaps in the kitchen at another Burger King. Those are jobs without much dignity in our American culture, but, with his family, he holds his head high, and his kids chatter with him with great love and respect. Listen to the two gray-haired, gray-bearded Serbian guys. Unless you’re a polyglot, you’re not going to be able to guess what they’re saying, but you can tell they’ve got strong opinions. Look at the elderly man in a tie, white shirt and dark suit. He always sits alone at one of those small tables along a wall and does a crossword puzzle. If you glance around, you’re likely to see some Asian-Americans, a homeless […]
May 18, 2014

Advice for new graduates: Believe. Jump. Leap. Trust.

If you’re one of the millions of young people who are graduating from high school or college this season, I have one word of advice for you: Believe. Believe in God. Believe in other people. Believe in yourself. I’m not sure how much your education and upbringing has prepared you for the question of faith. By its nature, faith is a squirrelly sort of concept. It doesn’t lend itself to test scores. A fact doesn’t require belief. Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States — that’s a fact. Anything that can be proved doesn’t require belief. If you put a cup of water in the freezer and wait a couple hours, you’ll find the cup is full of ice. You can see it with your own eyes. By contrast, faith isn’t something that’s forced on you by the facts. You have a choice. You can choose to believe or not to believe. You can make the leap of faith. Or stay put with your feet firmly planted in the rational world. Here’s my advice: Jump!
September 5, 2013

“Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!”

It was a moment of high drama. And Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to find his rhythm. He stood before the Lincoln Memorial to address some quarter of a million black and white participants in the March on Washington as well as untold millions of television viewers watching a live broadcast. He was giving the speech he’d written for this auspicious day, August, 28, 1963. It was formal, sober, high-minded — and more than a bit clunky. One early line was: “And so today, let us go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction.” As King came to his line, he seemed to recognize the awkwardness of such polysyllabic phrasing, historian Taylor Branch writes, and decided to speak instead from the heart. Looking up from his text, he told his listeners: Go back to Mississippi; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. Those on the platform with him knew he had moved off […]
July 7, 2013

A parish, like a family, is made of woven lives

By Patrick T. Reardon The baby crawled along the carpet in an open area in the back of church. She was dressed in a celebration of white and red horizontal stripes, and she was happy. She was delighted at her newfound ability to get from here to there. She smiled and giggled. A few steps away was Ann, who was dying…… My story in the July 5, 2013 edition of National Catholic Reporter.
August 6, 2012

Dangerous Women

Back in the 1990s, I saw a movie, set in a big city, that focused on a small group of people who wore very distinctive uniforms. This group wasn’t carrying out its mission very well. The members of the group were portrayed in the film stereotypically. One was gullible. One prayed too much. One was really, really dumb. But then they were saved when someone came from completely outside the group, someone totally unexpected. She got everyone working together. And the group was suddenly successful. The actress who portrayed that woman was Whoopi Goldberg. And the film was? No, it wasn’t “Sister Act.”
February 27, 2012

JFK and the cafeteria bishops

A half century ago, John F. Kennedy was elected the first Catholic President of the United States because he convinced American voters that he wouldn’t take orders from the Pope. Now, however, Catholic politicians across the U.S., particularly those running for national office, are increasingly facing criticism from some members of the hierarchy — because they won’t take orders from the church. Consider: — In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro, a Catholic, was the Democratic nominee for vice president and the first women on a major party’s national ticket. But Bishop James Timlin of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Archbishop John O’Connor of New York publicly rebuked her for advocating legalized abortion. When she gave a speech in Scranton, one sign in the crowd read: “FERRARO — A CATHOLIC JUDAS.” — In 1990, O’Connor, now a cardinal, warned Catholic politicians that they were “at risk of excommunication” if they didn’t oppose abortion. — In 2003, Archbishop Sean O’Malley of Boston told Catholic lawmakers that they should stop receiving Communion if they voted to approve abortion legislation. — In 2004, John Kerry was named to head the Democratic ticket, becoming the first Catholic since Kennedy to be nominated for president. But, earlier in the year, […]
November 29, 2011

God’s voice in a scratching sound? an itch?

Published November 25, 2011 in the National Catholic Reporter Friends of mine get angry with the Catholic Church hierarchy, and, Lord knows, there’s enough reason for that. To err is human, as the poet says. And, as the clergy pedophile scandal and cover-up have shown, the Princes of the Church are deeply human. Nonetheless, they wear those fancy clothes, and they issue edicts as if they were the voice of God. I think that’s how they feel. What’s the point of a religious hierarchy, after all, if the people at the top can’t claim to be a pipeline from the Deity. And, of course, the Pope and the cardinals and the bishops can — and, sometimes, do — provide moral leadership in the world. But it seems to me that our faith isn’t built on pomp and circumstance, or on edicts from the throne. Ours is a humble faith. Really. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus asked. And he called a little kid over and said to his followers, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Remember “One of Us,” the song Joan Osborne sang a few […]