Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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The Inevitable Blame: Local & State Officials Did Not Evacuate the Poor & Disabled
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Saturday, September 10, 2005The Inevitable Blame: Local & State Officials Did Not Evacuate the Poor & Disabled
Here is another article documenting how more are realizing that the responsibility for the extent of the human suffering in the New Orleans disaster lies in the failure of state and local "leaders" to evacuate the most helpless before the hurricane. See today's Washington Times.
Is God Now Passive?
A non-Catholic reader asked me to address a very good question that I will restate thus: In the Bible, God is quite active in a very concrete way in the affairs of mankind. Why does it seem that God has been so passive once we get beyond the biblical era?
My first reaction is to say that I know many who will tell you that God is very active and "interventionist" in their own lives. I am around many Catholic charismatics who testify to dramatic healings and to "hearing" the voice of God in their daily lives. And these are not uneducated, gullible people, but highly educated and sophisticated people. So one way to have this question answered is to find a Catholic charismatic prayer group or parish and start observing and listening.
But, of course, we can also point out that Catholics canonize as saints individuals whose intercession has led to miraculous healings; and a record number of canonizations have taken place in the last two decades. In addition, many Catholics believe in the apparitions of Mary in Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima and in many other places. John Paul the Great made no secret of his belief that Mary intervened to save his life from the assassin's bullet in 1981. Today, many Catholics practice a devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus based on the writings of a Polish nun, recently canonized, who received instruction from Jesus himself. So, in the Catholic world, whether technically charismatic or not, God is very active and interventionist through Mary and the other saints.
I would recommend that the reader who posed the question go on the internet and learn more about the Divine Mercy devotion at this link. I would also recommend becoming familiar with Catholic charismatic renewal. And, of course, many of us in our personal lives will tell you that we have felt the hand of God in our lives in events that others will call mere coincidences but that we view as the workings of divine providence. Seek and you will find evidence that God is very active today in a very biblical way.
Friday, September 09, 2005Freedom Through Tragedy
In a conversation last night, a Louisiana native who now lives in Detroit put it well: for many people freedom and release has come in an apocalyptic way that no one ever wanted. Freedom fell into the laps of many through a horrible tragedy. The existentialists of the twentieth century wrote a lot about freedom and the dizzying experience of having so many open possibilities. Something must fill the void of freedom. As the European existentialist Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) famously said, "I am I and my circumstances." When circumstances radically change, it is as if the "I," the agent, the subject, has himself changed.
John Paul the Great spoke of the drama of our freedom. Catholic theologians speak of a freedom for excellence and truth as opposed to an empty freedom that runs away from the good. Freedom will be terrifying if we do not believe that we can find truth. And, deep down, most of us know that on our own we are too flawed to find truth in a reliable and consistent fashion. Catholics believe that human reason--which also includes our emotional intelligence and intuition--is able to find truth. But Catholics also believe that we are in such a weakened condition that we need divine revelation and divine favor or grace.
The key Christian revelation about human life is self-gift. At times, we get glimpses or epiphanies of this great truth; and our feelings momentarily mirror the truth that human fulfillment is self-gift. But for most of the hours of the day, our feelings instead reflect the fearfulfness that leads us to want to possess, control, and dominate things and others. Revelation gives us the objective truth that self-gift is the core of our humanity so that we no longer have to be at the mercy of fearful and anxious impulses.
Individual circumstances vary so widely that there is no detailed magic formula for how we are to arrange our lives. But the principle of self-gift is a constant. Self-gift is the great principle of discernment: commit to that vocation and that way of life which calls for the gift of self. Reject the path that calls for merely acquiring things for the self. That path will aim freedom like an arrow toward truth and toward flourishing fulfillment.
Thursday, September 08, 2005Lives Changed
The news media can give us a wide view of events like the hurricane disaster, albeit a wide view that is always deficient and incomplete. Yet, the mainstream news media fails in many ways to give us the full reality at hand by not capturing what many ordinary individuals report and see. Based on e-mails from friends, the situation in New Orleans is much worse than the cable shows are able to report. Even less can the mainstream media tell us what these changes mean to individual lives.
Each life has its own unique history, its own unique twists and turns. A disaster like that we have seen has myriad ripple effects on individual lives. Only the individual gets a glimpse of the real meaning for him or her of what has happened--and even at that, in many cases, only a glimpse. The past is affected because such events inevitably affect how we evaluate and think about our past life decisions and commitments. Certainly, the present is made extremely malleable. And the future is a great unknown. In such situations, prayer becomes, more than ever, listening to the voice of God for hints and direction.
Yesterday's daily prayer had some verses from Isaiah that capture the great asset that the prayerful have:
The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: "This is the way; walk in it," when you would turn to the right or to the left.
Isaiah 30:20-21 (NAB).
In studying Spanish literature, I recall a teacher speaking of "intrahistoria" which I understood as the history lived in the private contexts of individual lives, as opposed to the history made up of grand public events. Major public events transform the inner history or "intrahistoria" of thousands and millions. For believers, prayer is the key to making sense of the inner history all of us live.
Incidentally, in today's N.Y. Times, the business section has an article noting a study by economists that shows how people of religious faith do better when faced with negative events (see "In Times of Stress, Can Religion Serve as Insurance?," by Virginia Postrel). As is common in so much social "science," a lot of numbers are generated to provide evidence for what was already obvious. My own insight on these studies is that religious faith, in ways that outside observers will never fathom, provides meaning for individuals that is uniquely perceived and understood only by those individuals. Sometimes the most important things in our lives are undetectable by journalists or social scientists.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005Thomas Sowell Lays It on the Line
The astute economist and social analyst Thomas Sowell draws the connection between disaster and "feel-good" moral relativism in this column.
Goods for Which to Hope
Even in the worst tragedies, we must look for things to hope for in the future. As is often said, every crisis is an opportunity. That attitude is fully consistent with Christianity, which finds in the tragedy of the crucifixion the event that destroyed the power of evil over us. Here are some things to hope for in the future:
1. That the New Orleans poor imprisoned for generations in terrible living conditions and terrible schools will find new lives in better cities across America. May they experience the success that so many foreign immigrants have experienced in their own journeys far from home.
2. That New Orleans will be rebuilt based on logic and common sense and not on the rhetoric of dismally mediocre politicians. Fortunately, the federal role will be crucial, meaning that the nation as a whole will have a say in how the reconstruction proceeds. The mediocre Louisiana and New Orleans political establishment should not drive the process. They have already done enough damage to leave them discredited in perpetuity. They lost an entire city.
3. That, faced starkly with the fragility and uncertainty of worldly goods, many will respond to the call for conversion and no longer build houses on sand.
4. That the human warmth and kindness of the vast majority of the people of New Orleans will be a gift to the other parts of the nation in which they settle.
5. That many who have experienced this tragedy, whether from far away or on the scene, will renew their ties of friendship.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005Another Insightful Columnist on New Orleans
It is amazing how this British columnist from the Telegraph newspaper captures so well the New Orleans reality in this column. In many ways, New Orleans was a "failed city" well before Katrina hit.
The Best Insight: Michael Barone
The most insightful commentary, that I have seen, on the future of New Orleans and its deep social problems comes, not surprisingly, from columnist Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report (see his column). He surmises that the future New Orleans will be primarily focused on its tourist and entertainment districts, with no need for a large urban population. He notes what many of us from New Orleans lived with for many years: horrible levels of violence and crime plus depressing levels of poverty and ignorance. Add to those social pathologies the added social pathology of a very pronounced level of social stratification in which a very unAmerican elitism lorded over masses of the unwashed.
I recall attending parties as a young lawyer in which all the "partyers" were white and all the catering staff was black. When I moved north, I was surprised to see African-Americans living in very desirable housing--in New Orleans, I had always associated African-Americans with the ramshackle housing of the poor neighborhoods of New Orleans. I also recall being surprised to see in the Midwest how many white men made a living as landscapers. In New Orleans, the social stratification was so severe that I always associated African-Americans with any work relating to gardening or landscaping. New Orleans had an ugly side: blatant and arrogant privilege cheek by jowl with Third World poverty and ignorance. In my opinion, the social situation in New Orleans was in some ways worse than that in certain Latin American countries with a large gulf between rich and poor because of the strong racial and cultural divide.
You see the remnants of that socially stratified mentality in some of the blog comments about the disaster. The "yuppies" are relieved that the local art museum is undamaged, that stately St. Charles Avenue with its rows of mansions is passable, and that the central business district and various museums seem to have survived intact. In the white yuppie world, those are the boundaries of the city they knew. But the real New Orleans is much bigger, much poorer, and not chic at all. The real New Orleans has been destroyed. What the yuppies inhabited was never the real New Orleans. It was an illusion.
All in all, New Orleans has, from a Catholic point of view, been a social justice disaster area for generations. An attitude of selfish frivolity overlay this social justice disaster and enabled an astonishing degree of denial. Interestingly, the poor of New Orleans in shelters scattered throughout Texas now have the chance to escape finally from the poverty and crime prison that was New Orleans in a modern-day Exodus. Katrina has relocated the poor who would otherwise never have relocated from their inherited dead-end world. The yuppies can keep the rest.
Monday, September 05, 2005Of Evacuations & Politics
As a native New Orleanian, I have continued to follow Louisiana politics closely over the past few years. So I recall things that many of my readers would really have no reason to be aware of or remember as non-Louisianians. I recall a recent U.S. Senate election in Louisiana in which incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu was running for re-election. The election was on a Saturday. By Saturday afternoon on election day, Sen. Landrieu noticed and became concerned that turnout in the heavily Democratic black neighborhoods of New Orleans appeared to be lagging. That was bad news for the Democratic Senator. So the political machine cranked up and voters were quickly and efficiently transported to the polls in the very same black neighborhoods that have now been devastated by the hurricane. When an election was at stake, plenty of poor black New Orleanians were aggressively picked up and taken to the polls.
Contrast that political aggressiveness in transporting voters with the utter and absolute failure of the same Democratic Senator and her friend the Democratic governor and the Democratic mayor of New Orleans to pick up these same poor people and get them out of New Orleans before the hurricane struck. I guess there is a direct relation between the threat of losing an election and the urgency displayed in transporting poor people. What a contrast. What we have seen on display during this catastrophe is the lesson that no one should entrust their future and the future of their children, much less their physical safety, to the unbroken tradition of political mediocrity that is entrenched in my native state and city.
More Evidence of State & Local Gross Incompetence
In what will come as no surprise to any of my fellow native Louisianians, more evidence is emerging of gross negligence and incompetence by state and local officials who failed to inform in a timely manner the federal government of the dire situation of so many of their constituents. See this Washington Times story from today's edition. In addition, CNN is reporting that Louisiana Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco rebuffed President Bush's offer to federalize the entire rescue operation.
We furthermore have the absurdity of Jesse Jackson calling for keeping evacuees inside Louisiana so as not to break up neighborhoods. I cannot resist wondering if the Rev. Jackson is more concerned, consciously or not, with the break up of a reliable Democratic voting bloc than he is with poor people finally getting the chance to escape high crime, high unemployment ghettoes full of despair with one of the worst public school systems in the nation. If I were one of those evacuees in economically booming Houston with my kids in a superior Houston public school system, I would give serious thought to staying in Houston permanently rather than returning to a New Orleans that was already a dead-end place to live for so many poor and black people even before the hurricane struck. (Also, notice how strongly conservative and Republican Texas has opened its doors and its public school systems to 250,000 evacuees, most of them black--contrary to the liberal stereotypes of conservative Republicans.) There may be a silver lining in this disaster for poor people who would never otherwise be able to afford moving to a more prosperous city with a better public school system. But the civil rights leader has other ideas.
Prayer for Hurricane Victims
Lord God Almighty,
Spare and protect all who have been affected by this terrible storm.
Grant each of them healing and consolation.
Grant them the favor and gift of conversion in this time of stark desolation.
You fill the poor, the broken-hearted, and the mourning with all good things. You send the rich away empty.
So now fill the thousands who are poor, broken-hearted, and mourning with all good things and especially the abundance of your Holy Spirit.
In the name of Jesus Christ, and invoking the intercession of His Mother,