Monthly Archives: September 2016


St. Vincent De Paul: A Saint for Garment Justice

September 09, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Garment Justice

St. Vincent de Paul

Pope Francis invites us to be a poor church for the poor, to build community, to become a church on the margins. To do this, we need help from the saints, both as intercessors and as examples.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent De Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660), a French priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. Renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and known as the “Great Apostle of Charity,” he was canonized in 1737.

Vincent’s life was full of dramatic moments. At 24 years old, Vincent was taken captive by Barbary pirates and spent two years in bondage as a slave. As a young priest, rising quickly among the ranks of the clergy, he abandoned the path for advancement when he experienced a call to serve the poor, a call that changed his life.

A tireless apostle, St. Vincent de Paul founded an order of priests, the Congregation of the Missions, to work with peasants in villages. Called the Vincentians, today there are almost 4,000 members of this religious order. Vincent also assisted Saint Louise de Marillac in founding the Daughters of Charity, an order of women religious who served the poor in the world, rather than living a cloistered life. As well, his exampled is imitated by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul and its many councils in parishes around the world and in numerous thrift stores that bear his name.

The spirituality of St. Vincent De Paul concretely connects faith to action:

So then, if there are any among us who think that they are in the Congregation of the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor but not to comfort them, to supply their spiritual but not their temporal wants, I reply that we ought to assist them and have them assisted in every way, by ourselves and by others, if we wish to hear those consoling words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead: ‘Come, beloved of my Father, possess the Kingdom that has been prepared for you; because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you visited me.’ To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, it is to do so most perfectly and it is also what Our Lord did and what those who represent Him on earth, in office and in character, such as priests, should do. –St. Vincent de Paul (Conferences to the CM’s, Conference 195, p. 608.)

At an event accompanying the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Francis said, “The world stands in need of concrete signs of solidarity, especially as it is faced with the temptation to indifference.” The saints for garment justice whom we highlight, including St. Vincent De Paul, are those “concrete signs of solidarity.” They give witness to paths that overcome “the temptation to indifference.”

Prayer from the Missal
O God, who for the relief of the poor
and the formation of the clergy
endowed the Priest Saint Vincent de Paul
with apostolic virtues,
grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit,
we may love what he loved
and put into practice what he taught.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

A homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 09, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Lazarus and the rich man

Lazarus and the rich man

Father John Kavanaugh, S.J. penned a volume of homilies for Orbis Press entitled, The Word Engaged: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures. He included an insightful meditation on Lazarus and the Rich Man, in light of the garment industry, no less true then than today. St. Louis University shares the homily on their website: http://liturgy.slu.edu/26OrdC092516/theword_engaged.html. Taking a few minutes to read this homily is well worth your time.

Fr. Kavanaugh, who died in 1991, was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. His untimely death is a grief for the many people he reached during his lifetime.

Blessed Anton Schwartz: A Saint for Garment Justice

September 09, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Pray

Blessed Anton Schwartz

Blessed Anton Schwartz

In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Rerum novarum, inaugurating the era of modern Catholic social teaching and signaling the Church’s solidarity with the industrial working class. Among those who prepared the way for this teaching was Anton Schwartz, an Austrian priest who was moved by the hardship he witnessed among apprentices and young workers in Vienna who spent long hours in factories working for pitiful wages and often enduring terrible conditions. At the time he was a chaplain to a hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy. At first the archbishop denied Fr. Schwartz’s request to be relieved of his duties to devote himself to the workers, but eventually, with the support of the Sisters, he was freed to pursue his true vocation.

In 1889 he and five religious Brothers founded the Congregation for the Devout Workers of St. Joseph Calasanz. Fr. Schwartz perceived the struggle to overcome social injustice as “one of the most significant and hardest problems of our time.” He actively sided with the workers in labor strikes, denounced their exploitation, and promoted the formation of associations to promote their education and protect their interests. His open engagement in the social struggle drew bitter attacks, including many from within the Church. But support from his archbishop finally stilled his critics. Schwartz died on September 15, 1929, and was beatified in 1998 by St. John Paul II.

Blessed Anton Schwartz defense of the dignity of the worker makes him a saint for garment justice.

Those Catholics are worthy of all praise who, understanding what the times require, have striven, by various undertakings and endeavors, to better the condition of the working class by
rightful means.

—Pope Leo XIII

A Prayer in Honor of the Blessed Anton Maria Schwartz

O God, who have taught your Church
to keep all the heavenly commandments
by love of you as God and love of neighbor;
grant that, practicing the works of charity
after the example of blessed Anton Maria Schwartz,
we may be worthy to be numbered among the blessed
in your Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
[from The Roman Missal]

Labor Day Reflection 2016

September 09, 2016

Author: Christopher Cox

Category: Uncategorized

Labor Day Reflection 2016
23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
4 September 2016

Naturally, there are many ways that one can develop a reflection for this annual September observance. We could talk about the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. We could be risky and make some witty comments about the November election and issues like free trade deals, the “Fight for Fifteen” and maternity leave policies. We could talk about the decline experienced in union membership. We could speak about rights in the workplace.

Perhaps a better place to begin is Pope Francis. From the beginning of his Pontificate, my jaw has dropped from his gestures. Days after the conclave, he returned to his pre-conclave hotel to pay the bill himself. I like to imagine him saying, “Oh, yes, I checked in under a different name.”

ap-vatican-pope-16_9

At about the same time, he called the kiosk in Argentina to cancel his newspaper subscription. Or remember when he visited the Vatican print shop or ate with Vatican workers in the cafeteria. I suspect that everyone finished their vegetables that day before launching into dessert!

Vatican Cafeteria

What then, might Pope Francis be calling us to, given this example? First, Pope Francis, over and over again, gives witness to seeing the poor who are most often invisible to us.

Second, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asks us to see our participation in the economy more clearly. So much of what he has written in recent years is structured around the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Frankly, I hear him talking about confession far more than his recent predecessors. His recent book, The Name of God is Mercy, recounts stories of Pope John Paul I as a great confessor, and Pope Francis shares advice to priests about being a confessor. On Thursday, Pope Francis’ message for the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation is structured around the Rite of Reconciliation: an examination of conscience, the confession itself, “a firm purpose of amendment,” and, perhaps a penance in the additional corporal and spiritual work of mercy.

What might it mean for me to see more clearly? There is an old phrase: “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” How do I spend and what does it suggest about me? Since February, I go to the Metro Market on Van Buren and Juneau. Sadly, I do not know one employee there by name. They have been kind enough: they direct me to the item I need, they ring up my purchases, and they place my items in my durable bags. They keep the store clean and shelves stocked, and I have not bothered to learn one name. Also, if I reflect upon my purchases, I eat cereal with fruit almost every day for breakfast. Today, I had Honey Nut Cheerios with fresh strawberries. There is a boycott on Driscoll’s right now as some workers in Mexico claim that they are paid just $6 a day for their labors. My short was made in Bangladesh. The workers who made this shirt were probably paid about $2.20, not for this shirt, but for their day’s labor. When we go home for lunch, the lettuce on our sandwich or in our salad was harvested by an underpaid worker. If we stop for fast food or a restaurant, we know the wages cannot care for a family. Our cell phones, chocolate, coffee, and clothing are rife with supply chains that include human trafficking and systemic violations of people’s human rights. Is there anything we can do? Is the Gospel simply aspirational? Or is it programmatic?

The second reading, Paul’s letter to Philemon, suggests a personal way forward. As Catholics, our reading of the Bible is often uneven. Some here may have read the Scriptures cover-to-cover, but, if you have never read a book of the Bible all the way through, here is your chance. Philemon is just 25 verses, and we heard a very significant portion today. To get inside it, we need to understand that we have heard just half of a conversation. Another half– what lead up to it or what follows– is shrouded in a certain mystery, but we can make some educated guesses.

Philemon was a wealthy man is Colossae. He gets a letter from St. Paul, who had baptized him. Paul was writing from prison, “a prisoner for Christ.” Getting a letter back in those days was an important thing, and such a letter would have been read aloud, often in front of an audience. In days before FedEx and UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, this letter was carried by someone close to Paul, by all appearances the letter was carried by Onesimus. Who was Onesimus? He apparently was baptized by Paul, served him during his imprisonment, and, now, Paul is sending a person dear to his own heart to Philemon. But there is another crucial detail about the message and the messenger. Onesimus, a runaway slave, had been a slave to Philemon. Paul’s message: receive Onesimus as a brother.

What is Philemon to do? He has three choices, it would seem. First, he is a runaway slave. If he receives him as a brother, Philemon risks losing all of his other slaves. He also risks a shunning from his social and economic peers. He has every “right” to put Philmon to death. Second, perhaps, he could be merciful and give him a severe flogging or make him a “house slave” rather than a “field slave.” The third, most radical choice, is to do as Paul asks: receive him as a brother, again risking all on behalf of the Gospel.

Given such choices and ramifications, what did he do? I would suggest, as many others have, that he indeed did receive him as a brother. First, that the letter exists today suggests that this true. If he had killed or merely flogged Onesimus, he probably would have destroyed the letter. Instead, that the letter survives suggests that it was lovingly cared for and held in a place of respect. Secondly, and while this is far less assured to be one and the same person, following St. Timothy as bishop of the nearby city of Ephesus was a bishop named Onesimus. The romantic in me likes the notion that a former slave became a bishop in the early church.

We are embedded in networks of privilege, prejudice and power so commonplace that often neither oppressors nor victims are aware of them. Hence, the violence and pain that most afflicts us today is hidden: the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relationships between communities and nations, that allows for a slow decay of culture and makes us indifferent. Though not as noticeable as a bomb or a gunshot, these realities are just as deadly. Like Philemon, we must have the vision to see and the courage to act.

We are called to reimagine God’s preference for the poor. We live in what Pope Francis calls a “throwaway culture,” that treats people as things and is tempted to discard the weak and the vulnerable, those without money or power or voice. This story upends that vision and makes “useful” one who was deemed useless. It is life in solidarity, an old word, but our word. Solidarity is not a one-time gesture, but a permanent way of being in the world. The vision to see and the courage to act is about being in right relationship with God, with family, with my adversary, with the low wage worker, with care of our common home. The radical vision of seeing the other as Christ, of receiving the other as a brother or sister, is as powerful today as in the days of Scripture. If we really seek to live it, it will upend our world, and we will upend the world.