Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Catholics in Congress

In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne, Jr. writes about an interesting statement signed by Catholics in Congress:
"People felt their faith was being questioned, and they were angry that ideologues were using the church for their own purpose," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.

Such reflections have produced a remarkable document that will be released this week, a "Statement of Principles By Fifty-Five Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives." It is, to the best of my knowledge, an unprecedented attempt by a large number of elected officials to explain the relationship between their religious faith and their public commitments.

"As Catholic Democrats in Congress," the statement begins, "we are proud to be part of the living Catholic tradition -- a tradition that promotes the common good, expresses a consistent moral framework for life and highlights the need to provide a collective safety net to those individuals in society who are most in need. As legislators, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we work every day to advance respect for life and the dignity of every human being. We believe that government has moral purpose."

The statement is only six paragraphs, which gives it clarity and focus. After a paragraph on Catholic social teaching about the obligations to "the poor and disadvantaged," the writers get to the hard issue, insisting that "each of us is committed to reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and creating an environment with policies that encourage pregnancies to be carried to term."

The entire document is available here. When I looked at Congressman Hinchey's web site tonight, it had yet to be posted. Will it be there soon? Inquiring minds want to know.

Waiting for your tax return?

Here is something to think about. The Boston Globe ran an op-ed piece today about giving tax breaks to businesses to attract them to a particular state. The article notes:
. . . Several studies, including one by economist Robert Lynch in 2004 called ''Rethinking Growth Strategies: How State and Local Taxes and Service Affect Economic Development," establish that state tax incentives have, at best, a minimal impact on businesses' decisions about where to locate their facilities. State taxes are simply too small a fraction of business costs (typically 1 to 2 percent) to be a major factor in siting decisions. Moreover, since all states are offering competing incentives, the differences are usually very small.
. . .
The real effect of these tax breaks is a dramatic loss of state and local revenues. In 1997, the national cost of state and local incentives was estimated at $50 billion, and the numbers have grown dramatically since then. The result: heavier tax burdens on individual taxpayers and small businesses. And less money for education, infrastructure, and the other government services that the research shows are real factors affecting business decisions about where to locate.

Albany's budget is due on April 1. You might want to discuss this issue with your State Senator or Assemblyperson.

The Morning After Pill

Gannett News Service reports:
The Democrat-controlled Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bill Monday allowing access to emergency contraception without a prescription, but a gubernatorial veto of similar legislation last year makes its fate uncertain.

The rest of the story is here.

Which brings us to last night's news on WRGB, and Dan DiNicola's report on the local college basketball player whose girlfriend did not take a morning after pill when she got pregnant eight years ago, and now has a lovely seven-year old child who can watch Dad play ball. I wish the station had a link to that story on their website.

Fat Tuesday

The good people over at AmericanCatholic.org provide the following information on Fat Tuesday:
Mardi Gras, literally "Fat Tuesday," has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the "last hurrah" before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That's why the enormous party in New Orleans, for example, ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with battalions of streetsweepers pushing the crowds out of the French Quarter towards home.

You can read more here.

You can still send an e-greeting here.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Do you tithe? Me neither.

A study shows Catholics give less than Protestants do. Experts attribute the difference to a lack of a feeling of ownership toward the church.

Father Joseph Girzone speaks on Wednesday

The latest program sponsored by Abba House:
Facets of Jesus' Life: A Series on the Person of Jesus

Description: Part One of a Two part series on Facets of Jesus' Life: A Series on the Person of Jesus and His Impact on our Lives led by Father Joseph Girzone, renowned author of many books including Joshua.

Suggested donation $10.

For more information on Father Girzone, go

Where: Mercy Center 310 So. Manning Blvd. Albany, N.Y.
When: March 1, 2006
Time: 7:00PM-08:30PM
Contact Info: Please call 438-8320 or e-mail abba.house@verizon.net for reservations.

Shame on me

The Governor has been in the hospital for one week and Congressman Sweeney has been discharged then re-admitted to the hospital, and I have not offered any prayers on their behalf. So here is one, modified slightly from the New Saint Joseph People's Prayer Book:
God of Love, your Son became man and acted not only as a physician of souls but also as a healer of physical and mental illnesses. We ask you to cure Governor Pataki and Congressman Sweeney if it is in accord with your plan for them.

Enable them to serve you with a healthy body and mind. May they strive for Christian perfection, helped by your grace, for your greater glory and honor and for the advantage of their neighbors.

The clock is ticking

Discussions about funding government programs for the least among us often get stuck on the issue of taxes. Another way to raise the necessary money, aside from cutting government waste, is to collect the money that already is owed.

A story from the Associated Press in today's Times Union reports:
Time is running out for wealthier New Yorkers who have illegally hidden money in dubious tax shelters to come forward and avoid prosecution.

New York's Voluntary Compliance Initiative, which began in October as a way for the state to collect millions in taxes that would otherwise go uncollected, expires March 1. Those who come forward won't face civil penalties or legal action, but will have to pay the back taxes plus interest.

The rest of the story is here.

And for those who are overly concerned about taxes on the rich, we recommend
Responsible Wealth
Responsible Wealth is a national network of businesspeople, investors and affluent Americans who are concerned about deepening economic inequality and are working for widespread prosperity. Our three primary areas of work are tax fairness, corporate responsibility and living wages.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Jesus Arena?

Today's Times Union reports
County officials are issuing requests for bidders who want to put their company's name on the Pepsi Arena in a 10-year contract that requires a minimum payment of $350,000 a year.

Someone call Bill O'Reilly. After all the hype about the so-called "War on Christmas" on Fox news and other conservative outlets, maybe Bill and his pals can start a collection to re-name our arena. It will never happen, of course, because these folks are better at whining about what others are doing (or not doing) rather than actually doing something themselves.

Suozzi and abortion

Today's newspapers will have stories about Tom Suozzi's announcement that he is running for Governor. Of interest to us, however, is a February 14 column by E.J. Dionne, Jr. of the Washington Post about Mr. Suozzi and his approach to abortion:
But there is a new argument on abortion that may establish a more authentic middle ground. It would use government not to outlaw abortion altogether but to reduce its likelihood. And at least one politician, Thomas R. Suozzi, the county executive of New York's Nassau County, has shown that the position involves more than soothing rhetoric.

Last May Suozzi, a Democrat, gave an important speech calling on both sides to create "a better world where there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, and where women who face unplanned pregnancies receive greater support and where men take more responsibility for their actions."

Last week Suozzi put money behind his words. He announced nearly $1 million in county government grants to groups ranging from Planned Parenthood to Catholic Charities for an array of programs -- adoption and housing, sex education, and abstinence promotion -- to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to help pregnant women who want to bring their children into the world. Suozzi calls his initiative "Common Sense for the Common Good" and, as Newsday reported, he was joined at his news conference by people at both ends of the abortion debate.

Mr. Dionne goes on to write:
Right about this point, I can see my friends in the right-to-life movement rolling their eyes and insisting that all this prevention talk is a dodge. Maybe so, but my question to them is whether they honestly think that their current political strategy, focused on knocking down Roe and making abortion illegal, will actually protect fetal life by substantially reducing the number of abortions.

Something to think about.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Set your VCRs

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, shown on WMHT at 6 a.m. Sundays, has a story this week on Catholicism in Spain.
For centuries, Spain was a stronghold of fervent Catholicism. Catholic Church leaders created such religious orders as the Jesuits, Dominicans and Opus Dei, while the country's explorers and missionaries spread Christianity across oceans and continents. But today, as in the rest of Western Europe, the Roman Catholic Church in Spain is experiencing both a spiritual and social decline.

Saul Gonzalez explores the reasons for the Church's waning influence in Spanish society and looks at grassroots efforts to renew religion's role in public life. "Without a doubt, there's a culture war going on," observes Father Leopoldo Vivis Soto, a theologian and spokesman for the Catholic Church in Spain. "The Catholic Church and indeed Christian Europe confront a huge and clear cultural challenge ... many people believe that the Church is backward, it's not advanced and against social progress."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Volunteers Needed, Tues. Feb. 28 - Hunger Lobby Day

This message is from Hunger Action Network.

We need a dozen volunteers for Tues. Feb. 28th to help with our annual lobby
day, that usually brings in about 250 to 300 people statewide, many
low-income, with buses from NYC and Rochester. We need help making sandwiches at 8 AM; serving lunch, logistics of a rally; and cleaning up at the church by 1 PM

Please call me if you can assist.


Mark Dunlea
Join Hunger Action Network and ES2
On Tuesday February 28th
For Legislative Education and Action Day

Meet 9:30 AM at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 85 Chestnut St
10 to 11:30 briefing on issues
Noon rally at Capitol
Lobby visits from 1 to 4 PM

Hunger Action Network and the Empire State Economic Security Campaign (ES2)
will host our annual Legislative Education and Action Day (LEAD) in Albany on
Tuesday, February 28th. We invite you to join with hundreds of social
services staff and community members from all across the state to let our elected
officials know what’s really needed to help families in our communities.

The day will start with a briefing on the issues at the Westminster
Presbyterian Church, 85 Chestnut Street, Albany at 9:30 AM. Buses will be leaving
from NYC, Rochester and Buffalo.

The State budget as always will be a key focus as we expect that the
Governor once again will propose deep cuts in health care, welfare and other human
services programs in his Executive Budget. Specifically, ES2 will focus on
increasing the public assistance grant and funding for the Home Energy
Assistance Program (HEAP) to help low-income families meet the increase in fuel costs this winter.

We will also focus on securing health insurance for all New Yorkers and a
series of job creation efforts targeted to low-income individuals seeking
family sustaining employment, including a $1 billion bond for the NYS Housing
Trust Fund that would result in thousands of construction jobs to build much
needed affordable housing. ES2 will continue to work on improving access to
education from English for Speakers of Other Languages to college for welfare
Finally, the campaign will urge the state to ensure that corporate subsidies
and tax credits result in the creation of jobs in New York, close various
corporate tax loopholes, and make the tax system fairer. Right now, low-income
New Yorkers pay a much higher percentage of their income in state and local
taxes than the wealthy.

LEAD is a great opportunity to make sure that your voice is heard in the
Capitol. We will provide a light breakfast and lunch at no cost to you. We
will also provide simple materials on each of the issues as well as a brief
training for folks who’ve never met with their legislators before. To sign-up
today, call Kim Gilliland at (212) 741-8192 ext. 4# or Mark Dunlea at (518)
434-7371 ext. 1#.

Oppose the Cuts in Medicaid
Demand Corporate Accountability
More Funding for Anti-hunger programs

John Gray writes about God

Earlier this month, Fox News co-anchor John Gray talked about God in his weekly column in the Troy Record. He wrote:

Faith is a personal thing, and to each his own. Some people believe God is just a make-believe friend for grownups, and I respect their right to think that. But when I see a story like this, I just can't believe there's not more to it. Like that sunset on Lake Ontario, its colors and design are just too perfect.
Dare I say divine?

You'll want to read the entire article here.

Catholics and Jews

We have read, somewhere, that, pre-Vatican II, Catholics who were regular church-goers were among the more anti-Semitic of Americans, but that post-Vatican, Catholics who are regular church-goers are not anti-Semitic. That says a lot about how far we have progressed. Which brings us to a story in the Times Union about a display of Jewish history. The article reports:
ALBANY -- The history of Schenectady's Jewish community is spread across the walls of the Sage College Opalka Gallery off Albany's New Scotland Avenue.
. . .
The exhibit was culled from resources around the state. The Columbia County Historical Society lent a portrait of Mordecai Myers, a War of 1812 hero who settled in Schenectady. The New York State Museum offered a licensing book that every Schenectady peddler signed -- many Eastern European Jews became peddlers in America.

A scroll resting on the back wall resembles a traditional Torah, the five books of Moses that are handwritten in Hebrew on vellum and read from weekly in a synagogue. Except this scroll is not a Torah, but rather an unusual way of listing the departed members of one local congregation.

The Opalka Gallery show runs through Sunday. After that, a smaller version will be on duisplay at the Schenectady County Historical Society from March 11 through May 15.

Harvey Strum [a Sage College professor] will speak about the exhibit at 2 p.m. on March 12 at the historical society. The lecture is free.

We hope to see you there.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Ask a Mexican

In 'Ask a Mexican,' a politically incorrect OC Weekly columnist fields readers' frank questions. He's a wiseguy with a cultural objective.
Dear Mexican,

What's with the Mexican need to display the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere? I've seen her in the oddest places, from a sweatshirt to a windshield sticker. As a Mexican, I find it a little offensive and tacky to display this religious symbol everywhere.

Dear Pocha,

… I've seen her painted on murals, woven into fabulous silk shirts worn by Stetson-sporting hombres and — one holy night — in my bowl of guacamole. But while I share your disdain for the hypocrites who cross themselves in Her presence before they sin…. I don't find public displays of the Empress of the Americas offensive at all.

Mexican Catholicism is sublime precisely because it doesn't draw a distinction between the sacred and the profane. We can display our saints as comfortably in a cathedral as we do on hubcaps.

You can read the entire article (and we think you should) here.

Catholic Advocacy Network Action Alert

The Catholic Advocay Network sent the following this week:
Your immediate action is needed immediately to promote education tax credit bills in the NYS Legislature. Governor Pataki's budget proposal includes a refundable income tax credit up to $500 for expenses incurred by families for extra instructional services and tuition for their children in grades K-12. Another proposal (S.1939-A by Senator Golden / A.8203-A by Assemblyman Lopez) would provide all parents with a tax credit of up to $3,500 per child, for education expenses, including tuition at religious and independent schools, instructional materials, tutoring, programs fees, etc.

These measures would greatly help all parents offset the costs associated with the education of their children -- in public, religious and independent schools.

To learn more, click here.

New cardinals named; what do they do?

The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have two key jobs, advising the current pope and electing a new pope. The College of Cardinals has three ranks here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Let's keep her in our prayers

Bishop Susan M. Morrison of the Troy Conference of northeastern New York and Vermont announced Monday that she will step down because of continued health problems, here.

Pope Names 15 Cardinals, Including Two Americans

We could say you can read this here today before you read it in the newspapers tomorrow, but it's after 8 p.m. and tomorrow is not that far away. Maybe if we had posted it early in the afternoon. But we digress.

Two Americans were among 15 Roman Catholic prelates named today to be cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI, his first choices for the group that will select his successor.

The Americans are Archbishop William J. Levada, the pope's successor as head of the Vatican office that upholds church doctrine, and Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston.

Twelve of those named, including both Americans, are under the age of 80, the cut-off age for voting for a new pope. The selections, read by the pope after his weekly general audience, were intended "to make up the number of 120 cardinal electors, as established by Pope Paul VI," Vatican documents quoted him as saying.

More here.

Need proof that there is a God?

An article in The Washington Post this week noted:
Fellow conservative religious leaders have expressed concern over and open criticism of Pat Robertson's habit of shooting from the lip on his daily religious news-and-talk television program, "The 700 Club."
. . .
He canceled a speech planned for Tuesday at the closing banquet of the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Dallas after NRB leaders said they were worried that his appearance could detract from the event.

Need we say more?

Humanizing PowerPoint

This post provides some excellent ideas and techniques to get you thinking about PowerPoint (and other presentation tools) as storytelling tools rather than as sleep aids. Remember, PowerPoint and its ilk are there to help you make a presentation, not to keep you from doing a good job.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Trying to keep up

It seems the link we posted for Mark Shields' column (see our February 18 post: Politicians we admire) now takes you to his latest column. The link to the (now) archived column we mentioned should be here

We also updated the link on the original post.

Greater Orthodox ties to Catholics?

The New York Times today (Tuesday) carried a Reuters story reporting:
Changes in church practices that are seen as liberal, such as allowing women to serve in the clergy and permitting same-sex marriages, are creating a widening gulf within world Christianity, a leading Russian Orthodox bishop said Monday.

That growing divide may prompt Orthodox churches to consider a tactical alliance with Roman Catholicism to defend traditional Christian values, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev said in an interview on the sidelines of the global assembly here of the mostly Protestant World Council of Churches.

The article from the Times is available here.

The article concluded:
Pope Benedict XVI has said closer ties with Orthodox churches are a top priority of his papacy. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member of the World Council of Churches.

Bishop Alfeyev said the two sides were working to prepare a historic meeting between the pope and the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksy II. The meeting had not yet taken place "not because of our denial, but because we want it to actually change things and not be just a protocol event," the bishop said.

Those of you interested in what the Pope might wear to such a meeting should follow this link.

Simply scroll down the right side of the page and click on the photo of Pope Benedict XVI. The paper notes: “It has been widely noted that Pope Benedict XVI’s taste in clothing has been more varied and colorful from that of his predecessor.”

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Mass for Lovers

At Old St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Chicago, Valentine's Day was observed not with flowers or chocolate, but with what's known as the Mass for Lovers. It's a Mass in which hundreds of couples renew the vows they made to each other -- in this group, from two months to more than 50 years ago. Hear about it from two of the participants, Jack and Kathy Berkemeyer, here.

The Big Chill

After the Big Chill
In the January 27, 2006 issue of Commonweal, Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
Suppose we indulge our fondest hopes. Let us imagine that Pope Benedict XVI turns out to be quite unlike what many expected, and that he embraces a spirit of theological openness and generosity. No longer would a respected and respectful editor of a Jesuit journal be removed for the sin of advocating fairness; no more would a leading theological ethicist be removed from a tenured position or a systematic theologian be quelled by the same threat.

In this new atmosphere, local pastors would no longer be summoned to account in Rome on the basis of parishioners’ calls to the bishop (as priest friends of mine have been). Scholars (like me) would not be disinvited to conferences on Aquinas because they criticized John Paul’s theology of the body, or be asked to sign a statement that they would not do anything to “embarrass the church” when lecturing at a university, or, on the basis of other anonymous calls, be warned by the vicar-general of an archbishop who is now a cardinal against being “soft on the bodily Resurrection” of Christ when teaching New Testament to adult Catholics. The “big chill” within contemporary Catholicism includes all those mechanisms, overt and covert, by which the Vatican has deliberately sought to suppress theological intelligence and imagination in the name of doctrinal and moral “Truth.”

Now suppose all these measures stopped because Benedict XVI turned out to be someone who actually moderated his predecessor’s repressive instincts. Would the church then be in a state beatific? Would a healthy balance between magisterial authority and theological inquiry be struck then?

For people who think about such things, such as those of us who might want to determine the correct Church position on issues such as abortion, capital punishment and the war in Iraq, these are issues of more than passing interest. You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Last Chance Mass

This morning I missed our regular Mass, which is not a good thing. However, one of the advantages of being Catholic is the abundance of Masses we offer; Saturday evening, Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening. With so many churches offering so many liturgies, it is hard not to find one to accommodate even the busiest schedule. One of my favorites is the "Last Chance Mass" at Saint James Church on Delaware Avenue in Albany. It starts at 7:30 p.m. and features the contemporary choir. Originally a favorite of local college students who could not drag themselves out of bed after a long Saturday night, it now attracts people of all ages. And today I do not have to worry about setting the VCR to record West Wing, because NBC is showing the Olympics.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Politicians we admire

This Presidents Weekend, let's take a moment to recall some politicians with real class. Fortunately, columnists noted two of them this month -- one a Republican and one a Democrat.

Mark Shields, in a column that appeared on February 11, wrote:
Probably because I have lived and worked in Washington during the administrations of nine U.S. presidents, people have been asking me lately if politics in this capital city has always been as mean, ugly and personally poisonous as it is today. Acknowledging that men of a certain age often slip into our nostalgic anecdotage, where the girls were prettier, the beer was colder and the songs had better lyrics, I still do remember a political Washington where decency and honor were practiced.

You can read the entire column here. (By the way, I do believe the beer was colder back then.)

David Broder wrote about a politician on February 16:
"Stan believes a congressman should think issues through clearly on their individual merits without being concerned about labels; have imagination and the ability to suggest positive ideas; be sympathetic to the desires and aspirations of his constituents when not in conflict with the security and well-being of the nation; have personal courage to vote as he thinks wisest in face of political pressure and criticism; keep his constituents informed of his views -- it is just as important that people have opportunity to disagree as to agree with their representative; and, finally, that he should place a higher priority on conscience than on reelection."

The rest of that column appears here.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Weekend reading

With a long weekend ahead and very cold weather predicted, we think this might the time to settle in and read Nicholas D. Kristof's article on Darfur in The New York Review of Books.

During the Holocaust, the world looked the other way. Allied leaders turned down repeated pleas to bomb the Nazi extermination camps or the rail lines leading to them, and the slaughter attracted little attention. My newspaper, The New York Times, provided meticulous coverage of World War II, but of 24,000 front-page stories published in that period only six referred on page one directly to the Nazi assault on the Jewish population of Europe. Only afterward did many people mourn the death of Anne Frank, construct Holocaust museums, and vow: Never Again.

Entitled Genocide in Slow Motion, the full article is available here.

Praying Also Helps

According to an article at NewScientist.com, a new study shows that complex decisions are best left to your unconscious mind to work out, and over-thinking a problem could lead to expensive mistakes.

The research suggests the conscious mind should be trusted only with simple decisions, such as selecting a brand of oven glove. Sleeping on a big decision, such as buying a car or house, is more likely to produce a result people remain happy with than consciously weighing up the pros and cons of the problem, the researchers say.

Thinking hard about a complex decision that rests on multiple factors appears to bamboozle the conscious mind so that people only consider a subset of information, which they weight inappropriately, resulting in an unsatisfactory choice. In contrast, the unconscious mind appears able to ponder over all the information and produce a decision that most people remain satisfied with.

Read the rest of the article here.

Black and Puerto Rican Caucus

The 35th Annual Legislative Conference of the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, Inc. will be convene on Friday, February 17th–Sunday, February 19th, 2006 in Albany, New York. This year’s theme is: “Building the Future: Embrace Economic Development to Empower Our People”. The schedule is here.

Care to Volunteer?

New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, with offices at the Pastoral Center at 40 North Main Avenue in Albany, is looking for volunteers to do data entry work a few hours a week/month. No experience necessary.

Please contact the office if you are interested. 518-453-6797.

The passing of Sister Elaine

We are saddened to report the passing of Sister Elaine Marie Breslin, CSJ. She was a wonderful gift from God to the people of the Albany Diocese. Her obituary is here

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Welcome to my blog. As you can see, it is under construction and more content will be here soon.