Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Future Feast Day?


I’ve been meaning to go into the history of the faith in this region, and I still might at some point, but for this particular post I want to jump into the middle things. Catholicism has never been big in East Tennessee. The region’s European settlers were Protestant, and it took a long time for industry to attract Catholic immigrants. But by the late nineteenth century, there were pockets of Catholicism in the more urban areas, along train routes, and further north in mining country.

Chattanooga, with its river and railways, was a boom town of trade. In 1852, the local Catholics founded their first parish, Sts. Peter and Paul, under the leadership of Father Henry V. Brown (a former Presbyterian). In 1872, Father Patrick J. Ryan was assigned to the parish. Father Ryan was born in County Tipperary, Ireland in 1845 and emigrated to the New York as a child. He was ordained into the Diocese of Nashville in 1869 by Bishop Feehan. The Feehan and Ryan families had been neighbors in Ireland, which is probably what prompted the priest’s move south.

Despite fire, flood, and cholera, 1870s Chattanooga was bouncing back from Reconstruction and was growing in commercial wealth. Father Ryan was eager to see a strong Catholic presence grow with the city. In 1876, he convinced the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia from Nashville to open Notre Dame de Lourdes Academy in Chattanooga (at 140, it is now the oldest private school in Chattanooga).

In September 1878 a yellow fever epidemic broke out. Within days, the disease swept through the city. An estimated 80% of the residents fled. Notre Dame was converted into a hospital and orphanage during that time. Father Ryan stayed to tend to the sick at the church and school. He also went into the neighborhoods to offer whatever relief he could, along with his friend, Jonathan Bachman, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. When Father Ryan got sick on Sept. 26, Bachman stayed with him. 

A doctor telegraphed the bishop of Nashville on Sept. 27: “Father Ryan is much better and will recover, I think.” Father Ryan died on Sept. 28. He was 33. He received the last sacraments from his younger brother, newly-ordained Father Michael Ryan, who had come to the city on a short vacation. Later, the doctor claimed, “When I heard of Father's death, it astonished me more than an earthquake would have done.” Father Ryan was buried on the church grounds and then moved to the Mt. Olivet Cemetery when it opened six years later. The reburial ceremony included one of the longest corteges, or processions, seen in Chattanooga. Nearly 100 horse-drawn carriages stretched more than a mile as they made the trip from downtown, over Missionary Ridge, and to the burial site.

An editorial in the Chattanooga Times Nov. 12 1886, noted:  
     “The reburial of Father Patrick Ryan yesterday roused into vivid realization the terrible scene of September and October, 1878, in the retrospective vision of all who were his co-workers in that trying season. The brave and faithful priest literally laid down his life in the cause of humanity. Only the morning before he was stricken with the deadly pestilence, the writer met him on his rounds of mercy in the worst infected section of the city. Cheerfully but resolutely he was going from house to house to find what he could do for the sick and needy.
     Then the work of the destroyer was upon him, but he looked the one whose spirit had conquered the flesh, like one so absorbed in of dangers of afflictions of his fellow men that he was unconscious of personal suffering, unmindful of personal evil.
      We shall never, to the hour we close our eyes for the last time, forget the unselfish and efficient work of Father Ryan and his elder eminent brother, Father John. It was peculiarly meet and very touching the respect shown the dead father's remains yesterday by many of the chief survivors of that terrible fall.  This was without regard to religious connections, as it should be. They were on a level then. The yellow scourge was no respecter of persons or creeds.”

This June, the Diocese of Knoxville established its Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Rev. Patrick J. Ryan. Father Ryan now carries the title Servant of God and it is acceptable for the faithful in Chattanooga and throughout the region to ask for his intercessions. Canonization is a complicated process, requiring lots of documentation. Sometimes it takes less than a decade, like with St. John Paul II (died 2005, canonized 2014). Sometimes it takes hundreds of years, like St. Hildegard of Bingen (died 1179, canonized 2012). 

There is reason to believe Father Ryan’s case might go a little faster because he might be recognized as a martyr of charity. While a martyr is typically a martyr of faith, one killed for being a Catholic/Christian, a martyr of charity is one who dies as a result of administering a charitable act. They are also called confessors of the faith, like St. Aloysius Gonzaga or St. Maximillian Kolbe. It is not yet an official category in the canonization process like martyr of faith is, but it helps make the case of Father Ryan’s sincere devotion to charity. 

America is relatively new to the history of the world, and Appalachia is relatively new to Catholicism. It’s exciting to see the region's short history starting to take form. Plenty of saints have already roamed these mountains, and now one is on his way to canonization. So happy future feast day!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Motivation Monday: Star Trek


Last week was the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s primiere. While I’ve fazed out of my major Trek obsession, I still consider myself a big fan. It’s amazing what “Wagon Train in the sky” did for TV, science fiction, and the future. The show was set in an optimistic time, when humanity had learned to overcome hate and war, where mere curiosity drove us forward. The show successfully addressed the issues of the day, because it’s easier to point fingers at kooky looking aliens than at ourselves. It philosophized in all the right ways. 

Gene Roddenberry’s vision was very clear. And while I don’t always agree with secular humanist points, I do like stories that have clear morals/lessons of the day. A lot of people don’t like when entertainment gets too preachy. And a lot of shows certainly don’t try to make a point. But I like a story to have a message, to stand for something. To boldly go.

"One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom... energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in... in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and to cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for." -Edith Keeler, "City on the Edge of Forever"

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Begats Matter



Today is the Nativity of Mary. It is also the anniversary of my young, growing diocese. Mary may be 2,032, but my diocese is only 28, and it all sort of felt like a family reunion when the great-grandmother holds the newest baby.

During Mass, the Gospel reading was the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew. Now, I normally glance over the genealogy; I get the point after all: 14 generations between Abraham and David, 14 generations between David and the exile, 14 generations between the exile and Jesus. But as it was pointed out in the homily, those names matter. There might be a big picture, but there are details too. Each of those people say something about where we come from, who we are.

The “begats,” the series of genealogical relations in the Bible are usually the most boring to me; lots of numbers and names I can’t pronounce. But they were recorded for a reason. The Jews were constantly interacting with different tribes and different cultures, and they were, therefore, constantly being told to remember who they are. 

I love studying my own family tree and heritage, so maybe it helps me understand the need to study the Church’s family tree. Our identities are not borne in a vacuum. We carry with us the struggles and successes and dreams of our families and cultures that came before us. Understanding our past helps us make sense of who we are now and our place/role in the present. Knowing the genealogy of Christ roots his humanity into a real place, with real people, and real heritage. This is the family we inherit when we join his family.

Later in the Mass, some of the early saints are listed by name. We say their names so that we remember them, 1900 years later. They are the parents of the Church—early popes and early martyrs—Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, etc. They are our heritage.

And although the diocese is still young, it already has a history—a narrative of “how we got here.” It involves the de Soto exploration holding the first Mass on our land, Servant of God Fr. Ryan giving his life to serve yellow fever victims, Fr. Callahan riding his horse Rebel up and down the mountains to serve Mass in the most rural of mission fields. Trace those early priests back to the bishops that sent them, and then trace those bishops’ ordinations back to Peter, sent by Christ, and then trace Christ’s lineage back through Matthew 1. We’re young, but we descend from Abraham. We're part of a much older, much bigger story.

Identity is strong when it is rooted, when we know our history and learn from those that have walked the path before us. And today is a particularly good day to remember that, as Mary says in her Magnificat, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” 


Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day in Modern Times


Usually this three-day weekend is one of lakeside trips and BBQs. And while my weekend included those as well, I decided this year to celebrate Labor Day in a more nerdy way. I watched Chaplin’s Modern Times and read some of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Labor Day was created as an appeasement to union strikes in the late 1800s. We study how horrible working conditions were during the Industrial Revolution and how trust-busters and unions demanded workers' rights back then, but we seem to pretend that it's all in the past. But workers continue to be abused and exploited, and a three-day weekend does little to address that reality.

Modern Times is about a factory worker who has a nervous breakdown, loses his job, and accidently gets involved in (and subsequently arrested for) a communist parade. Jail is actually more pleasant than the world of unemployment, strikes, and riots. Meanwhile, an unemployed man is killed during a protest, and his daughters are taken in by the state. One of the girls runs away and, starving, steals some bread. She runs into the worker, who tries to takes the blame so he can go back to prison. They imagine life as a middle class couple, with a house and food. It is a simple but seemingly unattainable dream for them. The worker struggles to keep a job. He’s beaten up and arrested during a strike. The girl becomes a dancer and gets the worker a job at the club. Just as things are looking up, the cops come after her for vagrancy and escape from juvenile officers. In the end, the couple is jobless, homeless, and hungry. She asks, “What’s the point in trying?” But the worker tells her to keep going, and they walk off together. It’s a sliver of optimism tacked on to an ending that isn’t really happy.

The movie opens with sheep being herded through a gate and men being herded into the factory. A few times men literally get caught up and run through the mechanical gears of the factory. A lot of the Tramp’s movies focused on how the poor were mistreated. While labor rights have come a long way in some respects, I’m not convinced the attitude toward labor itself has changed all that much. The richer get richer at the expense of the poor. Workers have no choice but to participate and try to survive in a system stacked against them. Economic gain is worth more than worker health, environmental safety, or human dignity. Government regulations exist because unchecked capitalism has children working 14-hour days, women licking radium-tipped brushes, and families breathing toxic air and drinking from contaminated rivers. Places like coal company towns and the Pullman neighborhood made every facet of worker life dependent on their employer. But even when the employer, the landlord, and the banker are different people, the worker is still at their mercy. When one’s work consumes their life, when one’s work does not pay enough to survive, when one’s work is a daily health risk, then how does the worker ever get to enjoy life, to grow as a person, or to contribute to society beyond vocational skill?

As a society, we give lip service to the importance of spending time with family and not getting caught up in work, but we don’t practice it. The U.S. is the only industrialized country without paid annual leave. The U.S. is only one of three countries in the world (with Papua New Guinea and Lesotho) without paid parental leave. People are considered a success for becoming rich and being cutthroat in business, regardless of their ethical practices. Money buys elections and writes policy, subsequently protecting corporate entities from legal responsibilities while the working class suffers. Income stagnates or shrinks while costs increase. Modern Times is still modern after 80 years.

In 1891 Pope Leo XIII released Rerum Novarum, or Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor. It affirmed the Church’s stance on protecting the poor and resolving social conflicts.  It criticized the ideologies that had arisen from industrialization (unchecked capitalism, socialism, communism, etc.) which turned people into capital, agitated class conflicts, and destroyed the family. The encyclical approved of the right to private property, the right to a livable wage (and that a family could live off a single income with some to save), and the formation of unions and collective bargaining. 

In his 1981 Laborum Exercens, St. John Paul II writes, “It is always man who is the purpose of work, whatever work it is that is done by man—even if the common scale of values rates it as the merest ‘service,’ as the monotonous, even the most alienating work.” For work exists for the benefit of man; man does not exist for work. Man has a duty to work and contribute to society, but society also has a duty to not abuse a man’s labor. 

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says, “The relationship between labor and capital often shows traits of antagonism that take on new forms with the changing of social and economic contexts…In our present day, the conflict show aspects that are new and perhaps more disquieting: scientific and technological progress and the globalization of markets, of themselves a source of development and progress, expose workers to the risk of being exploited by the mechanisms of the economy and by the unrestrained quest for productivity (279).”

Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. I do not think we’ll ever find and implement a structure that will prevent workers from being exploited for economic gain. I do think laborers will always be at risk, but it is the Christian’s duty to demand better labor conditions. We are obligated to speak out for human dignity. Often I feel like the girl in Modern Times: “What’s the point in trying?” But hokey, Hollywood optimism has a point: you keep fighting anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.