(Sunday Homily) Zacchaeus, White People, and the Case for Reparations to African Americans


Readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time: WIS 11: 22-12: 2; PS 145: 1-2, 8-11, 13-14; 2 THES 1: 11- 2: 2; LK 19: 1-10.

In the June 2014 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an article called “The Case for Reparations.” There he argued that the United States owes a huge debt to African Americans. It’s a debt compounded by 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal and 35 years of racist housing policy. Until those debts are paid, Coates wrote, America will never be whole.

Today’s gospel story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, relates to Coates’ concern.  It addresses the problem of unjustly acquired wealth and reparation. As such the reading opens a question very much on the minds of our country’s African American community as described in Coates’ Atlantic piece.

White people probably disagree. Surveys show that nearly 75% of us oppose reparations. Slavery happened so long ago, the dissenters argue. They deny that slavery constitutes a factor contributing to the contemporary wealth gap between blacks and whites. At any rate, they think reparations are impractical and even impossible. Needless to say, Christians in that group see no connection between their faith and the reparations Coates was writing about.

Today’s Gospel reading calls such convictions into question.

There Jesus invites himself for dinner to the home of Zacchaeus, a tax collector. The latter is so overjoyed by the invitation that his very first reaction is to divest himself of his wealth and to make reparations for his ill-gotten affluence. He exclaims, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.”

The first part of Zacchaeus’ promise (“Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor”) represents recognition on the tax collector’s part that his extorted wealth constitutes a crime against poor people in general. So it calls for general divestment on his part. He’s going to give away half of his property – half to the poor of Jericho where he’s been overseeing tax collection for years!

The second part of Zacchaeus’ promise (“And if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over”) is directed specifically to identifiable victims of his extortion. He’ll return to them four times what he defrauded – four times!

Luke’s remembering and repeating a story where wealth divestment and reparation are the very first reactions of a rich person to Jesus’ offer of table fellowship is significant. It seems to suggest that such rectifications are not only recommended for those deciding to join “The Way” of Jesus; they constitute a requirement of discipleship.

All of this suggests that in today’s Gospel we find an invitation to open our eyes to the fact that, far from impractical, reparations are not only possible but required from people of faith. In fact, they have already been proven to work. For instance, in 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act that recognized the need to redress the wrongs suffered by Japanese-Americans unjustly interned in World War II concentration camps. Cash payments were made to survivors.

But slavery and its aftermath have been far more hurtful than that particular instance of wrongful imprisonment. Consequently, much more than one-time payments seem due to the descendants of the millions of slaves whose unpaid labor contributed so mightily to the building of America.

Reparations are also due for Jim Crow, low wages, glass ceilings, denial of loans, and segregation’s practices of red-lining. All such measures have prevented the descendants of slaves from participating in the American Way of Life that has remained largely closed to blacks.

As shown by police killings from Ferguson to Baltimore and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement, as shown by the resistance of heroes like Colin Kaepernick, by the brave example of the Black Panthers (whose 50th anniversary we celebrate this year), it’s time for a national conversation on race – for a Peace and Reconciliation Commission to consider the form that long-overdue reparations might take.

Suggestions for spending the estimated $14.2 trillion owed the descendants of slaves include:

  • A federal employment program offering well-paid jobs to all our country’s poor.
  • The provision of state-of-the-art day care centers to help newly-employed parents.
  • A housing program providing decent dwellings for African Americans in urban centers now being gentrified.
  • Major upgrading of public schools attended by black children – to make them equal to those in affluent white suburbs.
  • De-militarization of urban police forces and the introduction of community controlled policing.
  • Release of non-violent offenders from prison and the restoration of their voting rights.
  • Transformation of prisons from places of punishment and degradation to centers of education and personal reform.

All such reparations are clearly possible. They will not happen without the national conversation just mentioned and without a Peace and Reconciliation Commission.

However, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, absent such measures our country will never be whole.

Today’s Gospel reading seems to endorse his observation. It invites Jesus’ followers to lead the way.

Silent Thunder: Jill Stein’s Absence from the Third Debate


Well, I watched the final debate last night. Once again, it pointed up the debate format’s limitation and the absence of alternatives to the duopoly of Democrats vs. Republicans.

Specifically, it made me miss the voice of Green Party candidate, Jill Stein.

Her absence on the debate stage prevented voters from hearing her viewpoint on vital issues virtually excluded from the three personality-focused brawls between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. I’m referring to income inequality, student debt, climate change, public transportation, disease prevention, and the continuing need for 9/11 transparency to blunt its rationale for insane military expenditures and endless war.

Liberal funnyman, John Oliver, recently endorsed such exclusion in a strained barely-comic monologue that merits comment not only because of its shallowness, but because it discouraged expanding the narrow parameters of current political debate. (See Stein’s own response to Oliver here.) In his routine, Oliver attempted to disqualify Dr. Stein because she raised the very issues just indicated. More specifically:

  • She looks too nerdy.
  • Her plan for relieving student debt lacks specific detail.
  • She chose not to explain the intricacies of “quantitative easing” in a press conference.
  • Even as a physician with 27 years’ experience, she (like everyone else btw) is not completely certain about possible connections between vaccines and autism.
  • She agrees that the recently declassified pages from the government’s 9/11 report justify further investigation into that signal event that even Official Inquiry leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, say was “incomplete and flawed.”
  • She was part of a 1990s folk rock band whose lyrics contain a poetic device (paradox) that Mr. Oliver apparently doesn’t grasp – specifically, the apparent contradiction, “silent thunder.”
  • She is not a perfect candidate.

Ignored in all of this is the fact that Jill Stein’s positions are identical with those of Bernie Sanders who (now that he is no longer a candidate) has been nearly canonized by people like Oliver. In fact, Dr. Stein invited Sanders to join her on the Green Party ticket; she would run, she offered, as his V.P.

Ignored too were the actual lyrics of candidate Stein’s songs that (unlike Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton) dared to raise the issue of climate change – as well as specifics about child and maternal health. Instead, Oliver focused on Stein’s voice [which turns out to be about as (dis)pleasing as Bill Clinton’s saxophone on Johnny Carson or Michelle Obama’s dancing with Jimmy Fallon.]

However, the most significant omission from Oliver’s denunciation was the importance of voting for Dr. Stein in red states. If Stein garners only 5% of the national vote, her name can appear on presidential ballots in many states in the next election cycle, Even more importantly, the Green Party will receive millions of dollars in campaign funds in 2020.

So, red state Democrats (like me in Kentucky) concerned about overcoming the dominance of the duopoly, and about continuing the Bernie Revolution should discount Oliver’s shallow criticisms and recognize their vote for Jill Stein as a small, but significant step towards reaching the Green Party’s important 2020 goals.

(Sunday Homily) Amy Goodman Shows Us How to “Pray Always”


Readings for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: EX 17: 8-13; PS 121: 1-8; 2 TM 3:14-4:2; LK 18: 1-8;

Amy Goodman is in trouble. She’s the television journalist my wife and I had dinner with last summer. She’s the host of “Democracy Now: the War and Peace Report” – a daily news hour on the Pacifica Radio and Television network.

In the face of mainstream media’s refusal to cover significant grassroots events and issues, Ms. Goodman’s program has been called “probably the most significant progressive news institution that has come around in some time” (by professor and media critic Robert McChesney.) In addition to sources such as OpEdNews, Information Clearing House, and Alternet, “Democracy Now” is an invaluable fountain of information about issues that touch all of our lives.   Amy’s program is an example of what can be accomplished for peace and social justice in the face of overwhelming odds.

Anyway, Amy is in trouble. Or should I say that judges in the North Dakota legal system are in trouble. I mean the court’s black robes there are about to tangle with a woman who is stronger and more committed than all of them put together.

The issue at hand is a charge of criminal trespassing against Ms. Goodman. It stems from her coverage of Native American protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline – a nearly 2000 mile, multi-billion dollar construction stretching through North and South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The pipeline cuts across Sioux Tribe sacred sites and burial grounds at their Standing Rock Reservation. Defense of those holy grounds has brought together thousands of Native Americans from across the country and Latin America, as well as indigenous peoples from around the world.

On Labor Day weekend this year, while Amy was covering that resistance, security forces of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the pipeline’s builders, set dogs on the Standing Rock “Protectors” (they refuse the name ” protestors”). She filmed a dog whose mouth was dripping with Protectors’ blood.

Amy’s honest reporting (protected by our Constitution’s First Amendment) proved offensive to ETP, their security forces, and to the local police. Hence the charges.


Please keep all of that in mind as we attempt to understand today’s liturgy of the word. In the context of an unjust legal system, our readings raise the question of what it means to “pray always.” Jesus says it means persistently demanding justice. Amy embodies that meaning.

Actually, the readings compare what might be termed men’s intermittent way of praying with women’s unrelenting persistence. For instance, in today’s readings, men shockingly pray that God might intervene to slaughter their enemies.

In contrast, the woman in today’s gospel is in it for the long haul. She indefatigably confronts the power structure of her day as her way of “praying always.” That is, like Amy Goodman, she persistently works to bring her world into harmony with God’s justice. According to Jesus, that’s what prayer means.

Take that first reading from Exodus. . .  Did it make you raise your eyebrows? It should have. It’s about God facilitating mass slaughter. It tells the story of Moses praying during a battle against the King of Amalek. It’s a classic etiology evidently meant to explain a chair-like rock formation near a site remembered as an early Hebrew battleground.

“What means this formation?” would have been the question inspiring this explanatory folk tale. “Well,” came the answer, “Long ago when our enemy Amelek attacked our people, Moses told Joshua to raise an elite corps of fighters. During the course of the ensuing battle, Moses watched from this very place where we are standing accompanied by his brother Aaron and another assistant called Hur.

Moses raised his hands in prayer during the day-long battle. And as long as he did so, Joshua’s troops got the better of Amalek’s. But Moses would get tired from time to time; so he’d lower his hands. When he did so, Amalek’s troops got the better of Joshua’s.

“To solve the problem, Aaron and Hur sat Moses down on this stone you see before us. They held up his arms during the entire battle. That strategy saved the day. Joshua won his battle “mowing down Amelek and his people.”

So here we have a God who responds to ad hoc prayers and reverses history so that one group of his children might “mow down” another group of people he supposedly loves. That’s a pretty primitive concept of prayer (and of God), don’t you agree?

In today’s gospel, Jesus has another approach to prayer. For him, prayer is not an ad hoc affair – about changing God’s mind. Rather, “praying always” represents the adoption of an attitude — a way of life — that consistently seeks justice for the oppressed. Praying always means living from a place that won’t let go of justice concerns like those that drive Amy Goodman.

To illustrate that point for his own time, Jesus tells a comic parable about a persistent woman. (Remember, he’s speaking to people who have no power in a legal system, which, like ours favors the wealthy and powerful.)

“Imagine a judge,” Jesus said. “He’s like most of the judges we know. He doesn’t give a damn about the God of the poor, and he doesn’t care what people like us think of him.” (Already Jesus’ audience is smiling seeing a funny story coming.)

“But then along comes this widow-woman. Like all of us, she’s poor, and as usual, the judge pays no attention to her.” (Jesus’ audience recognizes the syndrome; they nod to each other.)

“But this woman’s a nagger,” Jesus says. (Now his audience is snickering and chuckling.)

“She just won’t let go. And she’s strong and aggressive besides. She comes back day after day insisting that she get justice against her adversary. And as the days go by, she gets more and more insistent – and threatening. So much so that the judge starts getting worried about his own safety.

(Laughter from the crowd . . .)

“’While it is true,’ the judge says to himself, ‘that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me.’”

In other words, this macho judge is afraid of this poor widow; he’s afraid she’ll come and beat him up!

Can you imagine Jesus saying that without smiling broadly – and without the crowd roaring in laughter?

Anyway, here’s Jesus point: “If an unjust judge responds to the prayer of the poor like that, how do you suppose the All-Parent will respond when we ask for justice? The All-Parent will respond swiftly, Jesus says, because that’s who God is – the one who (as Martin Luther King put it) has established an arc of history that bends towards justice.

Prayer, then, is about reminding ourselves of that fact, trusting and having faith that in the long run justice and truth will prevail. Taking that position and acting upon it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, takes great faith that’s harder and harder to find.

So Jesus ends his parable with the rhetorical question, “When the Son of Man returns, do you think he’ll find that kind of faith anywhere?”

What I’m suggesting here is that today we’re more likely to find that kind of faith, that kind of prayer, that kind of persistence in women rather than men. The example of Amy Goodman and her “War and Peace Report” inspires us to renounce ideas of a God who calls us to “mow our enemies down.” It inspires us to view prayer not as a now-and-then petition, but as a lifestyle based on a struggle for justice.

In any case, Amy Goodman seems even more determined than the widow in Jesus’ parable. In prosecuting her, the pro-ETP justice system has bitten off more than it can chew.

Thank God for persistent women! We men have so much to learn from them. A good start towards doing so would be to watch “Democracy Now” every day. It’s on line. Check it out.

Last Night’s Debate: Now That Was Really Depressing!


I was afraid this would happen. Donald Trump actually out-performed Hillary last night. Admittedly, given the sex-tape disaster that had broken two days earlier, the man had nowhere to go but up. But in our media-driven horse-race approach to politics, where issues are ignored, memories and shockingly short and facts don’t matter, he probably did much last night to pick himself up off the floor.

Meanwhile, Hillary was left simply flailing. She seemed nonplussed throughout the whole affair having foolishly chosen (as she put it) to “go high” rather than deliver a knockout blow to an opponent who entered the debate reeling, bloody and battered. She couldn’t put him away.

Trump’s performance truly surprised me. Although he’s clearly an ethical moron, he has proven to be a brilliant debater. As in his spheres of business and taxes, he apparently knows how to manipulate broken systems and their rules. And these debate clown-shows play to that strength. They present him with (1) parameters entirely controlled by the parties of the debate’s participants, (2) an opponent who largely agrees with him on the most important issues, (3) opposing (third party) viewpoints systematically excluded, (4) weak-kneed “celebrity” newscasters who concerned about their own images are easily bullied, and (5) just two minutes to answer each question.

In other words, the whole thing is rigged. And, if nothing else, Donald Trump is a master at gaming rigged systems. By comparison, and despite all her vaunted experience, Hillary Clinton comes off as a rank amateur.

Trump has actually figured out that given the debate format, all he has to do is bob and weave, jab and jive, rope and dope. That means physically dwarfing his female opponent by strutting around the stage in barely-concealed threatening postures, complaining about the bias of is incompetent interrogators, and simply trotting out the old CIA spookstrategy: (1) admit nothing, (2) deny everything, (3) make counter accusations.

Last night it all worked like a charm.

As a result, the whole affair ended up completely mystifying. Candidates were allowed to ignore the actual questions, to answer other ones instead, and to ramble on, talk over each other, and ignore commands to stop their ranting. Most of the time, I was left scratching my head wondering, “Now what was the original question?” And then if I remembered, my follow-up was “What does this ‘answer’ have to do with that?”

Meanwhile our country’s and world’s most important issues were all but ignored. There was nothing about climate change until the last minute and a half (literally). And as usual the phrase itself and “global warming” remained unuttered. There was nothing about student loans, police murders of black people, Black Lives Matter, or voter suppression. And Clinton and Trump basically appeared to agree on “clean coal,” fracking, the need for Muslims to report on each other, privatized health care, military spending, the renewed nuclear arms race, and on how much they like each other.

As for the war in Syria, Trump made much more sense there than Hillary. He did! She’s actually willing to risk nuclear war with Russia to institute an impossible “no fly zone” there. (She practically spit out the phrase “THE RUSSIANS” while discussing the issue.) Trump, on the other hand recognizes that ISIS, not THE RUSSIANS is the real enemy in the Middle East. He advocates dialog with the Kremlin. It made me wonder, is he the peace candidate?

I was also left wondering about Hillary’s ethics compared with Trump’s.  Both of these characters are unsavory to say the least. I wonder who’s worse?

Trump’s actions border on rape. That’s serious. His offense was not “just words” – locker room banter – compared with Bill Clinton’s actions. The sex tape showed Trump bragging about unwanted kissing and groping.  Anyone else but a rich white billionaire would at the very least lose his job over an expose like that. Even Roger Ailes had to step down. (But, of course, Ailes had less money than Trump.)

But Hillary’s problem is lying and warmongering. Except for the justified furor over Trump’s sex tapes, last weekend’s publication of her long-hidden Wall Street speeches by Wikileaks might have mortally wounded her campaign. The leaks have her defending a practice of publicly advocating populist positions and then in private pushing more business-friendly policies. That’s what the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party had warned of all along. Her strategy in dealing with the revelations is to blame THE RUSSIANS – to ramp up the paranoia that melds seamlessly with her willingness to risk nuclear war.

But then, of course, Trump appears totally clueless about nuclear war himself. Isn’t he the one who asked repeatedly, “If we have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?”

It’s depressing. Candidates bickering over who’s more corrupt, ignoring the real issues, and despite the public’s yearning for change, both promising business as usual – or worse.

In the face of all this, I’d vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party, were it not for the issue of Supreme Court justices. Instead, I find faint hope in Bernie Sanders’ strategy of voting for Hillary this time around and then working hard for Bernie, Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Stein or whoever steps up over the next four years to help a now depressed and angry populist movement coalesce against the nonsense these two establishment candidates represent.

We also must work to return these debates to control by the League of Women Voters.

Last Week’s Debate: We All Should Be Embarrassed by These Two “Amazing” Frauds


When you think about it, the whole campaign and debate system is rather embarrassing, isn’t it? The process forces grown adults to stand before 100 million people to brag about themselves, quarrel like children, and tell obvious lies while ignoring the nation’s real problems. Meanwhile, those willing to address those concerns are excluded from the debate stage with their solutions unheard.

Is this really the best we can do?

For instance, in Monday’s exchange between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, we had two rather out-of-touch, super-rich white people spending ninety minutes talking over each other and telling us how exemplary they are not only personally, but especially at solving the problems of non-whites. For this we should vote for one rather than the other.

Their other reasons?  The proposed policies of each are a bit less racist than their opponent’s. Each claims to be better at killing impoverished people in the Middle East and Africa. And, by the way, they’re superior at making their sponsors even richer, so that a more or less tiny portion of Wall Street’s wealth might trickle down to the rest of us – some day.

Take Mr. Trump (Please!). He brags about how “amazing” he is. He’s a billionaire, he claims. That (and nothing else) makes him . . . “amazing.” And this, even though his wealth was accumulated by frequent business interactions with mafia dons, by discriminating against people of color, stiffing contractors and workers, off-shoring American jobs, avoiding payment of taxes, and by regularly declaring bankruptcy.

Mr. Trump belittles women, African Americans, immigrants, Mexicans, and Muslims. He promises to break constitutional and international law by torturing terrorist suspects, by killing their families, expanding Guantanamo, excluding war refugees created by U.S. foreign policy, and by racial and religious profiling involving unconstitutional “Stop and Frisk” policing and intense surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods. He also pledges to build a wall along a border that separates a country whose land was stolen from Mexico in 1848. Moreover, he says he’ll continue trickle down economic policies of tax reductions for the rich that despite the historical record, will produce results that will be (you guessed it) “amazing.”

On the other hand, we have in Hillary Clinton a woman who reached Monday’s podium by highly questionable means centralizing fraud, disenfranchisement of independent voters, incomplete vote counts, and violation of rules governing the Democratic National Committee. (We’re supposed to forget all of that.)

Moreover, she thinks her husband did a “pretty good job” as president when he betrayed his working class base by ramming through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the worst trade deal in American history. (Mr. Trump is right about that.) With his wife’s approval, that president oversaw passage of an Omnibus Crime Bill which Ms. Clinton saw as a necessary measure against black “Super Predators” who (like dogs) must be “brought to heel.” In reality however, the Crime Bill proved responsible for the imprisonment of record numbers of African Americans and Hispanics mostly guilty of victimless crimes. The Clintons also ended “welfare as we know it.” In the process, their “reforms” further impoverished the poor now desperate for non-existent work in the jobless economy exacerbated by NAFTA.

As the senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton voted for the Iraq War that directly resulted in the deaths of more than one million people. As Secretary of State, she pushed for regime change in Libya and created a failed state where relative prosperity had existed before. Same in Syria. She unconditionally supports Israel in its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and approves record-level arms sales to Saudi Arabia –  the Butcher of Yemen (the poorest country in the Middle East) and the hidden hand behind ISIS itself. Clinton favors a no-fly zone in Syria and is evidently willing to risk the nuclear war with Russia that well might result.

In short, under a Clinton presidency, the U.S. will continue to modernize its nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and to implement a foreign policy based on imperialism, full spectrum military dominance, and permanent war.

That’s business as usual. And that’s why Mrs. Clinton might lose this election. At least crazy Donald represents change for people whose daily experience tells them that business as usual isn’t working for them.

Are Trump and Clinton the best we can do? God help us!

In the meantime, the voices of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein are quite forgotten and inaudible. If you recall, their campaigns are not based on braggadocios trumpeting of their “amazing” accomplishments. Instead, they propose actual policy changes aimed at directly improving the lives of working people like you and me. They actually talk about:

  • Climate change
  • A job-creating Green New Deal
  • Mass transportation
  • Medicare for all
  • A bail-out for indebted college students (analogous to the $1.3 trillion Wall Street bail-out in 2008).
  • Free post-secondary education for everyone.
  • Abandoning U.S. policies of imperialism, dominance and regime-change.
  • Reducing (not increasing) military spending.
  • Nuclear disarmament
  • Tax increases for the rich and for corporations
  • Community policing and law enforcement oversight along with demilitarization of police forces
  • A Truth and Reconciliation Process aimed at healing unaddressed divisions between whites and African-Americans.

So, what to do in this embarrassing situation? Here’s what I think. Unfortunately, we must recognize that:

  1. Perhaps Ms. Clinton might be slightly more rational than Mr. Trump.
  2. As a damage-control measure (and especially in view of up-coming Supreme Court vacancies), we must vote for her in locations where our truly ridiculous, anti-democratic, winner-take-all electoral system (skewed by the Electoral College) makes one’s vote actually mean something.
  3. We must work like hell during the next four years at identifying and promoting a candidate who in 2020 will defeat self-serving corporate braggarts and frauds like Trump and Clinton.

A Wedding and Then a Funeral


Isn’t it strange how family events run together? Only two weeks ago, I officiated at the wedding of my niece, Jeanine. There I saw relatives I hadn’t laid eyes on in years and years. And then all of a sudden, just a fortnight later, most of us are together again – this time attending the funeral of Jeanine’s grandfather, my brother Jim’s father-in-law.

So this morning found me in St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Newaygo, Michigan at a Mass celebrating the life of Phil Loppiccolo, the father of my dear sister-in-law, JoAnn. (She’s pictured above with Phil and his wife Millie on JoAnn and Jim’s wedding day 50 years ago.)

Phil was only 14 years my senior, which means he died at the age of 90. (Am I really that close to 90?!!)

In any case, all morning my mind was filled with thoughts of this man who led such an adventurous, fulfilling and productive life. I found myself wondering about his whereabouts now.

Phil was part of what Tom Browkaw called “The Greatest Generation.”  A year or so before the end of the Second World War, he joined the navy as a teenager. He wanted to do his part to defeat fascism. Then with the war over, he and Millie, contributed to the rebuilding of an economy devastated by the Great Depression.

Both of them were Michiganders and they took jobs in Detroit, the most dynamic city on the planet. Unlike today, it was the industrial center where presidents took foreign visitors to see the example par excellence of American can-do genius. Eventually, its African-American community made it an art mecca, producing an even more dynamic music admired and danced to throughout the world.

In Detroit, Millie and Phil worked in the transportation industry which was about to make a Great Leap Forward into a new era of truly mass transportation. As an engineer, Millie would eventually work for Learjet. Meanwhile, Phil took an administrative post at General Motors, where he worked for more than 30 years.

Can you imagine the sense of pride and purpose that this couple had as workers on the cutting edge of such dynamism? And all of this after Phil had done as much as he could to defeat what was (up until that time) western civilization’s greatest threat.

Phil retired from GM in his mid-fifties. My brother tells me that all his working life, his father-n-law had paid faithfully into a company pension plan. He had also bought a GM-sponsored healthcare arrangement promising to provide for him and Millie in their old age. Then came the Great Recession of 2008. And that was the end of that. Phil lost everything, while GM executives landed on their feet with golden parachutes and outlandish bonuses. Understandably, Phil never got over his sense of betrayal for that.

But professional accomplishments aside, it was in his family life that Phil and Millie Loppiccolo were most successful. As I said, they were the parents of JoAnn, who eventually warmly graced my brother Jim’s life. Together Jim and JoAnn had three children, Stephanie, Aaron, and Jeanine who turned out so splendidly. They gave Millie and Phil a total of those three grandchildren and seven accomplished and promising great grandchildren.

The Circle of Life is genuinely astounding in its tremendous beauty. As you can see, there is much to celebrate about the life of Phil Loppiccolo.

And now what? Phil has left us. And the truth is, we don’t know much for certain about the “heaven” he’s gone to.

In fact, we know very little about the “Eternal Life” promised by religions across the world. Uniformly, however they promise that life goes on. Death does not really exist, they say. It simply means changing rooms – going from one to another.

And that seems to hold true from what we can observe in nature. Just go for a walk in a forest. There you’ll see living trees and plants alongside apparently dead ones. However closer examination will show that what we consider “dead” is in reality teeming with life. Nothing really dies; it simply changes form.

The wise say that’s the way it is with human beings too. We apparently die. But we only change forms. Our spirits (our souls) come back to complete unfinished business in our assignment to become enlightened as modeled in the great Avatars like Jesus of Nazareth. He was the one who realized the unity of all creation. He lived that truth that constitutes our  true vocation.  He lived as though there were no difference between him and the most despised people in his culture – day laborers, prostitutes, lepers, insurgents, the poor and hungry, Samaritans, and hated foreigners. Again, that’s our vocation too. And eventually we’ll get it right.

The wise (like Jesus) console us by saying that whatever awaits us beyond this life is the absolutely best future imaginable for us. It is exactly what we need.

So if we take their word for it, if we believe what Nature itself tells us about “eternal life,” Phil Loppiccolo is precisely where he should be. He could not be in a better place – just as he was in the perfect place for him and for the rest of us this last time around.

Thank you, Phil, for all you have given us! May you rest in peace and enjoy Eternal Life!

God’s Answer U.S. Imperial Madness: Defeat Is Only a Matter of Time (Sunday Homily)


Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: HAB 1:2-3, 2:2-4; PS 95 1-2, 6-7, 8-9; 2TM 1: 6-8, 13-14, LK 17:5-10.

The United States is an imperial country. That’s beyond question. The title is proudly owned by our presidents, military leaders, public intellectuals and academics. Our country is intent on world conquest beyond anything Adolf Hitler imagined. According to the Defense Planning Guidance for the 1994–99 fiscal years, the United States will brook no military rival as it seeks to maintain and expand U.S. control of the entire world. That’s the so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine.

Having fulfilled its expansive intention in countries formerly belonging to the Soviet Union, the U.S. is now concentrating on the Middle East. According to General Wesley Clark, not two weeks after 9/11, the United States decided to invade seven countries over the next five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

The goal is resources – especially oil and natural gas – as well as strategic locations for military bases, not to mention the profits from massive arms sales necessary for such conquest. So far, “America” has reduced Iraq and Libya to chaos. It is now working mightily on Syria and is accomplishing the same chaotic results. (In Syria the immediate intent is to secure corridors for natural gas pipelines from Qatar to service the EU.) According to many, ultimate focus for the U.S. is control of Russia and China.

For people of faith, such plans (unfolding before our very eyes) are shocking, especially in view of the wanton destruction of human life and the environmental catastrophe wreaked by such misuse of resources and power. It is enough to make us wonder where is God? Why does he not intervene to destroy this new Evil Empire which happens to be our home? Isn’t God on the side of empire’s victims? Isn’t God on the side of peace and justice?

Today’s liturgy of the word shows that such questions are long standing. The day’s readings are about faith and miracles, and about what we mean by those terms in situations of occupation by predecessors of the United States in the bloody business of empire. More specifically, the readings call us to revise our understandings of God – from the “Man Upstairs” micromanaging the world and intervening to prevent wars and suffering caused by brutal empires like Babylon, Rome – and the United States.

Instead, the readings invite us to see God as the One who empowers us to be miracle workers – to figuratively transplant trees and relocate mountains by simply saying “Move from here to there.” Since miracles are fundamentally changes of perception, the call here might be for us to change our benign perception of the United States. Without that, it will just continue to do what it’s doing – destroying nation after nation and the natural environment with it.

On the other hand, our readings call us to be slow, patient, persevering and trustful in the face of our desires for instant solutions to imperial madness like the insanity I’ve just described.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Habakkuk apparently believes in the Man Upstairs. Faced by imperial hubris, he openly and impatiently questions that God.

Towards the beginning of the 6th century BCE, the prophet was witnessing the rise to power of the Chaldeans (or Babylonians). Like the U.S. today, that particular empire ruled by means of a sickening and genocidal violence.

“Are you blind to their wanton destruction?” Habakkuk cries out to God. “Why don’t you do something?”

And then comes the unexpected divine response: “Don’t worry, Habakkuk; things will get a lot worse before they get better!”

What kind of response was that? God seems to be answering Habakkuk’s challenge with one of his own. Change your idea of God, s/he seems to be saying. “I’m not the Man Upstairs. My modus operandi is not to eliminate the Babylonians according to your time table. Be patient. Change your idea of God.

The reading from Habakkuk is complemented by the discussion of faith in Luke. At the beginning, the apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” What do you suppose they meant by that? What do we mean when from the bottom of our hearts we echo their request relative to the defeat of Evil Empires close to home?

Is it our desire – was it that of the apostles – to have fewer questions about the virgin birth, Jesus’ divinity, the existence of God, or papal infallibility? Is it our prayer that we become more convinced that God can prevent and stop wars like the slaughter in Syria? Is that what we mean by faith – believing things about God, Jesus, or the doctrines of the church? Does faith mean believing that God will defeat the apparent omnipotence of the rich and powerful who themselves would occupy God’s throne?

Or is faith the power we achieve when, like Jesus, we realize that the divine dwells within us – that we are in effect God? That faith would lead us to act like Jesus and to share in his unshakeable commitment to God’s Kingdom of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation despite setbacks and complete failure before the might of the Romans who killed him.

Yes, that’s the kind of faith Jesus had. As Paul says today in 2nd Timothy, such faith is synonymous with courage. It is identical with the power of God as revealed in Jesus – a human being who could cure the sick, drive out evil spirits and even raise the dead.

Problem is, Jesus didn’t use that power to dismantle the Roman Empire, block its destruction of Jerusalem, or even prevent his own death by Roman decree. Despite the miraculous powers the gospels attribute to him, he seemed impotent before imperial Rome, even though like the rest of his contemporary Jews he struggled for its replacement with the Kingdom of God. To repeat: in the end, he was empire’s victim and died an apparent failure overwhelmed by realpolitik.

What does that tell us about Jesus-inspired faith? At least the following:

  • Faith is not about believing doctrines or things about God and Jesus.
    • Rather, it’s about commitment to the Kingdom of God – to a world ruled by love, community values, justice, and peace, despite the apparent futility of our best efforts before empire governed by power-lust, greed, and violence.
    • The prayer “Increase our faith” is about deepening commitment to God’s Kingdom in terms of patience with God’s time table without reducing our efforts to thwart imperial ambitions in the here and now.
    • In other words, faith is about the long haul, about God’s time, compared with which our notions of time are laughably brief and insignificant. (In God’s time, empire of Babylon, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the American Empire are mere blips on the screen of evolution and eternity.)
    • We should take comfort in realizing that in the divine long haul, God’s law of karma (“We reap what we sow”) is at work to answer our prayers for peace and the defeat of empire.
    • According to that law, the U.S. will ultimately reap the harvest of violence and destruction its policies so consistently disseminate. Beware!
    • The world will see the humiliation of the United States for which its majority so ardently longs.
    • No, for followers of Jesus, God is not impotent before U.S. violence, destruction, brutality and hypocrisy.
    • It’s simply a matter of time.

God’s time. Evolutionary time. Kingdom time.