Thursday, April 27, 2006

Say This About Carol Marin...

carol marin
One must not speak dismissively too often about Carol Marin’s columns of supposed political analysis lest they receive more attention than the obscurity they deserve—but here I make one more exception. She wrote yesterday about Peggy Roach who died recently and the late Msgr. Jack Egan who was her boss. Both were warm-hearted persons, Roach whom I knew slightly, Egan whom I knew rather well. But it would come as a shock to Ms. Marin when, if she ever studies her nominal religion, to discover that Jesus Christ did not come to earth as a federal GS-18 to launch an ambitious public program to aid the poor…as a civil rights demonstrator to promote race, gender or social equality…to institute a variant of the liberal 2004 Democratic platform…or as forerunner for Gloria Steinem, the straps of whose sandals He was not worthy to loosen. While he ate and drank with sinners, he didn’t advocate overthrowing Caesar or leveling the playing field.

In fact, He came not for material advancement of the downtrodden at all. He didn’t play class warfare. In fact, He turned aside the treasurer for the apostles when Judas Iscariot suggested that the oils women were applying to His body be sold with the proceeds given to the poor. He said the good women were anointing Him for His burial, declaring to all that “the poor you shall always have with you.” Why didn’t He lead a populist rebellion to eliminate privilege? Because, as He said, His kingdom was not of this world.

There is much in His life to spur questions about Christ (some of which I get to later) but no confusion over why He didn’t push contemporary liberalism. In fact, much of what He taught may be regarded as contradictory to pork chop liberalism. He taught that Men (or as Ms. Marin would amend, men and women) should not selfishly seek earthly treasure; as children of the One Father we should share property generously, show special solicitude for the poor and afflicted and seek to re-order our earthly life in such a way that the kingdom of God may appear to be in our midst. That would warrant extensive private generosity as when he advised the rich, young man to sell what he had, give to the poor and follow Him. No hint of statism there. The social teaching of the church to which Ms. Marin displays such theological inattention, requires faith, hope and love. In fact the entirety of the church’s social teaching rests on two principles which you will forgive if I apply the male gender with which it was proposed: first, one cannot find fulfillment unless he has community with others—in which he serves, is served, loves and is loved. Second, one cannot find fulfillment without making his own deep personal commitment to God. It means yes, man is a social being but much more than that. He is a social being with transcendent dignity, one called to an immediate personal relationship with God.

Now here comes the virtues that intrigue Ms. Marin and rightly so. Those who suffer from unjust discrimination through hatred which sin has implanted in our society are persons of transcendent worth, our brothers and sisters, to whom we owe realistic love, to whom we have a duty to shape a society in which there will be justice, freedom and peace. The quotation from 1 John 4.20-21 may vex her because it is not politically correct but is nevertheless true: “If anyone says `I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” That would warrant civil rights demonstrating, marching for peace or even marching for a just war to overthrow injustice in the Middle East. But it would also warrant Ms. Marin studying the life of Dorothy Day, a journalist who embraced joyously voluntary poverty, demonstrated for peace but also lived—abstemiously and with complete fidelity to—the complete traditional theology of her church. That Day may soon become a saint is my fervent wish.

Notwithstanding Day’s feeding the hungry, although Ms. Marin may not realize it (or realizing it be uninterested) the Church Christ founded is not intended to be primarily a distribution center for alms (although it does lots of that) or a political caucus for the ever-continuing expansion of human rights (although with some wayward prelates it attempts this, too). That Church is a kind of sacrament or sign, an instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race. Because Christ continues to nourish our life through the Church, we honor her as mother and teacher. As her children, we must learn from her the mind of Christ and be schooled by her in the ways of life.

That means Ms. Marin’s religion considers the family, its needs and relationships. Protection of the family would involve economic issues yes, with which Ms. Marin is wholly in accord but also those with which she has been publicly and unfeelingly unsympathetic: anti-abortion, preservation of the traditional family unit which is under assault from those who would weaken the definition of marriage to be what anyone might wish. Feminism, women priests and women bishops did not come up in the gospels, although in Christ’s following there were many women who were not apostles, including the one to whom He first appeared after resurrection: Mary Magdalen. Christ had every chance to name women as apostles but, unless you take “The Da Vinci Code” as gospel (and Ms. Marin may) He did not, chiefly because He wished the Mass, the un-bloody sacrifice of Calvary be enacted by a man who represents Christ, who having a choice became man. That does not mean women are unequal but men and women are equal but different. That is vexing to Catholic feminists and probably Ms. Marin since they believe they are not equal to men unless they perform the same actions in every sense as men. They must be welcomed to play the lead in “Hamlet” and “Richard III” as men to be Juliet and Desdemona.

With respect to Msgr. Egan, as one who knew him well and met with him in dispute on occasion (and with whom we carried on lengthy discussions at the Cliff Dwellers), he had the first part of the Christian mission down cold: involving economic rights. But to him, we never left the 1930s when unions had not received the benefit of the Wagner Act. Union conventions nowadays are, as I reminded him, held in Miami Beach with the presidents earning well into the six figures, not exactly parallel to the days when the Reuther brothers were beaten by Henry Ford’s goons in Detroit. Union membership requires dues to be collected and used without workers’ consent, I reminded him, as in my own case. His answer was similar to that of Cardinal Francis George to whom I once addressed this complaint: “then go do something about it.” My union president was Dick Kay of NBC-TV who was not particularly sympathetic to the doctrine of worker subsidiarity and a portion of my dues are still used for political purposes to which I am opposed.

Egan didn’t consider—and would not consider for a moment—unions whose bargaining threaten to bankrupt industries and lose jobs for workers. To him, unions were always right; business was always wrong. It was fun to discuss with him until we got to dessert but after that, unprofitable since he would grant no leave for union abuse. To that end, he was a fly in amber, an interesting relic to be sure, one who could discourse about early injustices to workers but one entirely unsympathetic to understand the current economic reasons behind out-sourcing, even to discuss them. When pushed, Irish anger and his small clenched fists signaled the conversation was over. Social fervor doesn’t help when it interferes with mutual concessions to bridge understanding.

If I may say so, he was entirely uninterested in the subject of eradicating abortion, the gravest social issue of our time, which his church considers a grave sin; rather he was aligned (one never knew how closely) with its proponents. He was uninterested in any effort to explore the root-cause of homosexuality rather than in supporting the rhetoric of its most fervent supporters. He was missing in action with any congressional move to limit abortion, to limit taxpayer funding of it. As one who attended some of his Masses at the Cathedral during weekday, I never heard him inveigh (and he was an excellent homilist) against non-economic moral evils (although he may have when I was not there). The reason was clear: his Democratic party had espoused abortion from the early 1970s and gay rights since the 1980s. Moreover, I have seen him actively cooperate with those who vehemently support abortion, using his influence to put in the Holy Name pulpit on Labor Day as homilist, John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO who was and is militantly pro including late term.

I have seen him publicly defend the social benefactions of the pro-abort MacArthur foundation. It was in response to a column I wrote against its bequest to a letter-head group called “Catholics for Free Choice.” Shortly after he may headlines that said “Catholic Priest Defends Foundation,” MacArthur made a huge contribution in his name to an “Egan Center” for DePaul University (where he taught) replete with a handsome bronze bust of himself. That came as close to selling out as I have seen in a long, long time.

And of course, what Ms. Marin hasn’t said is that Msgr. Jack Egan was far more than an archdiocesan priest here. He was the founder of a group of Catholic renegades who support radical changes in the church all in contradiction to church teaching—abolition of celibacy, overthrow of the male priesthood, general absolution, you name it in the name of the front group with which he didn’t particularly seek to entangle his monsignori status: “Call to Action” with chapters throughout the nation. With responsibility for crafting this group, he was what medievalists called an active apostate, a fomenter of heresy and proponent of schism who, unable to cause revolution in policies from without, determined to stay within so as to have greater deleterious effect.

He was a noisier politicized version but far less effective a rebel than his contemporary, Msgr. Ignatius McDermott. Unlike Egan who preached rebellion, McDermott carried on self-sacrificing care for the poor, courageously struggling against archdiocesan authorities when they sought to limit him including an Egan favorite who sought to sack him. I am not sure if Egan ever worked in street ministries for the poor but he did march—at Selma and for a time in Chicago—which leads to this story.

It was at one such time, by the memory of a valiant civil rights leader,--one who has since died but who was my office-mate toward the latter years of his life, John McDermott (no relation to Msgr. McDermott)—that a band of Catholics marched down Michigan Avenue under the auspices of the Catholic Interracial Council which McDermott headed. Egan was with them walking arm in arm when the sirens heralded a quick visit by Richard J. Daley’s police...which meant likely arrest and jail. Whereupon Egan unlocked his arm and dropped out because it turned out he had another engagement. Everyone went to jail but Egan was shown on television that night eloquently testifying for passage of an Open Housing ordinance. From his jail cell, McDermott marveled at the timing.

I have had similar occasion to marvel. Fifteen years ago, I invited former Congressman, former UN ambassador and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young to come to Chicago to speak at a fund-raiser we were holding at The Quaker Oats Company where I worked (Young, an old friend of mine was running for Governor of Georgia and the money we raised went to his campaign). It so happened Egan said the 5:15 p.m. Mass I attended the afternoon before at the Cathedral. Knowing of his interest in civil rights, I dropped in at the sacristy after Mass to invite him to attend our reception the next day. He did.

Now I had known Young since 1972 when he won his first congressional race (becoming the first black man to be elected to Congress from the deep south since Reconstruction) in a hundred years and at my good friend and then boss, senior vice president and board member Bob Thurston’s idea the company produced a fine documentary film of the victory. The fund-raiser was going well and Young, an eloquent man, was talking convivially about his campaign, when Egan came in the door. He immediately walked up to the front of the room, took the microphone from a startled Young, and announced he wished to thank “Andrew for saving my life at the Selma bridge.” One look at Young’s face told me all I needed to know. He was dazed by the intrusion but gentleman that he was received Egan’s praise and an applause rang out for both. Thus Msgr. Jack became co-equal in celebrity with the honoree. That put to brilliant use Ms. Marin’s word which she applied to Cardinal John Cody “imperious.” The same Cody who created the priest Senate, instituted health care and hospitalization for them. The same Cody who was driven to his death by those from Ms. Marin’s newspaper based on charges that, after the old man died, were dropped because unprovable.

There are many questions to ask those who believe in Christianity beyond those that concern Ms. Marin which are answered by obvious canonical reference: why no women priests, no women bishops? So that my friend and e-mail correspondent Michael Miner of “The Reader” is not mis-led to think a Pascal follower has all the answers, here is some that stir me which lead me to hope I will understand one day. Take the marvelous contradictions of this Christ as God and man. #1: asleep in a ship (how human) He is awakened and sees there is a storm whereupon He rebukes the wind and the sea is calm (how divine). Coming from Bethany He is hungry (human) but when He finds no figs on a nearby tree, He curses it and it withers to the ground (divine but what was that about?). On another occasion, He inquires how much food is available (a very human question) and when he is informed, takes five loaves and two fish and feeds five thousand (divine). These answers will come and perhaps not far off for I am 77, going on 78.

But what causes me to ponder even longer are these: He confesses He knows not the hour when the human Son of Man shall come at the Last Judgment, yet at the same time knows what is lacking in the hearts of those who profess to believe in Him. How or why could He be ignorant in the one instance and informed in the other? Mark tells us that Jesus did not know the day of final judgment reports He so perfectly knew the future He could tell a man who was a free and responsible agent what he would do, when he would do it and exactly how many times: “This day, before the cock crows twice you [Peter] shall deny me thrice.” And all of this while Peter is vehemently denying it.

Thus ends the disquisition begun by the inspiration of Ms. Marin.

This has gone on much too long and now my traditionalist wife is calling me to dinner but if you have answers to these theological questions, tell me, won’t you? God bless.


  1. My faith in the belief that doctrines of the Catholic Church have already provided you with answers to your questions is currently and regrettably stronger than my faith in my revelations. I hope you are not asking with an awareness of the answers provided by the Church. Though doctrines may be revised or even later rejected by the Promulgator Body, aren't those who initially call for revision normally rejected as heretics?

  2. Tom,

    You're right that the Bible doesn't say anything about statism and charitable acts by the state. And yet, it also doesn't say anything about either democracy or free enterprise. I think that God gave us minds to think and reason with to help us apply biblical principles not just in our personal lives, but in our roles as citizens as well. That's why you'll often find Christians on both sides of a social issue as they struggle to apply their faith. I don't think (with some critical exceptions of course!) that God is so much concerned about our political perspective on various issues as He is with the process we went through to come to a particular position. After all, does God really have a position on corporate tax rates and other issues like that?

  3. The Catholic tradition of Scholasticism has provided us with a study of economics and the interaction of the state with the market for about 800 years now.

    Tradition plays a large part in Catholicism, and up until about the New Deal, Catholics tended to accept the traditional teachings of Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics with regards to economics and the state.

    We can think about such things, but I think it is a great head start to use some of the 800 years of writings and studies, rather than 70 years of New Deal politics in determining an ethical course in economics.


  4. The late Msgr. Jack Egan lived at St. Angela in the early 1960's during the Pastorate of Rt. Rev. Msgr. Daniel F. Cunningham. Msgr. Cunningham--ome of the finest and wittest of Chicago priests spoke to His Holy Name Society when Msgr. Egan was made head of The Cardinal's Comittee on Urban Renewal. The good Msgr Cunningham described the function of Jack Egan's office this way. "It means we are going to try and reck your neighborhood."
    This was before Msgr. Egan's real leftist days as it was before and during the early years of the Vatican II Council.
    Many of the leftist Catholics in Chicago still revere the name of Msgr. Jack Egan.