Reject the proposed tax plan in Congress

By Sr.  Kathleen Holland

As I listen to all the talk about a new tax plan, I can’t help but wonder who will reap the benefits of this plan and who will end up paying for it. It is apparent that wealthy corporations and the wealthiest members (1 percent) of our country will get a massive tax cut.
When these tax cuts go into effect, the deficit will no doubt skyrocket and lawmakers will begin to find places to reduce spending. Some will demand cuts in funding for federal programs that assist so many helpless folks put food on their tables, obtain affordable health care and basically just make ends meet.

We know this because throughout the years, but especially in 2017, we have witnessed health care and anti-poverty programs jeopardized by direct funding cuts, structural changes or, as in this case, giving tax breaks to the wealthy and threatening future funding for anti-poverty programs.

Sr. Holland

Repeatedly, Capitol Hill has considered hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, SNAP (previously called Food Stamps), and other programs that allow low-income Americans to get by. Fortunately, because of public outcry, many of those threats have been stopped. But if Congress enacts these tax breaks for the wealthy that result in increasing the deficit, many of those programs will be at risk once again.
Here’s a fact that gets lost in all the rhetoric: federal anti-poverty programs actually work! SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) alone lifted 3.6 million people above the poverty line in 2016, while Medicaid currently provides health care for one in five Americans, including low-income children, pregnant women, adults, seniors and people with disabilities.

Programs like SNAP play a key role in our economy because recipients use their benefits at local businesses. Children in households that receive SNAP do better in school and earn more as adults. Medicaid makes people healthier in the long-term, and ensures families don’t have to fear that one trip to the emergency room will result in a lifetime of devastating debt.

Make no mistake: if made law, this tax plan will ask struggling families to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthy. On a practical level, this means that instead of being able to buy groceries and get affordable medical care for their kids, low-income families could face a situation where they simply don’t have enough food and can’t see a doctor. This is an unacceptable trade-off.

I hope we can count on Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst to reject this plan. Tax policy can be a powerful mechanism for creating economic opportunity and security for all. Sadly, this plan doesn’t do that; instead, it prioritizes the super-rich and leaves working families and kids behind.

(Sister Kathleen Holland, OSF, is a member of the Leadership Team of the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton.)

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Light shining against the darkness

By Corinne Winter

My husband and I recently watched a Christmas movie in which popular artist Thomas Kincaid told of a mentor who advised him to “Paint the light.” Kincaid interpreted the advice to mean that he should find and point out through his work the light of God’s glory as it is manifest in the world around us. Whatever one’s feelings about Kincaid’s work, it seems to me that the call to see and point out the light of Christ present within our world challenges all of us during the Christmas season as we contemplate the doctrine of the Incarnation. We see and hear so much about the darkness, the evil that is found in our world, that we may be tempted to cynicism. But the story of Christmas is the story of the Divine Son taking on humanity, coming into the world, claiming the world as God’s creation and God’s possession not finally to be swallowed up by evil.

Corinne Winter

As I read and listen to the messages of the prophets during Advent, I find in them a marvelous balance. On some days we seem to hear mostly condemnations of what Israel is doing wrong. On other days, we are admonished not to give up, to remember the faithfulness of God and to persevere in hope no matter how bad things may look. There is light beyond the darkness and the darkness will not prevail.

Ultimately, the message of the Incarnation is that the world created by God belongs to God and is destined for God’s Reign. Thus the world and all its peoples by nature not only can but yearn to welcome God, to be filled with divine life, the light that can and will crowd out the darkness. That doesn’t make us blind or immune to the real existence and power of evil. The Gospel of John says that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. But it does not say that the darkness goes away entirely. Christ in his preaching did condemn sin where he saw it, but he also called even the worst of sinners to repentance and new life.

The message of the Incarnation challenges us not only to be hopeful ourselves, but to bring hope to others. As Christians, we are called to be light to the world and not to hide our light. How can we be light? In at least two ways: shed the light of truth against falsehood, against injustice against ambitions that are unsuited for the dignity of the human person created by and for God. And point out the light that we see in others. Sometimes my mother calls me after seeing a whole program of horrible news and talks about feeling really discouraged. I tell her that at those times, I look at and think about the people closest to me, about family, friends and church. It is there that I see the goodness remaining in this world, that I see light shining against the darkness.

Lights abound in our celebration of Christ’s birth. We light the tree. We may string lights on the outside of our homes as well as inside. Christmas candles come in green, white, gold, and silver. All this light is appropriate to our belief in Christ as the Light of the World and to the stories of shepherds seeing a great light and of wise men following a star. Let it also speak to us of our Christian vocation to holiness of life.

We may be tempted to think of the shepherds’ and wise men’s experiences as unique and unrepeatable privileges, especially as we have a strong tendency to romanticize our images of the Christmas scene. I would like instead to think of them as people going faithfully and attentively about their usual work and therefore being open to the messages they received.

I wish everyone a Blessed, Light-filled Christmas season.

(Corinne Winter is a professor-emeritus of St. Ambrose University, Davenport.)

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We should not “play God”

(Editor’s note: Bishop Thomas Zinkula wrote the following editorial in response to a front-page article in the Dec. 14 issue of The Quad-City Times.)

I would like to respond to Barb Ickes’ Dec. 14, 2017, column on end-of-life options.

As a religious and spiritual leader, I suppose it is predictable that I would take the position that we should allow the God who gives us life also to be the one who determines when our life has reached its natural end. This view is in keeping with the pro-life position of the Catholic Church.

Bishop Zinkula

Likewise, the church teaches that we should not try to “play God” by always taking active measures to keep someone alive as long as possible. Patients may forgo life-sustaining medical treatments which offer no reasonable hope of benefit or are excessively burdensome, and in this way allow death to occur naturally.

In light of Ms. Ickes’ emotion-based column, I would suggest that there are better emotion-based reasons to resist the proposed legalization of physician assisted suicide for terminally ill persons under the name of “death with dignity” legislation.
In “To Live Each Day with Dignity,” the U.S. bishops affirm that “our society should embrace what Pope John Paul II called ‘the way of love and true mercy’ — a readiness to surround patients with love, support and companionship, providing the assistance needed to ease their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.”

Advocates of physician assisted suicide claim they want to help end the suffering of dying people who are in terrible pain. However, reports from the states of Oregon and Washington, where physician-assisted suicide is legal, do not indicate that uncontrolled pain is a major motivation for patients wanting to end their lives. In fact, medical and hospice care is such today that much pain and suffering can be relieved.

Psychological distress can be a motive for patients seeking assisted suicide: depression, hopelessness, fear of loss of autonomy and control. Should we not offer these patients counseling rather than death? Is it right to eliminate suffering by eliminating the one who suffers?
In my own experience as a minister and a family member, I have found that when a loved one is terminally ill we have the opportunity to be compassionate by gently washing, dressing and caressing them, thereby loving them to the end.

Meanwhile, as Father Ron Rolheiser, a popular spiritual writer, suggests in a recent column, the loved one actively emits love until the end as well. “From that person’s helplessness and pain emanates the power to draw us together as a family, a power to intuit and understand deeper things, a deeper appreciation of life, and especially a deeper recognition of that person’s life and spirit.”

Fr. Rolheiser concludes his column with these words: “In our dying bodies we can give our loved ones something we cannot fully give them when we are healthy and active. Euthanasia [and physician-assisted suicide are] partially blind to the mystery of how love is given.”

Bishop Thomas Zinkula, Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport

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Hope, born homeless in a manger

Think about Mary and Joseph as if they were living among us today. Homeless, they humbly accepted a stable as their temporary home, where the Savior of humankind would be born. God entered our broken world as a newborn lying in a feeding trough for animals, not a cradle. Pope Francis observed during a visit to Washington, D.C., in 2015: “The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head.” Hope was born in homelessness.

This Christmas, we welcome Jesus into our broken world where homelessness and near homelessness remain a challenge. We could succumb to a “what’s the use” attitude that more than 550,000 people were experiencing homelessness on a given night in January 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That’s a slight increase over last year, the first increase in seven years. Giving up is not an option for followers of Christ. He encountered people living on the margins and ministered to them by listening to their needs; he fed them body and soul; he advocated for justice. We can do no less.

Homelessness in Iowa this year was down 10.1 percent from 2016, HUD reports. Those numbers may not tell the whole story, though. Ehren Stover-Wright, research director for the Institute for Community Alliances in Des Moines, told The Catholic Messenger that just a third of Iowa’s counties reported homeless figures for the survey. The snapshot in time shows 2,652 homeless people in Iowa were sheltered; 104 people were unsheltered. That’s 2,756 people too many!

More alarming: “In every county, there is a shortage of units for rent at the affordable rate,” Stover-Wright notes in a September 2017 Analysis of Housing in Iowa. For example, in Des Moines County 2,330 households with income below 30 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) are seeking affordable units, compared with 87 units available to them. In Lee County, 1,950 households compete for 159 units of affordable housing. These are counties in our diocese.

The Muscatine Center for Social Action (MCSA) cited a report by KWQC TV 6 News that rent in Muscatine was too high in comparison to other Iowa cities, according to 300 residents who responded to a survey. Not enough rental options are available to meet the needs of hourly wage earners, the residents said. However, 52 low-income apartments are being built in Muscatine. This is a glimmer of the hope of Christ, born homeless in a manger.

It’s heartbreaking to hear the distress in people’s voices over the phone as they ask for financial help for rent and utilities, says Kent Ferris, director of Social Action and of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport. Because the small-staffed office doesn’t have the resources to respond to individual needs, callers are referred to agencies such as Churches United CareLINK, which the diocese supports.

“We will continue to field the very painful calls of people with great need,” Ferris said, because “we have a responsibility to appreciate the needs of our neighbors.” His message applies to all of us. If you are aware of people struggling to keep a roof over their head, help them to find the resources necessary to remain in their homes. Let your parish know of unmet housing needs in your community. Parishes, in turn, should inform the diocese. Your contributions to annual diocesan collections, such as Operation Rice Bowl (during Lent) and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (in November) help the diocese to respond to needs locally and nationally. Your willingness to reach out, to offer guidance and support, to work collaboratively with others to alleviate homelessness is the hope of Christ, born homeless in a manger.
Lack of affordable housing, particularly in larger metropolitan areas, is driving the increase in homelessness among the poorest of the poor, fueled by the growing gap between the haves and have-nots. Think of the people you know in Iowa, who are doubling up, living with family or friends, because they can’t afford a home or apartment of their own.

“Nationally, the economy is doing pretty well, but the impact of the overall health is not felt at the bottom,” Stover-Wright told The Catholic Messenger. “And the broadening gulf between rich and poor exerts downward pressure on the poorest Americans — the homeless being the poorest of the poor.”

Tell Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst and your U.S. representative to preserve funding for programs and incentives that will increase the availability of affordable housing. Make your advocacy the hope of Christ, born homeless in a manger.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org

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Persons, places and things: a Christmas gift

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

From a distance I watched my son Patrick march down the aisle, the tassel on his mortarboard bobbing with each step he took toward his place at St. Ambrose University’s winter commencement ceremony. A lump formed in my throat when I spotted him.

Arland-Fye

The Pomp and Circumstance Graduation March song that played as the graduates entered the River Center in Davenport on Dec. 16 evoked memories of Patrick’s victory over adversity. He told me recently that his graduation from St. Ambrose would be his best Christmas gift ever. I wholeheartedly agreed.

His elementary and junior high school years challenged him emotionally and socially. Steve and I, as his parents, were left to pick up the pieces, wondering why he struggled to be understood and get along well with others.

While his older brother Colin has autism, an autism consultant assured us when Patrick was young that he would model his parents’ behavior. Sometimes, though, he witnessed us responding in anger and frustration to autistic behavior. Patrick began to develop zero tolerance for distractions of any kind — whether it was someone “shushing,” humming or a baby whining.

I prayed, sometimes through tears, for him to overcome his social challenges. God answered my prayers in subtle ways. One of the turning points in Patrick’s life occurred during seventh grade, when a teacher asked him: “Is this really worth a detention?” From then on, our son posed that question to himself in his interactions with other kids. The detentions stopped.

Patrick built on his socialization skills and developed lasting friendships with a group of students who are Evangelical Christians. They helped him to understand that the most important relationship he has is with God. A couple of friends attended his graduation ceremony last weekend.

Prior to attending St. Ambrose, Patrick earned an Associate of Arts degree from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. While there, he attended Mass at St. Ludmilla Catholic Church where the pastor and deacon welcomed him warmly.

Our son also felt welcomed at St. Ambrose University, where he thrived participating in group projects and even made a service trip down south to assist with cleanup of the Mississippi River.

During last weekend’s commencement address, Mary Heinzman told the graduates about a book she is reading, “Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult. The author’s inspiration for the title came from a speech that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. gave. In that speech he said: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

It isn’t what you do that matters, it’s the quality of the things you do, observed Heinzman, the executive director of Information Resources for St. Ambrose University. She encouraged the graduates to think about one small thing they could do in a given situation to make a difference.

St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, asked the graduates to look around the room at all of the people who loved and accompanied them through their journey to graduation. “Journeys like this are rarely accomplished alone,” she noted. One of the hallmarks of the university is a commitment to service. She asked the graduates to “continue your commitment to service, giving back to the community. In that way, you will honor our mission of enriching lives.”

Many people have loved and accompanied Patrick on his life’s journey. His graduation from St. Ambrose University is a Christmas gift he will unwrap for years to come as he continues to do small things in a great way and strives to enrich the lives of others.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org.)

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English Valley comes together for Christmas

Vicki Pope
Christians from the English Valley area enjoy fellowship after an ecumenical Christmas service Dec. 9 at St. Joseph Parish in North English.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

NORTH ENGLISH — Earlier this month, members of eight English Valley area churches came together to celebrate Christmas at St. Joseph Parish.

Protestants and Catholics alike participated in the annual Ecumenical Service, which rotates between the area churches.

“It’s been going on forever,” said Frances Pilkington, a longtime St. Joseph parishioner. More than 20 years ago, in her estimation, “all the churches just met and decided to do it.

During the service Dec. 9 each church had a role, such as singing or reading Scripture. An offering was collected for English Valley Dollars for Scholars, which provides college scholarships to graduates from English Valley High School. After the service, St. Joseph Altar and Rosary hosted a social hour.

English Valley churches also worship together during Lent and Thanksgiving. During the summer, they plan a service in the park.

“It’s for the fellowship and being together,” Pilkington said.

Learn more about how the English Valley churches work together in a future edition of The Catholic Messenger.

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Recognize the word of crib and cross

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

The Twenty-fifth Day of December,
when ages beyond number had run their course
from the creation of the world,
when God in the beginning created heaven and earth… (Roman Martyrology)
In a particular place and at a particular time…
A small country under foreign occupation…
Part of a minority religion in the empire…
And having taken on human flesh…
Sharing our very DNA…
Made of atoms forged in the hearts of stars long dead…
The Lord of History was born into time…
The Lord of the Universe born on earth.

Bishop Zinkula

The nativity scenes that we set up, and the Christmas cards that we send, try to capture that moment in the past. It is tempting to want to stay there, and forget that Christ’s coming turns everything upside down. But nostalgia is a dangerous trap. “Christmas does not ask us to pretend we’re back in Bethlehem, kneeling before a crib; it asks us to recognize that the wood of the crib became the wood of the cross” (Nathan Mitchell).

It is, as in all liturgy, the adult, risen Christ who comes to us. Christ, who calls us to an adult faith. The risen Christ, who sends us to the margins…

To be a light in the darkness…
To be welcoming arms for the stranger…
To be hope in a weary land…
To be peace in violent times.

The readings in this new liturgical year are centered on Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s writings are charged with urgency. His use of “and” and “immediately” or “right away” to connect clauses, sentences and sections, as well as the lack of the details that are found in Matthew and Luke (like the nativity), give the Gospel a rushed and breathless feel: Here is the Good News! Decide! Now!

It is my prayer for all of us that our lives will be filled with that same urgency in 2018. An urgency to leave what is comfortable and go where Christ would take us. An urgency to share the Good News in word and deed. An urgency to stand against oppression and tyranny, and with those who are poor, cast aside, trampled on, and victimized. Because it is with them that we find Christ, who casts the powerful from their thrones, and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:52).

Reconociendo la madera de la cuna y de la cruz

Queridos Hermanos y Hermanas en Cristo,

El día veinticinco de Diciembre,
pasados innumerable siglos
desde la Creación del mundo,
cuando en el principio Dios creó el cielo y la tierra… (Martirologio Romano)
En un lugar y en un tiempo particular…
En un pequeño país bajo ocupación extranjera…
Parte de una religión minoritaria en el imperio…
Y habiendo tomado carne humana…
Compartiendo nuestro propio DNA…

Hecho de átomos forjados en el corazón de las estrellas hace mucho tiempo muertas…
El Señor de la Historia nació dentro del tiempo…
El Señor del Universo nació en la tierra.

Las escenas de la navidad que recreamos y las tarjetas de navidad que enviamos, intentan capturar ese pasado momento. Es muy tentador querer quedarse allí y olvidar que la venida de Cristo pone todas las cosas de vuelta arriba. Pero la nostalgia es una trampa peligrosa. “La Navidad no nos pide que pretendamos regresar a Belén, arrodillados delante de una cuna. La Navidad nos pide reconocer que la madera de la cuna se convirtió en la madera de la cruz” (Nathan Mitchell).

Es, como dice toda la liturgia, el Cristo adulto resucitado, es quien llega a nosotros. Cristo es quien nos llama a una fe adulta. El Cristo Resucitado es quien nos envía a los márgenes…
Ser una luz en la obscuridad…

Dar la bienvenida con los brazos abiertos al extranjero…
Ser la esperanza en una tierra cansada…
Ser paz en tiempos violentos.

Las lecturas en este nuevo año litúrgico están centradas en el Evangelio de Marcos. Los escritos de Marcos están cargados con urgencia. El uso de “y”, “inmediatamente” o “de inmediato” para conectar clausulas, oraciones y secciones, así como la falta de detalles que se encuentran en Mateo y Lucas (como la natividad), dan al Evangelio una prisa y sensación de aliento: ¡Aquí están las Buenas Nuevas! ¡Decide! ¡Ahora!
Es mi oración por todos usted que nuestras vidas se llenen con la misma urgencia en el 2018. Una urgencia para dejar lo que es cómodo e ir donde Cristo nos lleve. Una urgencia para compartir las Buenas Nuevas en palabras y hechos. Una urgencia para resistir la opresión y la tiranía y unirnos a aquellos que son pobres, desechados, pisoteados y victimizados. Porque es con ellos donde nosotros encontramos a Cristo, “quien derriba del trono a los poderosos… y a los ricos despide vacíos” (Lucas 1, 52).

Sincerely in Christ/Sinceramente en Cristo,

Most Rev. Thomas Zinkula/
Rev. Mons. Thomas Zinkula
Bishop of Davenport/Obispo de Davenport

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