Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Catholic Social Thought and Film: "Entertaining Angels"

I am currently teaching a seminar in “Catholic Social Thought and Economic Justice.”  Over the past few years I have re-vamped the syllabus, cutting down the number of topics I try to cover so as to have more time to discuss applications and the mesh with legal topics and structures.  I am increasingly enamored of including film – at the moment, the Dorothy Day story, “Entertaining Angels” (1996, Paulist Pictures, with Martin Sheen); and “Romero” (1989 Paulist Pictures, starring Raul Julia).

Two snapshots of what I am learning from my students’ interaction with “Entertaining Angels”: First, really interesting observations about the tensions and ambiguities in Dorothy Day’s approach to single-mother parenting, as she raised her young daughter in the midst of the somewhat chaotic instability of the first Catholic worker house.  This brought us into a fascinating discussion of how one’s commitment to working for justice (or any cause) impacts those closest; and how you think through those choices.  It also gave me a glimpse of how much anxious pressure this generation feels to create an “ideal” setting for their children – which is making me think that as we move into Laborem Exercens I need to give some significant space to talking through a concept of “vocation” (both personal and professional) which allows plenty of room for human limitations, failures and frailty – as well as plenty of room (and permission) to work through the inevitable sufferings of life.

Second, there’s a fabulous culminating scene in which Day emerges from her own dark night in the community’s founding – which included tensions over whether to focus on the dissemination of ideas through the paper; or the day-to-day direct work with the extremely vulnerable and demanding homeless and poor.  The turning point is through Day’s an encounter with Maggie, the alcoholic prostitute who was attempting to steal the community’s rent money.  In response to Maggie’s sobs, “hit me,” Day responds: “I can see the light in you . . . the courage and the love … You are very beautiful . . . I love you.”  What emerged in the class discussion was how this resolved the seeming tension between “contact” and “concepts” - as Peter-Hans Kolvenbach put in in his 2000 talk on the promotion of justice in Jesuit higher education -– “solidarity is learned through ‘contact’ rather than through ‘concepts.’”  For me, Day’s “I can see the light in you” – leading to an attraction to the beauty of the encounter with Christ in the other – regardless of their external circumstances – captures what it means to find a powerful synthesis in a vision that fully contains both. 

September 28, 2011 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Festivities and Changes

As many of you know, for me the last several months have been beautiful – but intense.  This past year the Focolare community in the US celebrated its 50th anniversary, and I went into hibernation to put together (with co-author Tom Masters) a book for the occasion, which responds to some of the "frequently asked questoins" about its approach and its mesh with local church and parish structures, and which discusses how its work fits into the framework of American culture:  Focolare: Living a Spirituality of Unity in the United States (New City Press 2011)

Right after those festivities I spent six weeks teaching (in italian!) in the Focolare’s relatively new interdisciplinary master’s program near Florence – the Sophia University Institute – a fantastic experience.  The summer then brought a major change – a move from the Bronx Focolare community house to the house in Washington DC, and from Fordham to a new job as a visiting lecturer at Georgetown Law School – where I am teaching seminars in "Catholic Social Thought and Economic Jutice" this fall, and "Religion and the Work of a Lawyer" in the spring.  Hopes are high that I will now have a little more time to blog!  Amy

September 28, 2011 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Memo to a Divided Church

Folks, I am back.  First, just a word to say how much our prayers are with the people of Japan, and especially all of those who have lost loved ones. 

As many of you know from when I have come out of my cave for brief intervals to try (and miserably fail) to keep up with email, I have spent large parts of the past year in hibernation to complete (together with my co-author Tom Masters) a book to mark the 50th anniversary of the Focolare Movement’s presence in the United States — Focolare: Living a Spirituality of Unity in the Unites States, just released by New City Press.

For me, this project was the chance to fulfill a long-time dream—to write a book which helps to make the Focolare spirituality and ideas accessible for a US audience.  After sketching the Focolare’s history and development, it describes (with lots of stories and examples) how its spirituality of unity is lived in daily life, the structures that sustain its members in their commitments, the various vocational paths within the community, the shape the spirituality gives to their social and cultural projects, and its relationship with the Catholic Church.  The last part—which brought bubbling to the surface all of my “American Studies” brain cells!—addresses how the Focolare’s ideas, structures and ways of communicating intersect with four “quests” in American culture: the search for financial security and personal identity, the quest for freedom, the search for community in a pluralistic society, and the search for the common good in a polarized political culture. 

John Allen gave us a nice plug in his recent blog, “Memo to a Divided Church: Meet the Focolare” — which features an extensive interview with the current president, Maria Voce, who arrives to our shores at the end of the month for the anniversary festivities.

As next week is our spring break, I’ll try to play some catch up blogging, to make up for my long silence.  Thanks for your patience!

March 11, 2011 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Russello on Conscience Clauses

Here is a thoughtful reflection by MOJ friend Gerald Russello re Martha Coakley's statements about conscience clauses.

January 20, 2010 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Allen’s “The Future Church” – Trend One – “A World Church”

Allen’s first trend describes how over the course of the 20th century a “tight identification between the West and Christianity” has “disintegrated” and Catholicism has been turned “upside-down.”  In terms of numbers, at the beginning of the century, only 25% of the Catholic population lived outside of Europe and North America; by century’s end, 65.5% of the Catholic population was found in Africa, Asia and Latin America. (15)  Allen quotes Rahner’s observation that as a theological matter, Catholicism as a theological has always been a “World Church” in principle, but “now that identity is being realized as a sociological fact.” (16)  

After recounting some of the reasons for Catholic growth in the global south, he then denotes some of its characteristics, including: “morally conservative, politically liberal;” a comfort level with “miracles, healing and the supernatural;” institutionally, grappling with problems of growth—eg, infrastructure and staffing—rather than problems of decline; and several positive examples of the Church playing a strong role in political life. (23-32) 

Throughout the book, Allen’s reflections on what a given trend means for the future church are mapped out on a spectrum of near-certain, probable, possible and “long-shot” consequences.  Near -certain consequences of a World Church include increasing attention to matters of pastoral concern in the South (such as polygamy and witchcraft); and a gravitational pull away from internal “inside baseball” questions (such as how power is distributed in the Church) toward “ad extra” question of mission.  

Allen also predicts that Southern influence will bring an injection of “turbocharging orthodoxy” on sexual morality, with simultaneously stronger support of “left” leaning policies on economic justice and war.  (32-42) Attitudes toward ecumenical and interreligious dialogue (discussed with more depth in later chapters) might see a slightly tougher stance in light of Southern experience.  As the head of a Nigerian league formed in defense against anti-Christian violence by Islamic radicals put it: “You can’t turn the other cheek is you’re dead.” (46). 

What might this trend mean for Catholic legal theory and Catholic legal education?  In my own teaching and scholarship, working with the genre of the encyclicals, I have often struggled with the profound cultural differences between the European and North-American mind-frames:  eg, the European tendency to articulate highly abstract principles, and only eventually work its way down to a more concrete discussion, in tension with the more pragmatic problem-solving leanings of North-American culture.  I believe these perspectives have a profound impact on how we understand the mesh between law and church teaching, and on how we articulate how moral principles can inform their daily lives.  Reading Allen’s analysis, I have the sense that an “upside-down” World Church will present an even more interesting set of dynamic tensions which will require a much more complex exploration of how cultural attitudes toward law and social structures inform how we think about the Church’s social teaching—based not just on how the US interfaces with Europe, but on a richer, thicker interaction among the variety of legal cultures in the global South. 

In my seminar on CST & Economic Justice, when we have tackled portions of the US Bishop’s letter, “Economic Justice for All,” I have always gotten slightly stuck on the extent to which the CST principle and value of participation is in tension with a robust sense of global solidarity.  With Catholicism turned “upside-down,” and with the hope of becoming more aware of and sensitive to perspectives  from the global South, I wonder how this might challenge and change how I think about advocacy for the kind of wages, healthcare and basic services which enable  full and dignified participation in our industrialized nation?  

Finally, in light of Allen’s account of the challenges and tensions which emerge with the South-North movement of priests (45), I wonder what kind of institutional structures might help my students, and US Catholics generally, open up to the beauties and possibilities of a World Church.  In his introduction, Allen observes: “It sometimes comes more naturally for Catholics elsewhere to connect what’s happening in Congo, or Colombia, or Cambodia to their own fate.  A largely benign form of national parochialism is in some ways the original sin of much Catholic conversation in the United States.” (12)  Perhaps those grassroots components of the Church that already thrive within the structures of international staffing and exchange—religious orders, international service programs, and many of the new ecclesial movements—could be of service.  Reading Allen’s account, I realized that one of the reasons I am not afraid of the changes that an “upside-down” Catholicism presents is because I have before me the names and faces of women and men from Brazil, Argentina, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Uruguay, and the Dominican Republic, whose personal background, cultural heritage, and experience of the Church in their own country, have greatly enriched the Focolare communities where I have lived and worked.

I believe I have "opened" the comments section (and will get some technical help if I haven't!) - I look forward to further discussion of this chapter and the book generally.

January 18, 2010 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

MOJ Discussion of John Allen's "The Future Church" Begins Today

Today we are opening our focused discussion of John Allen's new book, "The Future Church."  Ten of us have signed up to post the lead blog on different chapter each week (for the most part in order, but note the switch on the last two), with an effort to include our thoughts on the implications of the particular “trend” for Catholic legal theory and Catholic legal education.  And with this discussion we'd also like to experiment with direct comments from readers, we'll see how that works.  Here is our schedule: 

Week of 1/18 - A World Church - Amy Uelmen & Rick Garnett

1/25 - Evangelical Catholicism - Rob Vischer

2/1 - Islam - Russ Powell

2/8 - The New Demography - Michael Scaperlanda

2/15 - Expanding Lay Roles - Lisa Schiltz

2/22 - The Biotech Revolution - Robert George

3/1 - Globalization - Kevin Lee

3/8 - Ecology - Bob Hockett

3/15 - Pentecostalism - Greg Sisk

3/22 - Multipolarism - Tom Berg

January 18, 2010 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

MOJ Book Discussion: John Allen's "The Future Church"

We'd like to have a focused discussion of John Allen's new book, "The Future Church."  As the book is organized according to 10 "Trends," we'll focus on one trend per week.  On the Monday of the designated week, one of us will provide an opener, hopefully with some thoughts on the implications for the Catholic legal theory project, and then to the extent that it is helpful to keep the discussion focused, also serve as a thread coordinator for that week.  Discussion from the previous thread could also continue, but this way we'll be sure to cover the wide ground that Allen sets out.  For MOJ readers who would like to read along and participate, here is our schedule with the coordinators:

Week of 1/18 - A World Church - Amy Uelmen & Rick Garnett

1/25 - Evangelical Catholicism - Rob Vischer

2/1 - Islam - Russ Powell

2/8 - The New Demography - Michael Scaperlanda

2/15 - Expanding Lay Roles - Lisa Schiltz

2/22 - The Biotech Revolution - Robert George

3/1 - Globalization - Kevin Lee

3/8 - Ecology – Bob Hockett

3/15 - Pentecostalism - Greg Sisk

3/22 - Multipolarism – Tom Berg


January 7, 2010 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Discovering God's Love

I am back and my New Year’s resolution is… to blog more!  (Or at least to try…)  As Christmas was approaching, my Focolare house had plans to go upstate to our conference center in order to celebrate with a larger group, but we were also flanking one of the women in my community as she accompanied her mother in her last days.  Sensing that the time was close, we decided to scrap our initial plans so as to facilitate taking turns being together with our friend as she kept vigil over her mom.  I have had many wonderful Christmas Eves in my life, but this was the most beautiful: standing next to my friend as we assured her mother that Jesus and Mary were close to her.  On Christmas morning another group went to be with her… and she left peacefully for heaven on Christmas evening.  The wake and the funeral were filled with this sense of peace.  All of this helped me to discover in a deeper way the meaning of Christmas, which is closely tied to the whole point of a Focolare house: to love one another to the point of receiving the gift of Christ’s presence among us and for the world, “where two or three are gathered in my name…” (Mt. 18:19).  It seems like in these moments that reality takes on an extraordinary depth.  

Then we all shifted gears and went up to the conference center for our annual retreat.  The theme that we are reflecting on this year is the reality of God as love in our lives, and our response to that love.  I realized that when I am in the middle of stuff and the messiness of life—struggles, questions, issues, and just the work of growing in understanding how love can permeate in a deeper way my work in being a member of a community, a scholar, a teacher, a colleague, a daughter, a sister, a friend… often in this process it is not always straightforward to see God’s love at work.  What came to my soul at the end of the retreat was that exchange between Jesus and Martha after Lazarus’s death. (John 11:21-27).  When Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again,” Martha’s first reaction is, I know that will happen—eventually: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus invites her to look again, to recognize the power of his love in her life not just eventually but also right now, standing in front of her: “I am the resurrection and the life.”  I sensed the Jesus was saying also to me, “Do you believe this?”  It was a wonderful invitation to look again, to see all of the ways in which the life of the Risen One is at work right now, even in the midst of the struggles.  Not a bad way to start the new semester! 

So I guess with that, also a New Year’s wish that our little “Mirror of Justice” community can this year discover in a deeper way how in the midst of our conversations in which differences often emerge, and as we engage the messiness of our culture, that we can look again to see all of the ways in which God is loving us, and at work in our lives.  Happy New Year, and happy new semester!  Amy

January 5, 2010 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Building the City of Mary

I am just back from a Focolare’s northeast summer gathering held at the University of Scranton, “Mariapolis” (city of Mary) where about 400 people of all ages and from an amazing variety of ethnic and social backgrounds, came together for three days to delve into the Focolare’s spirituality of unity and live it together.  (This year translations were in Spanish, Korean and Chinese).  The theme, “love generates wisdom” dug into some of the challenges that people are facing today. 

A workshop on economic life opened a space for discussion about how efforts to love might inform the approaches to the recession, with examples of living through a layoff, and helping small children to participate fully in a family’s efforts to discern wants from needs.  Another on family life explored how to find time to communicate in the midst of a frenetic pace; and how to maintain unity in situations when the couple finds they have different approaches to parenting.  The youth put together for everyone else a workshop on how they try to let love inform their efforts to navigate the media and means of communication (social networking, text messaging, etc.) in order to build solid and respectful relationships. 

The CST insight?  I think it might have something to do with how the communal effort to love and be open to receiving love creates a social space of total inclusion in which people can fully participate, giving the gift of themselves.  Like the man in the scooter-wheelchair who formed a deep bond with a group of kindergartners, who were delighted to take rides on the scooter, and “race” him; and then together they formed an amazing team to help clear the tables in the dining area and put the dishes on the conveyer belt.  Or the profoundly autistic teenager, unable to communicate verbally, who was clearly happy and comfortable dancing with the other young people at the end of the program, and the youth were clearly focused on her and the priority of creating a space to include her just as she was. 

On our way back to the Focolare house in the Bronx, my friends and I stopped at an ATM machine, where there was an older man obviously struggling with finding the right buttons, and taking quite a while.  Realizing that he had forgotten his glasses and needed help, we were able to create enough trust, even at a NYC ATM machine, to give him a hand.  I am normally prone to impatient “sidewalk rage” with anyone slower than the usual NYC pace, but the “Mariapolis” spirit had made a dent on that, enabling us to bring something of the “city of Mary" into the Bronx, too.

July 27, 2009 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Healing Polarization & Focolare’s Economy of Communion

A few thoughts on John Allen’s “gut check for American Catholicism.”  I know you will all be shocked to read that I’d agree with his assessment that among the “winners” in the encyclical is Focolare and its Economy of Communion project, as “the lone initiative singled our for praise” in Caritas in Veritate.

 

I’d see a further connection within Allen’s roundup: I think the Economy of Communion project and the Focolare spirituality generally also hold much promise for the work of healing the tendency that Allen describes for pro-life and peace-and-justice Catholics to move in separate circles, create their own echo chambers, and as Allen puts is, “travel down separate paths, having separate conversations and investing their time and treasure in distinct, sometimes even opposing efforts.” 

 

Last week I was reflecting on the group of people involved with the Economy of Communion project.  Some of us have been in conversation almost from its inception in 1991.  And as I went through the list of these friends, I realized that for many I could not remember if they were Republicans or Democrats.  I am sure the role of the state and political models has come up in our conversations over the years, but the focus – a common commitment to a concrete project in service to the poor, in the conviction that Gospel values can completely permeate an approach to business life -  has formed such a deep non-ideological bond that political alliances have been completely relativized and accepted among the normal differences in any group.

 

Similarly, what draws people to the Focolare spirituality is not a particular political agenda, but the spirituality of unity, which is grounded in the prayer of Jesus, “that all may be one,” and the conviction that this can permeate their everyday lives.  Especially during presidential campaign seasons, local Focolare communities have not been immune to the political tensions, and have had to work very hard to keep open the lines communication across political differences.  But the common bond in the spirituality lays a foundation for building the kinds of relationships of listening, love and trust that can bridge the political divide. 

 

Before the 2008 election season, in the New York area we did a formation program that we called “Citizens for a United World,” which started, like all Focolare gatherings, with a “pact” of mutual love.  Over the course of studying Catholic social teaching, many were able to recognize the ways in which they may have mischaracterized the “other” (political) side, see that our pro-life and peace-and-justice leanings were all integral to the work of building up the body of Christ, and move toward healing the relationships in tension, within the Focolare community, and also within their families, parishes, and other circles.

 

I agree with Allen that one of our big challenges in the life of the Church here is bring our pro-life and peace-and-justice energies into alignment so as to “breathe with both lungs.”  And I have the sense that in addition to Focolare, other ecclesial movements may have had analogous experiences of creating the kind of non-ideological space that can help to heal the divide.  These may be rare, but perhaps not as rare as we think.

July 18, 2009 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)