Commentaries

A new era of national service in America

There was a 36-hour meeting in Aspen, Colo., on June 24-25 that could be remembered as a launching pad for a new era of service in America. Retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, top commander of our troops in Afghanistan in 2009-2010, spoke a year ago at an Aspen Ideas Festival and called for large-scale civilian service to engage more Americans in serving community and country.

The surveillance state

The following unsigned editorial appeared in the July 1 issue of America magazine, a national Catholic weekly magazine run by the Jesuits. There are few words that arouse more suspicion among a properly skeptical public than "Trust us; we're doing what is best for you." But these have been the insufficient assurances offered by the Obama administration and members of Congress about the activities of the National Security Agency, even as more questions are raised about the breadth of the NSA's Internet spying and the Orwellian infrastructure it has been constructing since at least 2006.

At one with our wounded warriors

The time the cyclists made riding day and night was astonishing, but so was the determination of the wounded troops with missing limbs and legs who propelled themselves and finished the grueling course. In five days, a group supporting the Wounded Warrior Project bicycled from California to Annapolis, Md., in honor of the wounded men and women troops who risked life and limbs for our security. Some of the riders included wounded troops.

What we learn at our parents’ side

My father was a scientist, a microbiologist to be specific. To be even more specific, he enjoyed working with animals. He spent most of his time making sure farm animals were healthy, not only for their safety, but also for the safety of others. The animal that amazed him the most, however, didn't have hooves. It had claws. My father was fascinated with lobsters.

Adventures in parenting, Catholic style

I have to confess I had heard the term "Gangnam style" for quite a while but paid no attention to it until the family's youngest generation clued me in (in case you don't know, it refers to a song and accompanying video by a South Korean rapper named Psy). As far as I can tell, it's the equivalent of the Macarena. Talk of "Gangnam style" had me considering which style I know. The style I know is parenting, Catholic style. And it goes like this:

Reflecting on sacrifices of others 50 years into the priesthood

The privilege of being a priest hit me powerfully recently when I was part of an assembly of priests who gathered to celebrate their respective ordination anniversaries at a concelebrated Mass. It made me think of all our contributions. Priests serve all over the world and have long been part of good and bad moments in history.

Discarding fear in the image we develop of God

Years ago, I was shopping with an older relative. After a clerk rang up her purchase, my relative realized there was a mistake and she'd been given 75 cents extra change. This must have been in the days before the idiot-proof checkout machines that allow folks who can't add to nonetheless successfully complete a transaction. When my shopping companion saw the mistake, she alerted the clerk and handed back the extra change. I thought this was the honorable thing to do because I believe in the old adage that the person who is honest in small matters is also honest in large ones. I must have made some comment to that effect.

Fear is good in some instances, but not when it stunts our potential

Are you afraid of the dark? Almost everyone is, at some point. Sometimes when we're young, we're absolutely convinced that monsters are living under our bed. But, as we grow up, so do the monsters. They move out of the dark corners of our closets and into other parts of our lives. They show up when we're lost. They stand around and taunt us when we have to make a class presentation or ask our crush out on a date.

The meaning of mendacity

I remember using the word "mendacity" in a passing comment during a lecture on contemporary business ethics; I may even have used the word "mendacious" in describing an auditor's complicity in filing a false income statement. In any case, a mid-level manager later came up to me and said, "You used a word that I never heard before -- 'mendacity' -- what does it mean?"

Don’t be holier than the pope

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the official domestic anti-poverty agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, works to break the cycle of poverty by helping people help themselves. It has been doing good deeds for more than four decades. It has also been the subject of repeated criticism by those who say the agency does not directly help the poor and works for social change. The most recent criticisms focus on the agency's grants made to coalitions, not all of whose member organizations support all Catholic positions on social issues.