A Nation of Prayer (and politics)

Today is the 58th annual National Day of Prayer, which, like so many things, has become quite politicized in recent years.

The National Day of Prayer became federal law in 1952, after heavy lobbying by Billy Graham and others. President Truman signed the bill.

The idea, at first, was pretty general: to inspire Americans to spend one day — the same day — in prayer and reflection, whether at church or at home.

In recent years, the day has become closely associated with the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a conservative evangelical group run by Shirley Dobson, the wife of Focus on the Family founder Jim Dobson. Many liberal and moderate Christians, among others, have complained that the day was hijacked by those with a very specific point of view.

President Bush invited religious leaders to the White House every year for a special prayer service.

President Obama chose not to, a move that is seen by some as anti-Day of Prayer. Obama did sign a proclamation this morning declaring a National Day of Prayer, but did not make a big deal of it.

Shortly after noon today, many Americans will gather in small groups outside their city and town halls to pray together.

So there you go.

Tomorrow night: How to improve interfaith relations

A reminder: The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor will host a forum tomorrow evening (Thursday, May 7) on enhancing interreligious cooperation in the Lower Hudson Valley.

The 7:30 program is to mark the start of the pope’s trip Friday to the Holy Land.

I’ll be the moderator, so come on out.

The panelists will be: the Rev. Anthony Falsarella of the St. Basil Academy in Garrison; the Rev. James Gardiner of the Graymoor friars; Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan of the Westchester-based American Muslim Women’s Association; the Rev. Adolphus C. Lacey, pastor of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill; and Rabbi Lee S. Paskind of First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill.

Graymoor is located in Garrison on Route 9, not far north of the Westchester-Putnam border. Once you drive in, follow signs for the Spiritual Life Center.

He’s not really overweight, is he?

The house was rocking — so to speak — at St. Francis of Assisi in West Nyack last night.

I don’t want to overstate Archbishop Tim Dolan’s appeal only weeks after he got to town. But, boy, people were excited.

There were more than 1,000 people there, with hundreds sitting in folding chairs and people lined up along the walls. And people seemed to be excited about the excitement that Dolan brings.

Everyone I talked to said something about a fresh start for the Catholic Church in New York. It’s like a big, slow exhale…

Dolan was funny, of course. He made quite a few cracks about food and his expanding waistline (which really isn’t that large, now, is it?).

And he emphasized that all the fuss is not about him. It’s about Jesus.

Dolan said that when he was in Milwaukee, a fellow from out of town said he wanted to become a Milwaukee priest because he wanted to serve with Dolan. But Dolan claims he told the guy that he was only a hamburger away from a heart attack and that the fellow needed to serve the church and not Tim Dolan.

A telling story in the midst of Dolan mania.

By the way, quite a few people came up to me to tell me that they liked my blog or my overall work covering religion. It was quite surprising and means a lot. So thanks.

In a bit, I’m heading to the Big City to watch a bunch of United Methodists perform random acts of kindness.

They’re doing it as part of a new national initiative called RETHINK CHURCH.

What exactly does it mean to perform random acts of kindness in New York City. ? I’ll find out.

Photos by Vincent DiSalvio / The Journal News

Ramapo. Yeshiva. Cow slaughtered.

Here’s one of those stories that is going to get a lot of attention, reported by my colleague Jane Lerner.

The headline:

Cow slaughtered in yard of Ramapo yeshiva

The start of the article:

*****
RAMAPO – Police and health inspectors are investigating today after students and teachers at a yeshiva on Route 306 slaughtered a cow in the school’s backyard last night, officials said.

Ramapo police were called to 609 Route 306 shortly before 7 p.m. after neighbors called to report that students and teachers at Yeshiva Bobover had tied a cow to a tree and were slaughtering it, officials said.

When police arrived they found a dead cow in the backyard, according to Lt. Brad Weidel.
“There was a cow that had been slaughtered,” he said.

No criminal charges were filed. But the incident was referred to both the Rockland Department of Health as well as town officials, he said.

The cow had apparently been purchased from a livestock company in Monticello, N.Y., Weidel said.

Neighbor Carol Friedman saw adults and teens from the school lead the cow from a brown van into the backyard shortly after 5 p.m. She did not see what happened in the yard, but another neighbor told her that the animal was tied to a tree and slaughtered with knives.

“It’s the most horrendous, barbaric thing I have ever heard of,” she said. “I can’t believe they would slaughter a cow in a backyard in a residential neighborhood.”

*****

You can read the rest HERE.

Do you have a handle on evil?

Don’t feel so bad.

I just got back from Manhattanville College, where the Westchester Inter-religious Clergy Network was talking about evil.

And they don’t get it either.

Not that they weren’t trying. Thirteen rabbis, ministers and priests talked about their religious upbringings and what they were told about the existence of evil. In most cases, it amounted to “not much.”

So they learned about evil the way we all do – by encountering it, mostly in small doses, and by watching evil run amok in history books and on the evening news.

There was a lot of talk about how goodness or evil can be “contagious” within a person’s character or within a community, and about the responsibility that people have to promote the spread of goodness and to discourage, when possible, the spread of badness.

Did God create evil? Why did God do so? Does God have the full and complete power to stop evil?

All complicated questions that the clergy tossed about and analyzed, often without a clear conclusion.

So if you don’t have a handle on evil in the world — what causes it; what to do about it — don’t feel so bad.

Even people who spend their lives trying to make sense of our lives struggle to come to terms with the great darkness.

Evil.

I’ll write more about this, maybe in Saturday’s FaithBeat column.

What’s the message to Catholics of the Notre Dame controversy?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with someone who is a church-going Catholic and who has a child graduating from Notre Dame in two weeks.

This person was trying to get a handle on what it really means that more than 50 bishops and other influential Catholics are furious that Notre Dame — Catholic U — is honoring the President of the United States at commencement services.

The only conclusion that one can draw, he said, is that abortion is the only issue that matters these days in the Catholic world. Period. Case closed.

But if this is so, he said, the church needs to come out and say so, directly and clearly, so that Catholics understand what is going on and can decide where they stand.

Because Notre Dame — which has a chapel in every dorm — is, in fact, honoring our pro-choice president and because most bishops have said nothing about it, the signals being received by most Catholics are decidedly unclear, he told me.

If you read Mary Ann Glendon’s letter to Notre Dame, explaining why she won’t accept an honor on the same stage as Obama, she seems to think that the church’s position is clear. She refers to “the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”

If you haven’t heard about the Pew Forum’s recent poll on this question….they found that half of Catholics had not even heard about the Obama at ND controversy (including 32% of regular Mass-goers).

Of those who had, 54 percent agree with the decision to honor Obama, and 33 percent disagree.

Breaking things down by Mass attendance, those who attend weekly disagree with the invite to Obama by 45% to 37%, with 18% undecided. Those who attend less often support the invite 56% to 23%, with 21% undecided.

‘…to take on himself the form of sinful man…’

Nice interview on ChristianHistory.net with Ronald C. White Jr., a leading Lincoln expert, on how Lincoln wrestled with matters of faith.

Here’s an interesting exchange on a direct Lincoln shout-out to Jesus:

*****

Q: You wrote an article for Christian History called “War and the Will of God,” in which you showed how Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address revealed the president’s belief in divine providence and his nuanced understanding of the nation’s sins. Are there other public speeches that give us insights into Lincoln’s beliefs?

A: One surprised me a bit: In 1842, he delivered an address to the Washingtonian Temperance Society in Springfield. The temperance movement was begun by voluntary associations; it was a product of the Second Great Awakening. But the Washingtonian society was secularized and was trying to reform drunkards. Lincoln is very critical of the religious temperance movement because it starts out by criticizing people who drink, and he says you should start out by befriending these people. People never hear you if you criticize them; they only hear you if you are a friend. Then at the end of his address, to make his point clear, he says that it is just like “that Omnipotence” who “condescended to take on himself the form of sinful man, and, as such, to die an ignominious death for their sakes.” Well, first of all, the notion that Lincoln never mentioned Jesus is wrong. Here he says that our empathizing with others is based on the model of the Incarnation, of God sending his Son to enter into history. Way back in 1842, when Lincoln is still a long way from the beliefs that he will have in the 1860s, he is already using this analogy of the Incarnation to make his point.

Chaput takes New York

The always outspoken Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput, is in NYC this week.

Tonight, he’ll be doing a “Theology on Tap” event at Metro 53 Bar & Restaurant in Manhattan. His presentation will be “The Double Life Will Self Destruct,” meaning that he will likely urge Catholics to live out their private convictions in public life, including the political process.

On Thursday, he’ll be getting the Canterbury Medal from the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty — at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan.

Becket Fund president Kevin “Seamus” Hasson says: “We are especially proud to add Archbishop Chaput to this distinguished list. He is neither shy nor soft-spoken when he believes religious liberty in general or his Roman Catholic faith are in jeopardy. It is we who are honored by his acceptance of our medal.”

Chaput is the author of “Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Public Life.”

He has been highly critical of Catholics who supported President Obama and other politicians who favor abortion rights.

Another Tom Brady fan?

Almost 16,000 people came to Gillette Stadium outside Boston on Saturday to see…not a Patriots mini-camp…but the Dalai Lama.

“You know what the strange thing is? You’ve been to Gillette Stadium before? It’s quiet in there,” Kim Hubert, a nurse, told The Boston Globe. “It’s surreal. Even the kids in there are quiet.”

And you have to love the picture of the Dalai Lama in a Patriots cap.

Sounds like his message was along the lines of what he usually shares in English, at least to American audiences:

“Good afternoon, dear brothers and sisters. Emotionally, mentally, physically, we are same . . . Everyone have the same right to achieve happy life.”

By the way, how scary is it that the New York Times Co. is threatening to file papers today that could lead to the closing of The Boston Globe? This can’t really happen, can it?

(AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

Oh, that pollen

I’m kind of under the weather today, so I won’t have much to say. It’s allergies, I think.

My FaithBeat column tomorrow will be about my trip to Flushing with the “World Religions” classes from the Masters School in  Dobbs Ferry.

And my interview with Archbishop Dolan should go on Sunday.

Dolan, by the way, told me that he has had allergies all his life:

“The two months of May and October I always found the worst. And those on the Catholic calendar are dedicated to the Blessed Mother. I would say to her ‘What are you trying to do to me?’ “