The men were singing, and there were a lot of them. That’s unusual in my experience attending Mass at various Catholic Churches in Maine. Most men come to church because their wives pressure them to, I think. If they pray aloud in the pews it’s usually just a murmur. Several men there at St. Peter’s, however, spoke it like they meant it.
My wife and I have been checking out different parishes around the Portland/South Portland area when we find ourselves down there Sunday mornings and each has its own feel. St. Peter’s is a small church only a couple of blocks from Portland’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the flagship of the Portland Diocese near the bottom of Munjoy Hill. I wondered how it competed — being in the same neighborhood and almost in the shadow of the cathedral. Churches of many kinds are closing up and being sold in Maine and many other parts of the country. St. John the Evangelist in South Portland closed a few months ago and it’s rumored the building will soon be replaced by a Dunkin Donuts shop. More than a dozen Maine Catholic churches have closed since 2007. In 10 years, Maine’s Catholic population has declined from 234,000 to 187,000. So St. Peter’s is an anomaly. It’s self-supporting and the congregation seems to know that if it were not, it would soon follow the fate of the others.
St. Peter’s is a survivor with an enthusiastic choir. It’s filled to capacity on Sunday morning with lots of families — moms, dads and kids. Many of the singing men had short, military-style haircuts and I wondered if they were off-duty firemen or police. The congregation nearly drowned out the choir. I was one of very few who weren’t singing, having gotten out of the habit long ago. I would be a good singer if it wasn’t for my voice.
A few weeks ago I found myself in conversation with a young man who had been raised in a family that didn’t practice religion at all. He wasn’t atheist, but was suspicious of organized religion, especially the one I belonged to — Roman Catholic — the oldest, continuously-functioning institution on earth. He was especially skeptical after the homosexual-priest scandal of the late 20th century. That had knocked me for loop too, and I’ve only recently begun putting it into perspective as another way the Catholic Church has been corrupted in its long history and from which it must purge itself.
American Catholic Church influence seems to have peaked in the late 1950s or early 60s and it’s been in decline since. I don’t know if we’ve reached bottom yet, but I hope so. My home church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s in Fryeburg, has had several different priests assigned to it in recent years. At least once, none was available for Sunday mass and a communion service had to suffice. It’s part of a “cluster” of parishes because there just aren’t enough priests for each parish to have its own any more. Last summer two missionary priests from Nigeria were assigned to our Fryeburg-Bridgton-Norway cluster.
Ironic, no? A hundred years ago, the American church sent missionaries to Africa. Now they’re sending them to us. What’s up with that? Why is there such a shortage here and not there? They have more applicants than their seminaries can accommodate. A Dallas Morning News article put it this way: “‘The African church is in touch with the raw elements of humanity: birth, marriage, death, hunger, thirst,’ said Christopher Malloy, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas. ‘For me, in a comfortable house, it’s easy to think life is not dramatic. [African priests] bring the message to us with excitement.’”
How did Americans get so bored? All drama, whether in a novel, a movie, or in real life, is a struggle between good and evil. As C. S. Lewis put it: “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Drama plays out everywhere and always, but Americans are increasingly blind to it. It’s unfashionable to acknowledge evil exists. Some of us are afraid even to say “Merry Christmas.” In Africa, though, evil is anything but subtle. Christians are routinely slaughtered by Muslim terrorists in Nigeria, Sudan and lately Egypt and Syria (nearby in Asia). Tribal massacres in the hundreds of thousands are still fresh in Rwandan minds. Evil is difficult to deny in Africa. When a young man joins the seminary there, it’s like volunteering for frontline combat.
Speaking of men strong in their faith, I watched a Youtube video taped Monday (see my blog for a link) in which they defended a cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina from assault. They locked arms and prayed as crazed, topless feminists spit at them, spray-painted their crotches and faces with swastikas, performed sex acts in front of them, and burned an effigy of Pope Francis I while dancing and shrieking in a bacchanalian “National Women’s Encounter.” It’s an annual event sponsored by the Argentine Department of Culture.
It’s inspiring to see strong men doing what’s right. There are good signs out there if we look for them.
Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at tommclaughlin.blogspot.com.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 02:00
In early September of 1979, while Germans held peace rallies to observe the 40th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, I headed west from Düsseldorf on a pilgrimage to the scenes of an earlier conflict. Almost exactly 65 years before, German armies had swept across pesky little Belgium on their way to France, bringing the British into what would be known — for all too brief a time — as the Great War. The Germans had not completely traversed Belgium before they ran into the harbingers of the British army, and their first clash came at Mons, about 20 miles from the French border. The Western Front swung deep into France a few days afterward, and oscillated for the next fifty months, until those two armies were fighting outside of Mons again by Armistice Day.
When I reached Mons on September 4, I was surprised to find the town’s historic center relatively intact: memoirs of World War I by Sigfried Sassoon and Robert Graves depict nothing but rubble and desolation wherever the battle lines collided. Mons boasted a sizable museum to the war, however, and it was housed in a former pawn shop that was built in 1625 and had apparently not been touched since, even so far as to install a rest room. (“On peut faire pipi dans le coin là-bas, monsieur,” said the docent, pointing to a flat and glistening rock in the courtyard.)
Rusted metal shards and fading photographs of British soldiers — most of them identified as killed or missing — jammed every room of the museum. The Brits took a pounding in the first battle just outside Mons, beginning with a 16-year-old recruit named John Parr, who died in the first exchange of fire on August 23, 1914. Two weeks later, the Germans had chased both the British and the French to the outskirts of Paris, and they did not return to Mons until November of 1918. George Ellison, a middle-aged Yorkshireman, was killed there a few minutes before the armistice, on November 11.
There was at Mons a little restaurant called Le Café des Cloches. The waiter, who may also have been the owner, looked about 80 years old, and he had a lot of pants that left him but little torso. He had been born near Mons, and had lived there through both German occupations, but he seemed to remember the first one as the worse of the two. Never enough to eat, he said, and by the end of the war people had to walk ten kilometers with handcarts to draw potable water. He complained that his teeth had fallen out, presumably from scurvy, but I detected that he had retained the stumps of a couple of them, evidently as souvenirs.
“C’était terrible,” he kept muttering. So was his coffee, but I left him a relatively generous tip, and my sympathy for his troubles. He had endured the cataclysm that precipitated a century of increasingly frequent and connected disasters. The immediate direct consequence of the First World War was the Second World War, and he had suffered through that, as well, although the Nazis apparently turned out to be better providers of sustenance than the Kaiser’s commissaries. Yet the defeat of Hitler and the Japanese only seemed to spark a new, loosely related sequence of struggles, the end of which has not yet come — and may never.
Except for the profusion of Flemish-speakers and their indecipherable newspapers, I don’t recall much difference between western Belgium and northern France. The trains, architecture, and landscape all looked the same. People seemed to rise late on both sides of the border, and restaurants opened later still, leaving those of us who are addicted to the sunrise breakfast rather surly until nearly midday.
From Mons to Arras and Cambrai, farmers still armored their tractors against the explosion of the ancient ordnance their plows occasionally detonated. Both countries abounded with signs indicating the location of British, French, and American cemeteries, where the dead were gathered from indiscriminate battlefield graves and arranged in perfect rows beneath gleaming white stones. One of those cemeteries sits a mile or so outside of Mons, and in it lie the remains of young John Parr, the first British martyr in the Great War. The gravestone of George Ellison, the very last British fatality, stands barely six paces away, as though to illustrate that no ground — and nothing else of any good — had been gained by that pointless and residually destructive war.
William Marvel lives in South Conway.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 02:00
by David M. Shribman
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — We reach an American landmark on Friday that will be noted by few and celebrated by none. It is the 40th anniversary of the confirmation of Gerald R. Ford as vice president.
On the surface there's little reason to mark the ascension of anyone to a position that John Adams, the first man to occupy the vice presidency, described with some accuracy as "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." There have been 47 vice presidents, and it would be surprising if you could name a quarter of them.
There's even less reason to note this occasion for a man such as Ford, one of 14 vice presidents to become president. For those who ascended, their most significant moments were in the White House, not in the humble vice-presidential cubbyholes where presidents tucked them away so they wouldn't be a nuisance.
That said, the vice presidency and presidency of Gerald Ford stand apart.
He was the first vice president to move to the post under the 25th amendment, which provides for a president to fill a vacancy in the vice presidency and for that nominee to be confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. Only Ford and his own vice president, Nelson A. Rockefeller, have become vice president by that route.
Ford — "A Norman Rockwell painting come to life," in the words of George H.W. Bush at Ford's funeral — was also the first president to gain the office without a direct vote of the people, a condition he noted in his very first address as chief executive when he asked Americans to "confirm me as your president with your prayers."
Ford became vice president at the height of perhaps the greatest constitutional crisis in American history. President Richard M. Nixon was on the defensive about Watergate, his impeachment not just possible but likely, his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, having already resigned amid corruption charges. The country was reeling; Washington was in upheaval. The nation needed a vice president, but even more it needed a sense of stability.
On Oct. 12, 1973, the telephone rang in the Ford home in Alexandria, Va. "Dad," said Susan Ford, then 16, "the White House is calling." Two hours later, Ford was at the executive mansion for the nationally televised announcement of his nomination as vice president.
None of this was entirely a surprise. Ford, then the House minority leader, had been asked to collect names of possible vice presidents from House members. The final tally was kept by Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's executive assistant. Ford got 80 votes. The next closest was Rockefeller, with 35. Nixon knew Ford, the two having met on the Michigan congressman's first day in Washington in 1949. And Nixon was comfortable with him, though the broader situation, without precedent in American history, was one of immense discomfort for both men.
"Ford was chosen because he was confirmable," says Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University Law School expert on the vice presidency. "But he set a high standard for the vice presidency."
The evening that Ford was introduced as the president's selection, Nixon described the next vice president as someone who had served 25 years with distinction. Everyone in the East Room — Washington's grandees, with a decidedly Republican tint — knew by mid-sentence who that was. Every member of the crowd stood and cheered.
The very next day, Rep. Gerald R. Ford of Michigan's fifth congressional district marched for the 25th time in the Red Flannel Day parade in Cedar Springs, Mich.
The vice-presidential confirmation hearings were pro forma — but no breeze. Sen. Claiborne Pell, the Rhode Island Democrat, asked if congressional leaders would have ready access to the new vice president. "I've had an open-door policy as minority leader," Ford said. He was asked whether he thought Nixon would survive. "I think so," he said. "It's going to take a lot of help from a lot of people."
In truth, Ford dreaded what might happen, and he understood that if he succeeded Nixon he would have to deal with more than simply the fallout of Watergate. There was an economic crisis, continued conflict in Vietnam, uncertainty overseas, a lack of public trust in government.
Early in August 1974, White House chief of staff Alexander M. Haig called Ford and asked if he were ready "to assume the presidency in a short period of time." Ford's answer: "If it happens, Al, I am prepared."
A week later in the Oval Office, Nixon told Ford: "Jerry, you will become president. I know you will do a good job."
Ford answered: "Mr. President, you know I am saddened by this circumstance. You know I would have wished it to be otherwise. I was hoping you could continue. Under the circumstances, I think your decision (to resign) is the right one."
He added: "I am ready to do the job, and I think I am fully qualified to do it."
The meeting between Nixon and Ford lasted one hour and 10 minutes. It was agonizing. Ford just wanted to be out of that room, away from the awkwardness that had overwhelmed both men. The silence of the car awaiting him outside the White House provided a great refuge.
In his first days as president, Ford displayed perfect pitch. "I have not campaigned either for the presidency or the vice presidency," he said upon taking office. "I am indebted to no man and only to one woman — my dear wife — as I begin this very difficult job."
Later, the pardon of Nixon took some of the luster off the new president, though many historians now believe Ford was right to rid himself and the presidency of such a monumental distraction. Even so, his was a presidency where routine ruled, which, given the circumstances, was a substantial achievement. His accomplishments, former newsman and Ford domestic policy adviser James Cannon wrote in a biography published this spring, were "methodically achieved by steadiness and common sense."
It was the lack of drama that marked Ford's life and his administration. Seldom has routine been so remarkable. In history's mirror, Ford's presidency is bigger than it appeared at the time.
Last Updated on Thursday, 28 November 2013 23:14
The holiday season is upon us, and that means it’s time for our annual, national, pretense of concern “for those less fortunate.”
Food banks have been expressing great need for some years now. Their empty shelves have been exacerbated by the cuts to the SNAP program. Some of you may have read about a food drive that took place at a Walmart in Ohio — a food drive for employees. The Waltons are some of the richest people in the world, but can’t manage to pay their employees enough to feed themselves. McDonalds has an internal guide to the holidays that suggests employees sell Christmas gifts to stay afloat.
That consumers fund a consumer economy appears to be lost on Corporate America. Over the course of my lifetime the United States has shifted from fighting the War on Poverty to waging the War on the Poor.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced the War on Poverty, which was a part of his Great Society program, a new New Deal. At that time the poverty rate in the United States was 19 percent. New programs invested in education, medical care, urban areas, and transportation.
It’s worth noting that at the time that the poverty rate was 19 percent, the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. It would seem that a large percentage of working folks weren’t able to earn a living wage. Spending on poverty eradication was increasingly limited by the spending on the war in Vietnam. Sound familiar?
Over time, ideology shifted in the United States, and in fewer than 20 years the war on poverty was in disfavor. It didn’t work, the naysayers said — and still say. And in 1980, the first general to wage war on the poor was elected. Ronald Reagan gave us homelessness as a permanent condition, and he gave us the kind of contempt that we see from members of his political party for the poor. “Welfare queens driving Cadillacs.” The language has changed with the times, but not the sentiment. We’ve moved from contempt to outright hatred for the poor, an attitude that is increasingly apparent in New Hampshire.
Earlier this year, N.H. State Representative Romeo Danais of Nottingham got such a case of the giggles over an email he received comparing food stamp recipients to feeding wild animals that he posted it twice on the N.H. House internal email system. Feeding hungry kids is just like feeding wild animals. Haw haw haw.
The recent debacle over Medicaid Expansion was revelatory on many levels. State Representatives Neal Kurk and Laurie Sanborn had an opinion piece published in Fosters. They had plenty to say about the many reasons why low wage workers in our state should continue to get the shiv, but the absolute best was their concern that we shouldn’t be providing help to low-income yacht dwellers. A new take on the old dog whistle.
Michael Sununu, one of the many scions of the disgraced philatelist, had an opinion piece published in the Union Leader where he compared expanding Medicaid to the “roach motel.” That he felt so comfortable making such a public analogy indicates that comparing the working poors to cockroaches was quite intentional. Rep. Dan Itse told a long, rambling story from the State House floor comparing pigs to low wage workers. The GOP plan for the 50,000 uninsured workers in our state is simple: Die Poors.
Child poverty jumped from 12 percent in 2011 to 15.6 percent in 2012, the largest increase to occur in any state. The term “child poverty” is an interesting euphemism that manages to delicately avoid pointing out that if a child is poor, so is his/her whole family. How is it that one of the wealthiest states in the nation is seeing such an increase?
There’s more. The number of households in poverty spending over 50 percent of their income on housing increased from 65 percent in 2009 to 68.3 percent in 2010. Our low wage workers pay a high price for shelter. The number of families “doubled up,” — living with family or friends increased 370 percent between 2009 and 2010. The number of homeless students in New Hampshire increased by 1,000 between 2008 and 2011. Almost every New Hampshire county has seen an increase in homelessness. In Coos it’s a 23 percent increase. In Carroll it’s 11 percent, and in Belknap a whopping 28.9 percent. In Carroll County family homelessness increased by 44.4 percent. The unsheltered homeless increased 240 percent in Carroll County. This can’t be considered surprising, given that Carroll County is the only county in the state that doesn’t have a single homeless shelter.
The War on Poverty was well intended, but it was never fought strategically and it was underfunded. The war on drugs began in 1971, and has failed abysmally, but it continues to have enormous amounts of money shoveled at it. If the War on Poverty had been funded in the same way that the war against non-existent weapons of mass destruction was/is, the outcomes would have been quite different.
But — Americans love myths, and we cling to them even when they’ve been disproven. We love the mythos of the boy who goes to work in the mailroom and works his way up to being CEO. We cling to the myth of the American Dream, even as millions are hungry and homeless because they can’t earn a living wage. We love the myths and we hate the poor. That they can’t make it to the top is because they’re lazy! It certainly can’t be that the deck is stacked against them. We love the myth that any boy can grow up to be president. Is there anyone who thinks that if George W. Bush had been born into a poor family he’d ever become President of the United States?
The working poor are the backbone of our state. We rely on them to serve our meals (the minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13), make us coffee, sling our burgers, wash our cars, scoop our ice cream, and ring up our purchases of cheap goods made in China. The transition to a service economy means poverty for workers. There’s a lot we could do to create decent jobs, but we’d rather blame the poor. Over 60 percent of the federal discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon, but we’d rather cut food stamps than stop the billions spent on M1A1 Abrams tanks that go straight to boneyards because the Army doesn’t want them. Blaming the poor is better. It takes so much less effort, and it’s become socially acceptable.
Except during the holiday season, when we engage in the Annual Pretense.
Susan Bruce is a writer and activist who lives in the Mount Washington Valley. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 02:00
By David Brochu
With Aunty Janet skating through a know-nothing, so-nothing Senate approval process, we can all rest easily knowing that Federal Reserve policy will remain as consistently mad as it was under the previous Hatter. Given that it is now safe to enter all financial markets owing to the Fed's largess, I thought I would turn my attention to some of the more mundane aspects of personal financial planning, starting with retirement.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 November 2013 01:24