Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2003
We strike out in the charity game
Celebrity salaries bear schocking witness to society's soulless values
A Shepherd Speaks
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
One of my personal heroes in faith has been John the Baptist and I chose to be ordained a bishop on the Solemnity of the Birth (not the beheading) of John the Baptist, June 24, 1986.
Although I couldn't relate to his attire and diet, "This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather loin cloth round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey," I could relate to his sense of identity and spirituality: "the one who comes after me is more powerful than I, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire."
His noisy spirituality was engaging. His preaching was bold and direct: "What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken in the wind? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal places. What did you go out to see?"
It was his courageous condemnation of Herod's illicit marriage to Herodias that landed him in jail. He had more in common with the fiery prophet Elijah than with the luxuriously dressed Herod. But he was first and foremost a prophet and servant of God.
His spirituality was not characterized by withdrawal, turning inward, parochialism, and attending to God and one's inner self. If anything, his spirituality assumed a way of being in the world that demanded even deeper involvement and immersion in the world than is usual, drawing on the belief that everything that is, is holy - although not completely so.
Another factor that shapes this form of spirituality is the conviction that spirituality necessarily includes works that serve justice. It is not justice imagined as a blindfolded figure trying to balance a set of scales arbitrarily. Instead, it is a fiery, prophetic, unrelenting justice, urged on us by a God of justice who demands not only that we preach it but that we do it.
John proclaimed a Gospel of repentance, more than a simple change of mind, of feelings, or of will; it requires that something be done, something, concrete and practical. This is clearly stressed in the three answers that John gives those who were gathering to be baptized by him.
The crowds are the first to ask -- "What should we do?" John's answer is clear "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." He doesn't ask anything exceptional, what he proposes seems to be so obvious. We could call it charity.
The tax collectors also ask the same question. John answers them: "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." He doesn't require that they change their profession, but they are to do their job correctly and justly.
The soldiers came with a similar question. John says: "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation and be satisfied with your wages." Be in right relationship with others.
Conversion equals respect
All the answers of John have a social dimension. Conversion to God implies respect for the human person with whom we live and work.
If John were alive today, I wonder how he would deal with the following juxta-positioning of the status report on UN-sponsored Millennium Development Goals and the baseball salary contracts being negotiated this winter.
More than a billion people still struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. According to the Human Development Report 2003, most of them also lack access to basic health services and safe drinking water.
Gary Sheffield backs down from demands and accepts a three-year, $39-million contract offer to become the Yankee's right fielder.
Globally, one child out of five does not complete primary school.
The Baltimore Orioles agree with former MVP Miguel Tejada on a six-year, $72-million contract.
Nearly 800 million people or 15 per cent of the world's population, suffer from chronic hunger. Under the Millennium Development Goals, the world community is striving to halve that percentage by 2015. But if current trends continue, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa will not meet that target.
Will a trade between Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez materialize? Rodriguez has seven years and $179 million remaining on his 10-year, $252 million contract with Texas. Five years and $97.5 million remain on Ramirez's deal with Boston.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a child has only a one-in-three chance of completing primary school. And one in four school-aged children in South Africa are not being educated.
The Dodgers acquire Jeff Weaver and other prospects from the Yankees. Weaver is due $6.25 million next year and $9.25 million in 2005. Kevin Brown's contract, now owned by the Yankees, is $15 million over two years.
As we begin a new year, we need some "noise" and it might help if we, not just baseball players, reflected a bit more on John's words.
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