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Answers for Vatican visitors become sisters Lenten reflections

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The Vatican seems to be nearing the end of an investigation of communities of sisters in the United States who engage in apostolic work. Whether we learn the results of that investigation remains to be seen.

The investigation has been shrouded in secrecy. Ostensibly it is an investigation into the quality of sisters’ lives, but it has had a disturbing aggressive quality.

However, it has also had unintended consequences. One seems to be a stirring of feelings of love and loyalty of many of the faithful to communities of women religious. That doesn’t surprise me. What has surprised me in my own community, the Sisters of Loretto, has been our positive engagement in the process.

More than 80 sisters chose to be interviewed and more wrote letters to the visitators last November. We wrote up what we wanted to say. We practiced. We talked together about our visions of religious life, the strengths we see in Loretto, and any external threats we experience. (Many sisters named the Vatican investigation as an external threat.)

Some interviewees traveled to our Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky for the interviews. (Others used Skype.)

Movie on Opus Dei founder sure to set Catholic tongues wagging

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Six years ago I published a book on Opus Dei, attempting to sort myth from reality about the controversial Catholic group. One question I hoped to answer was this: What was it about St. Josemar'a Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, which inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the world, far beyond the group’s relatively meager membership of roughly 90,000?

What's really up in Wisconsin

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The tables seems to be turning against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: his popularity has plummeted as he has waged his war against collective bargaining for state employees.

But public sector unions aren't anyone's idea of a damsel in distress here: people continue to see these unions and their members as bastions of privilege in a shifting labor landscape.

But it's that shift that is helping to fuel the anti-union anger. In New York State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking wage and pension give backs from unions -- the same concessions Wisconsin's workers have already agreed.

The stark fact is this: according to The New York Times, the average state worker in New York earns $62,382 -- but the average New Yorker employed privately? He or she makes only $46,957.

Those numbers raise your blood temperature, don't they? How can it be okay for public workers to make so much more than the taxpayers who fund them? Horrible. Terrible.

Tax breaks for charitable giving?

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Kim Klein teaches non-profit leaders how to raise money. She wrote a terrific book, Fundraising for Social Change, and founded the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. If you have a good cause, they are excellent resources.

But in recent years, schools, fire departments and even the mothers of soldiers have mounted effective fund-raising campaigns. They used to be fully funded by taxes. Now they are competing with homeless shelters and anti-war groups for scarce funds.

This has led Kim to develop workshops on tax policy. How much do we want to pay and what do we want for our money?

In this vein, on January 6 she posted a blog saying that we should abolish the charitable tax deduction. The philanthropic world is a small one and Kim has started a maelstrom there.

While there’s never been a big Catholic emphasis on tithing, we are generous too, so I expect NCR readers will also care about this matter of tax deductions for our charitable gifts. Here’s the link to Kim’s blog.

On this day: St. John of God

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On this day we celebrate the feast of St. John of God, who died at Granada on March 8, 1550.

When he felt "that his time had come, he lifted himself out of the bed and embracing a crucifix, knelt upon the floor where he remained for a short while in silence. Then remaining in that position he said, 'Jesus, Jesus, into your hands I commend my soul.' Then he gave his soul back to his Creator. He was fifty?five years of age and he had spent twelve of these serving the poor in his hospital at Granada."

The big man on my street

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The tumult in Wisconsin reminds me of a guy in my old Bronx neighborhood who everybody called Nicky Large.

He earned the nickname: Nicky was, in fact, very large. Day after day, you could find him perched on a wooden folding chair in front of the corner candy store, just two doors down from my father's bread bakery. I must've been around ten years old when I finally asked my Dad what Nicky Large did for a living that he could sit out in front of the sweet shop like that all the time.

My father -- who worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, baking and delivering bread -- smiled and said: Nicky works for the city.

The upcoming 'Muslim Hearings'

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Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is planning hearings in the House Committee on Homeland Security on what he calls the “radicalization” of some American Muslims. This move has caused an interfaith uproar, with prominent leaders of many faith traditions calling on King to cancel the hearings. The protesting groups include Pax Christi, the Interfaith Alliance and Amnesty International.

They point to the danger of increasing an already dangerous level of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia in the United States. Many have compared the hearings to McCarthyism. What used to be a “communist under every rose bush” could become a “Muslim terrorist under every robe.”

This week on Interfaith Voices, we featured two thoughtful American Muslims discussing these hearings and their potential fallout.

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January 29-February 11, 2016

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