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This new-fangled thing called the Internet

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Just got back from the Catholic Press Association annual meeting, held this year in Anaheim, Calif.

I've been going to these for decades. I can remember a time, just a few years ago, when a few intrepid Catholic press types -- including Tom Fox of NCR -- would meet and discuss this new-fangled thing called the Internet. At the time, they were definitely a sideshow.

As in all press gatherings these days, the Internet is now the main event.

Tim Rutten, writing in the Los Angeles Times, noted recently that American newspapers have lost 40 percent of their classified advertising over the past three years, largely attributed to sites such as Craigslist.

Print publications are hurting, yet, at the Catholic press convention, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, while telling us about the huge impact that system is having, admitted that it has yet to pay for itself. So it is with many Internet innovations.

Monks, women and profits

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The New York Times' story of a holy coming together of women and monks is an uplifting employment-small business success story worth reading.

SPARTA, Wis. — At the ringing of a bowl-shaped bell, five monks at a remote monastery congregated in the chapel here for the fourth of their seven daily rounds of prayer, their voices murmuring a Gregorian chant in Latin.

At the same time, in a nearby house on the monastery’s property, the phone was ringing in a small office where two women and an office manager run a multimillion-dollar business that generates the money to run the monastery.

'Whose image is this?'

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"Whose image is this?" Mark 12:16

Historians of the political cartoon note that the first caricatures -- distorted images of authority figures -- were the result of the wearing down through use of the images on official coins. Even the emperor lost his chin or had his nose flattened after being rubbed in a thousand transactions. Have a good laugh at the king's expense, but trust his power to provide for your every need. The real imprint of authority was not on the money but on the people who were required to use it. Culture and its many interlocking systems brand us all with the imperial image. Human worth is measured in paper and metal, or in bytes: a day's wage, a meal, a mortgage, an inheritance.

Jesus is confronted about taxes and the loyalty they imply. He takes the system for what it is, an artificial way to exchange goods and services by symbols. Let those who use it and benefit from it pay for it. But it is separate from genuine worth. We are first made in the image and likeness of God. Our true worth is priceless. Human dignity is tied to our relationship with God and our destiny in God.

Abortion and Inflamatory Rhetoric

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“We are at war!” thundered Bishop Robert Finn in a keynote address to the Gospel of Life Convention six weeks ago.

“This war to which I refer did not begin in just the last several months, although new battles are underway,” a clear reference to the new Obama administration. Finn sees a less proximate enemy at work. “Our enemy is the deceiver, the liar, Satan. Because of his spiritual powers he can turn the minds and hearts of men. He is our spiritual or supernatural enemy when he works to tempt us, and he becomes a kind of natural enemy as he works in the hearts of other people to twist and confound God’s will.”

The bishop goes on to acknowledge that “Human beings are not Satan, but certainly they can come under his power, even without their fully realizing it.”

\"The wisest man I ever met\"

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I received this reminiscence about a 20-year friendship with Fr. Thomas Berry from Vic Hummert, former Maryknoll priest and environmental activist who lives in Louisiana.

Thomas Berry and I first met in April 1989 as I awaited an extended visa to teach English in an ecumenical seminary in Matanzas, Cuba. I tried to do some environmental education in the area while patiently waiting for the visa in St. Paul’s parish in Yonkers , NY. With time as a precious gift I decided to phone Thomas Berry in the Riverdale Center on the Hudson River.

“Father Berry , my name is Vic Hummert, a Maryknoll priest. I have been reading some of your papers and would like to know if I could just come to visit you some day.”

“What are you doing for lunch today?”

“Nothing planned. I will get on the train and come down to Riverdale.”

“That would be fine. What do you mean? Coming on the train? You don’t have a car?”

“No, I gave up on cars since going to Hong Kong in 1970.”

“Stay right there, I’ll come and pick you up.”

The anti-Catholic canard

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Even with Catholics in commanding positions of power and influence in the culture, there are some loud voices among us who want to keep the sinister, anti-Catholic plot alive. They make their living off such fearsome conjecture, and there’s always a blog or a comment or a conspiracy theory available to keep their faxes humming.

So it was a pleasure (as it always is) to come across the calm and considered wisdom of noted historian Dr. Martin Marty in his Sightings column yesterday.

He was musing on the appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and how “remarkable” it would be to have a sixth Catholic judge on the bench. (We’ll allow the aforementioned blogs and faxers to conduct the internecine battle over just how Catholic one must be to be Catholic and whether Sotomayor meets their standards.)

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