Back in 2011, then-Bishop Timothy Dolan pointed out that our nation’s budget is not simply a matter of numbers and balanced books.  “It reflects the very values of our nation. As many religious leaders have commented, budgets are moral statements.”

In a reiteration of this, House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) says local control and concern for the poor must inform national budget issues.

Ryan said that the principle of subsidiarity — a notion, rooted in Catholic social teaching, that decisions are best made at most local level available — guided his thinking on budget planning.

To Ryan’s way of thinking, this means creating government policy that empowers people in power to achieve financial independence.

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This country suffers no shortage of heroic tales. For the Union soldier who served under Ulysses S. Grant, there certainly was no greater leader. Often referred to by detractors as “a butcher” for the wake of Union dead left after his victories, he took the fight to the Confederacy. After the Wilderness campaign in 1864, where 17,000 Union soldiers died in just a few days, Grant unlike all the Union generals before him refused to lick the Federal wounds and retreat across the Rapidan River to resupply and reorganize. Instead Grant famously turned his massive columns not North, but South towards the heart of the Confederacy. Towards Richmond. Those that have studied the Civil War are familiar with the iconic story, as war whoops, hat waving, and wild cheering echoed across the forest. There was no doubt that The Army of the Potomac, which had suffered a barrage of whippings by General Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy, was under new leadership.

It was moments like this, and not Grant’s largely unspectacular two terms as president, where one can understand why his funeral procession was seven miles long. Grant’s Final Victory by Charles Bracelin Flood is not a book about his time as commander of the Union or president, but the fascinating and heroic tale of his race against time to publish his memoirs and save his family from financial ruin.

In 1884, Grant was embroiled in one of the first famous Ponzi schemes on Wall Street, and his son’s partner at Grant & Ward, an investing firm, bankrupted the company and fled. Grant and his entire family was wiped out. Grant wrote his niece, “Financially the Grant family is ruined for the present, and by the most stupendous frauds ever perpetrated.” He was personally embarrassed having lent his name and prestige to the company. Doubtless many assumed it was on firm footing with the hero of the Union watching over it. In reality, Grant had little knowledge of the day to day operations of the firm.

Soon after the scandal, Grant was diagnosed with terminal mouth and throat cancer. He was said to partake in an average of 20 – 25 cigars a day. He rushed to write his personal memoirs of the Civil War. Before his financial destruction, he was on record as having little desire to write his own account of the war. Grant eventually settled on an agreement with his friend Mark Twain that would give his widow Julia 75 percent of the profit of the book sales.

As he toiled away with his pen, sometimes writing as many as 25 – 50 pages a day, The New York Times and publications across the country offered daily updates on Grant’s condition. His suffering was immense. His throat had to be constantly swabbed with cocaine to relieve the pain. As the illness progressed, it literally began to suffocate him and he would often wake at night in a panic, trying to gasp for air. Just swallowing was especially agonizing.

Grant received an abundance of personal letters and well wishes from North and South. He felt his illness was helping to further heal the sectional divide and noted as much. The author notes Grant was especially touched by a letter by A.M. Arnold from Rockbridge Baths, Virginia. Arnold wrote:

I hope that you will allow one, who, when but a boy, laid down his arms at Appomattox and gave his allegiance to the Union, to express his warmest sympathy for you in your hour of affliction. Dear General, I have watched your movements from the hour you gave me my horse and sword and told me to go home and “assist in making a crop” – I have been proud to see the nation do you honor . . .

May the God who overlooked you in battle and who has brought you this far give you grace to meet whatever He has in store for you. And may He restore you to health & friends is the fervent prayer of one who at 15 years of age entered the lists against you and accepted the magnanimous terms you accorded us at Appomattox.

Grant had his share of well wishers in the South because of the respect he showed for General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox and the brave men of the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant also later intervened on Lee’s behalf when President Andrew Johnson and others in the federal government wanted to arrest Lee and have him tried and hung for treason.

Grant, a lifelong Methodist, was not particularly known for devoutness. Nearing death he spent more time with his Methodist pastor and was baptized for the first time in his life. Flood suggests that Grant may have at times kept his pastor at arms distance because he thought he might have been being used by the clergyman so the minister could cement his own notoriety as Grant’s pastor. Grant refused public communion near his death, writing his pastor:

I would only be too happy to do so if I felt myself fully worthy. I have a feeling in regard to taking the sacriment [sic] that no worse sin can be committed than to take it unworthily. I would prefer therefore not to take it, but to have the funeral services performed when I am gone.

As Grant declined he was moved to a cabin in upstate New York where the climate better suited his illness and suffering throat. He sat on the porch working feverishly to complete his memoirs. Former generals and military men paid their last respects, and Grant mostly communicated through notes by now. Well wishers often walked by his cabin and if they were fortunate Grant would tip his cap to them or raise a hand. One minister upon seeing Grant writing on his porch while suffering in such agony expressed that the image was “the finest sermon at which he had ever been present.”

Grant died three days after completing his memoirs in 1885. He dedicated the publication to the “American soldier and sailor.” When it was suggested that maybe he should change the dedication so that it read “the Union soldier and sailor,” he declined. The healing of the nation was always on Grant’s mind and at the conclusion his optimism shined as he stated his belief that the healing would continue. As Grant peacefully departed this life, his son stopped the clock at 8:08. The hand of the clock still remains fixed on that time in the cottage where Grant passed away. The cottage is Wilton, NY is heavily visited today and is an enduring symbol of Grant’s courageous life and death.

The well wishes poured in for one of the most beloved leaders in American history. Church bells across the country chimed 63 times, one for each year of Grant’s life. The former Confederate General James P. Longstreet called him “the soul of honor,” adding that Grant “was the highest type of manhood America has produced.”

While his funeral was epic affair of state, it clashed with the humility that Grant would cast in his memoirs. Often memoirs of great generals or statesmen are puffed up affairs, but Grant’s work would be forever known as a chronicle that praised the men around him, with the attention focused not on himself but the battles and conflict. The chronicles avoided flowery speech and was straightforward and honest, much like many of the fellow Midwesterners Grant led. Flood has written a powerful story and helps the reader to see why Grant was so loved even through faults and poor choices. It could be easily said that no American in the 19th Century was more admired than Grant and did more to save the country.

Cardinal Peter K. Turkson, in a recent address to French businesspeople, spoke about integrating faith and work.

In its exercise of business, therefore, humanity would become a ‘rock’ that sustains creation through the practice of love and justice. And this appears to be really the vocation of the Christian business leader: to practice love and justice and to teach the business household for which he or she is responsible to do likewise, for the sustenance of all creation, beginning with our brothers and sisters.

The cardinal was focusing on themes from the pontifical council’s new document ‘Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection.’  He urged his audience to focus not only on business, but an integrated spiritual life in order to avoid a personal ‘disconnectedness’.

Read more…

You also might like:  Entrepreneurship in the Catholic Tradition, available at the Acton Book Shoppe.

Despite the rise of globalization and democracy, violent persecution of Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities is still shockingly common in many parts of the world. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has released its latest survey of religious freedom and as Doug Bandow reports, it makes for grim reading:

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Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Be incarnationally present with a man who can’t fish and you’ll teach him how to be “missional” while on an empty stomach.

This update on the ancient Chinese proverb isn’t entirely fair to my fellow Christians (mainly my fellow evangelicals) who believe that one of the most important ways we can help those in need is to being intimately, and often sacrificially, involved in underserved communities. But the maxim’s addendum does capture some of the well-meaning naiveté of missionally oriented activism.
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On Sunday Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren appeared on ABC’s This Week and was asked if he agreed with President Obama’s economic gospel. As Kathryn Jean Lopez says, “I’m thinking the president probably wishes he picked a different pastor for the inaugural prayer.” Warren’s answered the question by saying:

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Whether a problem is a matter of “public policy” or “private-policy” often depends on how we think about property rights, says economist David R. Henderson. Take, for example, the debate about whether evolution or Intelligent Design theory should be taught in schools:
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Blog author: Mindy Hirst
Monday, April 9, 2012
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We are continuing to interview people in different areas of work to showcase what being On Call in Culture looks like on a daily basis. Today we introduce Rachel Bastarache Bogan, video editor for SIM. Learn more about Rachel at http://www.Rachelfinder.com
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Blog author: rnothstine
Thursday, April 5, 2012
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A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat. ~ Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word.

Job in the Old Testament called out to God begging for a mediator or advocate, begging for somebody who could understand the depth of his affliction and agony (Job 9). Such is the beauty of Christ that he came not to teach or merely talk about suffering, but to suffer for us. No longer can we say our Lord doesn’t understand us or that our own suffering is in the shadows. We worship one who has borne the entire agony and sin of humanity and felt the entire weight of separation from the Father. Through his suffering Christ knows us and is familiar with us. He calls us His own. And through his supreme agony he never ceased to call to the Father, providing us an example in our own affliction.

Jesus, who from eternity experienced perfect relationship with the Father, was separated, cursed, and made sin for us. It is certainly far more agonizing than anything we could ever experience. The country singer songwriter Hank Williams stated it well, “Sometimes I get so weary inside, but then I remember how my Jesus died.” Thomas Oden declared in The Word of Life:

No matter how many commentaries we read, it is impossible for us to know – sitting in an armchair – how forsaken he was and what that meant. However deep it was, it was God-incarnate who was experiencing that forsakenness.

His atoning life pardons us from our sin and is literally our lifeblood. In an Easter sermon Martin Luther preached:

For we are called Christians because we may look at the Christ and say: Dear Lord, You took all my sins upon Yourself. You became Martin, Peter, and Paul, and thus You crushed and destroyed my sin. There (on the cross) I must and will seek my sin. You have directed me to find it there. On Good Friday I still clearly see my sin, but on the day of Easter no sin is any longer to be seen.

As we meditate on the cross and its meaning this week, we take full comfort that our Lord is at the right hand of the Father. We remember that perfect innocence was violently slaughtered on our behalf. Advocating for us now, humanity is imprinted with the image and person of Christ. Christ is marked forever by our transgressions. It was Luther who said the angels are envious of humanity, “They worship Christ, who has become our Brother, our flesh and blood.”

It is abundantly clear that the more we study and think about Christ and everything He accomplished, it is impossible to form an Easter processional on earth long and loud enough to pay tribute to the fulness of His glory. But if we truly believe, we should never balk or withdraw from sharing what God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Charles Wesley put it this way in 1742:

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands…

Jon Erwin, director of the pro-life October Baby movie, was recently interviewed by National Public Radio and, in the background article that accompanied the audio, the network reported his view that Christians didn’t feel very welcome in Hollywood’s movie community. This provoked a lot of comment by NPR listeners about what, really, a Christian is. The title of the NPR article, “‘October Baby’ Tells A Story Hollywood Wouldn’t” probably had something to do with that.

Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos followed up the interview with an article titled, “Christian Is Not Synonymous With Conservative,” which was widely discussed by religious bloggers and news sites. As Schumacher-Matos wrote:

What we have, then, is a question that goes beyond NPR to what should be a national debate over how to use the word “Christian.” A truly useful debate would extend even further, to what it means to be Christian, given that nearly 80 percent of Americans claim to be one.

Yesterday evening, Schumacher-Matos published a roundup of responses to his question in a post titled, “Christians: Who Are The 78 Percent?” Overall, a pretty even-handed job of deepening the discussion, which he hopes to continue. Schumacher-Matos invited Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, to participate. Because of space limitations, Rev. Sirico’s response was slightly edited, so I’m published it here in full:

Christianity is and always has been a religion that “receives” its faith rather than one that “invents” it. Hence, a basic definition of “Who are the Christians?” begins with an adherence, doctrinally, to the ancient Creeds of the Church, beginning with the Apostles Creed (believed to have been of apostolic origin, the Apostles having in turn received their mandate from Christ Himself) and continuing on to the faith articulated at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, Orange, Hippo and Quicunque Vult (aka, The Athanasian Creed), all of which were formative for the belief of Christians. The traditions that would agree with this ecumenical Trinitarian confession (most Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, et al.) have historically recognized that whatever other doctrinal differences may separate them, this is the meaning they share when they use the term “Christian.”

However, many Americans—and almost all journalists—are less interested in theological distinctions than they are in determining how the moniker can be shared by groups who differ on matters of political dogma. Asking “Who are the Christians?” is less an existential query than a question about partisan branding: What political group gets to claim the word for themselves—and exclude others from its rightful use? The irony is that many mainstream groups wish to recover the franchise at a time when several historically Christian organizations (such as the YMCA) are attempting to distance themselves from the Christian brand. Mr. Edwards claims that “politically and socially conservative Christians have in fact co-opted the title.” But perhaps they never really abandoned it while the politically and socially liberal Christians discarded it, embracing instead, the sort of Christianity that Niebuhr so memorably described as, “A God without wrath [who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1959), 193.).