Invest like a Catholic today

July 26, 2011

Catholics can be a little notorious for not being able to put up a united front in politics.  When was the last time, for example, you heard of the need to win the “Catholic vote?”  Catholic voters don’t necessarily disagree with Church teaching; rather, some Catholics are willing to sacrifice advocating  for certain Church teachings in order to propagate others that are — in their minds — more important. (Whether this is good or not is another discussion.)

But if we can’t unite in the realm of politics, can we do so in the world of business, specifically in investing?  It’s an interesting thought and well worth a read.

I’m no expert in investing and even economics in general.  But Catholic moral investing is fairly simple.  Just as you vote your conscience, invest your conscience.  Don’t judge investments solely on their potential financial return;  consider how they might promote or attack Catholic values.  Whatever financial returns Planned Parenthood, for example, might have, it’s still morally wrong to help it propagate a culture that condones abortion.

One good way to invest ethically is joining a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) mutual-fund, but make sure you do your research.  Some SRI’s will use investing activism to fight global warming but will be completely fine with Planned Parenthood.

The lesson of Catholic moral investing is that wealth, when used for evil purposes, is evil but is also, when used for good purposes, good.  The beauty of Catholic moral investing is that we can pick and choose which companies we support; it’s not like voting, for which we sometimes have to choose a candidate even if we have reservations about his or her moral stances.  The upshot is that moral investing can be a powerful unifying force for Catholics.  (We can only hope that it transitions into the voting booth, as well.)

Catholic moral investing is just another way Catholics can bring positive change to society.  No big deal, as always; just another example of why being Catholic matters.


Books Catholics Should Read: “Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome”

July 25, 2011

What makes biographies of great men so invaluable is that they are essentially lessons in leadership.  British historian Anthony Everitt’s compelling portrayal of the Roman emperor Hadrian in Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome is no exception.

Hadrian was an intriguing man.  Not only was he a Roman emperor, but he was also an architecture enthusiast, a poet, a hunter, a hard drinker, and a climber of volcanoes to boot.  The most important things we can learn from him, though, are his lessons in leadership: 1) A leader is not over the people, but with them; he is their greatest servant.  And, 2) a leader does not need to pursue groundbreaking change to make a difference; it enough and more to put limits on one’s own power and to consolidate and perfect existing practices and standards.

The notion of servant-leadership is nothing new to Catholics, since we see it so clearly in Christ in the Gospels.  Hadrian, too, demonstrates this type of leadership. Consider this famous anecdote:

When Hadrian was on an imperial tour of the provinces, a woman asked him to consider her appeal.  When Hadrian answered, “I haven’t the time!” the woman responded, “Then stop being emperor!”  This struck home for Hadrian, who dropped all he had to listen to the woman.

Such a compelling reminder of what it means to be a leader!  Hadrian, moreover, made sure to live among the people, whether with senator or soldier.  He also reminds us that to have power doesn’t mean you have to flaunt it:  When he was on the march with soldiers, Hadrian wore the same armor and ate the same food as everyone else; the only luxury he allowed himself was a sword with an ivory hilt.

The second lesson in leadership that Hadrian shows us is the foolishness of imperium sine fine, or “power without end.”  Hadrian, unlike his predecessor Trajan who nearly expanded Rome out of existence (through his Pyrrhic Parthian expedition), sought to consolidate Rome’s power by putting an end to her expansion.  Hadrian saw no need to add glory to his name by expanding Rome; the greatest glory was to be found in stabilizing Rome as she was.  Too often, today, we see amateurish leaders who think they need to do something extreme or innovative to make a difference (whether by creating unnecessary programs for school clubs, or by passing national laws with dire consequences).  They can learn a thing or two from Hadrian, who was comfortable enough in his leadership to perfect things as they were rather than pursuing things that were impractical and impossible.

Hadrian was a man of his times.  But what made him a great one were his principles in leadership.  He had the integrity to limit his own power, as well as the courage to make himself the Roman empire’s greatest servant.

Content: Though sources on Hadrian are woefully spotty, Everitt uses nifty detective (and sometimes, guess) work to paint a credible picture of Hadrian’s life and times.  The focus of the book is, of course, Hadrian’s reign, though close to half of it deals with the political landscape leading up to Hadrian’s accession.
Part biography and part-social history are combined into a nifty narrative that reads like a novel.  However, there are times when Everitt attempts at irony and wit, yet they failed to make an impression on me.
Catholic?: Catholics be warned – Everitt has a decided dislike for Christianity (as well as a grave misunderstanding).  However, it’s Hadrian’s example we are meant to examine; Everitt’s religious opinions are easy to overlook and dismiss.

Overall: 4.5/5

Books Catholics Should Read: “Communism: A History”

July 17, 2011

“If America is a democracy, why don’t we have more Communism or socialism in this country?  Why do we instinctively discredit them and fear their ideas?  If democracy is about free and fair speech, why don’t we give more voice to Communism?”

This has been one of the most disturbing questions I have heard posed — and who would have thought that this came from a professor of Notre Dame?

His was a scary thought because, in my mind, the professor misunderstood the very nature of democracy.  One of the best things of having a free democracy is that we are open to new ideas because we are constantly finding the best way to achieve a good, just, and free society.  The beauty of the democratic process, though, lies in the fact that bad ideas are eventually rooted out.  We may be open to those ideas, and those ideas may find a following in certain groups.  But if they’re bad — as Communism has shown itself to be — they are discredited.  We move on to the next new idea, stick with what works, or find something in between.

Is Communism really so bad, though?  They say that Communism is a nice ideal that has merely been botched by those trying to achieve it.  However, in Communism: A History, Harvard Professor Richard Pipes argues that Communism has not just been botched; at it’s root, it is inherently flawed.

It is a remarkably brief and readable history that is eye-opening and blood-stirring (or, more accurately, blood-freezing).  Pipes’ main points, which I think deserve mention here, are as follows:

  • Communism seeks equality and freedom.  But to achieve that, it needs an elite class to oversee society — which usually means suppressing  society.  Thus, in seeking equality and freedom, Communism compromises them.
  • Communism fails because familial, national, and religious ties are stronger than class ties.
  • Communism causes economic stagnation because centrally-controlled economies do not innovate or respond to people’s needs as capitalism does.
  • The above flaws show why Communism doesn’t work.  But the reason that Communism leads to so much evil is the hubris of science, on which Communism bases its claims.  Because science must be correct, any failures are seen as “roadblocks”; therefore, instead of relenting, Communist leaders intensify their efforts — using whatever means (read: human lives) necessary.

This is an essential book for Catholics to read because Communism is a rival in winning over souls.  They say that Catholic teaching and Communist ideals can be compatible.  However, Communism and Catholicism are rooted in very different views of human nature.  While the Catholic Church believes in the primacy of every person’s dignity, Communism readily sacrifices the dignity of the many for the dignity of the few.


Content: A short survey of Communism, from its idealistic roots in Plato and Hesiod to the failed implementation of Communist programs in the Third World.  At its heart the book is a history of the mistakes and misjudgments of the Soviet Union.
Brief and readable chapters.  I typically skip over block quotes, but Pipes’ selection of them is so compelling that I found myself reading through everything.
Catholic?:  Not an official Catholic perspective, but it certainly shares Catholic sentiments.  Also pays due respect to St. Augustine, probably the earliest Christian who officially denounced the practicality of an earthly utopia.

Overall: 5/5


Dean Woo on Leadership

July 16, 2011

Former Dean of ND’s Business School — and newly appointed President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services —  Carolyn Woo is coming to LA this September to speak at the Catholic Prayer Breakfast. (She’s in good company.  The two past speakers have been Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.)

Click the picture for the full Tidings story.

You can read the rest of the article for yourself above.  I’m posting this because I was particularly struck by Dean Woo’s quotes on leadership.  I’m cutting and pasting them here to let them speak for themselves.  I think from them you’ll see that the saying that Notre Dame students get to the top not to be served but to serve others holds very true.

Leadership is first and foremost a love story,” Woo explained in a recent telephone interview. “It’s a love story in the sense that you have to really care and love the mission that you’re given. Almost as you raise your children, your life is devoted to this. It’s a love for what the organization stands for. It’s a love for the people who work side-by-side with you. You understand the sacrifices they made and their extraordinary generosity and faith. And a love for the people who are affected by what you do.

Leadership is about the heart,” she added. “A lot of times we talk about leadership skills. Having good skills are necessary but not sufficient. The part that is really important is about the heart and the heart is about love. That’s what the Bible is about.”

Keep repping the ND spirit, Dean Woo.

Books Catholics Should Read: “Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive”

July 14, 2011

Every Catholic at some point needs to defend his or her beliefs and explain why they are legitimate.  This book is a good place to start preparing.

by Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin, and Robert B Cialdini

I found this to be a particularly nice read because it teaches you less how to persuade others than how to connect with them–indeed, how to become friends with them.  It’s a good approach because that’s life:  We should focus not on winning the argument, but on learning more about our opponents and about ourselves; it’s much better to make a friend of one who disagrees with you than to make an embittered opponent.  Besides, as this book emphasizes, you tend to persuade people more easily if they consider you a friend, anyway.

There’s also some interesting tidbits of trivia on the Catholic Church here.  Apparently the practice of having a “Devil’s Advocate” (or a diabolus advocatus, as it was called then) originated in the Church:  Whenever a candidate was up for sainthood, it was the role of the devil’s advocate to gather the strongest possible argument against the canonization of the candidate.   Of course, one can say the devil’s advocate actually strengthened the case for canonization because his arguments seemed so artificial and strained.  Yet it’s nevertheless interesting to note how practically all major decisions nowadays are not made without first consulting a devil’s advocate–a practice that began (at least officially) with the Church.  As always, no big deal.  Just another instance of why being Catholic matters.


Content: Varying tips on how to persuade other people, using the two-pronged method of scientific research and personal anecdote.
Style: Direct and Colloquial. Extremely brief chapters (4 pg average) make for easy reading
Catholic?: Not necessarily, but the tips here are nice for any Catholic to know.  Also some nice tidbits of trivia on the Catholic Church.

Overall: 4 /5

Searching for Gravitas – How a Muslim Service Brought me Back to the Latin Mass

July 13, 2011

I may be a Latin enthusiast, but that really has no influence on me when I declare that the Latin Mass is one of the treasures of the Catholic Church.

I think the reason I like it so much is that it holds a profound sense of–to use a Latin word–gravitas, that is, a sense of seriousness and substance, of sublimity and otherworldliness.  Just behold the incense, the Latin prayers, the chanting, the kneeling during communion, even the very silence, and you will see that the traditional Latin Rite is imbued with a sense of something greater than ourselves and the world.  It’s something that makes us distinctly aware of Christ’s presence.  It’s an inspiration that we can carry with us even after Mass.

A few months ago, I admit that I was feeling a little disillusioned with Mass (the vernacular Mass of Vatican II), especially in college.  It certainly made me feel warm and fuzzy sometimes, with all the joyful singing and hug-it-out peace-be-with-you’s.  The feeling of being connected in a community gave me emotional highs of belonging and goodwill.  Yet these feelings were temporary.  Feelings of warmth and fuzziness don’t equal feelings of completeness or satisfaction.

It took me a visit to a Muslim service in South Bend to help me realize what was missing.  I was deeply struck by the stern imam, the deeply sincere prayer of submission, the Arabic chanting, even the respectful separation of men and women during worship.  All of it was imbued with a sense of gravitas.  Everyone knew why he or she was there and everyone demonstrated the properly respectful demeanor.  This is the gravitas to be found in the Latin Mass, and it’s something that I wanted.

It’s funny how an Arabic Muslim service helped lead me to the Catholic Latin Mass.

I think the Latin Mass is so essential today because it offers the gravitas that many Catholics yearn for, whether they realize it or not.  In our world of relativism, convenience, temporary emotional highs, and lack of commitment, the Latin Mass offers truth, substance, solidity, sacrifice.  These are the elements that I hope the Third Edition of the Roman Missal will recapture when it comes out on November 27.

No matter what, though, we should always remember the value of the Latin Mass.  Through it, the Catholic Church stands as one of the few institutions that offers gravitas in a world full of fickleness.  No big deal, though; it’s just another reason of why being Catholic matters.

ND regaining some cred

July 8, 2011

Notre Dame is finally regaining some of its credibility as a legitimate Catholic University, at least by John Zmirak of Crisis Magazine.

Golden Dome

Catholic once again.

This is definitely nice news to go to sleep to.  Every Catholic college-list I’ve seen since ND’s Obama Fiasco of 2009 has omitted Notre Dame, and I remember when my elementary school teachers — Carmelite nuns — basically considered me lost when I chose Notre Dame.  But 2 weeks ago in Crisis Magazine at least, Notre Dame has seemingly been redeemed.

I myself have found the claims that Notre Dame is no longer Catholic overblown.  Orthodoxy can use some work for sure, but we certainly do not have another Georgetown.  (When Notre Dame students start tucking in their polo shirts 24/7, give me warning, though.  Just in case.)

Moreover, regardless of whether students agree with Catholic teaching and/or follow Catholic practices or not, I have found that ND students are supremely proud to be Catholic.  Fr. Jenkins still supports the March for Life.  Masses are still celebrated every night.  The Latin Mass is still alive and well.  And nowhere else can you find students who come into Notre Dame not Catholic or even religious at all, but who come out identifying themselves as “Notre Dame Catholics.”  It’s an interesting phenomena, a special something that can happen nowhere else but Notre Dame.

Stay proud, ND.