Two dozen states have spent federal stimulus dollars to upgrade the energy efficiency of their public schools. So high are the returns on these investments that other states are making loans to their school districts so they, too, can conserve energy.
Conservation pays. According to recent news reports, New York City schools have reduced their energy expenses by 11 percent since 2008. The schools installed motion detectors in classrooms to turn lights on and off, unplugged refrigerators and freezers in summer and used long-lasting light bulbs. With more than 1,000 schools in the city, the savings are significant. On Long Island, a single school district saved $350,000 on energy last year; using sticky notes, an energy manager placed a message to turn out the lights on every light switch and “ticketed” those who failed to comply. Nearly half the school districts on Long Island have hired energy consultants.
Ways to save energy should be widely broadcast, imitated and improved by others. The Environmental Protection Agency has already thought of one way and is now sponsoring its second national contest among commercial buildings (hospitals, banks, schools and churches), which waste some $300 million in energy each year. Called the Battle of the Buildings, the contest has attracted 245 contenders, who have saved $3.7 million at the halfway mark. Winners will be announced in November.
Surely private foundations, environmental organizations and corporations could also sponsor energy-saving competitions.
Art and Toil
This month, in which the nation honors working men and women, the American worker, whose skills and sweat have built this country, seems especially vulnerable. Not only has organized labor run up against governors in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and New Hampshire determined to weaken collective bargaining, but 25 million Americans cannot find full-time jobs.
An 11-panel, 36-foot-wide mural painted by Judy Taylor could inspire them with its ennobling depictions of Maine’s workers, including its children before the enactment of child labor laws. Since 2008 the mural graced the lobby of the state’s Department of Labor, but last spring the governor, Paul LePage, had it removed. He said he received complaints that the mural was “pro-union” and “propaganda.” And his administration has a pro-business agenda.
Removal of the mural brought federal litigation, still unresolved, over the public’s access to the art. Because of Internet attention, millions outside Maine have now seen photos of the mural. One panel depicts Frances Perkins, the U.S. secretary of labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first female cabinet member in American history. The president and Ms. Perkins (who is buried in Maine) have been beloved by millions for creating millions of jobs during the Depression and for setting up other protections for workers: Social Security, unemployment insurance, the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week and the right to organize.
Catholic support for workers and organized labor became bedrock social teaching with “Rerum Novarum,” Pope Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical. Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., head of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, quoted it in his Labor Day statement. The encyclical “lifted up the inherent dignity of the worker in the midst of massive economic changes,” he said, adding that the pope issued a “prophetic call for the church to support workers’ associations for the protection of workers and the advancement of the common good.” Workers need to hear Pope Leo’s words and to see art like Judy Taylor’s mural.
Time of the Preacher
Eight minutes, tops. That is how long an average Sunday sermon should last, according to the Rev. Roy Shelly of the Loyola Institute for Ministry in New Orleans. On weekdays, sermons should be even shorter: three to five minutes. The goal is not to shorten the liturgy, as some restless pew sitters may wish, but to be succinct and stay on point. It is much more difficult to speak for eight minutes, Shelly says, than to preach for 20. In the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “If you want me to speak for an hour, I’m ready. If you want me to speak for 10 minutes, I’ll need a week.”
In workshops with preachers, Father Shelly employs a neat teaching tool. First he asks the preacher to summarize his message in one sentence. After the sermon is delivered, parishioners are asked to write down a one-sentence summary of what they heard. These are collected and reviewed later by the preacher.
In addition to brevity, preachers should be persuaded to stay focused on the week’s readings. Avoid using the pulpit to speak about service trips or the March for Life. There are other times and places to address such subjects. Well-prepared, Scripturally grounded sermons are essential to a good liturgy. They could both satisfy a spiritual thirst and bring disaffected Catholics back to the pews.