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Competitive Conservation

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.

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7 years 4 months ago
We are so lucky at St. John's Church,  Fr. Madden (Pastor) and Mons. Tinsley give mini homilies at daily Mass,  about a minute and a half to two minutes......they stick to the scripture readings of the day, and relate  them to our daily lives.   I call them "little nuggets".   Just enough to carry you through the day.
7 years 4 months ago
Why  is it that we have to adopt to the "fast foods" and "instant gratfication" mentality of our culture when it comes to Catholic worship and preaching? As most priests know, the Sunday homily is the only contact most Catholics have an opportunity to hear about the Church,their faith and the Christian life. I know that the homily is not meant to be a study in exegesis, catechetical instructions or dogmatic or moral theology treatises. However, I don't think Sheen spoke for 8 or 10 minutes on television and, I suspect, not in his homilies either!
As we all know our Protestant friends are quite accustomed to lengthy, substantial  homilies and we can't continue to say "Thats because they don't have the Eucharist." Evangelical and charismatic preachers in both the black and white churches are just warming up in 8 minutes. If well done, a 10 to 15 minute homily can seem to be 3 minutes, a  poorly prepared 3 minute homily can feel like an hour!
The homily should be about the scriputre readings but sticking to this means that many priests who do not take the time to understand what the back of the readings are in their own culture find it easier to preach against abortion, same sex sex marriage and other social problems  or repeat what we have been saying for centuries about the parables with no new fresh insights.
  To relate a contemporary issue to the scripture, unpack the cultural background and language of the parables and make a connection with real life cannot be done in 3 or 8 minutes unless one is satisfied with the fluffy,  papalum or "feel good," "Lettuce" " kind of homilies that people have heard for years or a homilist telling the assembly what they have already heard by simply repeating the gospel with a few pious comments thrown in: "As we have just heard, Jesus...."
  Part of the problem is that most  Catholics are conditioned to give God one hour on Sunday which is a significant  improvement from the previious 45-minute limit. With well done liturgy,music and substantial preaching an hour is not too much to ask; and this allows for more than a 3 minute ferverino or pious popcorn. When there is a baptism, RCIA rite or other liturgical events, an hour and 15 minutes is not askig people to become martyrs.
  I am somewhat uneasy when people say "I always learn something from your homilies" because I know the main purpose is not to teach, but to break open the Word and nourish faith. But at least I am happy that at least they are not "tuning out" because "we have heard all this before."  To preach the ideal homily according to the liturgists, church documents and homiletic experts is the goal and norm. I am not sure that can be done in 3 or 8 minutes but it is easy to talk about Marian apparitions, Perpetual Adoration, my recent vacation, my family and hundreds of other topics that have nothing to do with the 3 readings from the Scripture we have just heard or simply repeat the interpretation (often wrong) we learned once in the  seminary and have been repeating it for years. It is very hard work to keep up with contemporary Scripture studies that enrich our homilies and demans ongoing reading of contemporary Scripture schoalrs, commentaries and preaching resources.
 While length is a real consideration I do not believe it should be the major one in preaching. If we have something worthwhile to say,say it in an inviting and interesting and convincing way and teach and inspire at the same time, I think 10 to 15 minutes is much more realistic.
Virginia Edman
7 years 4 months ago
A priest I know, a scripture scholar, said to his class: "Insist that your parish has better homilies."  How do we achieve that?  I have heard wonderful homilies and I have heard bad ones.  Lately I have not heard that many good ones.  Why is this?  Faith is not a matter of one hour on Sunday.  There are many ways to enrich your faith, but first you must have a personal relationship with Jesus.  He must have top priority in your life, and his words will energize you.  A homily does not have to be read, it can come from the heart.  The Holy Spirit can inspire the homilist and his words will come alive.

With the country in a crisis, with people out of work and some without hope, it would be a good time to speak the truth to the congregation.  We are our brothers' keeper, we must care for one another.  We must turn away for selfishness and intellectually dry and meaningless messages.  If we are to make the world a better place then the priest will have to inspire the people.  Priests have power and they have privilege, but they also have a responsibility to be a pastor.  My hope is that they take that very seriously, and make that eight or ten or fifteen minutes count.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 4 months ago
An exellenct example of the best way federal dollars can contribute to clean energy and saving money. Give the money to the states and let them apply it to their specific situations, and the successful programs expand to other other states even without stimulus. Money saved, energy not used. 
Contrast that with when the federal government begins funding what private industry won't fund as green startups. Juust recently, Evergreen Solar, which received $58 million in stimulus money from the government, Spetra Watts, $8 million, and Solyndra, which got over half a billion of our tax dollars. What do they all have in common? All bankrupt, every dollar and job gone in scarely a year's time.  
Christopher Mulcahy
7 years 4 months ago
Catholics come to Mass in part to be 'fed'.  That's the function of the sermon.  We want real food, not pablum about social justice or inclusiveness.  Here's my version of a sermon checklist a bishop might circulate:

A recommendation:  the ( Bishop’s?)  checklist for Father’s sermon.   Check at least five:
  1. Determine to speak briskly.  No pregnant pauses.  No ums or ahs.

  2. Repeat the central rhetoric of the gospel story (and/or  epistle).  This is what we are talking about today.  Challenge their memory.

  3. A bit of humor.

  4. Fight the Latinisms.  Fight it with imagery and action words.  Paint a picture the listener can carry home.

  5. Do a triple repeat.  Watch protestant ministers do it, and learn.   Play with the volume of your voice (escalate, deescalate).

  6. Use a dramatic gesture.   That means gesture big.  There’s plenty of room.  Link the gesture to your main point, of course.

  7. Illustrate your point with reference to Church history.  Actual facts.  A saint, a pope, a church artist, a key event.  Maybe one with imagery and/or action.  Research it and get it right. 

  8. Convey an element of Church doctrine.  Contrast with past Church practice, or the practice of another Christian group.  An actual specific teaching of Holy Mother Church. 

  9. Speak to an element of the Mass the assembled Catholics are experiencing today.  Over time, these points will promote a fuller understanding of what the Mass actually is.

  10. Speak to the meaning and/or history of a sacramental represented in the Church sanctuary or building today.
Mary Sweeney
7 years 4 months ago

@ Chris Mulcahy. You would have been pleased in my parish last weekend. Labor Day was not even mentioned. No social justice pablum for us.

john ryan
7 years 4 months ago
Concerning Art and Toil
I Googled the mural and looked at the panels that make up the mural and one could argue that some of the panels are "pro-union" or "propaganda"or not but it is also history. I have a deep distrust of officials removing items from public display even if I find it offensive,such as a crucifix in a jar of urine passed off as art.  If Governor LePage felt that strongly he could have had an information sign put up explaining the objections of the people complaining.This may have prompted more inquiry/research on the part of the public which is a public service in itself.   As far as "determined to weaken collective bargaining", I support collective bargaining when it is actually collective and bargaining but please dont present this honorable phrase as having anything to do with the sham performances between public service unions and politicians which amounted to "This is what we want" and "O.K. where do we sign".These "negotiations"are nothing more than a coarse exchange of union desires and politicians greed for political support money and votes and the public interest be damned!It makes a mockery of the National Labor Relations Act. The "brothers and sisters"in other unions have no such smarmy arrangement going for them and they and management have to actually sit down and negotiate. Has America Magazine with its moral high ground (and rightly so) interest in Labor ever addressed this dark side of collective bargaining with public service unions? (Or perhaps you dont agree with my opinion about a dark side) I am asking a real question here as I dont know if you have or not.
John Ryan
7 years 4 months ago
I learned this summer, during an adult education class on the Mass, that the only person who may deliver a homily is an ordained priest or deacon. This, I was told, is according to Canon Law. If that is the case, then our ordained should follow the tips of Father Shelly. We are in need priests who are  good public speakers who can share thoughts about the readings of the week. Not everyone is comfortable in the role of a public speaker. What would be the problem with a lay person delivering a lesson (screened by the presider ahead of time)? More and more I sit through homilies that go many places, none of which teach us muck.


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