Posts Tagged ‘Pope Francis’

Medical Error: Third Leading Cause of Death in the US

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

According to a Johns Hopkins study by Martin A. Makary and Michael Daniel, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US, with approximately 251,000 deaths annually due to this cause. Here’s the reference:

Makary, M. A. and M. Daniel (2016). “Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 353: i2139.

Deaths by medical error thus far exceed death by gun (34,000), by motor vehicles (34,000) – and therefore to a great extent by alcohol, by suicide (41,000), and by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD (149,000), and are second only to death by heart disease (611,000) and to cancer (585,000). It is also likely that medical error disproportionately harms the poor.

We should therefore have a walk / run for the cure, ribbons, etc. to reduce medical error!

If our government were aligned to truly better the human condition, we would systematically address medical error, and diseases like sickle cell, which itself confers a likely death sentence on 100,000 US citizens and on 5 million Nigerians! Yet activists by and large ignore sickle cell disease, perhaps because gun violence draws more media and political attention. Anti-gun activism reinforces media viewing and drives political action. But it potentially saves far fewer lives than an effective campaign against medical error, or against smoking.

US Hispanics, who face similar poverty among their ranks, tend to outlive African Americans by six years – probably due to lower smoking rates among Hispanics, according to a 2013 report from the Population Reference Bureau. Anti-smoking activists are still waiting for President Obama, a former(?) smoker, to speak out loudly on this critical public health issue.

Politics, not public health concerns, therefore drives our public health priorities. If our priority was human life, the medical error and other larger public health challenges would be addressed.

Addressing societal ineffectiveness and inefficiency is therefore indeed a social justice issue. This is one point almost universally missed by political and by religious leaders especially. Every time Pope Francis speaks out against modern society’s drive for efficiency, I cringe, thinking of the annual 251,000 US deaths due to medical error, and of the untold number of such unnecessary deaths worldwide.

Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, 2012, Bloombury Press, by Marty Makary MD, ISBN 978-1-60819-838-2, has some good suggestions on reducing medical error.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

The views posted at are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.


Beethoven and Pope Francis

Monday, March 10th, 2014

On the afternoon of 3/9/14, as a recipient of gift tickets from kind co-workers, I attended a recital in Chicago given by the masterful Mitsuko Uchida of Schubert’s Sonata in G Major, D. 894, and Beethoven’s 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120.

During the recital, a few rows behind me I heard a continual wheezing sound, and eventually realized that it was an oxygen device used by a man in the audience. By intermission, half the row in front of the gentleman with the oxygen device had left the concert, along with a scattering of the nearby audience, and through the concert people continued to depart the area nearby the man with the oxygen device. Many pianissimo passages in the Schubert were fuzzed by the wheezing oxygen.

Throughout, I reflected on how a Christian should best respond to the situation, and literally, what Pope Francis would have done. Obviously, the best response was to let the gentleman with the oxygen device enjoy his concert in peace, and that the remaining audience did. And as it turned out, the Beethoven Diabelli Variations had many loud passages, so the wheezing device did not conquer Beethoven as it had disturbed Schubert. When a broken string banged out during the performance, I recalled that Beethoven was known for having an assistant stand by to remove the several broken strings that were known to be regular casualties of his performances. Beethoven is quite capable even today of generating his own disturbances!

When pondering about Pope Francis I recalled the news stories of that Saturday of June 22, 2013 when Pope Francis skipped a concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony scheduled to be performed by the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, directed by conductor Juraj Valcuha of Slovakia. When Giampiero Sposito’s picture of the throne-like empty white chair flashed around the world, I reflected that the Pope might have made a different point if he had simply sat in the audience, and put, say, a man with an oxygen device on the throne.

Source: Giampiero Sposito / Reuters 6/22/13

When Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel, on 11/24/13, I immediately recalled that he had skipped a concert of Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy.

It is safe to say that Beethoven’s (and Schiller’s) Ode to Joy and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis will be heard by more people–and move more people–than ever will read or be moved by all the encyclicals of all the popes in history.

(Yes, I’ve been taking my second spin through Evangelii Gaudium, and have read and taught dozens of papal writings, but I’ve heard the 9th Symphony and the Missa Solemnis hundreds of times).

Certainly, one can look on classical music as the music of the rich–and read through the list of wealthy donors in the programs–but that would be to misunderstand the universal gift of music, itself a world-wide natural language of peace, a gift in no small part the gift of Catholicism itself.

Beethoven was the Catholic son of a poorly paid (nothing new here) church musician, driven by his desperate father to learn all ninety-six preludes and fugues of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier by the age of eleven, to be another Mozart (at almost 63, after over 52 years of study, I’ve not mastered half of these pieces). Mozart before Beethoven, and Schubert after Beethoven, were also Catholics. There was a time when one could enter almost any Catholic church and hear Mozart’s sublime motet, Ave Verum Corpus. And that is a telling point about music and Catholicism: Catholicism brought the most beautiful music of the world–from the chant to the symphonic masses–to the common everyday people in thousands and thousands of parishes around the world.

And we must understand who musicians are: Yes, a few of the elite musicians are wealthy and influential. But almost all master musicians are common people who work their keasters off for little pay for long hours and days and weeks practicing and learning and perfecting so they can bring the gift of beauty to others. And many people sacrifice–save up–to go to concerts. Each concert is a celebration of generosity: Behind every classical concert are multiple stories of gifting, from the often poorly-compensated work of the musicians to the sponsors of the concert to those who share tickets with others. My co-workers took the Christmas money I gave to them, and gave it back to me by buying me tickets. Music has never been more accessible than it is today, via Youtube, iTunes, and other portals. But never has truly great music been so precious and overlooked amidst all the din and thumping.

I recall that when I was about twenty years old and still in the seminary over forty years ago, I drafted and signed an open letter with a friend reflecting on whether it was a just act to hire professional musicians for a seminary liturgy when there were people suffering who needed our help. It was my later friend and teaching colleague, the late Fr. Stanley Rudcki, who was the conductor! Years later, I’ve realized that I had been spiritually tone deaf: we are called to bring both justice and beauty into the world, and that we have to find a way to keep doing both. As Dostoyevsky said, and Dorothy Day often quoted, “The world will be saved by beauty.”

I well understand that the Pope was rejecting the throne and not the music when he skipped the concert. But I suspect that while the press will sooner or later desert the Pope, Beethoven never will. The melody of the Ode to Joy has been put to hymnody the world over. While the Church is indeed a hospital for sinners, it is also the concert hall of everyday people.

Therefore, I think it would be a great idea for Pope Francis and Beethoven to team up on that joy thing, especially if the Pope puts a poor child on the throne, and takes a place for himself in the nosebleed section.

Perhaps there’s another open date on the calendar of the RAI National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Juraj Valcuha of Slovakia for a little Beethoven. . . this time with the Pope in attendance.


I noted on the way to the 3/9/14 recital that the lovely little Chicago restaurant, Russian Tea Time, had apparently had its windows and glass door vandalized, presumably over the Russian incursion into Crimea. But Russian Tea Time is not exactly the headquarters of Mr. Putin, and could have easily been spared the damage.

I also packed about a half-dozen Clif bars (meal bars) in advance to give to the many people who beg outside the Chicago Symphony Center. All the bars were given away by the time we departed the parking lot (but $40 to park!), one block from the recital. For many reasons (I would rather spend the money on someone else, and the seats hurt!) I rarely go to Symphony Center any more. But I am thankful for the gift of great music. . . and am especially grateful to Ms. Uchida for her artistry. . .

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Run-of-the-Mill Hedonism

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

After our youngest child went to college, we cut down to one car, and I began to take Chicago’s public transportation system, the CTA, more often. This led me back to some late nights on the bus and train, and has found me also schlepping my library books back and forth in canvas bags like the student I was years ago.

In these canvas bags are books culled from among some seventy libraries in Illinois. I order books electronically during the week, and pick them up at the university library before the weekend. The books rest beside me on the floor “on the CTA.” Also riding beside me may be the quietly desperate, the drunken, the pierced, the kindly, the overworked, or the preoccupied, many of whom are indeed busy with their phones. For part of my ride, I try to pray, despite the Blue Line’s urine scent. Sometimes in my reverie I try to imagine what relationship might exist between the books that I read and the people whom I meet.

The books I schlep are sometimes about high philosophical topics, the latest debates between believers and high-brow atheists. I suspect, however, that few, if any, of my fellow riders–say, the woman with the cursive cliche inscribed above her breast loudly discussing with her friend on the phone her desire to have her tattoos removed–pay much attention to the high-brow atheists in my canvas bag.

My public commutes have led me to reflect that the greatest impediments to religion are thus not so much outright rejection, but distraction, not so much disbelief, but forgetfulness, not so much disavowal, but abandonment.

Philosophers have sometimes asked, “What should we be doing?” and Peter Drucker decades ago queried, “What business are we in?” A very useful alternative question with the potential to “back us in” to a similar set of truths is: “What are we doing instead of what we should be doing?”

What are nominally Christian parents doing instead of taking their children to church on Sunday? Oftentimes, they are going to sporting and educational events. Having served on a number of Catholic school boards, I learned that even the board members with children were in some cases choosing sports over Mass.

It somehow still surprises policymakers that college students find other things to do besides studying. According to federal statistics, about a quarter of college students abuse alcohol often enough to hurt their academic progress.

What are many young urban adults doing instead of forming traditional male-female, two parent families? My answer may surprise you: They are not, except in the rarest of instances, forming same-sex parenting couples, who represent but a tiny statistical fragment in American society. Many young people instead join for a time the largest claimant families of all: street gangs, whose members number in the tens of thousands in many major American urban areas, and whose scope overshadows all other non-traditional aspirants to family standing. The street gang, with its false pose as “family,” is far and away the greatest physical threat to authentic family and religious life, and should be a national ministry priority.

Thousands more people get intoxicated and miss worship events than do miss them because they are reading Nietzsche. Alcohol and drug abuse aside, many people think they have something more fun and satisfying to do other than praying and serving others: watching or playing weekend sports, or simply going shopping.

All this leads me to propose that run-of-the-mill hedonism poses a graver threat to religion than does high-brow atheism.

Hedonism is not “all Animal House all the time” as it is life by the pleasure principle. Simple pleasures will do. To update Camus’ adage from The Fall, we can sum up our age: Modern men and women fornicated (often alone) and went on the Internet.

Despite the fact that many of today’s young adults went to sports, school, or gang activities most weekends instead of worship, drank their way through their college-age years (elite students confining their hedonism mostly to the weekends), live in a “boozetown” young adult entertainment district, engage in virtual violence, fornicate on the Internet, and rarely practice formal religion, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins had almost nothing to do with this result, and Nietzsche didn’t give them the idea except maybe by wafting words through the Zeitgeist by way of the arts, letters, and film, some of which are indeed produced by Nietzsche aficionados.

Run-of-the-mill hedonism, predating just about every atheist who anticipated his or her own eternal non-existence, appears to take its own course, amplified and extended by profiting media, now targeted and consumed individually. “Sexperts” and cultural provocateurs like Dan Savage ride this turbulent tide, which nevertheless would flow without them.

Does the believer take arms against this sea of troubles? There is little point for religion to argue with run-of-the-mill hedonism, since hedonism is about enjoyment—like Pinocchio on Fun Island—only while it lasts. Jiminy Cricket could not talk sense into Pinocchio, who had to find out for himself–after the cruel metamorphosis of a boy into a donkey–the consequences of the simple decisions that kept him a puppet.

The alternative to run-of-the-mill hedonism ever is God’s unfolding love, but where beyond the choir is that Gospel heard? Believers continue to refute both atheism and hedonism, but their messages are jammed by the crackling static of hedonism, through which only random sound bites and tweets appear to penetrate. The faith, hope, and love encyclicals of the recent popes contain inspiration, but who knows it? Benedict XVI overturned Nietzsche and reclaimed Eros for the Christian in Deus Caritas Est (extending John Paul II’s Theology of the Body), but who has heard? Pope Francis has said that, contra hedonism, no one person is disposable:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 1, accessed 12/17/13.

Sometimes, Pope Francis’s words do break through the hedonic noise, drawing significant bandwidth and brain-width. How? Is it simply that, like St. Francis de Sales, Pope Francis offers beads of honey instead of barrels of vinegar?

To understand this Francis Effect upon hedonistic attention, we can consider in layers our responses to hedonism, from the high-brow on down. The high-brow response includes journals like First Things, which nobly strives to prevent Nietzsche aficionados from sowing more weeds. The middle-brow response, set at the level of the old Great Books discussions and of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, now dwells on the plateau of the PBS series–like Fr. Robert Barron’s numerous New Evangelization and new media efforts–and continually plows new ground. The low-brow response–wrestling in the mud with the hedonists–merely spreads around the mud.

But Christians have a fourth option. For this they must be willing to go “lower” than the hedonists, to go “no-brow.” In Pope Francis, Catholicism is once again reemphasizing this “no-brow” “rhetoric of the heart” (my son Mike’s phrase) that bypasses disputation through concrete personal acts of love and solidarity. Catholicism partially diverted from this approach after Vatican II when clergy became webbed within a pestilence of useless internal meetings during the era of “collegiality gone wild.”

The “no-brow” strategy includes the direct, personal living out of the Works of Mercy, both corporal (Matthew 25) and spiritual (I Thessalonians 5), and practices those good works (Romans 12) which take us directly beside another, and keep us there: to the hungry person who needs to eat, the sick person who needs care, the prisoner who needs a visit, the pregnant teen considering abortion, the student who needs to learn, the warrior regretting a war. Modernity has bureaucratized the work of the physician, the nurse, the teacher, the cleric, and the parent beyond recognition. But the “no-brow” stand of Christian personalism takes works of charity and justice back to immediate, direct human companionship, to “get beside” and “stay beside” another in joy. Hedonism has no answer, save slander and persecution, for the Beatitudes. That is in part how the message of Pope Francis continues to break through.

Believers hold that there is a truer joy in parting from hedonism. Happily one point of “finding out for ourselves” remains both divinely and naturally ordained: Because youth is ever fleeting, the same words that thirty-something Augustine was urged to tolle, lege, ever speak to us:

“Do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:11-14 [from NAB])”

At the bottom of my canvas bag, each week I put several meal bars, in case I should encounter one of the “brothers Christopher”–a lovely old phrase indeed.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Pope Francis’ Extempore All Saints, 2013 Homily at Rome’s Verano Cemetery

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Adjacent Rome’s Verano Cemetery, lit by golden setting sunlight, and framed by lengthening shadows, Pope Francis offered an inspired, extempore homily on All Saints evening, 11/1/2013, speaking quietly and directly of how Christ saves us from death:

“At this moment before sunset, we are gathered in this cemetery to think about our future and all those who are no more, those who have gone before us in life and are in Lord. The vision we heard in today’s first reading is so beautiful (Rev, 7:2-4, 9-14). . . .”

“We can expect full love. Those who have gone before us in the Lord are there and proclaim that they were saved not by their deeds, but by the Lord. ‘Salvation comes from our God [. . .] and from the Lamb” (Rev, 7:10b) [. . .] He is the One who saves us, like a father, by bringing us to the other shore at the end of our life. . . .”

“As sun starts to set today, let each of us think of our own sunset. Am I looking at it with hope? . . . Where is my heart anchored? If it is anchored on the shore, hope cannot disappoint because Jesus does not disappoint. . . .”

“I would like to pray in a special way, in particular for our brothers and sisters who died as they sought a better life. We saw the cruelty of the desert, and of the sea where many drowned. Let us also pray for those who were saved, now languishing in shelters. Let us hope they might go to other, more comfortable places, in other centres.”

at the Vatican Radio website, accessed 11/2/13.

Here’s video of the entire service in Italian, including some beautiful music:

Here, with the homily beginning at minute 29:16, is a shortened version containing the readings and homily, mostly in Italian. The emotion and inspiration of the moment carries through in any language.

As soon as a complete official English text of this homily becomes available, I’ll post it here.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXVI

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Pope Francis continues to perplex the ninety-nine sheep, leaving them in the desert, while he daily treks to the wilderness to find the one who was lost (Luke 15:1-7).

The ninety-nine sheep might therefore “cool it” (admittedly hard to do in the desert) while the Pope does his work.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Aphorism LXV

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

The Pope wears white for a reason.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


A Coming Permanent State of War?

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Statist elites who are pushing for war may have more than geopolitical purposes for their actions, but also a domestic agenda, for it is historically through a militarized society that cultural change can be guided and enforced by the state.

It would extremely naive to assume that radical statist elites wishing to reshape society would settle for a limited war without an enforced militarization of youth that would then form future generations.

As the present US administration nears its final years, I continue to look for statist attempts to lock societal cultural change into stone. What better way to do that than to put a country on a permanent war footing, and to militarize and manipulate younger generations through forms of conscription and enforced public service.

But the cost may be too high, and the result too unpredictable: At least four forces of power stand against the United States in the Syria conflict: Iran and its client radicalized Shiite forces, radicalized Sunni forces backed by petrodollars, the Russian federation, and China. Each is capable not only of expanding the scope of conflict geopolitically, but also of disrupting the infrastructure and trade in the developed world through Internet weapons and through both conventional force and asymmetrical terror and disruption. Each of these four forces has a vested interest in toppling the United States from a dominant world position. The situation is unpredictably complex, and therefore, predictably unmanageable. To attempt a “manageable” war at this point may well be folly.

As Iran nears completion of its nuclear apprenticeship, the world also stumbles toward war. I pray that we find a way to remain at peace.

Here is the video for the 9/7/13 Vigil of Prayer for Peace at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The homily of Pope Francis begins at minute 1:17:40 —

Here is the complete English text of his impassioned call for peace..

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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A Plea for Peace in Syria

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I agree with Pope Francis that peace, not war should be sought for Syria.

Christian leaders in the region, despite their suffering, voice almost unanimous opposition to an expanded war.

One of the tenets of the just war theory is a reasonable expectation of success–not to make a bad situation permanently worse.

Praying for peace. . .

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Pope Francis, the World’s Parish Priest

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

On the morning of 3/17/13, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the parish church of Vatican City, dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Our Lady, and spoke movingly of the mercy of God as shown in the day’s Mass readings, and especially Gospel passage from John 8, the immortal story of Jesus’ mercy to the woman taken in adultery. (Note that Leviticus 20:10 required that both the man and woman who committed adultery should be executed).

Vatican Radio offers a touching summary of the lovely humanity shown both by the people of the parish and the Pope, along with a story that Pope Francis offered to the people:

He told a story, of an elderly widow he encountered during a Mass for the sick celebrated in connection with a visit of the image of Our Lady of Fatima. “I went to confession during the Mass,” he said, “and near the end – I had to go to do confirmations afterward, and an elderly lady approached me – humble [she was] so very humble, more than eighty years old. I looked at her, and said, ‘Grandmother,’ – where I come from, we call elderly people grandmother and grandfather – ‘would you like to make your confession?’ ‘Yes,’ she said – and I said, ‘but, if you have not sinned…’ and she said, ‘we all have sinned.’ [I replied], ‘if perhaps He should not forgive [you]?’ and, sure, she replied, ‘The Lord forgives everything.’ I asked, ‘How do you know this for sure, madam?’ and she replied, ‘If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t [still] be here.’ And, I wanted to ask her, ‘Madam, did you study at the Gregorian (the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded in 1551 by St Ignatius Loyola, the oldest Jesuit university in the world)?’ – because that is wisdom, which the Holy Spirit gives – interior wisdom regarding the mercy of God. Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us,” he repeated, “but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us.” Pope Francis went on to say, “Let us never tire of asking God’s forgiveness.”

Source: Vatican Radio website, accessed 3/17/13

“If the Lord hadn’t forgiven all, then the world wouldn’t still be here. . . ”

Each day brings another such vignette from Pope Francis, who by simplicity and sincerity continues to break through a hostile communications blockade built over the past decades upon scandal and attack that is designed to confound every straightforward word of Catholic teaching. The enemies of Jesus, be they atheists or dissenting Catholics, as they did during His days in Jerusalem, still have no answer for the loving mercy of God, witnessed by such a parish priest.

The Catholic Church is in the act of reclaiming Lent and Easter for mercy, not for scandal. Stories of such Divine Mercy are passed from person to person across the globe and cannot be confounded by the usual static. This is a moment of great grace. . .

Deo Gratias!

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Pope Francis on the Only Glory: Christ Crucified

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

In his 3/14/13 homily during Mass with the Cardinal electors in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Francis stated:

When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.

It is my wish for all of us that the Holy Spirit – through the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother – bestow upon us the grace of journeying, building, confessing Jesus Christ crucified. Amen.

3/14/13 Homily of Pope Francis, as posted on Zenit.

Pope Francis also quoted Léon Bloy: “Whoever does not pray to the Lord, prays to the devil.”

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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