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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Joseph Strong

Gordon: When did you join Holy Rosary Parish?

Joseph: My family and I joined Holy Rosary Parish in July 2017

Gordon: You have previously served as a missionary, Please provide an overview of where you worked what your responsibilities were.

Joseph: I was training to become a missionary priest and served as administrator of a family retreat center in Rye New York then the administrator of the large seminary in Cheshire CT for a year. I then worked for the fundraising office of the religious congregation for 3 years prior to finishing my studies in Rome, obtaining a Licenciate degree in Philosophy in 1999. I then served as Assistant Director of Catholic World Mission for 3 years, visiting Mexico and El Salvador to assist full-time lay missionaries and participating in a humanitarian relief mission following the January 2001 earthquake in El Salvador.

My emphasis was on person-to-person evangelization and coordination to raise support for concrete, specific requests of the various full-time lay missionaries.

Essentially the mission always boils down to personal friendship that is lived by bringing healing and liberation to people in the name of the Lord. Missionary life is not humanitarian relief or humanistic therapy or even just secular friendship though all elements have their place. It is always a matter of going out to meet people so as to introduce them to the King through healing, liberation, evangelization, introduction to sacraments or the devotions of Catholicism. The missionary sees the world as divided into Catholics and “not-yet-Catholics”. No one is off-limits – because where there is life, there is hope.

Gordon: What do many of us fail to understand about poverty?

Joseph: There are two types of poverty – material and spiritual-cultural.

Americans chiefly suffer from spiritual-cultural poverty that leads to material poverty.

In Latin America, material poverty is traumatic but generally the people who are poor have a supporting matrix of family, extended family, and neighbors who support them. So digging a well or building a school can positively affect a whole village. In the US though, poverty is one of the mind and heart that no amount of mere physical, wealth transfers can adequately address.

In the US, the answer to intergenerational poverty involves creating those absent family and friendship ties without which individuals are easy prey for nihilism and self-destructive habits. The homeless are homeless because no family or friends will give them ‘room in the inn’. They are refugees in their own country. Sojourners or ghosts drifting through land that ought to be full of friendly faces but instead is a sea of anonymous strangers. Yes, many homeless are drug addicts or mentally ill but before they are judged as the result of behaviors or trauma, they were once children, cousins, nephews, or nieces…. So the ultimate solution to homelessness is not just housing but a home. To be re-incorporated into a community that sees them as individuals with a name.

Gordon: Based on your experience, what are some of the factors that drive poverty?

Joseph: The sexual and secular revolutions broke the bonds of marriage for life, shattered the idea of an extended family looking out for one another, and reduced people to passions and pleasure – citizens become ‘consumers’ if they have money and ‘useless mouths to feed’ if they have no money. It’s a crass de-humanized culture that has resulted from the displacement of Christ as the center of our culture and the substitution of the idol of sex, drugs, and individualist secular hedonism erected in His place. We’re now 2 generations into the experiment of “post-Christianity” and a result is an increasing number of people who have no parents or no parents willing to take them in….and who have no siblings, cousins, or other relatives who either know or care about their fate.

St. Mother Theresa was right – once a society accepts that the unborn have no inalienable right to life, this logic will inevitably spread to other classes of humanity until we all take on an attitude of indifference to the inalienable rights and dignity of not just our fellow man but of ourselves. We let go of God in the name of ‘finding ourselves and we end up losing God and ourselves.

For about 1/3 of the homeless mental illness is the determining factor of them being kept in a cycle of subsistence living. Another third are there because drugs or other addictions are such idols that they cannot long maintain a balanced and self-responsible life even should they be given a home and job. The last third are the working poor – able in mind and body but who often can’t afford rent in many of our cities and so are reduced to living in vehicles or RVs or in tents. But in every case – the ill, the addicted or the poor, it was divorce, extended family breakdown, de-personalization in youth and the growth of ambivalence and indifference that preceded their loss of habitation and ‘normal’ living conditions.

In general, the local city or town government regards the poor and homeless as a Hazmat, criminal justice, or property value “problem” and not as a humanitarian crisis. In many cases – if not all – it’s due to the poor being literally strangers to anyone who is responsible in the town. They’re not known as people so aren’t treated as refugees from foreign lands would be treated. Can you imagine the US taking in Syrians or Africans and then just dumping them on the streets with a “good day”? Neither can I. So it’s the loss of a sense of humanity and personhood that attaches to becoming poor in the US. Only being reincorporated into a community will lift all three categories of the homeless out of dire poverty. They may very well remain wards of others but in their own way, each person can become great at something. Everyone was given a name for a reason perhaps only known to God. No one is useless. Everyone has a unique gift for the whole of humanity if only they are helped to unlock it.

Gordon: What was your experience in assisting earthquake victims?

Joseph: I connected with a core group of dedicated lay men and women who were professionals and set about organizing the relief efforts in a very logical and systematic way. During the week collection of goods and materials were taken up across San Salvador as well as accepted from foreign sources. On Friday whole fleets of construction dump trucks were loaded and formed into a convoy. On Saturday we would drive out in a long convoy of trucks and other vehicles into the hills and rendezvous with lay missionaries who had organized families ahead of time. The missionaries knew the people so only allowed the grandfather or father of a given family to accept the aid packet on behalf of his family.

Most packets consisted of 100 lbs. of beans & rice, a set of pots and pans, 1 sturdy cot, 1 6 gals. canister of propane and a burner, a few gallons of the cooking coil, and some clothing or blankets, and a large blue tarp and rope. Obviously, more than one man could carry so after the man of the family signed for the aid, his family was then allowed to assist him in carrying it away.

While we were distributing the aid others in our group organized the children by age groups to do catechism or play games –providing them soccer balls. The idea was to distract the children while the parents and adults handled the aid packet. Later the missionaries toured the devastated zones to coordinate follow-up visits with more building materials since most people lost their homes.

It was very important to respect the local social hierarchy and customs – honoring the people, the elders, getting their input and suggestions, and allowing them to take initiative in some rebuilding priorities. It was also important to establish a sense of routine order for the children and paint a picture of hope and rebirth for them as they were surrounded by the rubble of their former lives. We sang songs, joined the people in prayer, and talked with the elders about their ideas for rebuilding their town or neighborhood. One of our constant themes was to reinforce the message that if we work together and help each other out we can rebuild – and that it was imperative to not take advantage of other people in times of crisis. I think the shock of the quake and the trauma of the people helped at least in the early weeks to keep the peace.

Gordon: Please describe the crisis pregnancy center that you and your wife developed.

Joseph: Years later I became Vice President of Development for Guest House, a Catholic charity that helps restore priests and women religious to their vocation from addictions. So we lived in Clarkston, Michigan, and began networking with local Catholics of the various parishes. A few years later an abortion clinic was set up in town and a friend of ours called for a meeting to discuss what to do about it. 70 people showed up and be began a town-wide, multi-faith effort to shut the abortion clinic down.

We had several parallel tracks. One was to set up a crisis pregnancy center in the same building – leasing out the unit directly underneath the abortion clinic. The second track was to organize round-the-clock protests in the public right of way and donated land adjacent to the abortion clinic. The final track was to network and fundraise for the ongoing support of the young women who were coming to the crisis pregnancy center – creating a food pantry, clothing and baby need dispensary, coordinating with local churches and groups to provide counseling and child care for the young women and their families.

Eventually, we were able to drive the abortion clinic away and help many young women choose life and not just give birth to healthy children but help them in their own lives.

Gordon: Please comment on the Pareto principle.

Joseph: The Pareto principle is also known as the 80/20 rule. Essentially it speaks to the fact that individuals of any given species or group are not indistinguishable cogs or clones of one another but that individuals actually vary in their innate or learned skills, virtues, etc. such that in any competitive field 80% of results or the outcome will come from 20% or less of the individuals involved.

We see this in sports, entertainment, music, art, literature, engineering, math, business, politics…etc. Tiger Woods became the greatest golfer not because he cheated or ‘robbed’ other players but because he just had developed the ‘talent stack’ required to become the best in the world. Our Lord mentioned this principle in the parable of the wheat-producing different yields of fruit – some 30, 60, and 100 fold. Or in His mention that in “His Father’s house there are many mansions”. Not everyone is a St. Francis Xavier or St. Paul…. Not every Pope is a John Paul the Great.

Marxism and all political forms of institutionalized avarice, envy, and rage against diversity of outcome (economical or otherwise) simultaneously live this principle in action while completely ignoring it or not understanding it in theory or principle. So in any given ‘cadre’, there will rise super-comrades, super-committed revolutionaries, etc. who seem to be everywhere and do everything – all while they declare successful capitalists or Catholics or others to be successful only from theft of others…oblivious to their own success being largely innate or self-directed. That Marxists pride themselves on being intellectually and morally superior to others (thus justifying their violence) also implies that there is a hierarchy and that not everyone is as smart or as good as everyone else. Here again, their rage would be funny for its absurdity and lack of self-awareness if it wasn’t so deadly in the outcome.

Thus equality of outcome is actually sociologically impossible – we’re not undifferentiated cogs. But this does not mean the successful must necessarily be plutocrats or indifferent to the plight of those who simply do not perform at the same level as they do.

This gets us back to the disaster the sexual and secular revolutions have been for the world. In a marriage, family and extended family, the super-achievers take care of those who aren’t so naturally inclined to be successful. The strong help the weak. This principle occurs in ANY competitive situation as well not just economics. So the more varied a given society is in terms of areas of competition, the more super-achievers will rise to the fore. For example, if a society only accepts 2 types of sports you will naturally only see 2 hierarchies of excellent champions arise. But if society encourages dozens of different types of sporting events, they saw the rise of dozens of hierarchies of overachievers. The same goes for commerce, education, arts, etc. what Marxists and others tend to see as ‘wasteful competition’ is actually the Pareto principle in action allowing many different hierarchies to exist and thrive.

Monopolies and Monopoly busting thus seem to be baked into the human pie. Some people will naturally become the best of a given field and naturally seek total market domination but in doing so they run the risk of shutting down their own ‘ecosystem’ of competitive hierarchies. Government ‘trust busting’ or anti-monopoly laws thus keep the system from overheating in a peaceful way.

I see this all as harmonious with how the Lord, the giver of Life, the Holy Spirit operates. He didn’t just allow one species of whale to exist but gave us dozens. Not just one type of flower but hundreds if not thousands. The Lord allows a multiplicity of different species to thrive. And among humanity, we see that in the end of time, when the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven, “all the nations” will be called to her…..meaning that there will be a diversity of nations, kingdoms, peoples, languages, etc. even at the end of time….that humanity is not destined to be subsumed into some one-world bee hive government, some monstrous Babel that drives all individuality and diversity under an artificial uniformity but that we will continue to enjoy a diversity of excellence and hierarchies even to the end of the age.

To those that have, more will be expected of them…. So the point of hierarchy is to serve not to be served. The point of a crown is to throw it before the feet of the Lamb. All of us can be the best in the world at some pursuit….but the point of this success is not to just bask in greatness but use that vantage point to help one another in imitation of Our Lord. Because ultimately we all become like whatever it is we happen to worship

Gordon: Thank you for a fascinating and inspirational interview.

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