Category Archives: Environment

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” We’re drawn to that gospel reading today, but notice, Jesus speaks to the “crowds” in Matthew’s gospel, not just to the disciples around him. God’s love and God’s promises reach far beyond the circle of disciples. Jesus Christ reaches out to refresh the world that labors and is burdened, even if it doesn’t know him.

Scholars say today’s first reading from the 40th chapter of Isaiah comes, not from Isaiah the priest who spoke in Jerusalem as Assyrian armies were closing in to destroy the city in the 8th century before Christ, but from an unknown prophet who spoke to Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries later urging them to return to Jerusalem to build it up. The unknown prophet uses Isaiah’s name and language lest he be killed by the government for suggesting such a thing .

Not many of the Jews in Babylon are interested in the prophet’s invitation, it seems. Taken captive to Babylon centuries before, they’re part of the place now. Babylon’s their home. They have families and jobs there; Jerusalem is far away and its future uncertain.

The unknown prophet speaks for God who’s rejected in favor of life in Babylon:

“To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One…
Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.”

A woman teaching in a parish religion class told me recently she asked a young boy who obviously wasn’t happy being there why he came. “My mother told me to come.”
“Don’t you want to know about God?” the woman asked him.
“I don’t believe in God,” the boy answered.
“Don’t you want to know about the church?”
“I never go to church. None of my friends do.”

“Come to me, “ Jesus says.

“Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The Lord is an eternal God,
creator of the ends of earth,” the unknown prophet says.

An Honest Environment

by Howard Hain
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Vincent van Gogh, “Four Swifts With Landscape Sketches”, 1887


If a child is wasteful, what should the parents do?

Give them more?

More toys?

More snacks?

More disposable goodies?

Should they inflate the number and insignificance of what the child already has?

If the child’s room or backyard is full of waste, scattered remnants of “grown-bored-with” toys and doodads, what’s the answer?

Should the parents implement specific and tedious rules detailing what the child should do and not do in order to preserve the cleanliness and neatness of the home and outdoor space?

Should the parents provide the child with even greater means to continue to live so wastefully, with such little appreciation?

Or maybe, just maybe, the answer begins with the child possessing less, less toys, less privilege—especially when the family budget doesn’t allow for them in the first place—wouldn’t that be more beneficial to all involved?

Maybe if the child had only a few but well-loved toys, the child would be less wasteful, less likely to discard them and negatively affect the family environment?

Isn’t it the same with the overall environment? With the care of the earth and its resources?

If we are really serious about the environment, is the answer really man-made laws from “up high” limiting the freedom of individuals and localities? Or would it be better to begin with embracing a liberating reality that would help foster a more natural and organic conservancy?

Put it this way, if the government actually had to balance the budget, I mean really balance it on an annual basis—spending only what it brings in—and they didn’t continue to print more money (especially when the new “currency” is not based on any real asset, but instead out of “thin-air”) don’t you think that spending on the national level would change?

It would have to, period.

And don’t you think that the debate over what we do spend on would tighten up, become quite serious, efficient, and effective? And don’t you think that on the local level it would be the most freeing? For it would create an environment where individuals wouldn’t be handed false paper to purchase false products (designed to be disposable), and then maybe we’d have a commercial reality that is truly sustainable—where we have perhaps fewer items but items we cherish, are grateful to possess, and protect and care for—goods we wouldn’t just throw away.

Would that perhaps change the pollution problem?

Would it perhaps address our reckless use of natural resources?

In short, no “environmentalist” is serious about the environment (and values individual rights and freedom of local choice) if they do not deal with the biggest polluter of all: runaway debt, rising inflation (with concurrent deflation of valued consumer-driven product), and false and perpetually self-emptying currency.

Because without the false means of consumerism, consumerism would have to return whence it came: nonreality.

For imbalanced budgets, large deficit spending, and reckless printing of currency are the most non-organic, the least natural, and most non-locally-supporting factors concerning the health of our rivers, soil, trees, and, quite frankly, ourselves.

So let’s be real. Real as dirt. Let go of the hidden influences, agendas, and political prejudices, and be serious about what is truly causing waste and environmental destruction.

The truthful alternative is certainly refreshing: an unwavering allegiance to God’s most natural law of truth, beauty, and divine efficiency. For while God is certainly exuberant in His abundance and provision, He is never wasteful. He never lies. He never “cooks the books”.

The Creator of the Universe is honesty to the utmost degree. Pure harmony. Pure integrity. Pure accountability. Not a trace of fallacy or fiction.

If you doubt me, well then just ask the local bird. Ask him if he can borrow against bad credit, if he can feed his babes with worms that are printed merely on paper, and if he ever worries about his offspring buying and buying and throwing out and throwing out—or is it precisely his non-inflated natural resources that actually keep his local environment in harmonious check?

It is as long as some bureaucratic bird, puffed up with unrealistic good intentions (and other people’s money) doesn’t come along promising freebies and handing out nests that he and his other fine-feathered friends pay for with bad credit or currency based on a non-existent reality.

In their bird-brained world, thank goodness, that doesn’t happen. No, birds build their nests in reality. And continue to fly high because of it.

We on the other hand have many among us who try to sell us such false narratives and papier-mâché mansions. They also ironically tend to be the ones who “support” the “environment” the most.

For to discuss global warming, sustainability, and carbon credits without discussing the need for balanced budgets and disciplined currency policy is to be either a fool or a liar—both cases are unsustainable.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Mary Gardens

Andrea Oliva Florenda, a professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, offered a day of reflection on Mary Gardens, December 1 at Bishop Molloy Retreat Center, Jamaica, New York. Professor Florenda teaches in the department of theology and religious studies at St. John’s, specializing in Marian theology. She’s also the designer and curator of the Marian Garden at the university.

Mary Gardens, dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared in Europe following the Black Death, a pandemic that caused millions of deaths in that part of the world in the 14th century. The gardens, usually found in monasteries and religious shrines, brought hope to people walking “in the shadow of death.”

God placed Adam and Eve in a garden, Christian tradition says. (Genesis 2, 8-28) Rising from the dead, Jesus proclaimed eternal life in a garden. (John 20,11-18) For early and medieval Christians, Mary appeared as a garden enclosed, flowers, plants and trees surrounded her, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” The Mary Garden, which became a favorite inspiration for medieval and renaissance artists, brought the promise of life to the “poor banished children of Eve.”

Does the Mary Garden have a role today in a world facing climate change and environmental degradation? Professor Florenda thinks it does. Besides the mysteries of faith, it teaches reverence for creation, for the soil, for plants that feed us and bring healing, for flowers that nourish our sense of beauty.

Certainly science and technology have a large part to play in the current environmental movement, but Professor Florenda notes the number of young people, from various religious tradition drawn to her Mary Garden at St. John’s, where the mysteries of seed and soil unfold, where pharmacy students study medicinal herbs and seasonal vegetables feed the poor.

The day of reflection on Mary Gardens ended at the grotto honoring Mary in the garden of Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica. There, Professor Florenda spoke about the meaning of the grotto, its structure and the plants and trees surrounding it.

“There is a language in each flower,
that opens to the eye,
A voiceless but a magic power.
A prayer in earth’s blossoms lie.” Anonymous

Mother Cabrini

Mulberry Street, New York City, ca.1900

From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.

Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.

Over time, the Italian immigrants moved elsewhere and became a prominent part of American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.

“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.

Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”

Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”

Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”

St. Martin of Tours

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Martin of Tours, an important saint in our church calendar, is worth reflecting on today, November 11th.   Saints are the antidotes to the poison of their times, Chesterton said. So what poison did Martin confront?

One was the poison of militarism. Martin was born in 316 into a military family. His father, a Roman officer who came up through the ranks, commanded  troops on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father naturally figured he would become a soldier like him. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Heroes then were soldiers like Constantine and even Diocletian: warrior emperors. Rome was mobilizing to stop the barbarians threatening their frontiers. It needed soldiers. But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. Even as a young boy he heard a message of non-violence from Christians he knew. Over his father’s strong objections, he gave up prospects for an army commission and became a Christian catechumen, preparing for baptism.

Later on as a bishop, he was known as a peacemaker who spent a lot of time reconciling enemies. In fact, he died on his way to settle a dispute among some of his priests.

Another poison Martin opposed was the poison of careerism. When Constantine came into power he wanted to promote Christianity in the empire and one way to do that was to give Christian bishops more power in civil society. The emperor gave them money and authority over projects and jobs. You can see why a lot of men wanted to become bishops. It promised a rich lifestyle and prestige.

When Martin became Bishop of Tours at the invitation of the people of that diocese, he adopted a lifestyle that was  opposite to that of most of the bishops of Gaul. One of his biographers said he never went to bishops’ meetings. He couldn’t stand them. The bishops liked life in the cities. Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism still around today? We remember our war veterans today. How many died in wars in the past 100 years? Too many. And too many bear the scars of war. Militarism is still around.

I think careerism is still around too.

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with the beggar in the cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, a catechumen but still a soldier. He stopped and cut his military cloak in two and gave one to the poor man. That night, the story goes, Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the beggar’s cloak. “Martin gave me this,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI has a beautiful comment on this event.

“ Martin’s gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist… It’s the logic of sharing. May St Martin help us to understand that only by a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if an authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.”

That’s well said.

St. Martin de Porres

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We celebrate the feast of St. Martin de Porres November 3rd. He was born in Lima, Peru, in 1579, the son of a Spanish father and a freed black woman. He’s often shown with a broom tending those who needed care. That’s because Martin tended the sick as a nurse and a pharmacist. In 1603 he entered the Dominican order as a lay brother. Assigned to nurse the sick in the priory of the order, he also went to the sick poor beyond the priory, who welcomed his wisdom and care. In fact, he also took care of cats and dogs and the birds that came looking something to eat.

In his wonderful encyclical Laudato Si, devoted to preserving and enhancing the environment, Pope Francis observed that sometimes the poorest environment can be changed by individuals bringing love and care into it.

“A wholesome social life can light up a seemingly undesirable environment. At times a commendable human ecology is practised by the poor despite numerous hardships. The feeling of asphyxiation brought on by densely populated residential areas is countered if close and warm relationships develop, if communities are created, if the limitations of the environment are compensated for in the interior of each person who feels held within a network of solidarity and belonging. In this way, any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.” (LS 148)

I think that’s what Martin de Porres did. He turned places that were “a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.”

Extreme poverty, the pope continues, “can lead to incidents of brutality and to exploitation by criminal organizations. In the unstable neighbourhoods of megacities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence. Nonetheless, I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful. Many people in these conditions are able to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome.”

You get the impression Pope Francis speaks from his own experience in these words. He probably would say today: that’s what saints like Martin de Porres do. They bring love where it’s needed.

To Preach

by Howard Hain

 

Saint Bruno, Houdon

Saint Bruno (c. 1033-1101), Founder of the Carthusians, Statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1767)

 

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“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority…”

—Acts 1:7


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If the Lord returns this very second, well then, are not “…the ends of the earth” where we currently stand?

May we pray for the mercy and grace that we ourselves be truly converted to Christ, for if all the world were to focus on that, then all the world would be set “on fire”.

To truly “preach” the Gospel is to be truly transfigured. For it is the power of His glory, in us, around us, despite us, that brings others to Christ.

A single man standing absolutely still—but who has Christ truly within him—brings more healing and peace to all the world than an army of men continually running around the globe glorifying themselves in His Most Sacred Name.

For redemption is always by His power, for His glory, and within His Kingdom. It is HIS Church.

May we approach Him in our absolute nothingness, for that is all we truly possess.

Men come and go, keep your eyes on Christ.

The world turns, the Cross stands still.


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Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardDHain   http://www.twitter.com/HowardDHain

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