Category Archives: Environment

Ordinary Time and Daily Prayer


We’re back to Ordinary Time in our liturgy after the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. Christmas Time is over. Does that mean there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?

It certainly doesn’t mean we stop praying and living as Christians. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy insists that daily prayer is at the heart of Ordinary Time and it never stops. (SC 2)

More than just affirming daily prayer, the Second Vatican Council strongly recommended that the scriptures become our daily prayer, and it followed its recommendation by creating a lectionary, daily readings of scripture, so that “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)

We’re beginning today to read from the First Book of Samuel and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary.

The council’s recommendation to read the scriptures as daily prayer is important. If we were living back in 16th century Spain, for example, at the time of St. Theresa of Avila, we would be shocked by it.

At that time, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Inquisition forbade books of the scripture in the Spanish language to be read by laypeople and even by nuns, and so Teresa and her nuns only knew the bible from what they heard in church and in the sermons preached to them.

Archbishop Rowan Williams has studied the scriptures Teresa, now a doctor of the church, was allowed to hear. She wrote her “Way of Perfection”, her fundamental instruction of prayer, as the Inquisition was cracking down on scripture commentaries. She’s not a teacher, she writes, just a woman, and she’s aware of how careful you have to be in bad times like these, but even though we don’t have books, Teresa writes, we can still learn how to pray from the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the gospel readings that everyone hears.

The Archbishop remarks that despite her diplomatic language you can see Teresa “seething” against the proscription of the Inquisition.

She probably never read the Book of Samuel (Today’s reading about Hannah’s brush with Eli, the priest, would surely have caught her eye). She knew little about the Gospel of Mark, which was hardly read at all in medieval church lectionaries, and she had no access, of course, to the insights into scripture produced by modern biblical studies.

All of this says that Catholics are living at very privileged time after the Vatican Council. But theologians and commentators are also cautioning that we have to be careful of taking what we have for granted and seeing our liturgy as an accomplishment, rather than a work in progress.

We may have before us more readings from the bible than Teresa had, but that doesn’t say that we have assimilated what they mean and that we’ve created the biblical spirituality the council hoped for.

The liturgy is always a “work”, a daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re at the beginning, not at the end.

“Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.” (SC 24)

“The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” (SC 51)

The Bird of Good Hope

I find interesting old books at Books Online, a wonderful free service, and in Routledge’s Christmas Annual from 1872 I found a Christmas story called “Aidan of the Cows.” Now, how resist a story like that?

It’s about a young woman named Aidan who has herds of the choicest cows who produced the best milk and choicest cheese in the village of St.Koatsven in a Distant Land near the shore of a distant sea.

Unfortunately, the young woman becomes destitute because the young man she loves spends away her fortune until all her cows are sold to moneylenders.

On Christmas morning Aidan wanders sadly down a meadow near the sea where she hears a robin singing:

“ She listened with amazement, with fear and trembling, and, at last with a fearful joy, that had more of timorous hope in it. The utterance of the bird became articulate ; and it sang in human speech.
Aidan heard him. “I am Robin Redbreast,” he sang, ” I am the Bird of Good Hope, I am much endowed among birds. For in the Ancient Time when He was toiling up the Heavy Hill bearing the Bitter Cross, I, moved by Heaven
to Pity, alighted on His head, and plucked from out His bleeding brow ONE thorn of the cruel crown that bound his temples. And one drop of His blood bedewed my throat as I stooped to the blessed task, and the blood-drop dyed my breast in a hue of glorious beauty for Ever.”

Aidan listened with all the ears of her heart.
“And in remembrance of that which I did, a poor foolish bird! this blessing was laid upon me—that once in every year, on Christmas-eve, I should be empowered to give a good gift to the first maiden who was good and pure, but unhappy, and who should put her foot upon the herb Marie, as thou, Aidan, hast done.”

The girl looked involuntarily downwards. Her foot was lightly- pressing the pretty little yellow trefoil plantret, which is called the Herb Marie. “As thou hast done, Aidan of the Cows,” the robin repeated with a confident chirrup.”

Of course, Aidan gets her cows back and even her repentant young man, whom she marries and they live happily ever after.

The author ends his tale remarking that this all took place in a Distant Land. “ In the land that is close by us nothing of the kind takes place.”

But we know that it does. And so, to all of you, may the Bird of Good Hope, speak to you today.

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.

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