Category Archives: ecumenism

Sustainable Development Goals


What can we do? We wonder in a world worried about its future. Can we do anything? Let’s not be afraid of big ideas. Why not think big?

In September 2015 world leaders at the United Nations agreed to work for 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The goals aim to “eliminate poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, while ensuring no one is left behind. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while also tackling climate change and environmental protection.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

Cities have become an important focus for Sustainable Development, because today more than half the world’s population lives in cities and that number is expected to reach two-thirds by the year 2060. In cities “the battle for sustainability will be won or lost,” one UN expert remarked. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2018/07/un-forum-spotlights-cities-struggle-sustainability-will-won-lost/

The 11th goal of Sustainable Development is “making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Sustainability differs from city to city, but quality of life means among other things, adequate housing, work and employment, clean water and air, access to public transportation.

Mayors throughout the United States have recognized the important role that cities can play in achieving the SDGs. This year, 2018, New York City is the first city to issue a report on its progress towards sustainability. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/international/downloads/pdf/NYC_VLR_2018_FINAL.pdf

Governments, civil society and the private sector are all called upon to contribute to the realization of these goals. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/05/mobilizing-citizens-of-the-world-to-achieve-the-2030-agenda/

At a time when countries are building walls and thinking only of themselves, why not think big? What can we do?

St. Cyril of Alexandria (d.444)


Pope Francis, speaking in his recent Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et exultate” of “the saints next door” – the ordinary holy people of our world– says “Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.” (3) They persevere.

The pope in that same exhortation says that canonized saints have their faults and failings too.“Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person.” (22)

Later in his letter, Francis speaks about the dangers of modern day Pelagianism and cautions that when some say “ all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that “not everyone can do everything”, and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. (49)

Being holy, being a saint, doesn’t mean you’re perfect, the pope says. That’s good to remember when we consider St.Cyril of Alexandria, the 4th century bishop of Alexandria and doctor of the church, whose feast is today, June 26th.

If you read his online biography in Wikipedia–where many today look for information about saints – you’ll find that he was deeply involved in the messy partisan politics of his time, when Christians, Jews and Pagans fought and schemed to control the city that was then probably the most important city in the Roman empire. He was a “proud Pharaoh;” “ a monster” out to destroy the church, some said, an impulsive bishop in a riotous city. That’s the way the Wikipedia biography mainly sees him.

He was a saint, others said. Why a saint? Well, Cyril was absorbed in understanding and defending the Incarnation of the Word of God. Did the Word of God come among us? How did he come? Who was Jesus Christ? Pursuing that mystery defined Cyril during life.

He thought and wrote extensively about this mystery; it absorbed him. The way he came to express it was used at the Council of Ephesus (431) and became the way we also express it in our prayers. Mary was the Mother of God. The One born of her was not simple another human being. Her Son was true God, who would be truly human and eventually die on the Cross. God “so loved the world” that he came among us as Mary’s Son.

What we see as “the totality” of Cyril’s life, his “life’s jouney”, the “overall meaning of his person”, to use the pope’s words, is not his involvment in the violent politics of city and society of his day, but his quest to know Jesus Christ.

Love Is Not Easy

By Orlando Hernandez

This Thursday’s Gospel continues with the extremely challenging statements that our Lord pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount:

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5: 20-24)

Our faith and religion is the great gift of God, but we can spoil this gift if we use it as an excuse to feel that we are “better” than our neighbor. Even prayer and piety can unfortunately be used as a cover for inhumane behavior. Our Lord points out the dangerous practices of self-righteousness that can lead to the escalation of conflict which condemns us not only to the loss of love of neighbor, but even to the total disregard for the sanctity of human life, whether through unfettered anger, cold calculation, or simple indifference. We find ourselves imprisoned by hate and guilt: “Your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.” (Mt 5: 25)

Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote explores this sad situation when he talks about the two sides in the Civil War: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God,and each invokes His aid against the other.” I imagine those prayers and see them as ferocious darts, adding to the countless wounds of our Jesus on the Cross. What is right and what is wrong? Why is there so much divisiveness in our country, in our world? Is our real “opponent” happily leading us in chains to the Judge? Are we already in a hopeless Gehenna, where truth and mercy are incinerated along with God’s goal of human unity within His loving embrace?

My conservative son complains that those on “the left” are merely hypocrites, calling themselves compassionate while they approve of the killing of unborn life. This kind-hearted couple, my friends, who were influential in my conversion, now call themselves “Buddhists.” After decades of being zealous Pentecostals, they now feel betrayed by their fellow fundamentalists, who support so many things that they consider divisive and cruel.

Lincoln goes on to say in his speech, “With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” How do we begin to do this? How can I gauge what is “the right as God gives us to see?” How can I hold fast to love, to tolerance, to acceptance of so many people who seem so difficult to me? Only in prayer, in faithful surrender to the love of God can I find the way out of Gehenna, to defeat the real “opponent”, the accuser, the divider. Only God can give me the strength.

But oh, sometimes I feel totally bound up by these negative aggressive thoughts. My loving wife sees me there with that disturbed look she knows so well, and tells me, “Snap out of it! Look around!” Out of concern for me she got me this challenging checklist by Richard Rohr OFM, that she got at her last retreat. It sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount. And it is titled “What Might A Joyful Spirit Be?” Joyfulness seems to be the only way out of the prison, and this joy is the Grace that only communion with Jesus can give. Here are some examples, which can be fruitful conduits to prayer:
“ When you do not need to be right.
When you no longer need to compete–not even in your own head.
When you do not need to analyze or judge things as in or out, positive or negative, black or white.
When you can follow the intelligent lead of your heart.
When you are curious and interested, not suspicious and interrogating.
When you do not brood over injuries.
When you do not need to humiliate, critique, or defeat those who have hurt you- not even in your mind.
When you can let go of obsessive or negative thoughts.
When you do not divide and always condemn one side or group.
When you can find truth on both sides.
When you can critique and also detach from the critique.
When you can wait, listen, and learn.
When you can admit it was wrong and change.
When you can actually love without counting the cost.
When you can live satisfied without resolution or closure.
When you can find God in all things.”
Amen.

Orlando Hernández

St. Justin, Philosopher and Martyr (c.100-165 AD)

Justin-Martyr

Justin Martyr

We need Christians like St. Justin, the 2nd century philosopher, we remember today. “We need to make our teaching known,” he said. Still true in our day.

In Justin’s time, philosophers were the mentors and teachers of Roman society and were welcomed in the forum and private homes of the Roman world.

Born in Nablus in Palestine of Greek parents, Justin studied all the philosophers of his time in Alexandria, Athens and Ephesus. It may have been in Ephesus around the year 130 that he encountered Christianity when, walking along the seashore, he met an old man who told him the human heart could never be satisfied by Plato but “the prophets alone announced the truth.”

“After telling me these and other things…he went away and I never saw him again, but a flame kindled in my soul, filling me with love for the prophets and the friends of Christ. I thought about his words and became a philosopher..” (Dialogue 8)

Justin was influenced, not only by Christian teaching, but also by the example of Christians he met:

“I liked Plato’s teaching at first and enjoyed hearing evil spoken about Christians, but then I saw they had no fear of death or other things that horrify, and I realized they were not vicious or pleasure-loving at all.” (Apology 2,12)

Forum q

Ruins of the Roman Forum

Justin championed Christianity as a philosopher as Christians were increasingly being attacked by society. Donning a philosopher’s cloak he taught and wrote in Rome about the year 150 AD. He was a new kind of Christian, a Christian philosopher engaging Roman society on its own terms. He gave Christianity a Roman face and voice.

Justin defended Christians against the charge they were atheists and enemies of the Roman state. Christians were good citizens, he wrote, who pray for Rome, though they don’t worship in temples, who had no statues of gods or who did not participate in the religious rites of the state.  Justin’s writings give us a unique picture of 2nd century Christianity and early Christian worship.

In his “Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew” Justin offered the traditional Christian defense of Christianity to a Jew antagonistic to the new religion. The Jewish prophets predicted the coming, the death and resurrection of Jesus, Justin argues.

In the documents of Vatican ii, Justin is recognized as an early example of Christian ecumenism. (Evangelium Nuntiandi 53) Through the Word of God all things came to be, he said.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, but Justin linked the biblical Word to the Logos of the philosophers. “Seeds of the Word” were scattered throughout the world, Justin claimed. Every human being possesses in his mind a seed of the Word, and so besides the prophets of the Old Testament, pagan philosophers like Heraclitus, Socrates and Musonius lead us to Jesus Christ, Justin said. (Apology 1,46)

A prolific writer and teacher, Justin was an early Christian intellectual using his talents to promote his faith, Unfortunately only three of his writings come down to us. Other Christian intellectuals followed him, using the tools of philosophy, to dialogue with the Greco-Roman world.

Finally, rivals in Rome pressed charges against Justin as an enemy of the state and he was  brought before a Roman judge along with six companions. Sentenced to death, they were beheaded probably in the year 165 AD. The official court record of their trial  still survives.

The Mary Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, May 31, we began our Mary Garden at Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica, New York.

Mary Gardens, dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared in 14th century Europe following the Black Death, a pandemic that caused millions to die in that part of the world. The gardens, usually found in monasteries and religious shrines, brought hope to people who feared the earth was bringing them death.

God gave Adam and Eve a garden, the Book of Genesis 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, the Mother of Jesus, was like a garden enclosed, flowers, plants and trees surrounded her, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” As the “Mother of the living” she brought the promise of life to our world, Jesus, her Son.

Can a Mary Garden bring hope today to our world that faces climate change and environmental degradation? Mary reminds us creation is a gift of God’s love. A Mary Garden teaches reverence for creation, for the soil, for plants that feed and bring us healing, for flowers that nourish our sense of beauty.

Yes, science and technology play their part in an environmental crisis, but faith has a part to play. We’re planting a Mary Garden!

A Reading from the Book of Genesis
This is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens there were no plants on the earth, no grass on the fields, for the LORD God had sent no rain and there were no human beings to till the ground, but a stream was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground and the LORD God formed a human being out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and he came to life.
The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,* and placed there the one whom he had formed… to cultivate and care for it. (Gen 2, 4-15)

Let us Pray

Praise the Lord who is good,
Sing to our God who is loving,
To the Lord our praise is due.

Who covers the heavens with clouds
and prepares the rain for the earth.
And makes mountains sprout with grain
and plants to serve our needs

You know the number of the stars
and call each one by name.
Bless the earth we break open today
O Lord,
to be a garden in praise of your name,
where we honor Mary, the mother of your Son.

We remember your blessings here
which you never cease to send
through Jesus Christ our Lord.