Tag Archives: climate change

Ecological Conversion

The other day I was looking through our Passionist liturgical calendar for the feasts ahead and came to a section at the end that I never paid much attention to before. “Notices.”  It’s a list from the Vatican and the United Nations of important issues facing our world today,  issues to keep before us in our liturgy. Liturgy is not just feasts and readings of the day; we need to bring current issues into our prayer and reflection lest liturgy becomes an “archeological dig.”

Each month the pope asks that we reflect and pray about some important issue.  For example, all of September and until the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, we’re asked to pray and reflect on the care of creation. It’s a “Season of Creation”; the Orthodox Church began it, I believe, and Roman Catholics and other religious groups have joined in.  

A timely issue. 

All this week there were demonstrations and conferences throughout the world on climate change. About 4 million young people demonstrated in cities globally to pressure world leaders meeting at the UN to decrease the world’s dependence on fossil fuel. The UN meeting was disappointing. My own country, the United States, along with China and Russia, did nothing. 

A reporter asked leaders of the youth demonstrations why did young people  demonstrate. They said that young people are terrified of the future. Terrified. And if the young Swedish girl who has been speaking at the UN and throughout the US is any indication, the younger generation is angry at an older generation, particularly politicians,  that doesn’t want to do anything. 

My own church here in the US hasn’t responded well to the issue of climate change, which leads me to wonder if that may be a factor for so many young people finding church irrelevant. 

Pope Francis is aware of the crisis the world is facing. Besides urging action by the United Nations, (see previous blog), he’s invited leaders from the religious and educational worlds to meet at the Vatican to see how we can change our educational systems worldwide, so that we can look at the world differently. In Laudato si he speaks of an “ecological conversion”. It’s not a matter of changing technology; it’s changing our mentality.  

I’ve been reading recently an article by the Jesuit historian, John W. O Malley, “How We Were: Life in a Jesuit Novitiate, 1946-48” That’s around the time I made my own novitiate with the Passionists. O’Malley describes the day by day novitiate experience thoroughly, but he also indicates new influences affecting Jesuit formation then– a new historical sense about the past and the scriptures. a greater attention to human sciences like psychology. They were making their way slowly into religious formation structures. They were making their way into the formation structure of my community as well.

It seems to me a new cosmology is making its way into our society now. Yes, the historical sciences are important and we have to know as much as we can know about ourselves. But we have to go beyond humanity now.

We have to reflect on creation and keep it in our prayers. It’s there every day as we bring bread and wine and water to the altar in the Eucharist. It’s our home. It’s endangered. We need to care for it.

God Saw It Was Good

Creation story, BL

“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:25). God’s gaze, at the beginning of the Bible, rests lovingly on his creation. From habitable land to life-giving waters, from fruit-bearing trees to animals that share our common home, everything is dear in the eyes of God, who offers creation to men and women as a precious gift to be preserved.

Tragically, the human response to this gift has been marked by sin, selfishness and a greedy desire to possess and exploit. Egoism and self-interest have turned creation, a place of encounter and sharing, into an arena of competition and conflict. In this way, the environment itself is endangered: something good in God’s eyes has become something to be exploited in human hands. 

Deterioration has increased in recent decades: constant pollution, the continued use of fossil fuels, intensive agricultural exploitation and deforestation are causing global temperatures to rise above safe levels. The increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather phenomena and the desertification of the soil are causing immense hardship for the most vulnerable among us. Melting of glaciers, scarcity of water, neglect of water basins and the considerable presence of plastic and microplastics in the oceans are equally troubling, and testify to the urgent need for interventions that can no longer be postponed. 

We have caused a climate emergency that gravely threatens nature and life itself, including our own.

In effect, we have forgotten who we are: creatures made in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:27) and called to dwell as brothers and sisters in a common home. 

We were created not to be tyrants, but to be at the heart of a network of life made up of millions of species lovingly joined together for us by our Creator. 

Now is the time to rediscover our vocation as children of God, brothers and sisters, and stewards of creation. Now is the time to repent, to be converted and to return to our roots. We are beloved creatures of God, who in his goodness calls us to love life and live it in communion with the rest of creation.

Pope Francis, September 1, 2019

Will the Spring Rains Come?

 April showers. Spring rains.

Cyril of Jerusalem has a wonderful sermon on water that he preached to catechumens centuries ago. Here are a couple of lines:

“Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”

The saint goes on to say that just as water adapts itself to every creature, the Holy Spirit gives life to each one according to its needs and to benefit the common good. The Spirit’s coming is gentle, not felt as a burden, with tenderness, as a true friend, to save, heal, counsel, strengthen and console.

So back to spring rains. Will they come this year? Climate change? Is it at work with the spring? The magnolia tree outside my room hopes the rains will come, and the other trees and plants in our garden hope they will too. They’re waiting for the rain to fall on the earth to do what it always does. Like the Spirit of God, water brings life.

Send the spring rains, Lord.

“A Vision Thing”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. is set to release her ‘Green New Deal” today–government proposals for health care for all, job guarantees, a push to eliminate U.S.carbon emissions. 

Good luck to her, but it’s going to be a hard road ahead. Maybe a start, but we are going to need more than political legislation and technological innovations to deal with climate change.

Here’s a favorite picture of mine from the Staten Island Ferry. You say it’s a picture of the New York skyline?

I say it’s a picture of water that gave birth to the city. True, isn’t it? The water was here first. The city came to be because water brought the world here, making the city a capitol of world trade and drawing millions of human beings to this place. 

These waters once abounded with fish, the surrounding areas abounded in game. Plenty for all, so the native peoples allowed the original Dutch settlers a little piece of land for themselves.

 Now look at it. The man who built the new World Trade Center claims it’s the tallest building in the country, challenging the heavens–like Babel.

.Be careful, though, about challenging the heavens and forgetting about the earth. Be careful about the waters that brought you where you are. No fish or oysters here to eat now. Little space for the waters to go when they rise. And they will.

Don’t forget– the water was here first. It’s a “vision thing.” That’s what Pope Francis says in “Laudato si”.

The Land Where Jesus Lived

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Bethany, outside Jerusalem

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?”  ( Mark 4, 30) Jesus turned to the land he lived in to answer that question. It was a changeable land.  If you stand  on the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany near Jerusalem, as I did some years ago, you can still see olive trees growing beneath you. The Mount of Olives  just west of us.

Then, looking eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea, it’s barren desert. Then, as you go from Jericho to Galilee the land turns from desert to lush farmland. A changing land.

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Jordan Valley

Jesus experienced a changing landscape as he left Nazareth for the Jordan River and then the Sea of Galilee;  it influenced the way he spoke. His parables are rich with the language of the sower and the seed. Like us, he was influenced by the place were he lived.

In a book written in the 1930s Gustaf Dalman, an expert on the geography and environment of Palestine, observed that when Jesus went from the  highlands of Nazareth, 1,100 feet above sea level to the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee, 680 feet below sea level, he entered a different world.

For one thing, he ate better – more fish and nuts and fruits were available than in the hill town where he grew up. He looked out at the Sea of Galilee instead of the distant hills and valleys of his mountain village. He saw a great variety of birds, like the white pelicans and black cormorants that challenged the fishermen on the lake. He saw trees and plants and flowers that grew abundantly around the lake, but not around Nazareth.

Instead of the chalky limestone of Nazareth, Jesus walked on the hard black basalt around the lake. Basalt was the building material for houses and synagogues there. It made for sturdy structures, but they were dark and drab inside. They needed light. Light on a lampstand became one of his parables. (Mark 4,21)

Basalt also made for a rich soil in which everything could grow. “… here plants shoot up more exuberantly than in the limestone district. Where there are fields, they yield a produce greater than anyone has any notion of in the highlands.” (Dalman, p123)

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Farmland in Galilee

The volcanic soil on the land around the lake produced a rich harvest. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, praised that part of Galilee for its fruitfulness, its palm trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, vines, wheat. But thistles, wild mustard, wild fennel grew quickly too and could choke anything else that was sown. The land around the Sea of Galilee was fertile then; even today it has some of the best farmland in Palestine.

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Soil near the Sea of Galilee

The weather in the low lying lands was not the same as in the mountains, warmer in winter, much hotter and humid in summer, which begins in May. “It is difficult for anyone used to living in the mountains to work by day and sleep by night…Out of doors one misses the refreshing breeze, which the mountains along the lake cut off…one is tempted to think that Jesus, who had settled there, must often have made occasion to escape from this pitiless climate to his beloved mountains.” (Dalman, p. 124)

These observations aren’t found in the gospels, of course, but they help us appreciate the world in which Jesus lived and the parables he drew from it. Jesus was influenced by where he lived, as we are.

And what about us? We’re experiencing climate change now, aren’t we? It’s going to influence our spirituality, how we see, how we live, how we react to the world around us.

Lord, help us appreciate the land we live in, and gain wisdom from it.

“Dissolved in Flames?”

In the coming “day of God…the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” (2 Peter 3, 12-15) That’s a strong picture of the last days in the 2nd Letter of Peter we read today at Mass. Commentators say it’s the only place in the New Testament that predicts the world ending in fire.

Some years ago, after the Newshour in the evening, I would sometimes turn to the next channel on television to watch Harold Camping, a crusty old evangelist who was predicting the world ending in fire. The world was going to be burnt to a crisp and unless you explicitly professed faith in Jesus Christ you were going to go up in flames too.

Harold even figured out when it was going to happen, 6 PM, May 21, 2011. and if you wrote in he would send you his calculations. People called in with questions, some humorous. “Should I pay my income tax this year?” Some were sad. “My little boy can’t speak yet and profess his belief in Jesus. What about him?” Harold skirted that question.

May 21 came and nothing happened. I thought I was the only one listening to Harold until I noticed advertisements in the buses weeks before for “D Day May 21.” The day after May 21 I mentioned it to some people and one of them said she called her daughter who was driving over the Brooklyn Bridge that day to get off the bridge as soon as she could.

Harold said on a later broadcast he was recalculating the date, but some time later he died.

Harold isn’t the only one predicting an end for our planet. One of our greatest scientists, Stephen Hawkins, said before he died that we should start a colony in outer space soon because the earth is headed for destruction.

There’s a lot of pessimism in our world today. There was pessimism when the 2nd Letter of Peter was written. The apostles Peter and Paul had been viciously put to death. The City of Rome was almost completely destroyed by fire in the 60s. Jerusalem and the Jewish temple were destroyed by fire in the 70s. Christians were being persecuted and killed. I’m sure a lot of them were saying “This is the end.”

In times of pessimism we need to reaffirm God’s love for humanity and creation itself. That’s why Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si is so important. Care for the earth and respect it, he says. God made our world out of love and promises to renew it.

Care for creation in practical ways, the pope says, but keep creation in mind in our prayers, especially the prayer of the Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation.” Jesus became human; he was made flesh and his humanity comes from the earth. In the Eucharist, he takes bread and wine, which come from the earth, to give life to the world. Through “a fragment of matter” he communes with us.

“ Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”.[166]

“Creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.[LS 167]

God won’t destroy creation. He loves it and finds it good.

The Mary Garden

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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.