Tag Archives: Environment

July 4: Independence Day

A few days ago we remembered the foundation of our church with the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. Today we remember the foundation of our country, July 4, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Like church feasts, national feasts are times to celebrate. But this year we’re not going to do much of that.  We’re in the midst of a pandemic. Our public celebrations, for the most part,  have been canceled.

Church feasts are also a time to reflect, so maybe today we can reflect on what this national holiday means.

Where can we learn about what this day means? Historians say this day didn’t happen without much struggle. Political fighting, interest groups, foreign powers, war–all had a part in it. Founding our country was not as easy as we might think. But somehow all these conflicting interests came together around an ideal.

Can we remember that ideal today?

The Declaration of Independence was a statement of great ideals, but those ideals were not applied to everyone.  Have the native peoples here on this continent before us, the African peoples brought here as slaves, been treated as “created equal” with “certain unalienable rights?”

Have the poor and the immigrant been seen as equal?

Church feasts celebrate graces of God. They lift us up to aspire to great ideals and promises. We’re called to do that today.

But we always begin feasts with prayers for forgiveness, acknowledgement of failures, and calls for mercy: “Lord, have mercy.”

“America the Beautiful… God mend thine every flaw, and crown thy good with brotherhood, with liberty and law.”

Father of all nations and ages,
we recall the day when our country
claimed its place among the family of nations;
for what has been achieved we give you thanks,
for the work that still remains we ask your help,
and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation, grant that, under your providence, our country may share your blessings
with all the peoples of the earth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Learning about Water

In his letter, Laudato Si, Pope Francis says that the sacraments teach us to respect and reverence creation. Water, bread, wine, oil–sacramental signs– not only bring us into the divine mystery, they also bring us to the created world, our common home.

Water, for example, the sign of the sacrament of baptism, is more than something to drink, it’s a sign of life and death. In the beginning, God moved over chaotic waters to make them life-giving;’ In the time of Noah the Lord moved over the flood waters that threatened death to recreate dry land where life could flourish. . (Genesis 1, 1-2)

Because water symbolizes the life and chaos of the world, Jesus began his ministry going down into the waters of the Jordan River. The waters of the Jordan are muddied today, I doubt they were sparkling then. The world was muddied then; it’s muddied now. .

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When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan, he entered the world as it is and brought new life to it by the power of God. The liturgies of the eastern churches emphasize the blessing brought to water by the Word made flesh. They see the Jordan, filled with the blessing of the Word flowing out to the whole world. Every river, every land, every baptistery holds the blessing of God.

Water is holy. We baptize in clean water because, by the power of Jesus, we are given new life and the promise of eternal life. We become a new creation. Water is holy, but it can be chaotic. The disciples on the Sea of Galilee knew that. “Did you not know that when you were baptized, you were baptized into his death.”

Jesus was revealed when he went into the water at his baptism. “This is my beloved Son,” a voice from heaven proclaims. He is revealed in the waters of life. He quieted the storm on the Sea of Galilee, he turned water into wine at Cana. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink,” he said. Blood and water flowed from his side on Calvary.

Today, water plays a major role in climate change. In the last century sea levels globally have risen almost 7 inches and in the last 10 years have risen more rapidly than ever. The rise in sea level is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting land ice and the expansion of sea water as it warms.

This affects us especially in the New York/New Jersey area where I’m writing from. More than 20 million people live along our coastlines, near the water. Flooding and drought from changing patterns of rainfall can affect the homes we live in, our water supply for food and drink. The poor and the vulnerable will be affected most deeply as sea levels push salt water onto our coasts and further upstream in our rivers.

Water, in which Jesus was revealed, now calls us to live responsibly and care for the earth.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Noah
In a recent issue of the New York Times “Climate News” the author listed a number of resources for Thanksgiving Day when the issue of climate change comes up at table. Is that inviting the day to become a battle ground?

Pope Francis, after completing his encyclical Laudato Si. wrote: “All it takes is one good person” like Noah. Instead of arguing, could we pray this Thanksgving for the spirit of Noah. Here’s the pope’s prayer:

All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

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

Where are the Leaders?


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

The Season of Creation, September 1st -October 5th

The Season of Creation spans five weeks between the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1st, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th

This “time for creation” offers, in the words of Pope Francis, “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

“As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.)
Pope Francis, August 6, 2015

“The heavens declare your glory, O Lord, and the stars of the sky bring light to our darkness.
You spoke, and the earth burst forth in life, you saw that it was good.
You called forth creation, and enlivened every creature on land and sea.
You made human beings in your image, and set us over the whole world in all of its wonders.
You gave us share in your dominion, and called us “to till and to keep” this garden, the work of your hands.
This day we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our daily care for your creation show reverence for your name,
and reveal your saving power in every creature under heaven.
We make this prayer in the name of Christ your son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

Blessing Herbs, Medicines and Fields: August 15th

On the Feast of the Assumption in medieval times, especially in northern Europe, medicinal herbs were blessed. The fields were also blessed that day asking they be fertile next year.

At the end of the feast day Mass,  herbs were brought into the church or to a holy well. They were sprinkled with water and prayers were said thanking God for caring for and healing us through the gifts of creation. The herbs were then brought home and a sprig was placed on the wall where children slept, asking God to keep them strong and healthy.

Why were herbs and fields blessed on the Feast of the Assumption?   Mary is often identified with flowers; she’s the “flower of the field and the lily of the valley”;  she brought life and healing through Jesus, her Son.

You’re invited to bring some herbs to our Mary Garden after the 11AM Mass in our monastery chapel on August 15th . You can plant them there or take them home, but don’t forget to put a sprig over a child’s bed (or maybe your own). Don’t forget also to bless your own garden with holy water that day.

I can remember as a kid being told on the Feast of the Assumption to go into the water (in those days  the Newark Bay, polluted waters now). There’s a cure in the water! I’m sure it came from this custom.

We’re connected to creation. We need to remember. Let’s bless herbs and fields on the Feast of the Assumption.

Building a City

babel
Tower of Babel. Pieter Bruegel the Elder. 16th century

After the deluge, God renews a covenant with creation, and the descendants of Noah begin to fulfill God’s command “to increase and multiply and fill the earth.”

But then something else happens: human beings, desiring to be together, join in building a city. A common origin and language draws them together, not just as families or clans, but in a larger society. They look for human flourishing in a city. (Genesis 11,1-9)

Unfortunately, they overreach. They want to get their heads into the heavens and so they plan a tower into the sky. Like Adam and Eve reaching for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they want to be like gods, “presuming to do whatever they want” God says. Their tower becomes a Tower of Babel. It collapses and they’re scattered over the world, leaving their city unfinished.

It’s important to recognize that the Genesis story does not claim God’s against human beings building a city. The bible, in fact, sees the city as a place favorable for human flourishing. In the Book of Jonah, God values the great city of Nineveh. Jesus sees Jerusalem, the Holy City, cherished by the Lord, the place where he dwells. The Spirit descends on his church in the city. The Genesis story sees the city as good, but it can be destroyed by sin and human pride..

The picture at the beginning of this blog is a painting of the Tower of Babel by the 16th century Dutch artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It’s situates Babel in Antwerp, one of the key seaports of the time. Its shaky structure suggests it’s too ambitiously built. Still incomplete, it may not last. So the painter offers a warning against ambition and not caring for people, especially the needy.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis encourages mayors from cities to plan well. Commentators say the pope, conscious of a rising isolationism that’s affecting nations and international bodies today, sees cities to be agents for unifying peoples. They’re important places for humans to flourish. The United Nations also sees cities as key resources in the challenge that comes with climate change.

The picture at the end? You don’t have to be told. A great city. Still, its greatness will be judged, not by its big buildings or businesses, but how it encourages human flourishing.

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We’re Not Alone

genesis man alone copy 2
The LORD God said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
(Genesis 2,18)

We usually rush on when we hear these words to the creation of Eve, who becomes “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” for Adam, and the human story begins.

But the Genesis account  we read today and a medieval artist (above) remind us that God first “formed out the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man… but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” (Genesis 2,19 ff)

Adam signals to God these new creatures are not enough, but does he dismiss them altogether for Eve? Whether they realize it or not, the two will not be alone on this planet. Besides caring for each other, their destiny is to care for the creatures Adam names. They’re their partners too and share this common home.