For today’s homily, please play the video below:
Tag Archives: Laudato Si
“The reason why I came baptizing with water
was that he might be made known to Israel.” (John 1, 29 ff)
In the encyclical letter, Laudato Si, Pope Francis urges Christians to let the sacraments lead them into a deeper relationship and respect for creation. Created things like water, bread, wine, oil are signs in the sacramental world inviting us into the divine mysteries; they also call us to care for our common home, the created world.
Water, for example, is the key sign of the sacrament of baptism. It’s more than the stuff we drink. Water has a long history in the bible, where it symbolizes life and chaos. In the beginning, God creates the world by moving over chaotic, formless waters and then God makes a world that’s good. (Genesis 1, 1-2)
In the story of Noah, God brings new life out of the chaotic flood. The earth becomes fruitful as water, by God’s command, goes back to its boundaries and earth flourishes again. Water is an instrument God uses to bring life.
Because it symbolizes the life and chaos found in the world, it’s no wonder that Jesus begins his ministry by going down into the waters of Jordan River. I doubt the Jordan was sparkling clean then. Judging by the river we see today, it was likely always muddied. It was muddied then as now, muddied as human life is muddied then as now.
When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan, he entered human experience and brought new life to it by the power of God. The liturgies of the eastern churches, especially, see the waters of the Jordan, changed and blessed by the Word made flesh, flowing all over the world. Wherever human life is, wherever life of any kind is found, there is water. It’s a sign of God’s blessing.
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 also has its chaotic nature. In the gospels it threatened the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. “Did you not know that when you were baptized, you were baptized into his death.”
The scriptures say Jesus is revealed as he goes into the water at his baptism. “This is my beloved Son,” a voice from heaven proclaims. Jesus continually reveals his power over water. 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.
Let’s not forget either, that water today plays a major role in climate change. In the last century the sea level globally has risen almost 7 inches and in the last 10 years it has 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.
St. Francis is one of those super saints we have to keep in mind, even after his feast day. I mentioned in a previous blog the statue of Francis facing St. John Lateran and Pope Innocent’s dream of a young man who, like Francis, held up the church’s walls ready to fall. The statue is a picture of Francis renewing the church.
In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis seems to paint a verbal picture of Francis, holding his arms out to the created world, caring for our endangered planet:
“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.
“His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.
“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
I like the pope’s words: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
This weekend we had a program at our monastery in Jamaica, New York, entitled Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si and the Wisdom of Thomas Berry, Passionist. The main presenters were Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, senior lecturers and research scholars at Yale University.
The program began Friday evening with the award-winning film “Journey of the Universe” produced by Tucker and Grim along with Brian Swimme, which brilliantly portrays the story of our universe as science today explains it. On Saturday Mary Evelyn and John lectured on the pope’s encyclical, the influence of Thomas Berry and the contribution of native peoples to the critical question of the environment. I was among the commentators responding to their presentations:
I was one of Fr. Thomas Berry’s first students. It was at Holy Cross Preparatory Seminary in Dunkirk, NY in 1950. It’s usually not noted in biographical material about him, but Tom taught history to seminarians that year and I was in his class.
I remember the first day he came into class with a stack of booklets in his hands. “We have to know what’s going on today in the world,” he said, “and so we’re going to study The Communist Manifesto.”
Now remember, this was 1950. Senator Joe McCarthy had begun a witch-hunt to root out Communist sympathizers and I think The Communist Manifesto was on the church’s list of forbidden books. We studied it.
Yet, Tom never mentioned Joe Mc Carthy or the threats of a Communist takeover in Europe or what was happening then in China. No, he was interested in where the Communist Manifesto came from. Beyond Karl Marx and Lenin, he traced it back to the Jewish prophets and their demands for justice for the poor and human rights. The long view of history was what interested him.
After the Communist Manifesto, we studied St. Augustine’s City of God. Two loves are building two cities, Augustine said. Again, Tom didn’t dwell much on the historical events used by Augustine to illustrate his theory of history. It was the overall dynamic of the two loves in conflict over time that interested him.
From Augustine, we studied Christopher Dawson and his book The Making of Europe. Dawson, one of the 20th century’s “meta-historians,” wasn’t interested only in Europe; he was interested in the whole panorama of civilizations that came before it. That was Tom’s interest too.
As far as I remember, Tom didn’t speak of the universe and its evolution, his focus in later years, yet you could see him heading that way. He had a mind for the long view of things.
Pope Francis in Laudato Si also has a mind for the long view of things, it seems. The pope doesn’t quote from The Communist Manifesto, but he insists, more strongly than the manifesto, on the rights of the poor, to which he joins a strong insistence on the rights of the earth.
Can we also hear echoes of Augustine’s City of God in Laudato Si? I think so. The pope speaks of two loves in conflict. There’s the love that builds the city of man. How describe it today? How about blind consumerism; we love things too much. We love our vision of material progress too much. We love our technology too much. We love our control over the earth too much. We love ourselves too much. The result is “global indifference” to an environment falling apart. (Laudato Si, 9,14)
Opposing that love is a love the pope sees in Francis of Assisi, “who was particularly concerned for God’s creation, for the poor and the outcast…he would call all creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’… If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.” (LS, 13)
Berry, like the pope in Laudato Si, accepted science’s view of our environment, yet also like the pope he distanced himself from a major trait of the era of the Enlightenment which unfortunately causes us in the western world “to see ourselves as lords and masters of our environment, entitled to plunder her at will.” (LS, 2)
Science teaches us a lot about our environment and its perilous condition today, but knowledge is one thing and love is another. Two loves are at work. Love doesn’t always follow what we know, especially if our hearts are fixed on something else. Love is hard to change.
I heard the preachers and teachers and ordinary folk in the workshops that followed our workshop presentations bemoan the poor reception the pope’s encyclical has received so far. Why isn’t the environment a critical issue in our parishes, in the media and in the political world? Why aren’t we undergoing what the pope calls “an ecological conversion?”
There are many reasons, I suppose, but one thing seems sure. It’s not going to happen overnight through some quick fix. We need to get ready for the long haul. And what does that mean? We need wise teachers and leaders to guide us, like Thomas Berry and Pope Francis.
“The present time is not a time for desperation, but for hopeful activity.” Thomas Berry, CP
To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
A man I know built himself an oven and bakes bread “the old way,” he told me. He goes about the process meticulously: the flour’s carefully chosen, the right amount of water is used, the fire that bakes the bread is just the right temperature. It takes time, but what a feast results!
I mentioned to him how so many homilies on the Eucharist from the days when they baked bread “the old way” see profound spiritual mysteries in this same process. The flour represents creation itself; the water and the fire represent the work of the Holy Spirit whom we invoke in this sacrament. “The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life.”(Laudato Si 235.) Simple created realities like water, oil, bread and wine speak for all creation.
In our prayer over the bread at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”
The bread we offer, the wine we offer are signs of creation and the human efforts involved in creation. They’re signs of everything that the “God of all creation” gives us and of everything that comes from our hands. “The word bread stands for everything,” Augustine said in one of his commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer. (Epistle to Proba) No wonder Jesus chose these two precious signs to give himself to us.
The bread and wine stand for everything. Think what that means. Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago. The bread and wine stand for the 15 billion years our universe has been in existence. About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The bread and wine represent that 3.5 billion years of life on our planet. When they’re brought to the altar the whole universe is brought here. About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in the bread and wine. Our lives are part of the human story represented in the bread and wine .
We believe that when Jesus sat down with his disciples at the Last Supper and took bread and wine into his hands he took all creation, all life, all human life into his hands.. “This is my body.” “This is my blood,” he said. He is God in human flesh giving himself to us and to everything that God made. In love poured out, he renews the covenant God makes with us and with creation.
Pope Francis in his letter “Laudato Si.” emphasizes the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist. Our created world is there with the dignity and purpose bestowed on it. As he takes bread and wine into his hands, Jesus takes the whole universe to himself. “ 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 Eucha¬rist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards the unification with the Creator himself.” (LS, 236)
We celebrate this great mystery on the “humble altar” of our church. The created universe as it was, as it is and as it will be is before us. A marvelous sacrament, so simple in appearance and so tremendous in reality.
Today the crucial world conference on the environment ( COP21 ) opens in Paris with over 145 nations participating. Pope Francis offered a prayer for the environment at the end of his encyclical Laudato Si. “All it takes is one good person” like Noah, the pope wrote. We ask God to bless those meeting in Paris with the spirit of Noah.
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.
Today, September 1st, Pope Francis asks Catholics and all people to pray for the care of creation, the subject of his recent encyclical “Laudato Si.” We may need to pray, if recent surveys are right that claim that American Catholics aren’t much interested in the pope’s recent encyclical. That might be true of Catholics elsewhere as well.
There’s an ecological crisis, the pope says in his letter, and we have to do something about it. Some may deny the crisis exists; some may claim it’s exaggerated; some may just throw up their hands thinking it’s too big to deal with. Some may think it can be easily fixed by the eventual play of “market forces.”
For the pope and many today the ecological crisis is real, it endangers the world and it has to be dealt with now. To meet it Francis recently urged Christians to “first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation.”
That’s important advice. The first step is not to immerse ourselves in conclusions of science, although the pope in his encyclical obviously respects scientific conclusions. The ecological crisis is not going to be taken care of with a few quick moves, like changing a couple of light bulbs at home. The first step, the pope says, is to undergo an “ecological conversion” guided by our spiritual patrimony.
Caring for creation isn’t going to be an easy task. People of faith are needed who, in the pope’s words, understand that “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” (Laudato Si, 217).
In his encyclical the pope looks to the scriptures, from Genesis to the books of the New Testament, to provide wisdom for our steps. He looks to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as signs that creation itself figures in God’s plan.
An interesting feature in “Laudato Si” is the way Francis turns to the Eastern Church for guidance to ecological conversion, almost as if he recognizes the weakness of western theology and spirituality. A prayer suggested by the Vatican for today’s prayer service is inspired by the prayers of the Eastern Church:
We praise and bless you, O Lord,
for you are the King of all ages,
and through Christ your Son you have made all that is.
In the beginning of the beginning,
you breathed upon the waters of creation,
and filled the earth with life through your vibrant Spirit.
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.
As day gives way to evening, we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our adoration this night give glory to your name,
so that we may serve you with faithfulness and love.
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.