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Saturday, April 30, 2011

“God, there’s debris . . .”

Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a tornado chaser. Later, as a teen, well after I left the Church—after Confirmation when I thought I was too smart to be Catholic—I was certain I was going to be a meteorologist. There was always something about the drama of the weather—the soaring height of the meteorological heavens, the power, the beauty—that made me want to study it, observe it, be part of it.

Last week, after some of the worst tornado outbreaks in our nation’s history, I was stunned at the damage and the profound, unyielding human suffering that these storms brought to so, so many. Then I watched the videos posted by storm chasers. This one especially, about a minute into it:

I am no longer sure that I wish to be a voyeur of other people’s deaths, or the loss of their homes, businesses and communities.

Having grown in my faith these many years, I can not watch the power of nature as an uninvolved viewer. Sure, Catholic theologians, such as St. Bonaventure, have shown us that God’s truths reverberate throughout all creation. And so I understand why (whether they know it or not) tornado chasers seek and, in a way, find God in the amazing power of the heavens.

But is this fascination with the destructive forces of nature really a worthy way to satiate our innate longing for the transcendent and the all-powerful? And is all that videotaped debris flying about not the lives, homes, and loves of our unknown neighbors?

None of this is aimed at any particular individual. The work that many chasers do is valuable; it helps researchers better understand these beasts, information that could someday save lives. But I do pray that all this amazement becomes more than entertainment. I pray it brings us to a response of love when we cross paths with the suffering of our neighbors. To begin with, you can donate here to Catholic Charities USA's disaster fund.

And we can also pray to the God of creation and mercy, for all those who lost their lives, their loved ones, or their homes . . . for those who will never look at the sky the same way again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our toxic world, even after Easter Sunday

Two recent news reports showcase the toxic dangers of everyday products and how they may be hurting you and me and our environment. This news reminds us that God’s work in creation is still underway.

First, a study reported by EurekAlert tells us about what Indiana University scientists found when studying pet dogs: startlingly high levels of potentially dangerous flame retardants, especially polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs.

The story notes that

the current study also detected newer flame retardants that have come onto the market as PBDEs have been removed, including Dechlorane Plus, decabromodiphenylethane, and hexabromocyclododecane. The chemicals are largely unregulated but pose concerns because they are structurally similar to organic pollutants that have been linked to environmental and human health effects.
Another news story, this one from, reports findings of trace levels of rat poison being found in places it shouldn’t be.

The poison is turning up in wilder parts of California, too, alarming scientists. One such place is the central and southern Sierra Nevada, including Yosemite National Park, where it has been discovered in the livers of a rare weasel-like carnivore, the Pacific fisher.

"They are obviously getting this poison from somewhere," said Reg Barrett, professor of wildlife management at the University of California at Berkeley. "But we don't know where.
You can read the flame retardant story here, and the rat poison story here, and you can get some excellent in-depth and easy-to-find information here on all sorts of toxins that we come across in our daily lives. Scary stuff, but as Someone once noted, the truth will set you free.

The timing of these reports is interesting for Catholic Ecologists. We’ve just begun the 50-day celebration of Easter—the definitive moment when God’s re-creative promise began in human history—and here we are 2,000 years later still struggling with a toxic world. Of course, much of this is our fault. We’re the creatures who are creating and using many of these compounds, and doing so without fully understanding them. But still, that these toxic chemicals exist would seem to flow against much of what we Catholics profess about the inherent goodness of creation and the promise of a new Earth.

But actually, these reports reflect exactly what our faith teaches. We do not presuppose that the post-resurrection world comes without the Cross. Indeed, its meaning carries on well past Calvary because the response of love is still very much needed. How we humans construct our world is limited by our pervasive inner faults of greed, laziness, ignorance and more. How we respond to human suffering—such as disease caused by toxic elements in our air, water or food—is unlimited, and it defines who we are.

So who are we?

We’re made in the image and likeness of God, who is love, and love sometimes means sacrifice—as the Cross teaches. All ecologists know this: sacrifice is necessary to heal the wounds of the poisons of pollution. Catholic ecologists know that sacrifice is needed to overcome all sin.

Indeed, the Holy Father’s observations about climate change in the book Light of the World speaks equally to this issue of environmental and household toxins:

There is more or less pronounced awareness of a global responsibility for it; that ethics must no longer refer merely to one’s own group or one’s own nation, but rather must keep the earth and all people in view . . . the question is therefore: How can the great moral will, which everybody affirms and everyone invokes, become a personal decision? . . . this is a challenge for the Church. She not only has a major responsibility; she is, I would say, often the only hope. For she is so close to people’s consciences that she can move them to particular acts of self-denial and can inculcate basic attitudes in souls.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Is Easter pagan?

Every so often, people feel the need to instruct me about how Christian feasts were “hijacked” or “stolen” or “copied” (or some other derogatory verb) from what they presume were peaceful pagan peoples.

The problem with this argument is that it has just enough historical accuracy to be absolutely wrong. And so we need to address this—especially as Catholic ecologists who spend a great deal of our time with nature. But, I need your indulgence because I just came home from the Easter Vigil—and as always this night has me soaring. Now we rejoice! With Lent over, death defeated and life renewed, we live in joy and hope for the new creation promised to us!

And so, to the topic at hand: What does one say when their coworker, friend, neighbor or relative smugly asserts that your whole faith is a lie, one that lifted its celebrations from pre-Christian cultures?

Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
You water the mountains from your palace;
the earth is replete with the fruit of your works.
You raise grass for the cattle,
and vegetation for man’s use,
Producing bread from the earth. (Ps. 104)
Well, from that Psalm passage from tonight’s Mass, we know that Christianity did not sever itself from the Jewish gratitude for all creation. And as we also heard proclaimed tonight: God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. (Gen. 1:31)

Christianity loves nature because God made it and human life needs it to survive and to grow and to love one another and the God who made it and us. Which brings us to the Holy Father’s homily for this evening’s Vigil Mass. In it he says this:
At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy’s way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being. Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation. Our profession of faith begins with the words: “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”. If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man’s religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things. Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator. Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church’s faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life for ever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together.
(It gets better from there. You should read the entire homily.)

Christians do not worship nature, and we do not give praise to “the Universe,” as some of my lapsed Catholic relatives do (rather than using the “G” word). While some pre-Christian, pagan faiths in and around what would become Europe did worship nature, they quickly abandoned those preliminary, incomplete belief systems when they heard the mature Word of God proclaimed to them. Yes, nature has a Creator, and that Creator is love, and this Creator saves His people and the cosmos in which they live.
I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit. (Ps. 30)
Reams have been written about the spread of Christianity. Those early days saw the faith multiply quickly and emphatically because its message of love reoriented lives. Christians were the first to sell their property to build and staff orphanages, and hospitals, and homes for lepers; the charity exhibited was (and still is) profound and well documented, even by non-Christians. By seeing such radical, self-sacrificing love of neighbor in practice, more people and whole cultures left behind their uncertain desires for some intangible “inner awakening,” or other spiritual belief systems that subordinated human dignity.

Now, were all Christians (way back then or today) perfect lovers to their neighbors? Of course not. We never are on this Earth. But the evidence is clear: Christianity’s sweeping love of God and neighbor drew people to it. And yet, given the warrior, tribal mentalities and practices of so many of those (supposedly peaceful) pre-Christian tribes within Europe, it’s no wonder, even millennia later, we’re still exorcising our aggressive ways. But I shudder to think what the world would be like without the Sermon on the Mount and the Sacramental grace to transform us from self-absorbed warriors to something better.
Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye. (Ps. 19)
And so, to Easter. The natural order of God’s creation—its cycles and seasons—were well known to all cultures. How could they not be? From these events came celebrations—because it's in our human nature to celebrate life and light and food for one’s people and water for crops. All this is well and good—or rather, good enough until you hear this proclaimed:

We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6)
If you ascent to this, you realize that the Source of life is a better object of one’s love and worship then the created world. And so, no matter what the meanings of one’s feasts—be it the vernal equinox, the first fruits, or the return of a migrating food source—when one encounters the love of Christians living the drastic Gospel of Jesus Christ, then lives change and the world becomes both bigger and, at the same time, exceedingly more intimate. History has documented well that when cultures converted to faith in the Risen Christ, they gave their very best, and that included their feasts, their traditions, their song, their hearts and their souls.

Whatever the term Easter signified in earlier days—and no matter what pagan fertility symbols were thought to contribute to the human condition—it all found true meaning when folded into Christianity’s celebration of the Christ’s resurrection.

So the answer is, no, Easter is not pagan. It has a funny name, which may or may not be of pagan origin, but its Christian meaning is centered on the Creator, who

though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2)
From this passage of scripture, we give the last words to the Holy Father, who this evening concluded his homily thus:

The world had changed. This man who had died was now living with a life that was no longer threatened by any death. A new form of life had been inaugurated, a new dimension of creation. The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins. Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation. We celebrate the first day. And in so doing we celebrate God the Creator and his creation. Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again. We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death. We celebrate the first day because we know that the black line drawn across creation does not last for ever. We celebrate it because we know that those words from the end of the creation account have now been definitively fulfilled: “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). Amen.
And in this digital age, below is the Holy Father's blessing at Easter Sunday's Urbi et Orb ("To the City of Rome and the World") message in St. Peter's Square. HAPPY EASTER!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A great silence over the earth

"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”

This, from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, serves as a brief reminder of the cosmic implications of Christ’s death on the Cross—and what follows. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is it really Good Friday versus Earth Day?

Having just returned from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper—and visiting a few churches on the way home to spend time with the Lord in gardens of repose—I learned that the heavily Catholic island nation of the Philippines has moved Earth Day to better focus on heaven. With Good Friday and Earth Day coinciding this year, some Catholic Ecologists are wondering what to do.

As reported by AFP,
President Benigno Aquino ordered all Earth Day events be held on Monday because most Filipinos would prefer to commemorate Good Friday, a national holiday, his chief aide said on Wednesday.
As for me, I’ll focus solely on Good Friday, but I can’t separate Earth Day from my thoughts, because Salvation History is about all of creation. Any reader of this blog knows this. Still, I’d rather devote myself to observing the great sacrifice of the Creator than wonder how we humans can “save” the planet. Because without Him, we can do nothing.

And anyway, Good Friday comes once a year. Every day should be Earth Day, right? Every day, sure, except this Friday, when I’ll be doing my very best (as poor as that is) to to adhere to the day's fasting and abstinence expectations—which in itself is a good way to reduce my ecological footprint—as well as spending time adoring Christ and praising Him, for by His Holy Cross, He has redeemed the world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

B16: In the garden with Our Lord

And thus, the Great Week of Holy Week enters into the Triduum. The fatal disobedience that took place in Eden begins to be set right by Christ's obedience in another garden, in Gethsemane. Below is a report from Vatican Information Services about our Holy Father's Wednesday reflections on being with our Lord these next few daysand forever.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

VATICAN CITY, 20 APR 2011 (VIS) - In this morning's general audience, celebrated in St. Peter's Square, the Pope spoke on the Easter Triduum, "the three holy days in which the Church commemorates the mystery of Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection."

Benedict XVI explained that "Holy Thursday is the day that commemorates the institution of the Eucharist and ministerial priesthood. In the morning, each diocesan community, with their bishop, meets at their cathedral church to celebrate the Chrism Mass . . . Priestly vows are also renewed."

"In the afternoon of Holy Thursday," he continued, "the Easter Triduum truly begins, with the remembrance of the Last Supper at which Jesus instituted the commemoration of his Passion, fulfilling the Jewish paschal ritual . . . Jesus washes the feet of his apostles, inviting them to love one another as He loved them, giving His life for them. Repeating this gesture in the liturgy, we are also called to actively bear witness to our Redeemer's love."

The Holy Father recalled that Holy Thursday "ends with Eucharistic adoration, in memory of the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane . . . Aware of his imminent death on the cross, he felt a great sorrow."

Referring to the somnolence of the apostles who accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Olives, the Pope noted that "it was the insensibility for God that makes us insensitive to evil". With his death(the chalice that he had to drink from)., the Lord "felt all the suffering of humanity." His will was subordinated to the will of the Father, his natural will transformed into a 'yes' to God's will."

Entering into the will of God, he added, "is not slavery but an entering into truth, love, and the good. It is directing our will toward God." The act at Gethsemane is that "Jesus, with his anguish, charged with the drama of humanity, with our suffering and our poverty, transforms it into the will of God and thus opens the gate of heaven."

Later, referring to Good Friday, the Pope said that this day commemorates "the Lord's passion and death. We adore the crucified Christ, participating in his suffering with our penitence and fasting."

"Finally, on the night of Holy Saturday, we celebrate the solemn Easter Vigil at which is announced Christ's resurrection, his definitive victory over death, which challenges us to be new persons in Him."

The Holy Father highlighted that "the standard that guided each of Jesus' decisions during his entire life was his firm desire to love the Father and be faithful to Him . . . On reliving the Holy Triduum", he concluded, "we make ourselves available to welcome God's will into our lives, aware that our true good, the path of our lives, is found in His will. May the Virgin Mother guide us along this path and grant us her divine Son's grace to be able to dedicate our lives, in the love of Jesus, to the service of others."

During his greetings to the groups present at today's audience, the Pope addressed the 3,000 students participating in the International UNIV Congress sponsored by the Opus Dei prelature. "I hope," he said, "that these Roman day will be the occasion for you to rediscover the person of Christ and a strong ecclesial experience, so that you may return home inspired by the desire to witness to the mercy of the heavenly Father. May your lives thus realize what St. Josemaria Escriva described: "Your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: This man reads the life of Jesus Christ."

AG/                                    VIS 20110420 (590)
Published by VIS - Holy See Press Office - Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Just one comment before we continue on into the mysteries of these next days: The place of nature in the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ is there for all to see. This is important, for salvation is a cosmic event. It is an event that will reshape creation, and it is an event in which humanity, working and living within creation, are invited to cooperate with God. And so in Holy Week, we find the imagery and reality so prevalent throughout scripture--gardens, agriculture, water, air, and the tree itself, which makes a return appearance as part of God's unfolding activity in human, natural and salvation history.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I attended my first Seder Supper last night with some Jewish friends—old and new. The wonderful company, food, traditions, and many glasses of wine of this Passover feast were punctuated by one of the most moving, joyful and theologically meaningful songs I’ve heard thus far in my 47 years on Earth. Dayeinu is a song that lists the many gifts given to the Nation of Israel by God that allowed their freedom from slavery in Egypt—gifts that brought them to a new life.

The song is simply, unabashedly and joyously grateful. Its title comes from the words of its refrain: “it would have been enough” or “it would be sufficient.” In other words, had God just punished the Egyptian slave owners, then that would have been enough. Had God only freed the Israelites, then that would have been enough. And on it goes.

This is wonderful theology and anthropology: pure appreciation for divine aid, no matter what the form or the limits that we perceive.

This got me thinking about how grateful we should be for the gift of life, and the ecosystem that maintains it. A version of Dayeinu could be penned with this in mind. Had God's physical laws only created matter and energy, then that would have been sufficient. Had His laws only created Earth, its land and water, then that would have been sufficient. Had He only created the fish of the sea, the animals that roam the lands, the plants with seeds in them, then all this would be sufficient. And yet, He created humanity—male and female He created us. And this, too, should be abundantly sufficient and forever appreciated by His creations, we who He seeks to save again and again and again from the many forms of slavery encountered in the ages and moments of our lives.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday: "The gravitational force of God"

In opening Holy Week, His Holiness Benedict XVI preached at St. Peter’s today, giving a rousing reminder to the faithful and the world that—as he noted in his encyclical Spe Salvi—it is love, not science, that redeems the human person. And it is love that’s at that the core of Holy Week.

In his Palm Sunday homily, the Holy Father used the language of natural sciences to reflect the truths of the Gospel. Here, he uses the scientific jargon of gravity so that we may reflect on our own lives. The full homily is here, thanks to Vatican Radio. A video of Benedict's Palm Sunday is below, but here's a key paragraph within his homily:

The Fathers of the Church maintained that human beings stand at the point of intersection between two gravitational fields. First, there is the force of gravity which pulls us down – towards selfishness, falsehood and evil; the gravity which diminishes us and distances us from the heights of God. On the other hand there is the gravitational force of God’s love: the fact that we are loved by God and respond in love attracts us upwards. Man finds himself betwixt this twofold gravitational force; everything depends on our escaping the gravitational field of evil and becoming free to be attracted completely by the gravitational force of God, which makes us authentic, elevates us and grants us true freedom.
This homiletic style is a B16 trademark. His studies of St. Bonaventure in the late 1950s encouraged Joseph Ratzinger to see revelation as having an “historical character.” This trait of revelation allows the generations and the ages to hear the same, unchanging truths, but with an unfolding lexicon. That is, human history, events and learning are continually baptized by revelation, their meaning taking on elements of, and reflecting, revealed Truth. The Truth does not grow; but the human understanding of it does.

And so, for example, for any Catholic involved in the sciences—like ecologists—the Holy Father’s Palm Sunday homily is an important one. The language of science helps us hear the language of salvation. Fittingly for Palm Sunday, this homily helps us all begin a journey to better understand God’s continuing dialogue with, and love for, the human person.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Be still, and know that I am God

News of how sound pollution hurts sea life came as a new neighbor, a woodpecker, started waking me every morning about 6 a.m., its beak pummeling my rain gutters. It's as if someone's jackhammering my roof. Now, I’m not a morning person, so my love of nature is tested as I fumble to open windows and shoo the bird away—which I’m sure makes good entertainment for my neighbors.

Noise, in the negative sense of the word, disturbs. Scientists have been studying how noise in ecosystems affects God’s creatures. For instance, on New Year’s Eve in Arkansas, a sudden die off of birds brought widespread media attention and spooked residents. The cause was thought to be the shock waves of nearby fireworks.

More recently, a report published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment gives evidence of damage done to marine life by underwater noise. Kieran Mulvaney provides a good overview in his blog at Discover News. Mulvaney writes, 

In the study, led by Michel André of the Technical University of Catalonia in Barcelona, biologists exposed 87 individual cephalopods of four species . . . to short sweeps of relatively low intensity, low frequency sound between 50 and 400 Hertz (Hz). Then they examined the animals' statocysts - fluid-filled, balloon-like structures that help these invertebrates maintain balance and position in the water. André and his colleagues found that, immediately following exposure to low frequency sound, the cephalopods showed hair cell damage within the statocysts. Over time, nerve fibers became swollen and, eventually, large holes appeared.

“If the relatively low intensity, short exposure used in our study can cause such severe acoustic trauma, then the impact of continuous, high intensity noise pollution in the oceans could be considerable,” said André in a press release to announce the findings.
In other words, noise can kill. Physically, yes, and I would add spiritually, too.

All this reminds me of the great, ancient Catholic spiritual tradition of silence. The example of Our Lord alone shows us his desire to go off and pray in silence. His forty days in the dessert, his retreats to silent areas, his praying in Gethsemane, all provide us with example after example of our own need to disconnect from our eWorld and simply, passively listen. To what? To the hush of wind, the far off songs of birds or the salty roar of the surf—to our thoughts, and God's voice within them.

Something to ponder.

In doing so, the following quotes by the saints, compliments of the blog White Lily of the Blessed Trinity, provide good reflections on the Catholic perspective on silence. For more, visit the website, and feel free to share your own in the comments section below.
“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Blessed Mother Teresa

Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.
St. John of the Cross

The tongue is a small member, but it does big things. A religious who does not keep silence will never attain holiness; that is, she will never become a saint. Let her not delude herself - unless it is the Spirit of God who is speaking through her, for then she must not keep silent. But, in order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one's soul and to keep silence; not a gloomy silence but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God. (118)
St. Faustina

What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.  
St John of the Cross, OCD
No man is safe in speaking unless he loves to be silent. No man rules safely unless he is willing to be ruled.
Imitation of Christ
And so as we approach Holy Week, I wish you all the growth and self awareness that comes from spending quiet time with God.

Title from Psalm 46:10.

Friday, April 8, 2011

St. Francis's tomb, 780 years later

Assisi at sunset

The tomb of the patron saint of animals and ecology has been restored and is being reopened for visitors. As reported by ASNA news,

St. Francis, Italy's patron saint, was buried in a rough-hewn stone sarcophagus in 1230 and lay there until the Catholic Church decided to move his body to an elaborate bronze urn, complete with the seal of the Holy See, in 1818.

This was placed in a newly enlarged crypt under the main altar of the Basilica Inferiore in the saint's home town.

The stone of the crypt and the metal of the urn have been scrubbed and burnished in record time since they were closed for the start of the restoration on February 25.

"This work of extraordinary maintenance was carried out through the night too, to keep the time of closure as short as possible," said church press officer Father Enzo Fortunato
Francis of Assisi, who died in 1226, remains one of the most influential Catholics in our faith's history, and the order he began has done immense good since its founding. We're fortunate to have Franciscans in Providence, where they run a parish that serves many of the poor and marginalized.

May God bless the Franciscan Order, and may their work in the Holy Land, and in every land, be equally blessed.

To learn a little more about St. Francis, visit the American Catholic website.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Shocking lighting news?

As noted earlier in these pages, ecologists are once again running head on into Original Sin. This time it’s with the issue of compact fluorescent bulbs, or “CFLs.”

Because the more energy consuming, traditional incandescent light bulbs are being phased outat least for now—technologies like CFLs are being used more and more.

The problem is, while CFLs save tons of energy (and reduce tons of greenhouse gas emissions), their use and improper disposal is releasing tons of mercury into our air and water. And as you know, mercury is not something we want in our air, water or us.

The LA Times reports about it here, with some snippets below:
The nation's accelerating shift from incandescent lighting to a new generation of energy-efficient bulbs is raising an environmental concern: the release of tons of mercury every year.

The most popular new bulb — the compact fluorescent light bulb, or CFL — accounts for a quarter of new bulb sales. Each contains up to 5 milligrams of mercury, a potent neurotoxin that's on the worst-offending list of environmental contaminants.

As a result, U.S. landfills are releasing more than 4 tons of mercury annually into the atmosphere and storm water runoff, according to a study in the Journal of the Air and Waste Management Assn.

A San Francisco hardware store owner is all too familiar with the bulb issue.
"They're promoting them and giving them away, but there's nowhere to drop them off," said Tom Tognetti, co-owner of Fredricksen's Hardware
None of this is surprising to Catholic ecologists. Sin stops us from getting and doing things right. Our technologies have trade offs and our self-interest keeps us from taking on extra tasks, like returning spent CFLs to a properly licensed recycler (if, indeed, there is one). Like batteries (which create their own issues when disposed of in landfills) CFLs are just so easy to toss in the trash. And who’s going to notice?

And so here we have it all: Human sin at war with our best intentions. And the winner is?

Consider this another reminder of why we’re in Lent—of why our trust must always be in the Triune God, and not in our selves or in our technologies, as necessary as they are.

Fiat lux.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Support your local bats and devils

No, this isn’t a misplaced Halloween post. News about two not-well-loved critters—bats and Australia’s Tasmanian devil—has prompted researchers and advocates to help these unpopular members of Earth’s biota.

First, the bats. A study of the economic impact of bats has shown that losses of these only true flying mammals could cost agriculture in North America somewhere between $3.7 and $53 billion a year, with a best-guess around $22.9 billion a year. The loss is due to a spreading fungal disease. The price tag is due to bat’s dietary intake of troublesome insects that harm crops. According to a report in the International Business Times:

"Without bats, crop yields are affected. Pesticide applications go up. Even if our estimates were quartered, they clearly show how bats have enormous potential to influence the economics of agriculture and forestry."

According to the researchers, a single colony of 150 big brown bats in Indiana eat nearly 1.3 million insects a year -- insects that could potentially be damaging to crops.
The LA Times reports that, on another continent, support has been building for a similarly unloved mammal. Australia’s Tasmanian devil has been suffering of late from a disease spreading from devil to devil as they bite each other, which they are prone to do. The disease is a very rare form of a communicable cancer—a ghastly one that deforms the mouth and snout with pustules that debilitate and starve the animal. While the cancer shows no signs of spreading to humans, researchers are learning much about genetic diversity and how such diseases spread and adapt.

Unlike the bats, the devils appear to have no direct economic value, other than the Australian self-identification with independence and strength. Still, it’s heartening to know that, for whatever reasons, the people of Australia have noticed the devil’s disease, and are supporting efforts to help beat this cancer.

If nothing else, these two stories remind us that little in God’s created order is disposable. The existence of a diverse web by biology—known as biodiversity—is not here by chance. Every species and creature has value, even if, like the Tasmanian devils, there may be no economic study to support their existence.

And so we wish the scientists and researchers well in their efforts to save these creatures. They should be in our prayers. Moreover, it would be nice if we in North America rally around our bats like our Aussie friends are doing for their devils.