they will also persecute you. (Jn. 15:20)
The end of Holy Thursday provides a dramatic image: watching my pastor, deacon, and the alter servers extinguish candles and dismantle the sanctuary. Within moments after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the main focus of the church is bare and dark, with the central tabernacle open, empty, and cold. But in a side shrine (normally the home of the Blessed Mother) is the Eucharist, reposed among flowers and bathed by candlelight until midnight.
The world with and without Christ are thus on display: a living shrine and a normally robust sanctuary now made bare by deicide.
I thought of this being with Christ or being without Christ while driving home earlier this week after taking part in a panel discussion on the environment. It was held at the interfaith center of a business university here in Rhode Island. The coordinator knew of my Catholic ecology writings and asked if I could speak about faith, even if I was initially invited to speak only as an environmental regulator.
The interfaith center’s auditorium—sun drenched from a glass wall overlooking flowering trees—was about one-third full. My co-panelists were two professors, a lawyer and renewable energy advocate, and a local business owner who has quite the vocation for running businesses green.
I did my best to discuss issues of ecology, pollution, and overconsumption from a Christian perspective—that is, with an acknowledgement of a broken anthropology and dangerous worldviews that seek one’s own ends rather than the common good. I blended faith and reason, selflessness and science, as well as theology and twenty-three years of experience in government regulation. But the audience, students and professors alike, didn’t seem interested—and if they were, I didn’t pick up on it. There were no questions for me, and no apparent interest (at a business school!) in my suggestion that harsh regulation typically is not the sole answer to mankind’s many problems.
Clearly, I wasn’t persecuted at this eco-discussion. But I couldn’t help but think of Christ’s warning to his followers: It’s not going to be easy to teach my ways. There is a vast population that has no interest in placing Christ within daily affairs—no matter how dire the events of the day.
Ecologists of all stripes know something of cynical, unhearing audiences—people who disregard abundant scientific consensus on matters like climate change, tumbling levels of biodiversity, the effects of mercury, or the dangers of toxins from pesticides and other chemicals in our waters. Such truths are difficult to hear, to internalize, because they require a choice between a comfortable status quo and a new way of life. And so we humans often tacitly choose death—death to truth, death of creation, death to civilizations by over-consumption or man-made changes to planetary climate, or death to our bodies by poison. All because we’re not up for a challenge
Christ’s Gospel challenges us similarly and infinitely more so. His truth offers us a different way of living—one that can soften hearts and thus, not surprisingly, answer many ecological ills in the process, and so much more. But we often turn from this truth, hide from it, or, in myriad ways, crucify it.
As a Catholic ecologist, I find discussions about policy and science to be dead if they don’t include the life of Christ. Such conversations are like tabernacles without the Eucharist reposed within: They appear substantial but they hold no living, tangible, transformative truth.
This Good Friday, then, let Catholic ecologists, and all my Christian brothers and sisters, resolve to always bring the living waters of Christ to all that we do—either quietly or overtly—so that the world can see what happens when we try to kill God.
As Psalm 51, from this morning’s Office, reminds us,
Indeed, you love truth in the heart;And let us remember that this petition can be answered because of today, because of Christ’s Holy Cross, which has redeemed our fallen, dying world. Indeed, in the words of Fr. John Neuhaus: "Here, through the Cross, we have come home, home to the truth about ourselves, home to the truth about what God has done about what we have done. And now we know, or begin to know, why this awful, awe-filled Friday is called good."
in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O Wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.