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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter's truth: "there are no situations which God cannot change"

As usual, my very gifted pastor hit a grand slam in his homily at this year's Easter Vigil. The Holy Spirit was certainly rushing through the parish and most especially in an inspired sermon about Christ’s love—His Way, Truth, and Life—that removes the stones that block all of us at one time or another.

His homily aligned beautifully with points made by the Holy Father earlier in his own:
Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!
And so, I offer this Easter posting that is directed at all who seek to protect the natural world from man’s overreaching, gluttonous grasp. The victories we seek (and that we must ensure) will come only through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ—the Resurrected One who lives anew always because He is the source of Life.  

As we embark in the Easter Season during the Year of Faith—a time when the harm done to our natural environment is accelerating—let us put our faith in Christ, His Church, His grace, and, then, each other.

As Pope Francis preached : 
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday and the reality of regret

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9)

I missed a much-anticipated opportunity today. This made me think of the opportunities to protect the created order that you and I could miss at this critical time in human history.

His Eminence Sean Cardinal O’Malley had invited members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, of which I am invested, to attend Good Friday services at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston. I was ready to go but family obligations gave me a late start and traffic congestion added another forty minutes to the journey. In hindsight, I should have anticipated both.

I turned back about twenty minutes after I should have arrived because I still had another twenty or thirty or however many more minutes left. And one does not arrive that late to such liturgies.

I could have planned better. But I didn’t and a wonderful opportunity was missed.

Regret is fitting for Good Friday. And so I thanked God at my own parish services tonight for the opportunity to experience a little uncorrectable, humiliating remorse. In doing so, it helped me spiritually connect with the Passion of Our Lord, who suffered infinite loss, shame, and agony so that payment of an eternal dept could be made—so that the cosmos could balance its juridical scales and allow us safe passage to freedom from sin and death.

In comparison, my despair was infinitesimal. But my regret made me consider what could be terrible regret if those of us alive today do not plan better, live simpler, love more profoundly, and heed the warnings of the modern prophets—those who speak of spiritual hunger and those who speak of accelerating earthly devastation.

There is a (not as famous as it should be) painting of Good Friday that peers into the events of Christ’s Passion from an unusual but appropriate angle. “The Return from Calvary” by Herbert Schmaltz (1856-1935) depicts a devastated Mary supported by her son’s disciples as they walk home. Some look back over Jerusalem towards Calvary as the sun sets behind it. Their postures and expressions indicate grim, confused anguish. They are stunned at the day’s sequence of events. They seem to be wondering what they could have done differently to have had the sun set on different circumstances.

This Good Friday—and the daylight of Holy Saturday—should be a time to ponder the reality of regret. For Catholic ecologists, it should be especially a time to think well of the losses that are at this moment in our power to prevent.

Here, of course, my analogy ends: The crucifixion of Christ comes with theological realities related to salvation. There is nothing that the disciples could have done to prevent the cup of sacrifice being given to Christ by His Father in Heaven.

But in our own lives, free will gives us choices. It allows us to steer our paths to one end or another—or at least try. This is especially so for our work in environmental protection. More accurately, this is especially true in how we live our lives and how close we stay to the grace that poured forth from that Cross. In choosing life and God’s grace (and only in doing so), we can end our days with far less regret than we might see without choosing wisely.

Christ’s death brought salvation. Death and extinction within nature’s tapestry of life, however, will bring us—and every generation after us—only judgment and suffering.

Let us, then, lift high the Cross and ponder its message. Let us pray in earnest so that, by the grace of God, we can act with renewed fervor for the protection of creation—the natural order that God has given to us to use wisely and nurture.

Let our personal and cultural sins not have the last word in how we plan our days, weeks, and the years ahead.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday and the "pro-creation" eucharistic Church

A Washington Post guest commentary by Christiana Z. Peppard, Ph.D lauds the laudable eco-comments by Pope Francis. In doing so, she seems to miss the point about the Eucharist—the core of the Catholic faith—and what it means for you and me.

Given that I write this on Holy Thursday—and I’ve just come from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (and a few churches on the way home to stop in and pray a bit)—I’d like to respond to Dr. Peppard in hopes that  she is not making the mistake that many others seem to be making in these early days of the pontificate of Pope Francis.

Dr. Peppard, an Assistant Professor of Theology, Science and Ethics at Fordham University,  applauds Pope Francis for his early and direct mentioning of caring for the poor and environmental protection. But Pope Francis isn’t the first pope to make such statements. His two predecessors have quite the eco-record and have made at least a handful of statements about confronting poverty. But there are more than words at play here. Like many others, Dr. Peppard’s excitement is heightened by the pontiff’s public actions, which are profoundly moving.

She writes: 
Certainly, the Bible is rife with injunctions to care for the poor, and Catholic social teaching insists on the theological and ethical imperative known as the “preferential option for the poor.” But has any pope ever talked the talk while walking the walk? Enter Francis, who has decided to not live in the papal apartment (he will live in the Vatican guesthouse), who has eschewed highly filigreed garments, and who has constantly spoken of humility and poverty. Might this papacy be less about pontifical pomp and theological rhetoric than about attention to concrete circumstance? That would be theology as praxis: where the word of God hits the ground, and keeps walking.
 She continues, 
[I]t’s not enormously surprising that at his first press conference, Pope Francis mused, “These days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?”
No, we don’t—neither as an economically-driven global society, nor as a Catholic institution. Sure, Vatican City pledged to become the first carbon-neutral country; but first-world folks in pews, especially in the United States, are unused to heeding this message.
Yet Francis inherits a legacy of Catholic social teaching that links economic globalization, environmental degradation, and poverty. Even the recondite Benedict XVI wrote about environmental degradation and its deleterious impacts on the lives of the poor. Along with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, he considered access to clean air and fresh water as “right-to-life issues.” Moreover, he insisted that commodification of such essential “goods of creation” is unjust. Here’s the upshot: In the 21st century, papal pro-creation involves the preferential option for the poor and a critique of excessive pursuit of profit. There is a strong set of Catholic teaching in which the rhetoric of pro-creation is not reducible to the prohibition of prophylaxis.
As it turns out, these social and economic teachings have existed since the 1960s, though they are often minimized or referred to as the church’s best-kept secrets—especially in the United States. Think about it: When was the last time you heard a Catholic invoke the “right to life”—and proceed to expound on the importance of clean, fresh water? (Well, never.)
Never? Not at all? Not by, oh, Pope Benedict, as in the quote from Caritas in Veritate that tops this blog, or in other statements, like this one, this one, or this one?  Not by the United States bishops, who list the environment as a human life issue? Not by a host of dioceses, parishes, and everyday practicing Catholics? Not by saints from centuries past?

Moreover, is it accurate to say that “first-world folks in pews, especially in the United States, are unused to heeding this message” [of environmental protection]? We are?

In fairness, Dr. Peppard notes that the Church possesses “a legacy of Catholic social teaching that links economic globalization, environmental degradation, and poverty.” I would emphasize this. The Church has been pro-creation throughout its history—from fighting heresies like Marcionism (which rejected Hebrew Scriptures and thus the revelation of God’s creation as being “very good”) and Gnosticism (which considered the created world as evil), as well as their modern forms.

Paramount in this discussion is, of course, the Eucharist. It is this “sacrament most holy” that, through the actions of a priest, transubstantiate bread and wine—and all the earth, water, and sunlight that allows wheat and grapes to become bread and wine—into the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior. Indeed, the entire liturgy of the Mass (especially the Mass of the Lord’s Supper) is rooted in the mingling of natural events, material reality, and supernatural will. It is for this reason—this sacramental nature of the Church—that Catholics throughout the centuries have taken seriously the dignity of the created order.

It is not until recently—at least in ecclesial terms—that man’s activity has become a global threat to the created order. As chronicled in this blog and elsewhere, the Church has responded accordingly. And as Pope Francis shows us, the Church will continue to do so in ways that we can only imagine.

But for voices like Dr. Peppard (and she is most certainly not alone), Francis seems like a rupture in Church history. She even wonders if this new pope will be “revolutionary.”

Let’s be clear: Francis is not a revolutionary. He is not ushering in a new Church. Rather, he’s living eternal Church teachings in his own vibrant, loving way—one that makes for much more accessible visuals in this age of visual news. In this regard, he far outdoes Benedict XVI and even gives a youthful Bl. John Paul II a run for his money.

I would describe the differences between Pope Francis and the pope emeritus this way: Pope Benedict very often stressed the Liturgy of the Altar and the sacramental grace of God as a means to “love in the present,” as he wrote in an early doctoral work. Pope Francis presupposes sacramental grace to stress and encourage the vital liturgies of charity performed by both priests and laity in the everyday world. Certainly, neither Pope Francis nor Benedict XVI would deny the existence of and the need for both sacramental grace and the human response to it.

Indeed, the Sacrifices at the Altar are meant for the people, who in turn go in to the world to transform the world, and thus protect it. From the Last Supper onward, Christians have known that it is God’s grace that makes possible the work of the Church. But in modern times, many people (even some Catholics) assume that we can go into the world to transform it without this grace—that one does not need “theological rhetoric” to right wrongs, feed the poor, and clean up Superfund sites.

For well-meaning voices like Dr. Peppard, I would caution that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are, as the latter noted when they met at Castle Gandolfo, brothers. They may emphasize different elements of what it means to be Catholic, but they do not dismiss the fullness of Catholic sacramental theology.

These brothers both know that without the Eucharist, there is no hope of overcoming the ills of the age.

In other words, they both know that we need a proper understanding of theological language and logic—of study and exhortations—if we are to be authentically a people in proper relation to the altar. Otherwise, we will fail to adequately (if at all) confront the evils of the age—like poverty, ecosystem destruction, cultural greed, loneliness, despair, and all forms of violence against human dignity, most especially abortion.

I understand why Pope Francis excites so many people (like me). But I also understand that at his heart, he, like his predecessors, is a priest of Jesus Christ—men who we pray for and thank this Holy Thursday. For without them, the world would have no access to the Sacrament of Charity—our Lord and God—Who alone takes away the sins of the world.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pope Francis on patience

The Holy Father’s homily on Monday in the small chapel of the Casa Santa Marta (which, it seems, will be his home for some time rather than the papal apartments) struck me because of its theme—one that needs repeating in the world of environmental protection, especially during these most important days of Holy Week.

Here’s what Vatican Radio reported about the words of Pope Francis:
[The pope] said “The emblem of the infinite patience that God has for man is reflected in the infinite patience that Jesus has for Judas.”
Pope Francis was inspired by the scene of today's Gospel, in which Judas criticizes Mary, sister of Lazarus, for anointing Jesus' feet with three hundred grams of precious perfume: it would be better - says Judas – to sell it and give the proceeds to the poor. John noted in the Gospel that Judas was not interested in the poor, but in stealing the money.
Yet, Pope Francis said, "Jesus did not say: 'You are a thief.’” Instead “he was patient with Judas,” trying to draw him closer through patience, his love. During Holy Week, we would do well to think of the patience of God, the patience that God has with each one of us, with our weaknesses, our sins.
"The patience of God is a mystery!" Pope Francis said. "How much patience he has with us! We do so many things, but He is patient.”
The Holy Father likened him to the father in the Gospel, who "saw his son from afar, the son who had left him with all of his inheritance." And why, the Pope asked, did he see him from afar? "Because every day he went out to see if his child would return." This, Pope Francis affirmed, "is God's patience, this is the patience of Jesus." 
He concluded: "Let us think of our personal relationship, in this week: How patient has Jesus been with me in my life? Just this. And then the words will rise from our hearts: 'Thank you, Lord! Thank you for your patience."
These words haunt me because in the world of ecological protection there is often a great deal of impatience, personal attacks, and character assassination. Such vice has no place among disciples of Christ who seek to care for creation. Indeed, caring for creation cannot occur unless we first care for our brothers and sisters—even when they disagree with us.

My recent piece about energy in Catholic World Report resulted in discouraging comments by those who are convinced that the science of climate change is a scam—or worse. But then, I have known colleagues to say unkind words about the “crazies” that question the science of climate change.

This back and forth is unhelpful. And it is very often unchristian.

And so in Holy Week, we ecologists who proclaim Christ Crucified and Risen have this task: to double our efforts to love those that disagree with us—those who refuse to accept what science is showing us about man’s impacts on the created order. Just as Christ has patience with us, the Holy Father reminds us, so we must have patience with others. This is of course not easy (which is why we need God's grace). 

Still, as our Lord could forgive those who crucified Him, we must attempt to forgive those who attack us, whether personally or professionally. In fact, as Christians, we are called to love them. We are called to offer them again and again a path for dialogue. Patience does not mean accepting and enabling ignorance, fear, or unkind (and unprofessional) words. It means bearing them in love and with the hope of conversion.

Let us then heed the reminder of Pope Francis about the great mercy, love, and patience that God has for us, and let us seek to mirror this love and patience in our encounters with others.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Connecting through nature's beauty, goodness, and truth

Photo: Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)

When speaking today to representatives of other faiths and Christian confessions, Pope Francis included those who do not belong to “any religious tradition.”

When addressing this latter group, his words sought some connection—some common element. In doing so, he demonstrated the essence of New Evangelization.

Here are his words: 
We know how much violence has been provoked in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we feel the need to witness in our societies the original openness to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart. In this we feel the closeness also of those men and women who, while not belonging to any religious tradition, feel, however the need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God, and who are our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.
I’ve written often about ecology as a tool for New Evangelization (here, here, and here) because New Evangelization seeks in part to announce the Gospel through existing and trusted channels. And since we all share ecosystems that make up life on Earth, it makes sense that ecology would provide such a point of contact.

Note how the Holy Father acknowledges that men and women with no religious affiliation are nonetheless searchers of truth, goodness, and beauty—those “transcendentals” that, like ecology (which he connects with all this), all humans share and need. In doing so, the pontiff is doing much the same as his predecessor.

In beginning the conversation with truth, goodness, and beauty, one opens a dialogue that can then reverse the order of those transcendent realities. In calling attention to shared understandings of the beauty and goodness of creation, one can then speak of the truths of creation—of natural laws. From there, one might acknowledge that absolute truths exist. One may then be able to speak of a Truth. From there, one might suggest that this Truth is a Person, because this Truth is, ultimately, sacrificial love. And love is never impersonal.

Catholic intellectual and spiritual tradition holds that we can know something of the Creator through studying creation. In speaking to those who do not embrace the Christian creed, the Holy Father first spoke about the very essences of human dignity and the very nature of nature. By simply beginning this conversation, he laid a path for unbelievers to follow, should they wish.

If they do ... well, we’ll see where the conversation goes.

But all this first requires a conversation. And that requires agreement. And who cannot agree that the created world is beautiful, good, and true?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pope Francis: Protecting nature "demands goodness"

Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives!  Pope Francis in his homily at his Mass of Inauguration. The Feast of St. Joseph 2013.

A significant tension in the environmental regulatory community is which emphasis to take in going about our business—especially in a poor economy.

Should we first assist our clients as they navigate our rules, and so become helpers of people and businesses? Or should we first and primarily protect the environment?

I’ve always thought that this tension is an artificial one. Many regulators can—and do—do both. It simply requires one to adhere to truth and law while simultaneously loving one’s neighbor, even if we can't always grant everyone's wishes. 

In helping businesses and citizens of good will, we help our brothers and sisters by helping families and society. In protecting nature, we again help people—born and unborn—as we respect and protect the precious ecosystems that God created good and orderly in the beginning.

And so I was delighted that in his homily at his Mass of Inauguration on this Feast of St. Joseph—the protector of the Universal Church—Pope Francis reflected on what it means for Catholics to be a “protector” and to be “tender.”

In using St. Joseph as his model, the pontiff offered wisdom and balance for my colleagues and me—and anyone who cares about the natural environment. In other words, as did Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, this gentle pastor spoke clearly about what it means to be a Catholic ecologist.

Let us celebrate and give thanks to Almighty God for this man, this pastor and Successor of St. Peter—this Bishop of Rome—as we reflect on these words in his homily: 
The vocation of being a “protector”, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Whenever human beings fail to live up to this responsibility, whenever we fail to care for creation and for our brothers and sisters, the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are “Herods” who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even tenderness!
Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!
Photo: Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)
We environmental protectors may easily overemphasize our roles as protectors and, in doing so, forget that they are working with—and for—people. But being a regulator requires balance—balance for the good of all and the good of the person before you.

To strike this balance, we rely on God’s grace.

Pope Francis preached this, too, in his final words of this important homily: 
Today too, amid so much darkness, we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others. To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds; it is to bring the warmth of hope! For believers, for us Christians, like Abraham, like Saint Joseph, the hope that we bring is set against the horizon of God, which has opened up before us in Christ. It is a hope built on the rock which is God. 
To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us! 
I implore the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Francis, that the Holy Spirit may accompany my ministry, and I ask all of you to pray for me!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The name that "loves and guards creation."

It's official.

Pope Francis today spoke to reporters about why he choose his papal name . Here's a partial transcript of the answer.
[During the vote] "... I thought of Francis of Assisi. I thought of wars while the vote counting continued, until the end of all the votes ... And Francis, the man of peace. That was how the name came into my heart. Francis of Assisi. And for me, the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and guards creation. At this time that we have a relationship with creation that is not very good, right?"

With this eco-emphasis so early in his pontificate, be sure to stay tuned for more on ecology from Pope Francisthe man of poverty, peace, and protecting creation.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Forward with the Cross and Ignatian Spirituality

Waiting for the new pope in St. Peter's Square. 
All photos from Flicker/Catholic Church (England and Wales)

On the day after his election, the pope retrieved his luggage at the hostel that he had checked into as a cardinal. This gave us an image of an ordinary man in pontifical garb going about ordinary tasks.

His morning began in prayer at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, which holds an iconic statue of the Blessed Mother, one known for protecting Rome in the past. This provided another image—the pleadings of the Bishop of Rome to the Mother of God for Christ's divine assistance.

This mingling of the worldly (the pope chatting with hostel staff) and the prayerful (the pope on his knees) is, I think, a pairing of events that tells us much about this man and what he will bring to the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church. In particular, this duet of the spiritual and the ordinary is the formula provided to us in the gospel. It is the necessary pairing of the liturgies of worship and the liturgies of the baptized living in the everyday world.

As taught in particular by Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, a proper appreciation of both the invisible and visible is precisely what’s needed to adequately engage our modern ills, including the crises of ecology.

We know that Pope Francis spent much of his life as a priest in the world. He eschewed diocesan mansions and rode mass transit. He cooked his own meals and personally served the poor in his care.

But his heart is not of the world. As a Jesuit he takes seriously the spirituality of the founder of the Society of Jesus. This is important for Catholic ecologists to ponder.

A priest friend has spoken often over the years about the Ignatian spiritual exercises. While I was drawn to them, being the sinner that I am I never followed through. But many people do and these Jesuit gifts to Catholic spirituality deserve reflection.

From (from Loyola Press) comes this brief explanation: 
The Ignatian approach to good choices rests on several presuppositions. First it assumes that the alternatives being considered are all positive, constructive, and morally correct. The person making the decision is someone who is spiritually maturing and who wants to make the choice that will lead to a deeper relationship with God.
The Ignatian approach to good choices emphasizes freedom. Making a free decision means that we set aside our own preferences and preconceptions and strive to be free of social pressures and psychological strains. We carefully examine our motives and desires. This isn’t easy. Much of the prayer and reflection in Ignatian decision making has to do with achieving the detachment necessary to choose freely.
The Ignatian approach requires work. It asks that we make every reasonable effort to find God’s will. This involves a sincere commitment to pray and to achieve self-knowledge. We need to gather all the relevant information about our alternatives and carefully weigh all the circumstances and likely outcomes. Decision making in the Ignatian mode involves both the heart and the mind. 
St. Ignatius of Loyola
In particular, we learn this about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises: 
The Spiritual Exercises grew out of Ignatius Loyola’s personal experience as a man seeking to grow in union with God and to discern God’s will. He kept a journal as he gained spiritual insight and deepened his spiritual experience. He added to these notes as he directed other people and discovered what “worked.” Eventually Ignatius gathered these prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully designed framework of a retreat, which he called “spiritual exercises.”
Ignatius wrote that the Exercises: “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”
Visit the website for more—much more. For now let us wonder what it means to have a pontiff reared in this particular spiritual environment.

Of course, none of this is to say that Pope Francis’s predecessors were not spiritual—hardly! I mean only to consider one aspect about our new pontiff. And indeed, in learning more about what Ignatius of Loyola has given us, I am not surprised how all this resonates with Benedict XVI’s call for a change in our “interior attitudes.”

For the purpose of this blog, one reason that Benedict XVI so often challenged our inner selves (and thus our desires) was for the protection of local and global ecosystems—to say nothing of cultures, nations, and families.

And certainly, all ecologists—whether secular, atheistic, Catholic, or what have you—offer the same warning. They challenge us to seek this Ignatian “conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.”

It would seem that what the Holy Spirit has offered the Church is a pontiff with particular charisms that can stand atop the glorious philosophical, theological, and spiritual foundations of his predecessors. Pope Francis can take their thoughts, their direction, their teachings, and their spirituality and in a special and important way prompt us all to achieve “the detachment necessary to choose freely.”

In doing so—with our hearts finding rest in God and not in worldly gluttony—we can (at the very least) consume less of the planet's resources.

But none of this will be easy and the triumph is a ways off.

In his book Faith and the Future (Ignatius Press)—written between 1969 and 1970—Joseph Ratzinger wrote this: 
It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek [. . .] The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret. 
Here, Ratzinger echoes another Jesuit, the grand theologian Karl Rahner, who famously noted that “[t]he Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.” And indeed, there are many theologians who have spoken of such practical spirituality and the future of the Church. It was this ecclesial current that surged in the pontificates of Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who themselves were able to build on the substantial social teachings that came before them.

Now, by the grace of God, comes Pope Francis to teach his universal flock about a meekness rooted in a spiritual growth that must become incarnate in our very troubled, polluted world.

As Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have taught over and over again, the path that will heal the social, spiritual, personal, and global effects of sin is the way of the Cross—and this is exactly what we hear—quite emphatically—in the first homily of Pope Francis
This Gospel [from Matthew 16] continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord. 
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage—the courage—to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. 
And so we go forward. We do so shepherded by a pontiff elected in a Lenten conclave, a Bishop of Rome to be inaugurated at a Mass on Tuesday, March 19th—the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron of the universal church who was himself a humble man, one who toiled and prayed and believed the word of God, and thus loved and protected the Word of God made flesh.

For us today, we—the Body of Christ—find ourselves in a special time within the ongoing journey of the Church. And certainly, these days, months, and years will bring special demands on the faithful. They will bring many crosses and many opportunities to share and live the gospel.

But in this going forward, we must not fear.

We can find much comfort in the continuity of teachings and practice—of worldly engagement and deep spiritual rigor—offered to us by God and made known uniquely through the gifts of the current Servant of the Servants of God and those that came before him.

May God bless and protect Pope Francis.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis and the winds of the Spirit

St. Peter's Square before the arrival of Pope Francis.  Photo: Flicker/ BostonCatholic

And so yesterday was a day of white smoke. The Church now continues into the future with Pope Francis at the helm and the Holy Spirit providing the forward momentum.

This is one of those glorious times for all Catholics to celebrate and pray and again fall in love with the Bride of Christ. It is a time to step away from our particular missions, vocations, and ideologies and remember that we are in communion with each other.

While the Body of Christ has many parts, we are one in Him.

And so for Catholic ecologists, we join our brothers and sisters in Christ no matter what their views of the environmental problems of the day, knowing with certainty that Pope Francis will continue the magisterial engagement of ecology. And for this, we give thanks to God.

Here, then, is a wrap of the day from the vantage of this Catholic ecologist (who is foremost delighted to be part of the past twelve hours of wild, wonderful happenings): 
  • The mainstream media and the Catholic media shared confusion today about what this election means for the Church and the world. This is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work.
  • There remains some discussion about which St. Francis is the namesake for the new Pope: St. Francis of Assisi (the late twelfth-century, early-thirteenth-century simple healer and lover of the poor and of nature); St. Francis Xavier (the sixteenth-century Jesuit evangelizer); or Francis de Sales (the late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century preacher and pastor)? No matter which one (or which combination), the name Francis brings an array of saintly attributes that Pope Francis will need in the twenty-first century. 
  • Those of us who encourage the Catholic engagement of ecology have been and will be searching for past statements on ecology by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. But it appears that what many are saying is true: for this cardinal-now-pope, actions speak louder than words—a sentiment that St. Francis of Assisi was known to have lived. Which brings us to this point ... 
  • By all reports, our new pontiff lives simply. He consumes little and took mass transit whenever he could—even in official capacities. This simplicity speaks volumes about how the rest of us should live: sustainably. 
  • That said, our friend Bill Jacobs again has done a wonderful service in finding a lovely eco-quote by Cardinal Bergoglio: "We have to assume the challenge of contributing to a new ecological wisdom to understand man's place in the world and respect the very man who is part of the world."
Those words certainly and strongly echo the notion of "human ecology" embraced by Bl. John Paul II and Benedict XVI (as well as this blog's master quote up top from B16).

I join you in looking forward to knowing Pope Francis better and to chronicling how he speaks of human and natural ecology. But I already love him. And so we join together in praying for Pope Francis and thanking God for a shepherd with a few surprises for us all.

As they say in Rome, Viva il Papa

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam: Francis

Is there anything more that needs to be said?

Well, of course.

Stay tuned for much more ...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A papabile cardinal on ecology

Angelo Cardinal Scola/Wiki Images
With much of the world focused on the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, we wait for white smoke, the tolling of St. Peter’s bells, and news on the second pontiff elected in the twenty-first century. Within this moment, Catholic ecologists are wondering what the next pope will do and say about life on earth.

Certainly, the soon-to-be-elected pontiff will continue his predecessors’ call for a proper understanding of natural and human ecology and for man’s use of energy and all resources. Such matters are too firmly rooted in magisterial teachings and the human condition to be ignored.

But what have cardinals been saying thus far? 

One place to find out is the Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center Facebook page. Bill Jacobs of the center has been doing a yeoman’s job posting eco-statements from some of the cardinals. For now, I’d like to focus on one of the cardinals—one who is thought of by many, including me, as rather papabile. 

I’ve been suggesting for the past few weeks that Angelo Cardinal Scola will be the next Bishop of Rome, but then, my level of knowledge in such areas is hardly legendary. But the Catholic World Report has a nice piece with background on why others are thinking about Cardinal Scola, too. I became introduced to this intellect in a Communio article about Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. His appreciation of the encyclical struck me when I first read it and it lingers with me as I type these words.

And so I've been wondering if Cardinal Scola has said much about protecting the natural environment. It turns out that he has—powerfully so. Here is an entry from the blog for Cardinal Scola. This is from a September 2010 document titled “Protecting nature or saving creation? Ecological conflicts and religious passions”

3. Man and the Earth: An initial suggestion as to what our position in the surrounding environment is comes from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople: “It is a fact that the term ‘environment’ presupposes someone encompassed by it. The two realities involved include, on the one hand, human beings as the ones encompassed, and, on the other hand, the natural creation as the one that encompasses… we must clearly retain this distinction between nature as constituting the environment and humanity as encompassed by it”. Besides providing an essential initial description of the relationship between man and the environment, Bartholomew’s remarks illustrate how this relationship belongs to the shared experience of life. Man experiences a living exchange with the created world and at the same time cannot avoid wondering about the meaning of being immersed in nature: where is that experience grounded?

In the Bible the environment in which man is created is represented by the figure of a garden (the Greek parádeisos), a place of beauty in which man’s constituent relations – with self, with God and all other living beings – are harmonious. Moreover, the “environment” itself has been created for man, who is called on to cultivated and care for it (Gen 2:15). He is also given the task of naming the living creatures (Gen 2:19).

Starting from theological thinking about creation, we realise how God’s creative action is manifested not only in making the world exist, but also in making human beings free and therefore responsible for the whole of creation. The narrative of the Fall of man and woman is meant to signify that from the first instant of creation, man’s freedom is at stake. We cannot think of man separately from his freedom. And the Earth exists for man so much that the Church identifies the root of the environmental issue in original sin. John Paul II described the issue in exquisitely anthropological terms: “In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which un fortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and, in a certain sense, create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the Earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though the Earth did not have its own requisites and a prior God given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of the creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him”. This is why, as the Revelation still teaches us, the man-environment relation must be seen from the point of view of Redemption.

Christ’s resurrection ushers in a new stage in which the relationship between man and creation is set under the sign of birth or “labour”, which is painful but positive because intended for the good in life. And this is above all anthropological labour, which affects however, as St Paul points out, the whole of creation: “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labour pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved” (Rom 8: 19-24). In this way anthropological labour and cosmological labour are interlocked in the ineluctable eschatological perspective. Thus in the second coming – already initiated on the path of the human family – what is already complete in Christ will be completed in us and in the world through the resurrection of our mortal body in our true body, in the new heavens and the new Earth. According to the Christian point of view, in this light we can look at the first creation and the new creation not as two separate realities which succeed each other mechanically, but as two moments which reciprocally embrace each other. The second assumes the first and gives its full meaning. The first in itself would inevitably remain incomplete and not adequately intelligible. Moreover, the historic-salvific path develops according to a plan conceived “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), which will be realised in “the fullness of times” (Eph 1:10).

With the new creation, Christ is revealed as the Head of creation itself: the foundation of Christ’s caring for all men until his death and his resurrection for us lies in the creation of all men in Christ.

With thus grasp the literal meaning of creation in Christianity as the primordial relationship between God and the human person in the world: Why did God create man and the world when he has no need of them? This question can be couched in the terms of modernity as: Why is there being rather than nothingness?

Creation is the gift that God makes of Himself. Through it, he freely brings into being and maintains creatures in life, who, although radically distinct from Him, bear His indelible mark. 
Read the full article with notations here.

These are powerful words from a brilliant man. Needless to say that if two-thirds of the cardinals write Cardinal Scola’s name on their ballot, we’ll have a pontiff that will fully appreciate the Church’s voice in matters of natural ecology.

Certainly, as we read from the posts at the St. Kateri Center, there are many cardinals that have spoken out boldly on ecology. So we will cheer at their election, too. Either way, may the cardinals be open to the promptings of the Spirit as He gusts forth to renew the face of the Earth!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pontifical workshop in May, 2014: "Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature"

.As Catholics and the world wait for news on the Successor of Peter, the Church looks to the future in other ways, too. For Catholic ecologists, that means May, 2014 when the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences will hold a major joint workshop on sustainability.

The event, Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, will be held on May 2nd through the 6th. Event coordinators are V. Ramanathan, Partha S. Dasgupta, Roland Minnerath.

Here's the opening of the event summary:
Are Humanity's dealings with Nature sustainable? What is the status of the Human Person in a world where science predominates? How should we perceive Nature and what is a good relationship between Humanity and Nature? Should one expect the global economic growth that has been experienced over the past six decades to continue for the foreseeable future? Should we be confident that knowledge and skills will increase in such ways as to lessen Humanity's reliance on Nature despite our increasing economic activity and growing numbers? Is the growing gap between the world's rich and world's poor in their reliance on natural resources a consequence of those growths? 
Contemporary discussions on the questions are now several decades old. If they have remained alive and are frequently shrill, it is because two opposing empirical perspectives shape them. On the one hand, if we look at specific examples of what one may call natural capital, there is convincing evidence that at the rates at which we currently exploit them, they are very likely to change character dramatically with little advance notice. The melting of glaciers and sea-ice are recent symptoms. On the other hand, if we study trends in food consumption, life expectancy, and recorded incomes in regions that are currently rich and in those that are on the way to becoming rich, resource scarcities wouldn't appear to have bitten so far.
The event’s goal is later stated:
Our idea is not to catalogue environmental problems. We propose instead to view Humanity's interchanges with Nature through a triplet of fundamental, but inter related Human needs – Food, Health, and Energy – and ask our respective Academies to work together to invite experts from the natural and the social sciences to speak of the various pathways that both serve those needs and reveal constraints on Nature's ability to meet them.
Once again, Church leaders at the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and their sister Academy of Social Sciences are demonstrating what New Evangelization looks like—engaging culture where it struggles most. Of course, all of us can and should do likewise within our national, diocesan, and local churches.

Stay tuned to these pages for more on this joint workshop as details emerge.

But for now, may God bless the organizers of this most excellent foray into the great questions of our day—questions of life, sustainability, and human dignity.