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Sunday, November 24, 2013

12th-century Cistercian: Christ the King was needed at COP19

Photo: Flicker/CGIAR Climate
As Catholic’s celebrate the end of their liturgical year this Sunday with the Solemnity of Christ the King, the global environmental community is assessing what happened after a two-week gathering of diplomats in Warsaw who had met to hammer out needed climate-change agreements.

Known informally as “COP19,” the 19th session of the “Conference of the Parties” to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded with mixed, but mostly poor, reviews.

A poster to Twitter this morning said simply, "Leaving #Warsaw with feeling that #COP19 was a waste of energy." In their COP19 statement, the Sierra Club sums up this sentiment. In part, the global eco-organization notes 
Japan and Australia have backed out of their commitments, while other nations sidetracked the conference rehashing old differences. Now, [the planned] 2015 negotiations that should offer hope could instead be bogged down by a weakened process and delays.
Whether it's Haiyan, Sandy, Midwest droughts, or Colorado floods, the threat of climate disruption has become a dangerous new reality. We still have time to act to curb this crisis, but the window is closing quickly -- and we can't afford any more missed opportunities."
Some saw progress in last-minute agreements on future plans (I guess this means we have lots of time for future plans), but those agreements seemed rushed, like the kind people make when the world is watching. The minutiae of the event’s diplomatic layers and eco-speak—of previous gatherings and agreements—were discussed with great difficulty because they generally centered on economics. And those discussions did not go well.

As chronicled in Voice of America, stalling substantial progress were these rather basic questions: who would pay, and how much would they pay, to reduce carbon emissions and assist nations hardest hit by a global changing climate? 

Here the human family is like any family: things can get ugly when the topic of money comes up. This is why over its two-week run, the COP19 gathering saw dramatic walkouts, tense language, and inevitable YouTube satires. Protesters routinely expressed outrage at the slow pace and the difficulty of the talks, as well as the presence of fossil fuel representatives, like the coal industry. Others demanded “system change.”

Demonstrators at COP19. Photo: Flicker/350 .org
But what systems need changing?

This question takes us to the Solemnity of Christ the King, the closing feast of the Catholic year. It is a celebration that reminds us of the lordship of Truth and sacrificial Love over the cosmos—which includes you, me, and whatever governing and economic systems we devise. This feast calls attention especially to the need for humanity to allow Christ into our hearts—to transform selfish dispositions into loving, sacrificial, and virtuous ones.

It should come as no surprise that when nation’s converse about global issues—especially who will pay for them—the brokenness that weighs down the human heart becomes rather apparent. Nations are, after all, large groups of imperfect individuals. Thus it should also come as no surprise that what heals individual brokenness can heal global gatherings of climate-change diplomats.

In the most recent edition of Cistercian Studies Quarterly, a superb essay by Wolfgang Buchmüller introduces us to the twelfth-century Cistercian monk Guerric of Igny. For the Catholic ecologist, the subtitle of essay is appropriate for pondering the failures of COP19: “Christ as the Form of Life.”

Buchmüller writes that Guerric “took up the opinion that, through the act of faith and the uniting to Christ of the very person of the Christian, Christ in fact can become visible in the Christian.”

This Christ becoming visible is, for the purposes herein, what transforms the world from a bickering collection of nations and states to a global community that can work for the common, global good. The problem is that accepting Christ’s offer of transforming grace—of communion—is highly personal and difficult.
Abbaye Notre Dame d'Igny as seen today. 
Photo used with permission: Flicker/pottieremmanuel

Buchmüller tells us that Guerric called attention to this by referring to his own struggles. Buchmüller quotes Guerric saying that
[f]or my part, I acknowledge very often that I know the [virtue of piety] but have not developed a taste for it. Justly then do I experience shame and fear at wearing the habit of the [Cistercian] Order, for almost no proof of virtue accompanies it. How could I appropriate the name and honor of a monk if I do not possess its merits and its virtue? … Pretentious holiness is doubly evil, and the wolf that is caught in lamb’s hide will be subject to all the more severe judgment.
Guerric will use this self-analysis much like St. Augustine. They both throw themselves before Christ and ask for His mercy, His grace, and His love. In doing so they seek the transformation that Truth brings, much like an addict must first admit to being addicted before they can allow something stronger than their weakness to heal them.

Buchmüller writes at the conclusion of his essay that
[t]he susceptibility of the human spirit to temptation because of its own conceit and poisonous pride as well as its persistence in a disordered sensuality is viewed as the predominant block to spiritual growth. For Guerric, who can let fly sharp words for the vices of the spirit that, as it were, kill others with the tongue, as well as for the “dry thorn bush” of indolence, ease, and sensual indulgence that extinguishes the spirit of Christ, the only remedy is the thorough following of the mind of Christ, that is, humility, the only way to peace and to wisdom: “Wisdom has sought rest in all creation, but found it only in the humble.”
The nations of the earth (as well as protesters that demand changes to humanity’s systems) would do well to ponder these words—which, come to think of it, are a central message of Pope Francis and his predecessors. Indeed, the thoughts of Guerric of Igny, the Church that taught him, and the Christ that channels Truth through the Church are the necessary and transformative realities that will soothe the tempers of and bring wisdom to international gatherings of climate change diplomats, advocates, and protesters.

I realize that my secular friends may not appreciate this conclusion. But it remains true that ultimately it will not be our politics and protests alone that will change and save the world. It is the person of Jesus Christ, the King of all creation, the author of the human soul—and it is only Christ, the eternal word of God made flesh—that will take away the sins of the world—even (and especially) the sins of greed, gluttony, and indifference that nations (and individuals) exhibit in abundance as they (and we) continue to choke our atmosphere with far, far too much pollution; consume far, far too much of our planet’s mineral resources, forests, and water; and as we resist any change that will mend whatever darkness comes from our vices, our choices, and our hypocrisies. 

Yes. God saves.

What Guerric preached in the twelfth century is exactly what we today who seek to protect local and global ecological systems must hear, ponder, interiorize, live, and preach: Christ must be our king—as individuals and as nations—for He is the Truth, Life, and Way to solving whatever it is within us that struggles to do what is right. 


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