Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part V)

Pope Francis and Israel's President Shimon Peres plant an olive tree as a symbol for peace after their meeting at the president's residence May 26. (CNS photo/ Amir Cohen, EPA)

If you missed parts I through IV, check them out here

PART V

Chapter Four of Laudato Si is entitled “Integral Ecology.”  Here, Pope Francis again focuses on the interrelatedness of all of creation.  Everything in creation, every animal and rock, person and plant, is essentially good, since it has being, which comes from God (even mosquitoes!).  We are part of nature, not just living in it.  What we do to nature affects us, and what we do to ourselves affects nature.  The problems in today’s society are not divorced from the problems in the natural world.  As Pope Francis says, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139).  As such, we need to study and develop ways to live with nature and with each other, respecting others and the creation God gave us.  We depend on nature for our physical existence, for food, water and shelter.  “We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about” (140).  This, the Holy Father notes, is why “sustainable use” natural resources are so important, so that we can utilize our world while allowing it the chance to grow back.  One of the best examples of this is planting trees where forests were harvested, or having fish farms to protect wild fish populations. 

Two social issues expand on the pope’s discussion of sustainable use.  The economic systems of our nations should reflect our effort to protect the world, and our society should enforce laws which deal with environmental and human factors.  Economies are only helpful in so far as they help the people of a nation, and they should take into account environmental factors as well as human ones.  A nation which has laws protecting the environment or defending the innocent, but does not enforce such law, does more harm than good.  What good are laws if they are not enforced?  This leads to a culture of disrespect. 

Speaking of culture, Francis next turns his attention to a “cultural ecology,” which is not as much a culture of ecologists, but rather approaching human culture with the same care as one approaches the environment.  This is an important discussion because we face not just the extinction of plants and animals in our world, but also the extinction of entire ways of life.  Too often man-made environmental changes, either exploiting or protecting the ecosystem in question, ignore the needs of indigenous groups, who have coexisted with their natural neighbors for centuries, in some cases for millennia. 

Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community. The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems. (145)

Because of their important role in understanding an ecosystem, indigenous cultures should be brought into environmental discussions.  “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best” (146).  Working with these people, rather than against them, shows respect for the whole ecology of a region. 

Pope Francis next examines how we can incorporate this ecology into our daily lives.  It is, in a sense, about taking care of our own environment, specifically where we live and work.  The pope’s reflection calls to mind Christ’s teaching “Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31), for if we do not properly love ourselves, we cannot properly love our neighbors.  We cannot care for the world-wide environment if we cannot care for our local, personal environments.  In this context, Pope Francis addresses again the issue of extreme poverty, which plagues so much of the world.  In these situations of disease, filth, and violence, it may seem that all is hopeless. 

However, as human history shows, “love always proves more powerful” than the evils of a corrupt city (149).  We need to remember that charity isn’t just giving money; it is acting in love, namely the highest form of love.  Charity is that sacrificial love of another, caritas in Latin, agape in Greek.  It is the love which St. John the Evangelists, the “beloved disciple,” uses to describe God (1 John 4:8).  So in charity, we help out neighbors, whether it be giving money to help them, or helping build them proper homes (in paragraph 152, Pope Francis notes that “lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world”). 

This section on ecology in our lives has a lengthy paragraph on “human life and the moral law” (155).  In this paragraph, Pope Francis looks at how we view our bodies, for how we view our body correlates to how we view our environment.  This is one of those paragraphs that I’m pretty sure socially liberal fans of the encyclical did not read (along with the ones discussed earlier about abortion and overpopulation).  I say this because here Pope Francis speaks out about gender identity.  The discussion in the encyclical is brief (it is only part, after all, of a larger tapestry about our common home), and there is a lot more that could be said about the issue in light of the Church’s teaching.  However, Francis felt addressing the issue of gender identity was important, particularly in light of charity.  Here are the Holy Father’s words:

Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man,” based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will” [here he is quoting Pope Benedict’s address to the German Parliament, the Bundersrat, in 2011].  It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings.  The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.  Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.  Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.  In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment.  It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it” [here he is quoting one of his own Wednesday Audience addresses from April 15, 2015]. 

Pope Francis is clearly rejecting the popular manipulation of the body.  He isn’t talking about staying healthy or trying to loose weight.  He is talking about gender identity.  He is talking about masculinity and femininity and the role those two aspects of human nature play in our lives.  There are certain traits, gifts from God, associated with being a man and being a woman.  We must embrace who we are and not seek to change our gender to fit our wants.  If I am a man, then that is part of who I am.  The same goes for women.  Otherwise I cannot “recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different,” which is literally every other human being in existence besides me.  If people in society cannot recognize themselves for who they are, then we have a society which cannot communicate, which cannot relate to its own members.  There is an important difference between men and women (and it is more than their reproductive organs).  Differences aren’t bad, of course; they are essential.  A woman isn’t less than a man because she is not a man, nor is a man less than a woman because he is not a woman. 

It is an important discussion, one which I should discuss in a later post.  For now, I would like to move to the end of the encyclical. 

Pope Francis concludes the chapter with a brief discussion of two points: the common good of society and justice between human generations.  Remember a point made during our last reflection: the Church’s teaching concerning care for the environment falls under God’s prohibition against stealing.  We cannot steal the gifts of God from later generations, in particular the gifts of our world.  We cannot rob our children of their planet, nor should we simply solve the immediate problems and leave the larger ones for someone else.  That is not the way a family solves its problems; our human family should not turn to that solution either.  In other words, when we plan how to protect our common home, we must think of long standing solutions, cures rather than bandages.  Take a polluted river, for example.  A short term solution to the pollution would be to remove the garbage that collects along the river’s banks.  A lasting solution, in light of what Pope Francis teaches, would be to educate future generations to respect the not pollute, to conserve water, etc. 

Nor should we sit back and say there is nothing wrong with our world from where we sit, so there is nothing we should do.  The pope’s major issue here is individualism, which is when we make ourselves the measure of the rest of the world.  It stems from one of the great moral evils of our modern world: utilitarianism.  The Holy Father is writing against such selfish evil, the “what’s in it for me” mentality that infects pseudo-philanthropy.  But we are not the center of the world.  Our world is more than an extension of our personal yard.  It is a home shared with all of humanity, our extended human family.  We must first recognize the other man, the stranger whom we dread to meet.  Again, the refrain of the encyclical appears: the environmental problems in today’s world stem from an even greater problem in our society. 

We need a proper human ecology. 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Question: Why did God become a man?

I’ll get back to the reflections on Laudato Si next week.  This week, I want to answer a reader’s question.  It’s been a while since we looked at a Q&A. 

Ironic, since that’s the original purpose of the blog. . . . 

Anyway, so Marcy asks, “Why would God decide to come to us as one particular gender? It seems like such limiting form for an omnipotent and infinite being. And why male? Assuming heavenly omnipotence, why would he/she/it do something that would make many of his human creations feel so left out, disconnected, disenfranchised, and second-class, especially if said being could know all things and see how such a choice would be used against women? (Or anyone who wasn’t a white male.) (And don’t tell me about virgins and mothers. It doesn’t help.)”

Above: The Sinless One helps the Sinner.

There’s a lot in this question, much of which neither I nor any other human being can answer, since it requires knowing the mind of God.  But I have a feeling that Marcy doesn’t want me to just write “I have no idea” and leave it at that.  So I’ll do my best. 

Let’s first look at the gender of God.  God is pure spirit, meaning He does not have a physical body.  As such, He does not, properly speaking, have a gender, since one’s gender is linked to one’s physical body.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes.  He is neither man nor woman: He is God.  He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although He is their origin and standard” (CCC 239).  So God is beyond male and female.   

So why did he reveal Himself as male?  Why not female? 

Remember something very crucial, something too many people who read the Bible forget: God did not give His Revelation to the modern world.  I don’t mean, of course, that He does not speak to us, for He speaks to all ages through His inspired Word.  What I mean is this: the Bible itself was written in a specific historical time by specific historical people.  God spoke to/through these people, and He used images that they would understand.  That does not make what they wrote wrong or anything like that, any more than a parent’s attempt to explain something complicated to a child makes the parent’s explanation wrong.  We all do that, using metaphors to explain what we know, but others don’t understand. 

We see this in the creation story.  It wouldn’t have helped the Israelites understand God’s role in creating if the creation story began, “In the beginning, God formed hydrogen atoms and compressed them into a tiny bundle of atomic energy.  Don’t worry about what atoms are; you won’t be able to detect them for another three thousand years.  And thus the atomic cloud expanded, and the atoms mixed and crashed into each other to form other atoms” and so on and so forth.  It’s hard to understand even today, and we HAVE the technology and science to understand.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my explanation here is lacking in some crucial detail, but hopefully you, kind readers, will move past my poor understanding of astrophysics and see this crucial theological point: God teaches to our level of understanding.  This includes when He teaches about Himself. 

In the ancient world, it was understood that the male of an animal (people included) gave life through sexual intercourse.  To use sort-of philosophical lingo, the woman was a passive receptor to the man’s active fertilization.  Remember that mammalian eggs were not discovered until 1827, and human eggs were not discovered until a century afterwards.  For the majority of human existence, people thought that the seed of the man gave life to the woman’s dormant womb.  Hence the strange phrase “sprung from your loins,” referring to a child of a man.  You see this ancient sexual image in the creation account.  God injects life into the passive world through His Word.  John Paul II draws out this point in one of his reflections which makes up his Theology of the Body (specifically the one on September 12, 1979), noting that Genesis 1 uses terms like “separated” or “placed” when speaking of inanimate objects, but uses the terms “created” and “blessed” when discussing the creation of animals and man.  When God creates living things, He gives them life in a unique way, different from the rest of creation. 

In the ancient world, that makes Him the Father, the source of all life.  In fact, the ancient Israelites called God Father for that exact reason, since He was the source of all that is.  It wasn’t until Christ came that we learned that God is Father in a completely different way: His divine paternity did not begin with His creating time, but rather is from all eternity as the Father of the Divine Son (see CCC 238-242 for a detailed discussion of this point). 

So God revealed Himself as the source of all creation, as Father.  However, He did not limit Himself to only masculine terminology.  We see God compared to a mother several times in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:18 we read how Moses reprimanded the Israelites for rejecting God: “You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you / You forgot the God who gave you birth.”  This quote shows the creative paternity of God (begetting is typically a paternal term in the Old Testament) and an interesting maternal aspect of God, one where God gives birth to the Israelites too; in a sense, it is a double reference to the Israelite’s dependence on God as a son would be dependent on his parents.  The Old Testament prophets likewise draw out the image of God as a mother, usually in reference to animals (Hosea 13:8, in reference to those who embraced pagan worship, reads “I will attack them like a bear robbed of its young, and tear their hearts from their breast; I will devour them on the spot like a lion, as though a wild beast were to rend them”) or to mothers of newborns (Isaiah 49:15 has the important comparison between a neglectful mother and God, that even if mothers forget their babies, or the child in their wombs, God will not forget us, and Isaiah 66:13 sees God comparing Himself to a comforting mother). 

Keep in mind, just as with the references to God’s paternity, we don’t have God saying, “I’m a woman” just as we don’t have Him saying, “I’m a man.”  Also keep in mind that God isn’t saying to the Israelites, “I am a mother,” but is rather saying, “I’m like a mother.”  These are metaphors and analogies.  Analogies are not the same thing as equivocations.  God isn’t equating Himself with a mother goddess, but He is comparing His love to a love which any human can understand, that of a loving mother. 

The best example of Christ comparing Himself to a mother is in the famous passage in Luke 13:34 (the equivalent is found in Matthew 23:37):

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!

Above: Don’t mess with Mama Hen!

Again, we see the image of God as a caring mother who would do great things for the Israelites if they would only follow Him.  But since they won’t, “Behold, your house will be abandoned” (Luke 13:34). 

So God revealed Himself using primarily masculine terms and images, but He also used feminine metaphors to explain other aspects of His divine love. 

So why did God choose to be incarnated as a man instead of a woman, or in a particular gender at all?  The phrasing of Marcy’s question has two alternatives to Christ being incarnated as a man.  On the one hand, Christ could have instead been incarnated as a woman, and such an incarnation could have allayed some of the sexism that has reappeared throughout human history, scandalously among Christians; on the other hand, Christ could have been incarnated as a hermaphrodite, a man-woman, and would theoretically have been “free” from gender roles, more indicative of God’s genderlessness, as discussed above.  Wouldn’t either of those have been better ideas, in the long term? 

Here’s where I stir the controversial gender pot.  From what I can tell, Christ’s Incarnation as a male was not a divine coin flip (“Ok, heads I come as a man, tails as a woman; flip the coin, Gabriel”).  God became a man, not just any human, as an essential aspect of the Incarnation.  I will give three reasons. 

The first reason involves creation.  Remember the point we made about fatherhood in the ancient world seen as the cause of life, planting the seed in the fertile woman.  Now, we know that you need a woman as much as a man to have a baby, but as pointed above, as far as the creation of the world is concerned, only one source was needed: God.  God made everything out of nothing (hence the earlier biblical language of God as father and mother, even though God has no passiveness in Him), so He is the only source of creation. 

We need to keep this in mind when discussing Christ.  Christ’s coming is a new creation.  He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3).  These phrases are reminiscent of the creating Father from Genesis.  In coming Christ does not create a new physical world.  Rather, He gives us new spiritual life.  He is the source of that life, just as God is the source of life in the original creation.  To emphasize this connection, it was more appropriate for God to be incarnated as a man.

The second reason is the historical context of the Incarnation, “the fullness of time” in St. Paul’s words to the Galatians (Gal. 4:4).  Christians reflecting on the historical context of the Incarnation, from earlier writers like St. Paul and St. Augustine, to modern writers like Warren H. Carroll and Brennan Pursell, note that the time of Christ’s Incarnation was really a great moment for God to become man.  The known world was “at peace” in the Pax Romana of Caesar Augustus; Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had fertilized the intellectual world with discussions of existence, truth, and the immaterial world, ideas that had been spread through the conquests of Alexander the Great; Hebrew priests prayed and sought purification in preparation for the coming Messiah, understanding that soon the prophecies of Daniel and Malachi were coming true.  These three cultures, the Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews, paved the way for the coming of Christ, and provided the historical context for the Incarnation. 

This historical context provides a key to why God became incarnate as a man.  Few would argue against the fact that the early Roman Empire was a man’s world.  In fact, one of the reasons some Romans avoided Christianity was because Christians taught that men and women were to be treated with equal respect.  For the Hebrews, the testimony of women was often dismissed in court.  These two points are crucial for understanding why God came as a man.  If He had come as a woman, both the Romans and the Hebrews would have rejected His (Her) preaching out of hand, simply based on gender.  By coming as a man, Christ gives weight to his teaching, touching the hearts of those who otherwise would not listen.  Crowds of thousands gather to listen to Him speak; they wouldn’t gather if He had been a She.  In a similar way, Christ as a hermaphrodite might have done more harm than good, as such a figure would not command respect, perhaps less than a female Christ would.

Why did He come as a man?  To get His Gospel spread throughout the world so that everyone could be saved, especially the marginalized women of antiquity.  The love of Christ extends to all men and women.   

The third reason involves the coming of the Messiah, as far as the Israelites were concerned.  The Messiah was to come as a fulfillment of the prophecies regarding the Davidic kings of old.  God promised David that his kingdom would last forever (see 2 Samuel 7); the Messiah would be the heir of David’s throne, a son of David.  Likewise, the Messiah was expected, somehow, to right the wrongs of Israel.  Christ did this in an extraordinary way, by taking on the role of the New Adam (see Romans 5), atoning for Original Sin just as Adam was responsible for causing Original Sin (if you ever come across someone who blames Eve for the Eden issue, tell them to read the WHOLE Bible.  Even though Eve was partly to blame for disobeying God, Adam ALWAYS carries the most weight for the sin). 

The masculine aspect of Christ’s Incarnation did not stop Christ from using women as his evangelists.  One needs to look no further than Christ’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4) and how she evangelized her entire village.  We can see among Christ’s early followers a lot of women, albeit not among the Twelve Apostles, but certainly among those who helped with the early Church and who listened to Jesus (remember the story of Martha and Mary?  I wrote more about that earlierOf course, there is Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who holds a place in the Church higher than any other saint. 

The most basic answer to all of this, to why God came as a man, and why we refer to God in masculine pronouns and titles, is that God wanted it that way.  Remember something so crucial, so neglected in our day: we are not God.  While we can theorize what could have happened, or why something happened one way versus another way, we have to keep in mind that things happen for a reason.  God came as a man for a reason.  Perhaps His reasons were none of the ones listed above, and my entire post has been a poor attempt on the part of a finite man to rationalize the actions of the infinite God. 

One final point.  This whole question centers on the issue of God limiting Himself in the Incarnation to one gender.  In a sense, this issue falls into a classic idiom, missing the forest for the trees.  Yes, by coming as one gender or another, God limited the physical body of the Incarnate Word.  However, we must remember that the Incarnation itself was God, in a sense, limiting Himself.  As that early Christian hymn recorded in St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians states, Jesus Christ,

though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. 

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 2:6-11)

The Incarnation shows the deep humility of God, for in emptying Himself of His divine splendor, by coming as one of us, He allows us to come to Him in a way we could not before.  Adam sinned by trying to make himself a god.  God rectifies what he did by making Himself man, with all his physical limits. 

I hope this long answer actually answers your question, Marcy.  If not, feel free to refine your question in the comment box below.  Actually, everyone else, be sure to comment on the post with questions and thoughts, to further the discussion. 

For Further Reading:

Brumley, Mark “Does the Bible Support the Feminist God/Dess?”  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

John Paul II, “Biblical Account of Creation Analyzed” Delivered 12 September 1979.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/jp2tb2.htm

I also go more into the nature of God in my second Reflection on the first part of the Creed.  

Tagged , , , , , ,

Enter Strawpope Frank

Matthew B. Rose:

Yes. Very Yes. Both Secular AND Catholic people should give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt BEFORE posting/critiquing.

Originally posted on The Catholic Geeks:

Note: If you listen to The Catholic Geek Radio Show, the following may seem familiar.

Pope Francis - Commie Crucifix strawpope

You may have noticed a new segment on the blog under “The Church.” It’s called Strawpope Frank. Because, let’s face it, every time the Pope says something, the media headlines it as something completely different — much like a Monty Python sketch, only not as funny.

View original 1,151 more words

REFLECTION ON LAUDATO SI BY POPE FRANCIS (PART IV)

For those of you just joining us, this is Part IV of a VII part series on Laudato Si.  Click on the links to see Part I, Part II, and Part III.  Feel free to comment and get the conversation going.  

PART IV

Chapter Three of Laudato Si looks at the human causes of the environmental problems today.  The Pope’s focus, however, isn’t on destructive acts of pollution or carbon emissions; rather, Francis looks at the more cultural causes of the crisis.  He first takes up the threat of an over-technological world.  While there are obvious advantages to technological advances (such as faster transportation and simplified means of communication), one must be naïve to ignore the fact that new technology has brought with it new evils.  “We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare” (104).  The Holy Father points to the problem of using useful technology as “an epistemological paradigm” to govern and guide our lives (107).  The risk, of course, is one of priorities.  We can use technology to better our lives, but we should not make our lives or our society revolve around the technology we use.  This is particularly problematic in today’s economically and politically charged world (for conservative Catholics who scoff at Francis’ economic views, he quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate to support his economic teaching in par. 109).  

Pope Francis connects these economic and technological issues with the ecological focus of the encyclical through teleology.  If we immerse ourselves in a technological life or economy, we will find ourselves thinking in the moment, and not looking towards the future.  We forget future generations, the ones who will suffer as a result of our recklessness.  We have to think bigger than ourselves.  In ecological terms, that means we have to think beyond solving immediate environmental issues and instead look at solving the bigger problems:

Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system. (111)

We must have a cultural revolution, where we change how we live to help save the world.  We must turn from our “modern anthropocentrism” before we lose everything. 

But such a change cannot come at the cost of innocent human lives.  “When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected” (117).  Repeatedly, Pope Francis returns to the connectedness of our world, of human life and life on earth.  Our relationship with our home can only be fixed if we fix our broken relationships within our human family.  “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence” (119).  This means, Pope Francis again reminds us, that we cannot say that we must protect the environment if we support or justify abortion.  In par. 120, the Holy Father cries out, “How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” 

Peter Singer should take note. 

I remember, almost two decades ago, going with my family to a prayer vigil the evening before the March for Life in Washington D.C.  There was a short skit at one point, followed by a song.  In both the skit and song, endangered animals (whales, pandas, etc) came together and sang that we must “save the baby humans / don’t let them disappear.”  While some might have thought the whole thing tacky, it struck a chord in my animal fanatic heart.  I knew at that young age that abortion was wrong, but I hadn’t thought of abortion and conservation as connected.  Both abortion and a reckless treatment of the environment stem from a moral relativism that infects our culture.  So Pope Francis writes,

In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.  (123)

Life’s connectedness is the theme of the Holy Father’s encyclical, and he will develop it a lot more in a later chapter.   

The rest of chapter three focuses on two seemingly different moral points: the rights of workers and experimenting on plants and animals.  Both points are essentially linked, for the Church’s teaching on them stems from the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal.”  The connection between workers’ right and stealing is obvious.  By depriving workers of their wages, an employer steals what is due to the worker.  We have a “vocation to work,” as is seen in God’s command to Adam to take care of the garden in Genesis 2 (128).  It is no accident that one of the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance is “depriving workers of their wages.”  A just wage is essential to allow people to live comfortably.  That much is straight forward. 

How, then, does biological research on plants and animals fit into this discussion?  Simply put, if we needlessly destroy plant and animal life for our own selfish ends, we are stealing from our human neighbors, including future generations, and abusing a gift given to us by God.  It is wasting life.  Pope Francis is very clear that it is fine to experiment with plants and animals to help humanity, but you must not, as the Catechism says, “Cause animals to suffer or die needlessly” (CCC 2418; see Laudato Si, 130).  As far as genetically modified food is concerned, Francis does not reject growing and consuming such food.  However, he does condemn large corporate farms driving out and bullying small, private farm, destroying the smaller farmer’s way of life.  Again, Pope Francis focuses on subsidiary as the guiding principle when dealing with social issues (134-135). 

Wrapping up this discussion of human-environment interaction, Pope Francis once again brings up the issue of those who defend the environment without defending human dignity, particularly with experimenting on human embryos: 

There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power. (136)

This is a clear condemnation of research into things like embryonic stem cells or using genetic material obtained from aborted fetuses; by extension, the paragraph condemns the trafficking of aborted baby body parts, a barbaric practice which has recently come to light (if such a phrase is appropriate for such behavior) in the United States.  We cannot justify experimenting on human embryos, especially when the embryo is killed for such experimentation.  We cannot seek to put the rights of plants and animals above our own human brothers and sisters, especially above those who, in their innocence, have not yet breathed our planet’s air, or had the chance to feel the sun touch their skin, or enjoy the coolness of a breeze (see CCC 2418).  We must be wary of using technology to oppress a section of our human family, whether that portion of humanity is born or unborn. 

To use others in such way is, frankly, inhuman.  

Tagged , , , , ,

Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part III)

Introduction?  Check.

Chapter One?  Check.

Chapter Two?  Ok, here you go.  

PART III

In Chapter Two, Pope Francis launches into a beautiful spiritual examination of man’s stewardship over Creation.  Beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis, Francis traces man’s responsibility for the world around him, and notes that the rupture we have with the environment stems from the Original Sin, which broke our relationship with God and our world.  We are responsible for creation, not in a domineering way, but in a caretaking way (67).  God alone dominates creation; we share in his dominion, but since “we are not God,” we are responsible not for ruling over creation, but rather for “tilling and keeping,” for cultivating and protecting (67).  Even when the Israelites travel into the Promised Land, God notes that it is His land, and that the Israelites are journeying there (Lev. 25:23; Francis quotes the verse). 

This responsibility carries into our relationships with each other.  Pope Francis examines the story of Cain and Abel in light of this role of man as caretaker.  “Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered” (70).  Yet, God does not leave us when others treat us with injustice: “The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible” (74). 

One of the key points that Francis drives at in this section is that God is a Creator, for creation must have a Creator.  Those who seek to be atheist environmentalists miss that essential component to an authentic ecology.  Those noted naturalists, like my favorite, David Attenborough, should note what the pope says in this chapter:

The world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things, . . . “the love which moves the sun and the stars.” (77; quote from Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 145)

The Holy Father also addresses divinizing nature, as pagan religions do (78), and the error of applying evolution to the spiritual world (81).  All three of those errors (atheistic ecology, paganism, and spiritual evolution) harm our understanding of nature and view it in an askew way.  It is only in having a correct theology and anthropology that we can truly see the wonders of the world God created. 

While developing this ecological spirituality, Pope Francis brings up again the unity of creation.  Everything in creation, because it comes from God, is worthy of respect.  However, Francis notes, there is an order in creation.  Even though all of creation is worthy of respect, man has a special dignity, unique among all other creatures.  That said, there is not a hierarchy in mankind based on nature.  A person is not “better” or “worth more” because of his or her race, creed, gender, financial status, age, or health.  We cannot measure each other in such a way and expect to treat the environment correctly.  In a truly profound statement, Pope Francis stresses, “It is clearly inconsistent to combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted” (91).  We can’t claim to care about poaching and selling exotic animals if we don’t care, or even engage in, selling people through pornography or prostitution, or if we disregard the poor and needy, or if we support abortion and euthanasia for the unwanted baby or sick patient.  We must respect creation and each other. 

In Jesus we find a man uniquely in touch with the natural world, for He alone is both God and man.  What happens when the Creator enters Creation?  Miracles, to put it simply.  His calming of the sea, His walking on water, the miracles of healing, and of course the Eucharist all point to Christ’s dominion over creation.  Pope Francis doesn’t mention this directly, but you can see this connection in John 6.  That passage starts with the feeding of the five thousand, showing that Jesus had control over nature.  Then Jesus walks on water and calms the storm, showing how He has full control over His physical body and can use nature to do what He wants it to do.  Finally, Jesus tells His disciples how they will receive eternal life by eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which He can give to them through a mysterious way.  Why do Peter and the Apostles stay with Jesus?  Because they know He has control over nature and His Body; if Christ says to eat His flesh and drink His blood, then He’ll find a way that we can do just that.

Tagged , , , , ,

Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part II)

To read part one of my reflections, click here.

On with Part II!

Chapter One is the more controversial chapters in the encyclical, because it is here that the Pope examines scientific diagnoses for the Earth’s problems.  Pope Francis agrees that man-made climate change and pollution are big problems.  The pope makes a profound point: the throwaway culture that leads to pollution also leads to throwing away human lives.  In such a culture, as populates the developed world today, what is useful is used and what is not useful is discarded.  It’s the classic utilitarian philosophy that grew out of the Industrial Revolution, reheated for a new generation of oppressors.  The Holy Father examines this further in the encyclical, connecting disrespect for the environment with abortion and euthanasia, as they are symptoms of the same spiritual disease. 

Many commentators have noted that Pope Francis uses incorrect scientific data to argue that man-made climate change occurs, that we are responsible for rising oceans, destroying food chains in the oceans, rising carbon dioxide levels, etc.  Such commentators, however, often miss the purpose of the Holy Father’s discussion.  He is seeking to encourage an “honest debate … among experts” (61) on the issues and their solutions.  We are responsible for some changes to the planet.  The pope is requesting that the human family step back and examine what role we’ve played.  We must admit that we’ve done something to the planet.  What cannot happen is a wistful glance at the planet and assume we can still live the way we have for far too long (see 59). 

Francis focuses on climate change in paragraphs 23-26, referring back to the topic in a few other occasions later in the encyclical.  The majority of the discussion, however, is not over whether we caused the change (Pope Francis notes that, while the majority may have come from human causes, there are some natural reasons for a changing climate, such as volcanoes and solar influences); the focus is on the effects of the change, particularly for the poor in developing countries.  When we break the planet and ignore our needy brothers, we break civil society.  Mankind has affected the planet, sometimes for the worse, and we need to recognize our responsibility towards the planet and towards each other.  What Pope Francis is pointing out is that, no matter how you view the scientific data, all must understand that we have a role in tending to this planet.  Tending is the right word, because we have the same responsibility as Adam and Eve; the Earth is our Garden of Eden.

Whenever the Holy Father addresses an ecological issue in this chapter, he includes in his discussion how the environmental changes affect human society.  For example, in his discussion about water shortages, the Pope looks not only at how the loss of fresh water affects species living in areas near water, but in particular at the affect such shortages have on people.  He notes,

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market.  Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.  Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. (30; emphasis in the original)

Likewise, in his discussion of biodiversity, Pope Francis looks at a theme which he will address throughout the encyclical, one which becomes the backbone of the entire work: the interconnectedness of all of Creation.  Over-fishing, for example, hurts food chains and the livelihood of local people.  We lose who we are when we lose respect for the planet. 

The Pope also has a warning concerning excessive uses of the digital world: “When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.  In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload.”  It is a teaching which I have tried to emphasize with my own students.  We cannot ignore those who came before us.  This is not merely a matter of Faith; it is a matter of who we are as human beings.  To isolate ourselves in a digital world formed by “tweets” and “likes” is to separate ourselves from true human interaction and, ultimately, interaction with the created world, prepared for us by God. 

Also in Chapter One is one of the passages that many (politically) liberal readers do not like, and so tend to ignore in their praise for the encyclical.  Pope Francis condemns using population control to solve environmental issues:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.  At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’ . . . .  To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. (50)

The Holy Father’s comment about pressure from countries that make economic aid “contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health’” should leave a sour taste in the mouths of certain politicians in the USA.  That seemingly essential liberal link between birth control and helping the poor has always befuddled me.  The starving people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas cannot be fed by condoms and abortion clinics.  Such efforts might remove the mouths to feed, but it does not feed the still hungry mouths.  It is a true international scandal. 

Tagged , , , , , ,

Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part I)

PART I

I have not been in the Catholic cultural commentary business long.  I was a freshman in college when Pope St. John Paul II died, and was in the midst of teaching when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI resigned.  As such, I have not witnessed much stirring and controversy concerning a papal encyclical.  Not too many non-Catholics pay much attention to letters from popes, especially when they deal with theological topics.  This is a loss for such non-Catholics, since they miss out on a wellspring of spiritual commentary and guidelines for their lives. 

Such was not the case surrounding the promulgation of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si.  Everyone, it seemed, had a view about the encyclical, whether positive or negative.  That is what happens when such a crucial issue like the environment is discussed.  Climate change, pollution, deforestation, and over-hunting/fishing have all been controversial topics in the last few decades, both in religious and secular media.  So the pundits began punditing.  Pope Francis, to be sure, would revolutionize the Church, casting his lot with political liberals, and joining with eco-terrorists and communists to destroy western society.  At last, he would show his true colors and present for all a Church which has finally gotten with the times, so to speak.  Both sides of the debate painted such a picture. 

On June 18, the Vatican published the official text of the encyclical (a previous draft had been leaked earlier that week).  I tried my hardest to avoid reading commentary before I finished the encyclical myself.  It was hard.  Everybody was talking about the encyclical.  I was live tweeting my thoughts, so that I wouldn’t forget anything, all the while not reading what everyone else on the Internet posted about the encyclical. 

As a result, I was able to read through the entire encyclical, reflecting on it more closely than if I had read commentaries before reading it. 

What follows is the fruit of such reflection.  I will go through each of the chapters in the encyclical, looking into what is great and what is more or less so-so.  I want the readers to know up front that I loved the encyclical, and hope to reflect on it for years to come.  Originally, I planned writing a short, one part post about the encyclical.  Instead, I’ll be posting several short posts, allowing for more depth and reflection.  I hope everyone enjoys them. 

Let’s start with the Introduction.  The title of the encyclical comes from the prayer of St. Francis, where the saint praises God through nature.  It is a beautiful prayer.  If you haven’t had the time to sit and read it, check it out.  Anyway, back to Pope Francis.  The Holy Father begins by noting that our sister, “Mother Earth,” is crying to Heaven, for we have abused her.  The role of believers in respecting and fixing “our common home” is one of the main focuses of the encyclical.  In the Introduction, Pope Francis reflects on his papal predecessors, who had also written about caring for the environment in the context of the Church’s social justice teaching.  In particular, Francis points to Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI for their contributions to the discussion.  Likewise, Francis notes the contributions of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, with whom Francis shares “the hope of full ecclesial communion” (7).  The issue, Francis notes, isn’t merely that people need to develop technology to save the environment, but also that people need to change internally.  “Otherwise, we would be dealing merely with symptoms” (9).  It is in St. Francis that Pope Francis sees his model for this encyclical and his entire papacy, a model of loving God through creation, seeking the Creator in His works.  In doing so, Pope Francis hopes to encourage dialogue about what is wrong with the environment and what we, as a human family, can do to help “our common home” (Pope Francis uses that phrase eleven times, including in the full title of the encyclical, to refer to the Earth). 

Tagged , , , ,

Something new

HI everyone,

The school year is winding down around here, but I did manage to throw together something new for the blog: a book and magazine resource list.  It’s like the Online resource list. . . only more bookish.

Check it out, and if you have suggestions or questions about anything, please let me know!

A Quick Update

It’s been a rather busy. . . several months since the last real post.  Sorry about that.

I feel like I apologize too often, since Apologetics isn’t about apologizing.  :D

If you’re interested, I was recently published on Catholic Exchange’s website.  Go check them out.  They love some traffic and I would love my readers to help them out.  Also, you’ll probably find SOMETHING there you’d like to read (they cover everything and anything Catholic).  Its a good resource too.

Anyway, here’s the link to the reflection I wrote.  It was a reflection that I originally wrote for the boys senior retreat at the high school where I teach.  Due to time restraints, I wasn’t able to give the reflection then.  Fast forward a couple months, and I still had the reflection, still ungiven.  So I polished it up, added a couple ideas here and there, and had by beautiful and fantastic wife read over it (she’s my go-to editor).  Then I shopped around, and Catholic Exchange said they would publish it.  And so, TA-DA!

As Lent draws to a close, take time to reflect on what Christ has done in your life and how he has prepared the way for you salvation.  Now is as good a time as ever to read or re-read the stories from salvation history.  Now is a very appropriate time, to paraphrase St. Paul.

And as always, send in your questions.

God bless,

Matthew B. Rose

Tagged , ,

Grateful to be a Teacher

Matthew B. Rose:

Great quick thoughts from one of my professors at Christendom (and you get a great shot of the library too!).

Teaching is AWESOME!

Originally posted on John Cuddeback:

OUHHB_22_PP130707.psd

“It’s no easy task—indeed it’s very difficult—to realize that in every soul there is an instrument that is purified and rekindled by such subjects [liberal studies] when it has been blinded and destroyed by other ways of life, an instrument that is more important to preserve than ten thousand eyes, since only with it can the truth be seen.”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic VII

Yesterday I finished teaching yet another semester of Philosophy. If the power of reason outweighs ten thousand eyes, then how do I measure the worth of forming that instrument, by teaching the subjects to which Socrates refers?

Never easy, often discouraging, always seeming to require more than I can give. Priceless.

To ask myself how I have deserved to be in such a position misses the point; I do not deserve it. Gratitude must be the fundamental response. What can compare with the moments I’ve shared…

View original 80 more words

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 431 other followers

%d bloggers like this: