Category Archives: Reflection

Reflection: Christmas Eve 2015

Dear “Quidquid” readers,

 

I hope that this Advent season has been one of spiritual growth and grace.  Too often we get bogged down in the preparations for Christmas, the shopping and tree hunting, the decorating and the baking, that we forget the most important reason for this season: to prepare for Christmas.  I mean, of course, Christmas within our hearts, preparing our lives for the coming of Christ, which is what we celebrate with this great feast. 

 

How blessed we are, that our Christ has come! 

 

It has been a long, busy while since I posted anything here, and that is gravely unfortunate.  I have been swamped, as always seems to be the case.  Here’s a rundown of what’s been up. 

 

Most excitingly, Jacob Thomas was born on November 10.  He’s quite the cutie, with is big ol’ eyes and squishy face. 

 

See?  So he’s been taking up a lot of time.

 

I have been writing, of course, just. . . not here.  I had articles published on Catholic Exchange (one on Pope St. Nicholas the Great, written in the midst of taking care of the newborn and my wife; the other on some books to read for Advent and Christmas).  More excitedly, I had my first article published on Those Catholic Men.  It is about the Inquisition, answering some objections to it.  That was a big hit, and even appeared for a couple days on the homepage of Newadvent.org.  I’m set up to write an article for them every month, so keep an eye out for that. 

 

Up for a little spiritual reflection?  Ok, here ya go. 

 

Today is the feast of Sts. Adam and Eve.  Yes, that Adam and that Eve, our first parents, who through their sin brought sin to the rest of the human race.  They lost us the preternatural gifts.  They lost us (for a time) the gift of supernatural grace.  They wounded our human nature. 

 

So why are they saints? 

 

Remember the key thing about being a saint.  It isn’t that they were perfect; it’s that they must have, at some point in their 900+ years of life, regretted their actions.  I don’t mean regretted in a mere I-shouldn’t-do-that way.  I mean deep, painful contrition.  What Scripture can I point to as evidence?  There isn’t much about Adam and Eve in the Bible after the Fall, and the world gets pretty terrible soon afterwards.  However, we do have that tragic story of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s first two sons.  Cain killed Abel out of jealousy.  God favored Abel’s sacrifice to his older brother’s because Abel gave from his heart.  We must ask, then, where did Abel learn to respect God so well?  Since the first instruction in the Faith happens in the family, and parents are the primary teachers of children, we can point to Abel’s parents, Adam and Eve, as the source for his faith in God. 

 

Something must have changed in the hearts of Adam and Eve.  They must have felt contrition and repentance.  Imagine knowing you did something wrong, and that you needed forgiveness for your sins.  But there is no confession.  You have no baptism or access to the gift of sanctifying grace.  Sin is a burden for us when we can go to confession whenever we want (to an extent, of course, since priests have schedules, as do we); imagine having to bear a sin for centuries without sacrificial confession.  Not too pleasant, is it. 

 

One of the early Church Fathers (I can’t remember which) made a great allusion to Adam’s repentance.  He wrote that when Christ came to the Limbo of the Just, so Hell, the first soul to meet Him was Adam, who ran to meet his Lord first, he who sinned first, because he remembered the sound of God’s feet walking in the Garden. 

 

Adam and Eve are saints for the same reason anyone is a saint: turning away from the darkness towards eternal light in Christ.

 

In Christ we have a new creation, with Him as our New Adam.  It is supremely fitting that Adam and Eve have their feast day on Christmas Eve.  Their death in sin mars the first Creation; the death of Christ forms the foundation of the new Creation.  The birth of Christ, then, begins the work of our salvation. 

 

May we have the love of God that brought Adam and Eve to repentance this Christmas.  May we always have hearts open to the love flowing from the Sacred Heart of Christ.

 

God bless,

 

Matthew B. Rose

Reflection: September 11

The following reflection is an adaption of one that I composed five years ago on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  I have kept much of what I said five years ago, adjusting some phrases here, adding some thoughts there.  For the most part, however, I have mostly the same thoughts.  It isn’t typical of my reflections, but I feel that readers here will get a lot out of it.

Fourteen years ago.  Fourteen long years ago, an entire lifetime away.  Literally a lifetime.  I teach freshmen in high school, some of whom were not alive fourteen years ago.  I think, often enough, that 2001 was only a short time ago.  Then I think of today’s date, and what happened fourteen years ago, and realize that it was an eternity.

Fourteen years ago.

I was a sophomore in high school, Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA, where I currently teach (cool, right?).  Arlington is just outside of Washington DC, and a lot of the students in my school lived close to the city.  I lived in Maryland and would ride a bus every day, cutting through the city to get to school.

I remember where I was when I first heard the news.  I was sitting in Theology class.  I don’t remember much from that Theology class, but I do remember that it was during second period.  During second period, a voice came over the loud speaker and said, in a very serious voice, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.  That was all they told us.

Oh, I thought, that’s sad for that pilot.  At that point, I thought a personal plane had crashed into the building.  Why are they announcing it?  Maybe it was a relative of a student.  We said a prayer.  I moved on.  I wished I had paid more attention, so that I could remember better what happened that day.  Even though it was only been a short time ago, everything about that day is a blur.  The events that day from second period to the end of school are mixed up and unclear.

Warren H. Carroll said that historians are “the guardians of memory.”  I fancy myself a historian, but when it comes to my own life, I’m a failed one.

All that said, I will try to remember.

By third period, we had confirmation that it was an airliner, not some personal plane, that had crashed, and that there were two reported crashes.  By fourth period, we were watching the news in class, catching a glimpse of endless smoke pouring out of the buildings.  I had never heard of the World Trade Center before that day, and now it was everything.  My little world now seemed to revolve around it.  Every so often, a child was called to go home.  One by one, the classes dwindled.  Schoolwork?  Some of the teachers thought about it, but gave in, and turned on the TVs.  We were slaves to the news reports.  We soon heard about the attack on the Pentagon.  That added a new level of disturbance because we were about eight miles away, not hundreds of miles away in another state.  We sat in class and watched the screen.  Down the first tower fell.  Down it went, as if it were nothing more than a stack of cards.  It fell so quick, so effortlessly.

Through all of this, I had only a vague understanding of what was happening.  I couldn’t shake Pearl Harbor out of my mind.  I knew now how my grandparents had felt, hearing the reports of that attack.  I knew what it was like to witness an America tragedy, to experience the unsure horror of it all.

I remained at school the entire day, then traveled home on the school bus, weaving our way through the chaotic traffic. When I finally got home, I hugged my mom and little sister (it was, after all, her birthday).  We left the news on the rest of the day.  By evening we saw the bombs dropping, we heard President George W. Bush address the nation, and we hoped that everything would be better soon.

And here we are today.  My generation has been defined by that day.  The so-called “Millennium Generation includes all those who were born between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1990s, old enough to witness the 9/11 attacks first hand.  That is our legacy.  I am defined by that day of horror.  And it is true.  Look at the world around us; look at popular culture, at politics, at religion, at international relations.  The events of 9/11 have scared these realms.  Nowhere is safe.  Men have made careers based on the events which unfolded that day.  I’m not referring to our soldiers, though anyone in the military since 9/11 in some way owes their career to the attacks.  I am referring to more vocal men.

Look at the world of Pop Culture.  In movies, we see the career of Michael Moore, director of quite possibly the most influential documentary in recent years, 2002’s Bowling for Columbine.  More has revitalized his career because of the 9/11 attacks. Bowling for Columbine briefly connects the violence that day with the violence in this country’s recent history.  Moore’s follow up film, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), focuses on the attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, particularly by connecting President Bush’s family and Osama bin Laden’s family. It became the highest grossing documentary ever, and has cemented Moore as the documentary filmmaker for the liberal world.  He is loved by some, hated by many, but unless he completely bombs at the box office (his most recently released film, Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), grossed over $14 million domestically), he will continue his rather successful career.

Likewise, the music world has become saturated with anti-President Bush songs, as well as pro-America soldier songs (the latter mostly found on country music stations).  The human struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks bled into the natural disaster which was Hurricane Katrina.  Both were blamed on President Bush and his policies.  One need only listen to the American Idiot album by Green Day or Minutes to Midnight by Linkin Park, to give two examples, to see such anger against the former president.  Would such hatred have arisen without the attacks on the Towers?

Many books and countless news articles have appeared, all because of the attacks and the history afterwards.  It has become the standard, it seems, to hold Bush’s policies following the attacks as wrong, and indeed one should not praise everything he did.  But the anger, the outrage which has persisted these last fourteen years paints America as a country against herself.  Having traveled to Europe, I know that, like us, Europeans get the vast majority of their view of America from popular culture.  Who are Americans?  We are the violent, pill popping, sex crazed monsters which infect movie and television screens.  We are closer to Hell than anyone in Heaven.  This is our national portrait.

But that is not us.  As the true history of our country these last fourteen years shows us, in the soldiers who have fought and died in the Middle East, in the men who have seriously taken charge when the road became rough, in those who remained faithful despite having seen their faith despised, we are not those monsters who inhabit our movies and TVs.  We are better than that.  We are the country that stood against our attackers and fought back.  We are the country that said NO to another force of evil.  We are the country that turned the tragedy of 9/11 into a glimmer of hope.  While we may not have done it as gracefully as one could, we did it.

So it does seem appropriate, then, that such an important event, my generation’s Vietnam, would define us as a nation.  We are strong, we are brave, and we are charitable.  As much as men deny Christ, He informs us, making us the nation we are today.

We run the risk, as any devout Christian can see, of ruining our country.  Many hold it is already ruined, and maybe they are right.  I’m more optimistic.  I think we can have a cultural revolution, a transformation away from the cancer of sin which plagues our country.  It will not happen in a day, nor even in a year.  It will not happen without prayer and fasting, without rejecting that which has become a hallmark of American in the media.  We must seek to fix the broken, rather than setting the broken up as the new normal.  When we are forced to profess our Faith in the shadows, we must produce more spiritual light.  When we are shouted down by hatred, we must sing of Christ love that much louder.  A war wages for America, but it isn’t one of bullets and soldiers, but one of hearts and minds, one of the soul rather than the body.  This blog, in all humility, is my attempt to join that fight for souls.

I am of the Millennium Generation.  I proclaim Christ crucified to a world shaped from the ashes of New York City and Washington D.C.  I use the tools of this world, of my generation, and turn to my brothers and sisters, stretch out my hands and beg for their help.  No man fights alone.  To quote the Christian song “In Christ Alone,”

In Christ alone my hope is found,

He is my light, my strength, my song;

This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My Comforter, my All in All,

Here in the love of Christ I stand.

May those who died fourteen years ago today rest in peace.  Amen.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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. 

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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). 

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Reflection: Christmas is Coming

CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!

Admit it.  Even grumpy, anti-Christian atheists deep down love Christmas.  There’s just something beautiful and joyful about this time of year.  Songs, lights, smiles, gifts, love, all swirling around the greatest event of human history (the Incarnation of our Lord) like a snow shower.  It is precisely this joy, this expectation of Christmas that fuels the season of Advent.

But Advent is a season of penance, of confessing our sins and fixing our lives.  It’s like Lent, but shorter.  Brevity, of course, does not mean less important, especially with liturgical seasons.  Just as we prepare for Easter by prayer and fasting, so also we prepare for Christmas by a similar method of prayer and fasting.

But isn’t penance and fasting, like, the opposite of joy?

NOPE!

Ever made someone feel bad?  I don’t just mean hurt the person’s feelings.  I mean really made the person so upset that he (or she) didn’t want to talk to you, as if you were nothing to each other.  Remember that feeling of separation, that gulf between you and the other?  If you truly cherish that person, you will do pretty  much anything for him/her.  You would beg him (or her) to welcome you back into his/her life, make “I’m sorry” your personal refrain, even giving up something you love for the sake of the reunion.  So it is with Advent.  We have separated ourselves from God by our sins and our selfishness.  We have done worse things to God than to any of our friends or spouses or anyone else we know.  But He comes to us.  He wants us to meet Him.  He comes through the liturgical seasons, and with great joy we await His second coming by celebrating His first arrival.  There is a joy in the expectation, and just as there is that hint of joy, that hope for celebration in reconciling with a loved one, so also there is a more complete joy in our preparation for Christmas.

Want to delve more into this joyful season of Advent and Christmas?  Scott Hahn, one of the greatest American Catholic writers and speakers, has a new book out, Joy to the World, which delves into the Christmas story and how we can draw deeper into the Christmas mystery.

It’s part scholarly analysis, part meditation on the stories and heroes of that first Christmas.  I watched a recent interview with Dr. Hahn on EWTN Live wherein he emphasizes this idea of joy in waiting for Christ, this joy in preparing for Christmas through Advent.  Give the book a whirl and, if you want, buy it (or any of his books!).  It’s on my Christmas list.

And if you have any questions about anything, send them along.

Happy Advent!

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I had originally written this reflection for publication in an online magazine, but I didn’t submit it in time.  So I’ll publish it here!

Happy Feast of the First Martyrs of Rome

On a late July night in AD 64, hidden in the imperial palace, Emperor Nero’s dark thoughts stirred.  A substantial portion of the great city of Rome lay under ashes.  Outrage spread throughout the streets of the empire’s capital.  Like any outraged populous, the people of Rome called for answers.  They needed answers.  For many, their lives seemed utterly ruined.  The emperor, that sick and twisted man who had murdered his wife and his mother, must be to blame.  So the rumbling crowds shouted.  Nero needed an answer for them, something that would divert their anger from him to someone, or some group, of no consequence.

Perhaps it was an aide to him who made the suggestion.  Perhaps he had heard tales of a strange group that had trickled out from Palestine, a group that adhered to strange rituals and bizarre teachings.  They were a relatively unpopular group, often at odds with the traditional Roman priests.  Perhaps reports came to Nero’s court that these new zealots had stirred up trouble in Greece a few years earlier.  The more the emperor thought on this, the more he knew he had his scapegoat.

He announced by imperial decree that this radical group was to blame for the fire of Rome.  The religion became illegal, and for the 250 years that spanned the fire of Rome in AD 64 and the Edict of Milan in 313, Christians throughout the empire lived and preached under that ban.  The hunt began, and it was not long before the first Christians appeared in a Roman court for that most persistent of crimes: faithfully following Jesus of Nazareth.

The feast of the First Martyrs of the Roman Church falls on June 30, the day after the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.  It is a fitting placement for such a feast, for if we include in the list of the earliest Roman martyrs those who died before Nero’s bloody suicide in AD 68, then tradition holds that both St. Peter and St. Paul fall into this category of First Roman Martyrs.  On the other hand, this feast celebrates the lesser known martyrs, those whose names or life stories are lost to history.

Their deaths, however, scar the period of the early Roman Empire and provide a blueprint for the persecution of Christians even in more recent years.  Imperial troops scoured the city for Christians.  Arrested Christians often confessed that they were Christian, and under torture often gave the names of other Christians.  The Roman writer Tacitus describes how “an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus, Annals 15: 44).  Soon this multitude filled the prisons in Rome, and executions followed.

These executions, providing the martyrs with their crowns, stand in history as among the most appalling murders ever recorded.  Men, women, and children died in the circus on the Vatican Hill, near where St. Peter’s Basilica is today.  Some were killed by more traditional Roman methods of execution, such as beheading or crucifixion (St. Paul died through beheading; St. Peter died via crucifixion).  Others died in more diabolical ways.  Nero held grand parties in his private gardens.  There the attendees would see performances of horrific tales from Greco-Roman mythology, particularly ones where the tragic figure would perish at the end.  The part of the helpless victim fell to the Christian prisoners.  In similar fashion, guests of the emperor hunted game in the gardens, though in this scenario the game was a Christian dressed in animal skins.  Nero’s dogs attacked the caught Christian and killed him or her, as they might any wild animal.  The most horrific, however, came after the sun set.  Nero mounted his personal chariot and rode along the garden’s pathways, cheered on by the guests.  As he rode, servants lit torches along his route.  These torches, burning and spitting in the Roman night air, contained not mere pitch or oil, but rather helpless Christians, who being condemned to die, served as Nero’s “Roman candles.”  Many died in such horrible manners, shocking though they may be.  Though the death of Nero granted the Christians some respite from such tortures, it would not be long before another Roman emperor saw reason to wipe out Christians from the empire.  As French historian Henri Daniel-Rops puts it,

Between 64 and 314 every single day held for the faithful believer the ever-present threat of a frightful death: the period is divided fairly evenly into the years of active bloodshed and those of relative quiet.  And every so often, during those two hundred and fifty years of history, we shall hear that cry of distress and agony rising heavenwards again, just as it had risen from the gardens of the Vatican glade in Nero’s day.  But from the moment of the first tortures the faith had known how to transform that cry into a cry of hope.  (Daniel-Rops, The Church of Apostles and Martyrs, 159)

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How do these stories of men and women slain nearly 1950 years ago apply to us today?  Like in the days of Ancient Rome, Christians today face persecution.  While many are not called to martyrdom, as the Christians under Nero were, we are all prepared for it.  By our baptism we are brought into new life in Christ, and by living in Christ, we also share in His death and Resurrection.  We are all called to suffer for the sake of the Name, even if it isn’t to the death.  We are all called to sacrifice our lives for the glory of God.  No matter our vocation, we are called to give up what we once were and embrace a radical new way of living.  This, then, is the ultimate lesson from these earliest martyrs of the Church, the same proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council: the Universal Call to Holiness.  Only when we embrace this call can we stand with the martyrs of the early Roman Church and worship the Triune God for all eternity.

For Further Reading:

Henri Daniel-Rops.  The Church of Apostles and Martyrs

Warren H. Carroll.  A History of Christendom.  Volume 1.  The Founding of Christendom.

Reflection: First Martyrs of Rome

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Reflection: Come, Redeemer of the Earth

Today is the feast of St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church.  His is an exciting life included a whirlwind conversion (from catechumen to bishop in one week), a confrontation with the Roman Emperor Theodosis, and writing some of the Church’s most beautiful reflections on Christ, often in response to Arian heretics.  Ambrose was also the composer of several awesome prayers and hymns, including the subject of this post, “Veni, Redemptor Gentium,” more commonly heard today as the Advent song “Savior of the Nations Come.”  “Savior of the Nations Come” is a sort of third-generation translation from Ambrose’s Latin original.  Martin Luther (of Protestant Revolution fame) translated it into German from Latin (“Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland”). The German  was translated into English by William Reynolds in the mid-1800s.  It remains a staple in Lutheran Advent liturgies today, and is also included in various traditional Catholic hymnals.  

 

I first heard the song a few years ago while teaching at a Catholic parish school in Maryland.  It stayed with me, and I decided that I wanted to find the original Ambrosian verses.  I did, and later translated them from Latin into English on my first blog, Ibidem.  

 

I am republishing the translation here, for your reflection.  I have included Ambrose’s original Latin, as well as my verse translation.  I have tried to keep up a rhyme scheme, but loose it every so often.  

 

I pray that, this Advent, we might all draw closer to the Savior of the World.  

 

LATIN

Veni, redemptor gentium,

ostende partum Virginis;

miretur omne saeculum:

talis decet partus Deum.

Non ex virili semine,

sed mystico spiramine

Verbum Dei factum est caro

fructusque ventris floruit.

Alvus tumescit Virginis,

claustrum pudoris permanet,

vexilla virtutum micant,

versatur in templo Deus.

Procedat e thalamo suo,

pudoris aula regia,

geminae gigas substantiae

alacris ut currat viam.

Aequalis aeterno Patri,

carnis tropaeo cingere,

infirma nostri corporis

virtute firmans perpeti.

 

Praesepe iam fulget tuum

lumenque nox spirat novum,

quod nulla nox interpolet

fideque iugi luceat.

 

Sit, Christe, rex piissime,

tibi Patrique gloria

cum Spiritu Paraclito,

in sempiterna saecula. Amen.

 

 

ENGLISH

Come now, Redeemer of the Earth,

Reveal to us the Virgin’s birth;

Every age is thus amazed:

so fit a birth our God has made.

 

Not though a man’s conception,

But by mystic exhalation

The Word of God is thus made flesh

And in a womb, fruit prosperous.

 

Virgin’s womb so soon expanded,

Her monkish modesty defended,

The banner of the angels fluttered,

In this temple God thus abided.

 

She proceeded from her chamber,

Modest palace of the queen mother,

A giant thus with natures two

Eager to run his course right through.

 

Equal to the eternal Father,

Girded in the fleshy armor,

In the weakness of our bodies

Strength in all the virtues lasting.

 

Now your crib still shines as bright

And newer light blows in the night,

for no night can falsify

what faithful faith can clarify.

 

Thus, Christ, most faithful king,

To you and the Father, glory we sing,

With the Spirit, the Paraclete,

In eternal eternity, complete. AMEN!

 

 

For Further Reading: 

 

John P. Bequette, “St. Ambrose of Milan” – Article about St. Ambrose and his importance in the Church.

 

http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/PsH/336 – Provides a fascinating history of the song and those who have translated it, as well as the musical notation used for it.

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