Category Archives: Reflection

Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 3)

Happy Feast of St. Joseph!  St. Joseph is the MAN (meaning he is awesome AND his is my model of manhood).  I’ve written about how awesome St. Joseph is HERE and am also working on a series of reflections about him and how he is a model of manly virtues.  

 

Shot from The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke) showing my man St. Joseph being an awesome foster father to the Incarnate Lord.  

 

But this post, like my devotion to Joseph, isn’t really about Joseph.  Its about Jesus.  

 

Today, we continue our reflections on the Creed, and our reflections on our Lord Jesus Christ, by examining the historical importance of the Incarnation and the theological importance of the Hypostatic Union.

 

For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven

One of the fundamental truths the Church teaches about Jesus is that Christ is truly God and truly Man.  He isn’t part god, part man, like Hercules or some other demigod from other world mythologies.  Rather, in the words of the Council of Chalcedon, Christ has two natures, Divine and human, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.”  When the Incarnation happened, God took on a human nature without losing any of the Divine Nature.  It is what the Church calls the Hypostatic Union.  Practically speaking, this means that Jesus was fully God, and yet truly one of us, “like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15).  All of the Christological heresies in the Church, from Gnosticism onward, took issue with some aspect of this fundamental teaching of the Gospels.  The Creed of Nicaea answers their heresies sometimes before they were even formulated.

 

Perhaps Christ was merely God, with an imaginary body.  So the Gnostics, specifically the Docetists, taught.  The New Testament allows no such confusion.

 

Perhaps He was like God, but not quite God, since it would not be fitting for God to join with His creation.  No, Arius, that’s not right either. 

 

Perhaps He was God and Man, with a real body, but with two persons: the Second Person of the Trinity and the human person Jesus, son of Mary.  No, Nestorius, that doesn’t work either; He wouldn’t be truly God. 

 

Maybe, at the moment of the Incarnation, the power of God was SO POWERFUL, that the divine Nature subsumed Jesus’ human nature?  No, you Monophysites, then He wouldn’t be truly human.  You can’t be human without a human nature. 

 

What if Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t really God, but was so good, as a moral teacher, that God picked Him to be His Son at His baptism by John in the Jordan River?  No, Apollianarius, then he wouldn’t be God; he would be a mere hero from Greek and Roman mythology.

 

Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) 100% God and 100% Man.  That statement continues to baffle people today.  The pendulum has swung away from those who sought to paint Jesus as God and not really man to the point that you might be mocked today for considering Jesus truly God, that the miracles attributed to Him really happened, that He did, indeed, rise from the dead.  Modernism, “the synthesis of all heresies” according to Pope St. Pius X, tried desperately to keep the relevancy of the Gospels while gutting it of the spiritual dimensions found therein.  The result was a mixed bag of confusion and error, a perfect storm of bad history and messy heresy.

 

And the Church continues to confess, in season and out of season, that “He came down from heaven.”

 

Fine fine FINE.  He’s truly God and truly man.  But we didn’t really need Him as a redeemer, just as a model for right living. 

 

No, Pelagius, that doesn’t work either.

 

The line “For us men and for our salvation” answers the question, “Why did God become incarnate?”  Check out one of the most famous lines in all of Scripture:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17)

 

Our salvation is through Christ Jesus, through the grace of God for us.  It was this fundamental facet of our Faith that Pelagius denied.  Pelagius taught that it was our work, our effort, that won us our salvation.  In other words, we weren’t redeemed by Christ, but we instead seized our place in Heaven.  In fact, we didn’t need a redemption at all, because Adam’s sin (Original Sin) had no affect on us directly; rather, we followed his bad example and sinned.  Christ was not our redeemer; He was merely a good example to counteract Adam’s bad example.

 

Now Pelagius should have known better.  At least the earlier heretics like the Gnostics and Arius did not have the benefit of the Nicene Creed to help in their theological discussions.  Pelagius did, having come onto the theological scene a generation after Nicaea I.  St. Augustine dealt well with Pelagius’ arguments, earning Augustine the nickname “Doctor of Grace.”

 

So Christ, truly God and truly man, saved us from our sins.

 

What of our good works?  Are they as bad as Martin Luther taught in the 16th century, that the best human act is at least a venial sin?  Are they a waste of time, since our redemption has been won for us by the blood of Christ on the cross?

 

Often forgotten in this context, at least by those who reject the Church’s position on salvation, is St. Paul comment in his letter to the Colossians, that in his suffering he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God” (Colossians 1:24-25).  In other words, our actions unite with those of Christ for the whole Church.  What is “lacking” is our joining our joys and sufferings with those of Christ, through which we participate in Christ’s sacrifice.  This is particularly clear at the Mass, where the faithful are called upon to “lift up your hearts.”  The Roman Canon has the priest pray to God for those gathered at the liturgy,

Whose faith and devotion are known to you.
For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise
or they offer it for themselves
and all who are dear to them:
for the redemption of their souls,
in hope of health and well-being,
and paying their homage to you,
the eternal God, living and true.

 

At every Mass we, in our prayers, admit that we are not the source of our salvation, but that we play a role in it through our participation in the sacrifice of Christ.

 

Yet it isn’t to the sacrifice of the cross that the Creed turns at this moment.  Rather, it is the other side of Christ’s life, the Annunciation itself.  We will turn to this mystery in our next reflection.

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Reflection: I Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 2)

Let’s continue our reflections on the nature of Jesus Christ.  As before, quotes from the Nicene Creed are in bold.

 

“Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”

The word we translate as “consubstantial” was at the heart of the Arian crisis in the latter part of the fourth century.  “Consubstantial” is the English translation of homoousios in Greek.  The word is a dense one, indicating that the Persons in the Trinity are “of the same substance,” which philosophically means they are the same thing, that they share the same nature.  For the purposes of Arian crisis, homoousios means that the Father and the Son are, in fact, both entirely God.  They are the same “substance.”

 

You would think that such clear teaching from the Church would solve the problem of Arianism.  Yet, as with most heresies, just because a teaching is rejected does not mean that the teaching goes extinct.  More often than not, a heresy with little public support goes underground.  Usually, over time, such heresies die out.  However, may reemerge, having slightly adjusted their teachings to maintain the heresy but seem orthodox.

 

This is exactly what happened with Arianism.

 

Nobody wanted to be caught teaching pure Arianism.  Instead, what we now call semi-Arians began teaching Arianism lite.  They centered their twisting of Church teaching on the very word taught by the Council of Nicaea: homoousios.  Homoousios was too strong of a word, they held.  The Son couldn’t be the exact same substance of the Father.  So they proposed a different word, nearly identical in Greek: homoiousios.  The difference was one letter, but that one letter changed the entire meaning of the word.  Rather than speaking of the Father and the Son as the “same substance,” the semi-Arians taught that they were “of a similar substance.”  Close, but very different.  Something similar to another does not mean they are the same.

 

Many in the Church recognized this distinction, and they rejected the semi-Arian position.  However, in the intervening years since the Council, the semi-Arians had risen to ranks of influence in the Roman Empire, even into the court of Constantine (who was not yet baptized, and was receiving instruction in the Faith from semi-Arian catechists).  The result was a persecution of the Christians by the semi-Arians.  Bishops throughout the Church gave in to the heretics, some after severe torture.  The pope at the time, Pope Liberius, the first pope not recognized as a saint, was coerced into signing an ambiguous document which could be interpreted along the lines of Nicaea’s decrees, but could also be interpreted as a support of the semi-Arians.  Despite Liberius including a note saying he intended the statement to be interpreted according to the Church, the semi-Arians proceeded to use the statement as papal support for their position.

 

The whole matter finally ended not with another council, but with the rise of an ant-Christian Roman emperor.  Julian was baptized as a Christian in his youth, but because of the murderous actions of Constantine’s family after Constantine’s death, Julian vowed to reject Christianity and bring back paganism.  In an effort to expediate the demise of Christianity, he removed any official government protection for the semi-Arians.  Without that protection, the orthodox began preaching more vigorously to the semi-Arians, with orthodox bishops publicly speaking against the heresy.  Soon semi-Arianism was officially gone, thought it would crop up throughout Church history (some quasi-Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, hold views similar to the Arians and semi-Arians).

 

That is why this line in the Nicene Creed is so important.  It is a reminder of not just the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation, but also the heroic strength of those who defended this truth.

 

 

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“Christ in Majesty” from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC

 

“Through him all things were made.”

 

This line from the Creed encapsulates the opening, rather bold, statement from the Gospel According to John, which begins, “In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-3).  Central to the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Creation is the providence of God.  We are not blindly made, started by some distant god who sets us on our merry, or miserable, way without guide or directions.  Rather, God carefully guides us to our destination.  That’s the ultimate meaning behind the book of Job, the answer to why God allows suffering.  Following the thought of Job, St. Paul echoes, regarding God, that “from him and through him and for him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

 

God made the world, and became incarnate as Jesus.  This flies in the face of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, which I examined in some detail in a blog post long ago.  For our purposes, we’ll look at Gnosticism’s hatred of creation.  For the Gnostic, the physical world is evil, and it was made by an evil god, who trapped our poor spiritual souls in evil physical bodies.  Our spiritual salvation comes not at that creator god’s hand, but at the hands of the spiritual god, who taught us the secret of how to escape our evil physical bodies.  However, the Judeo-Christian view of creation encapsulated in the Creed is that the God who created is the source of our redemption.  By calling the Son the source of all of creation, we reaffirm that the Son is God, just as much as the Father is God.  

 

The Gnostics had an issue with the Incarnation.  How could a good god take on a physical body if bodies are evil?  This led to a version of Gnosticism called Docetism, which taught that Jesus’ body wasn’t a real body, more of a pretend one.  You see references to this in some of the Gnostic gospels, where the Apostles try to touch Jesus, and their hands pass through his body.  The Church’s response to these appears in the the center of the Creed, where we as Church affirm the great mystery of the Incarnation.  

 

And that will be the topic of our next reflection.  

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Reflection: I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (part 1)

How many unfinished series did I start with this blog?  Sheesh!

 

This is the continuation of a series of reflections on the Creed, begun during the Year of Faith (which was begun by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and was concluded by Pope Francis in 2013).  Since we should always strive to grow closer to God, not just through years of Faith, I’ll pick up the reflections here.  This part of the series will look at what the Church teaches about Our Lord Jesus Christ.  As with previous parts of this reflection series, I will look at a section of the Creed each time.  If you want to read the previous reflections, you can find them here and here.

 

So then, let’s begin.

 

“I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ”

 

Image result for Jesus

JESUS!

“Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?”  Too often that question is reserved for evangelizing Jehovah’s Witnesses or some Evangelical televangelist.  But it shouldn’t be.  It is a serious question that strikes at the deepest levels of our spiritual life.  Oftentimes, however, our beloved Protestant brothers in Faith seek too narrow of a relationship with Jesus.  Yes, you MUST accept Jesus as Lord and as Savior, for that is the first, not the last, step in a dynamic relationship with Him.  Catholics are called to a radical relationship, not just accepting Jesus (as if that was the only thing necessary for salvation) but living His will in the world.  To paraphrase a prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila, We are Christ to the world.  We are the hands and feet He uses to spread the Gospel.  This is the calling of EVERY Christian, no matter his or her denomination.  We cannot fulfill our mission without first accepting Jesus into our lives.  We cannot stop there; our act of Faith is not enough, for as the Epistle of St. James notes, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).

The Creed uses the word “one” in reference to Jesus.  As St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God.  There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.  This was the testimony at the proper time.”  There is only one Jesus, one moment where God entered into history (more on that later).  Jesus alone is Lord.  Not Caesar (Paul was writing in the Roman atmosphere) but Jesus, crucified for our sake.  We won’t get into the controversy over this verse and the veneration of saints.  I will merely say this: praying to saints is the same as asking someone to pray for you here on earth, only the saint is closer to God, being as the saint is in Heaven.

 

The word “Christ” is the anglicized version of Christos, which in turn is a Greek version of Mashiach (Messiah).  All of these words mean the same thing: “Anointed One.”  Christ is THE Anointed One of God.  There were many Christs throughout the Old Testament.  Anyone anointed priest, prophet, or king among the Israelites was a Messiah, a Christ.  But Jesus is THE Christ, the ultimate Anointed One, for He has in His person the fullness of priest, prophet, and king.

 

“The Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.

There is a crisis of Faith in the Church; there is always such a crisis, as there was in the earliest moments of the Church (did not Judas leave the Last Supper to betray Our Lord?).  We see a similar crisis in the earliest Christian centuries, when the Church faced persecution and death at the hands of the Roman Empire.  In 313 that all changed.  In that pivotal year, Emperor Constantine promulgated the Edict of Milan, which granted Christianity the status of an accepted religion in the Roman Empire.  No longer were Christians hunted down and killed simply for their Creed.  Now churches could be built, preaching could commence on a grand scale, and Christian thinkers could meditate on the great mysteries of the Faith.

 

But with time to think, Christian thinkers began to question fundamental aspects of the Church’s theology.  A theological revolution erupted in Alexandria, Egypt when a priest named Arius, having reflected on the Scriptures, began teaching that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was not God, that He was just a creature like everything else (the highest creature, of course, but still a creature).  Arius was clever, brilliant even, and had an overabundance of charisma.  Many followed his teaching, and enormous pressure piled upon the pope and bishops to accept his heresy.  Riots broke out in the streets of the empire as men and women of both theological camps sought to beat out the heretics (both sides saw the other as heretics) and establish themselves as the dominant theological voice in the Church.

 

People took their beliefs a little more seriously back then.

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Serious debating for serious men!

Cries for a solution reached the ears of Emperor Constantine, and he called for bishops from around the Roman Empire to meet in a lovely city called Nicaea.  Even the pope sent representatives.  The debates between the bishops got intense (the story is that St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus, punched Arius after hearing the heretic defiantly argue his heresies at the council), and eventually, the orthodox side won by a landslide (only two bishops voted against the Church’s teaching that the Son was God).

 

That should have settled the matter, but men being what they are, an even greater Arian crisis erupted.  Heretics of political power captured and killed those who stood against them.  It looked as if the Church would crumble.  As St. Jerome would later write, “The world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian.”  But the Church prevailed and today, very few so-called Christians claim that Jesus was not God.

 

The First Council of Nicaea clarified the Church’s teaching about Jesus.  At Mass, we recite the Nicene Creed, which is the statement of belief composed at that council (with some additions about the Holy Spirit composed at the First Council of Constantinople in 381).  The wording of each statement in this creed was carefully selected, each emphasizing the truth of Jesus’ divinity.  Hence, in the Creed we repeat the words of the Council’s declarations.  We acclaim Christ as God.  All of those phrases (“God from God, Light from Light”) get at the fundamental teaching of Nicaea, that the Son is God, just as much God as the Father.  There is no big God and little God.  There’s just God.  Words like “begotten” and “Light from Light” indicate that the Son has the same Divine Nature as the Father, no more and no less.  They are equally God, “consubstantial” to use the word in the Creed.

 

What’s that?  You don’t know what “consubstantial” means?

 

Well, I guess we’ll have to address that in the next post in this series.

 

 

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What are you doing for Lent?

Lent is a season of penance and preparation for the glorious Resurrection of Jesus.  It begins with the distribution of ashes and ends (if we include the mini-season of the Easter Triduum) with the darkness before the light of Easter Vigil.  Catholics around the world traditionally give up something for Lent, be it dessert or television or something else we love.  Yet too many of us stop there, limiting our Lenten observance to simply removing something.  Is it any wonder that Lent has become a time of moaning and groaning, of more sadness than joy?

Image result for grumpy lent

Preach it, Grumpy Cat. 

We ignore the Gospel for Ash Wednesday.  Christ tells us,

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you (Matthew 6:16-18).

 

Lent isn’t a time for doom and gloom.  Lent is a time of preparation as well as penance.  We fast, but only to the extent that it brings us closer to Christ.  If our fast isn’t done with that goal in mind, then it would be a reason for gloomy faces and depressed comments.

 

But even in Lent, we are an Easter people.

 

That’s why I’m a big supporter of doing something for Lent.  There are lots of ways to approach this.  You could add some prayers to your daily routine (I’ve added a rosary on the way to work in the morning), or some spiritual reading (I’m reading Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelley) to draw closer to Christ in this holy season. 

 

If you do fast from something, make it count, but don’t go too far (as one priest I know put it, don’t become a penance for someone else!).  For example, for years I would give up drinking anything but water during Lent.  I did this for several years, and without fail I would get sick (lack of vitamins maybe?).  It might be more of a fast to do a limited amount of something you love, rather than cutting it out cold turkey.  So, in my case, this year I realized I waste a lot of time on Facebook (plus it gets me depressed half the time).  In response, I’ve limited my Facebook time to 15 minutes at most each day, but ONLY after I’ve done my spiritual reading AND written at least a paragraph for an article or blogpost (like this one :D).  

 

Of course, as I said, different people have different spiritual habits and do different penances and preparations during Lent.  The key, no matter what you do, is us the time of spiritual cleansing to prepare a place for our risen Lord who, in His infinite love, died for us so that we could be with Him forever in Heaven.  

 

So smile during Lent, carry your penance with the taste of Easter joy, and hopefully you will find yourself closer to Jesus, He who walks with you along the journey and waits for you at the mouth of the empty tomb.  

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Reflection on Laudato Si by Pope Francis (Part VI)

Did you think I forgot about this series?  Yes? 

 

Well, I didn’t!

 

I mean, I kinda did, but I REALLY didn’t.

 

In light of recent comments by Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences that “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese,” despite China’s consistently messy human rights record and it’s dishonor of having two of the top ten most polluted cities in the world within its borders, it seems like the right time to reopen your copy of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si (or read it online) and look at what the Holy Father has said about properly implementing the Church’s social teachings in light of a true human ecology.  

 

You can read parts I through V by following the links on Part V

 

Here’s Part VI.  

 

In Chapter Five of Laudato Si, Pope Francis addresses the environmental movement, in particular the international efforts and organizations which have sought to solve the modern ecological crisis.  While many people place the burden of fixing the environment on such organizations, Pope Francis seems to have his doubts and his disappointments with such groups, at least as they are currently organized.  Francis laments that “the same ingenuity which has brought about enormous technological progress has so far proved incapable of finding effective ways of dealing with grave environmental and social problems worldwide” (164).  The issue isn’t that no countries are addressing the ecological crises that we face today; the problem is that each country is not working with all of the other countries to provide a lasting solution, not simply one tainted by political parties (166).  Civil groups have worked to help the planet and defend human rights, but they can only do so much when they do not have the cooperation of the world’s governments. 

 

The Holy Father does mention some progress in this vein, such as the work of the Basel Convention, which helps regulate the international movement and disposal of hazardous waste (168).  However, the big risk in any enviro-political discussion is the dignity of the poor and poorer countries.  Proposed solutions to ecological problems will cost a lot of money, and too often the bill is left at the feet of poorer people and countries (170).  A solution that helps the developed world might completely ignore the human needs of the developing world (172).  There is a need for a “true world political authority,” as Benedict XVI stated in Caritas in Veritate (see Laudato Si 175)

There is no one solution to every environmental issue, and there isn’t one solution to the same problem in different parts of the world, “because each country or region has its own problems and limitations” (Laudato Si 180).  The laws set in place in a country cannot change with the arrival of new political parties into office.  These laws must transcend the political divide, and politicians must see in them the long-term solutions to problems, rather than their own short-term political gains (181).  We see this issue especially in our own country, where a law passed by a government of one political party will be amended or removed as soon as the other party comes into office.  The laws helping the environment (or defending fundamental rights, like the right to life) must not fall into that category. 

 

The discussion over environmental laws should not stem from certain business propositions.  In other words, one should not wait until an economic factor arises to discuss the protection of the environment.  Instead, environmental discussions should play a part in all other discussions, including those dealing with human well-being and working conditions.  Repeatedly the Pope emphasizes the evils of consumerism and how such a lifestyle ruins our relationships with others and the world.  We can use new technologies without making our focus be how much we can get out of them.  We can use technology to help the world (see 184-187 for more on this). 

 

Paragraph 188 has a short, but important reminder from Pope Francis.  With all his discussion of scientific findings regarding the environment or the problems with modern political and economic systems, the Holy Father takes a moment to remind everyone that “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”  Many writers falsely claimed that Pope Francis somehow added human-caused climate change to the teachings of the Church.  He did not, and reminds us of that here.  

 

Returning to political issues, Pope Francis notes that “Politics must not be subject to the economy,” meaning that one should not make all political decisions based on economic policies, such as saving banks or bailing out companies.  The Holy Father notes that many nations wasted a perfect opportunity to reevaluate their economic and political structures when responding to the economic crisis of 2007/2008.  Decisions should have been made in light of the common good and respect for all people; instead, many nations continued using the economic structures that did more harm than good in the past.  “The problem of the real economy is not confronted with vigour, yet it is the real economy which makes diversification and improvement in production possible, helps companies to function well, and enables small and medium businesses to develop and create employment” (189).  More funding and research should be put into working with our environment, such as sustainable use of natural resources and finding methods of production that do not harm the environment (191).  Likewise, economic growth should be examined in light of human dignity so that a location’s quality of life does not diminish in light of developments (194).   Economies shouldn’t be about maximizing profits, but rather about serving the citizens of a country. 

 

The key to all of this is subsidiarity (196).  Subsidiarity allows smaller groups in society to govern certain aspects of society, rather than having them all fall under the control of the government.  For example, disciplinary issues in a school should be dealt with by school personal.  If for some reason the issue reaches beyond the scope of the school, the local police get involved.  But the local police do not get involved if the matter can be dealt with at the smaller level.  This is a basic tenant of the Church’s social doctrine.  Pope Francis is evoking this teaching in regards to his discussion of politics and economics.  Too top heavy politics and economics do not leave room for the little guy, and often lead to the oppression of smaller units in society (we see this sort of discussion come up in the USA when politicians debate states’ rights issues).  When the various levels of a society work together, when politics, economics, and ethics unite, “we see how true it is
that ‘unity is greater than conflict'” (198, quoting Evangelii Gaudium, 228).  

 

Pope Francis concludes this chapter with a reflection on how Faith can play a role in all of this.  Against proponents of scientism, the Holy Father notes that science cannot explain “the whole of reality,” and that reasoning with science alone leaves “little room . . . for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things” (199).  If we lose sight of our purpose as human beings, of the greater good of society, of our place in God’s plan for creation, we will likewise lose our ability to protect our common home.  Above all, dialogue is needed between groups of believers and branches of science.  “The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that ‘realities are greater than ideas'” (201, quoting Evangelii Gaudium, 231).  

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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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