Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day and Catholic Teaching on the Environment

Recently, a Catholic candidate for the presidency told supporters that environmentalism is not a Christian concept - but that man was created to "dominate" the earth. In the national debate over global warming and environmentalism, there are those who do not remember that God created the earth and gave it into our stewardship - for our use, certainly, but also to preserve its resources for future generations. 

Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church places teaching on the environment under the Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal. One would deduce that abuse of the environment is stealing from future generations - and from the other creatures of the world.

Respect for the integrity of creation
2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.  Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

This passage gets a footnote to Centissimus annus (John Paul II - 1991)

37. Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it. In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.76

In all this, one notes first the poverty or narrowness of man's outlook, motivated as he is by a desire to possess things rather than to relate them to the truth, and lacking that disinterested, unselfish and aesthetic attitude that is born of wonder in the presence of being and of the beauty which enables one to see in visible things the message of the invisible God who created them. In this regard, humanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations.

38. In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves. Although people are rightly worried — though much less than they should be — about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes its particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic "human ecology". Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. In this context, mention should be made of the serious problems of modern urbanization, of the need for urban planning which is concerned with how people are to live, and of the attention which should be given to a "social ecology" of work.

Man receives from God his essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness. But he is also conditioned by the social structure in which he lives, by the education he has received and by his environment. These elements can either help or hinder his living in accordance with the truth. The decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specific structures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them. To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience."

Certainly worth considering on this Earth Day 2012, as we hear varying opinions on environmentalism in the political debates.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

25 Years Ago, I Came Home - Part 2 - It's All About the Liturgy

In Part 1 of my reflections on 25 years in the Catholic Church, I focused on the community of friends in faith. Yes, community was one big reason I love the Church, have stayed and became more deeply involved year after year. The other reason is the liturgy.

Tonight, as we gather around the Easter fire, light and bless the new Easter candle, process into church and light the tapers of all those present, and launch into the Exsultet, the great proclamation of the Resurrection of our Lord, I will be doing the thing I love best - being part of the prayer of the community.

From the moment I attended my first Mass while I was in the RCIA process as a candidate for full commuion, I was in love. I found great comfort in the dignity, structure and ritual nature of Catholic worship. As I became comfortable with my own part in it, that love grew - and I went deeper.

Having grown up singing on and off in church and community choirs, I knew I wanted to join the parish choir as soon as the Easter Vigil was over. During the summer, I began training to be a cantor, and in the fall, I was asked to join the parish liturgy committee, where I learned much from the wonderful people who had been on it for years. Soon, I also volunteered to help the diocesan liturgy office to catalog  their music library.  Later, I would be asked to oversee that office during a 2-year hiatus when it was "closed" - and found myself being asked to coordinate diocesan liturgies.  My bishop kept telling me "You can do it!" I was not as sure as he was, but I had a lot of help preparing for the Rite of Election,  Chrism Mass, and Ordinations for two years.

It was when I was asked to attend a major liturgical conference, sitting in a room full of professional liturgists and bishops, that I found myself asking what I was doing there. At that point, a voice inside me said "Because you can do this!"  Armed with the sense that God was calling me to go even deeper, I began a 4-year process of obtaining a Master's Degree in Pastoral Studies with emphasis in liturgy. That has enabled me to coordinate liturgy in two parishes, and to serve the Church in many ways.

Why is the liturgy such a good fit for me? Many reasons.

  • I love praising God. Without Him, and the community of faith with which He has surrounded me, I would not be here... in many ways.
  • I love words. As someone who was once an English Major, I have a love for the words in the Mass.
  • I love music. Born, fortuitously enough, on St. Cecilia's day,  my first songs as a young child were common Protestant church hymns and I had been in choirs and ensembles all my life before joining the Church. I also play guitar, which has occasionally come in handy.
  • I love when things make sense. At heart, I am an intellectual. The more I study liturgy and the more I learn, the more the liturgy "clicks" with me.  The interweaving of how what we pray is what we believe, and the many ways that manifests itself in the Mass - that fascinates me.
  • I love being part of something bigger than myself. Joining the "one voice" of the people raised in prayer to the Father through the Son, in the presence of the Holy Spirit - for that hour or so, I can put away the ego, the cares and concerns of life, and immerse myself in "God's time."

There are probably more reasons, but these, I think are the main ones. So, in two-and-a-half hours, when we gather around the Easter fire, I will be in my element. Immersed in the Mass, part of the great praise of God's people in response to the miracle of Christ's Resurrection.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

25 Years Ago, I Came Home - Part 1 - The Cast of Characters

This year I celebrate my 25th Easter Vigil - my 25th anniversary of becoming a Catholic. I thought it would be easy to write about that... but actually, it's not. I find myself filled with many emotions and memories.  Yes, "it's been a long, strange trip" as the song says. A trip I have honestly never regretted. Most of all, it has been a trip during which I have never been alone. Through it all, I have had an unfailing community of friends.  It is one of the reasons I have felt at home in the Church from the beginning - I had been, all my life, searching for community - and at last, I had found it.

I see their faces as I write this - some living, some now gone to meet the Lord:  Sister Theresa, the feisty Irish nun who taught me about Catholic faith and led the RCIA team that brought me into the Church. (I remember the day we encountered each other, years later, at a national RCIA convention and how moved she was to see someone she had helped initiate now working in the ministry of initiation.)  I see Don and Elna, my devoted and caring sponsors, chosen by the parish because I walked in not knowing anyone, with my two young children in tow (their non-practicing Catholic father never came with me.)  I see the other team members, who after I came into the Church became close friends and fellow ministers in the parish. I see Sarah, a bright, mature and dedicated woman skilled in liturgical drama who ran the parish liturgy committee and was a member of that same RCIA team. Sweet, dear Sarah, who loved liturgy - and taught me to love it too - but who unaccountably, a few years later, broke my heart when she committed suicide. 

I see the faces of the women in the Altar and Rosary Society - who, after I was presented to the parish at the Rite of Welcoming,  came up to me and made me feel so sincerely welcome in that parish. I see the faces of my small community, the choir, who embraced me, formed me in liturgical music, and loved me through the painful breakup of my marriage.  I see those who faithfully served in the many ministries of my very active home parish. I see the faces of Cursillistas, women who returned year after year, to invite and assist other women to know Jesus and the community more deeply. I see the priests who formed me and helped me heal the hurts of life over the years through their roles as retreat leaders and spiritual mentors.

I see the gruff, yet compassionate diocesan vicar who picked me up when I was down in despair over my unemployment who told me: "You need a job, I need a secretary. Do you want to try this?"  (He later mentored and supported me through a master's degree program - for which I can never thank him enough.)  I see the faces of the sincere faithful women who were, for four years, my weekly companions in my learning cohort. I see my friend Patrick, a priest who died of AIDS, who called me every morning during his final weeks to talk.  I see the supportive pastors - the one who confirmed me, the one who recognized my leadership skills and hired me to be part-time liturgy coordinator, another who took a chance and created a dual position for me as director of religious education and liturgy. I see the young pastor, who darkly angry over a perceived betrayal of what was in fact part of his own indiscretion, told me I was fired. 

I see the face of my dear, departed best friend, the man who fell from grace as part of the same dark situation that got me ejected from that community, who taught me the power of unconditional love and of living a Catholic life faithfully through the storms of life. I see the vaguely bewildered face of the priest who, in the confessional, heard my tale of woe, absolved me of my anger and occasional mistrust in God - and welcomed me to life in a new parish in a new city. I see the faces of the people of my current parish, devoted older Anglo folks with years in the ministries of music, catechesis and parish leadership - along with their relative newcomer Hispanic  counterparts, the people who have shared my love of my parish for nearly 10 years. 

I see the faces of my now young-adult sons - one who rejects the Church, the other who embraces it deeply, but only on occasion.  I see the faces of fellow workers in and around the diocese, and even around the country, each one, in his or her own way, trying to build the Kingdom of God. I see the faces of faithful Catholics from all walks of life, who I have "met" virtually in my social networks and through my online course facilitator's role - and I know that even if I may never meet most of them, we all belong to something larger than ourselves. Most especially I see the faces of those in my family, parish and diocese and the friends who have supported me for the last three years, during a time of great grief and  loss - through one of my deepest experiences of Paschal Mystery.

This Easter Triduum, as I celebrate 25 years of Catholic life, I am grateful for all of them, in good times and bad. - and to all those I may not have mentioned.  I thank them for being part of my journey of faith. Indeed, I thank God for them.

Where Charity and Love Prevail

Tonight. It Begins. Again.  As the sun's light fades tonight, Catholics all over the world enter the Easter Triduum - the Three Days outside of time. Three days different from all others. There is no more "business as usual" - instead, we surrender to being swept into the dark world of Jesus' Passion and death, leading us to the glory of Resurrection in the darkness before the dawn of Easter.

In the heart of this - the Paschal Mystery - we are asked to discover who we really are as disciples of Jesus Christ. Through the rituals of the washing of the feet and the procession of the Holy Eucharist tonight, we are led to discover the ultimate meaning of divine love - a love that was and is willing to give all for others without holding back.

In this we find our identity. May we rediscover it tonight with joy. Where charity and love prevail, there is God.