Once again, my apologies for my absence. Any of you who have gone through a job addition know that one of the first challenges is establishing a new workflow. So, is my new workflow... flowing? Let's just say we're in the river and we found the current. Now we just need to figure out how to keep with the current!
In some ways, I think it's a Godsend my concluding reflection for Fratelli Tutti was delayed. The reason for this thought is that we are a week away from starting a new Church year. When we think of a new year, we often think of a change of heart, a new way of seeing the world, and finding hope to be better people. From this standpoint, can we see Fratelli Tutti as part of this time of new beginnings? Let's find out!
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis sets the parable of the Good Samaritan as the central Biblical image of the Encyclical. In doing so, he is reminding us of Jesus' call to view human dignity in a completely new way (or perhaps to see human dignity as God intended from the beginning).
In the time before Christ, the Covenant between God and humanity was seen as limited to the Children of Israel. "Love thy neighbor" really meant "Love thy fellow Hebrew." Sadly, this view of the Covenant was used as justification to mistreat those deemed outside the Covenant, such as Samaritans.
Time and time again, Jesus presents a more expansive understanding of the Covenant. The most blatant example being when Jesus states in Luke 6:27-38 to not only love thy neighbor, but also love thy enemy. In doing so, Jesus shows us that the people we perceive as "enemy" are not enemies at all. We are members of one human family and should treat each other as such. The true enemy is evil, the privation of the good. Ergo the oft used but oft forgotten maxim, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."
Let's refresh our memory of the story of the Good Samaritan. Here is the parable as presented in Fratelli Tutti.
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”(Lk 10:25-37). (Fratelli Tutti. 56)
Shows mercy - What a beautiful understanding of right action. And being that Christianity is a faith with strong emphasis on imitating the actions of Christ, it reminds us that what we are actually imitating is the mercy of God. The irony of the story of the Good Samaritan is that those who should have acted with mercy - the priest and the levite - refused to show mercy to the man beaten and forgotten. It was the forgotten one, the Samaritan, who acted according to the Covent by showing mercy. By extension, this passage should pierce the heart of every Christian with the reflective question: Do I show mercy in the universal manner Jesus calls for or am I exclusive with whom I am merciful toward?
How does this story connect to the Church's New Year? This coming Sunday is the beginning of Advent, a paradoxical season. We begin our new Church year by joyfully anticipating Christ's final return in glory. So... we start by looking forward to the end times? Yes! For many, Christ's final return in glory is met with fear, presuming war and cataclysmic doom. However, the cry of Advent in the Greek, Maranatha, indicates a joyful anticipation of Christ's return, not fear. It's a beautiful paradox, reminding us how Jesus often would take culturally presumed norms and turn them on their heads.
Speaking as a Pastor, we all need to be "turned on our heads" this Advent. We have been struggling through a national pandemic that has created great division, death, fear, and denial. At least in the United States, a toxic political environment has emerged that is worse than any I can recall in my brief 47 years of life. And as we approach the months of December, January, and February, I fear the combination of "Covid fatigue" along with months that can be long, dark, and cold in the Northern Hemisphere will create a culture of depression. To state the problem simply, we have enough in our world that communicates a "dark Advent" of doom and death. We need "an Advent of light" and joy to signal a new beginning.
And what is at the heart of this new beginning I pray comes this Advent? A renewed sense of the communal love that all of us are to share as members of the human family. A new sense of detesting the divisions that fear and hatred have created in our world. Embracing the simple truth that I am my brother's, sister's, neighbor's, friend's, enemy's, and stranger's keeper. And I pray this Advent can be a return to embracing the human family in its true catholic/universal sense, while also distancing ourselves from the trap of recreating an exclusionary view of God's Covenant.
Here is this same sentiment as presented by Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti.
57. This parable has to do with an age-old problem. Shortly after its account of the creation of the world and of man, the Bible takes up the issue of human relationships. Cain kills his brother Abel and then hears God ask: “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen 4:9). His answer is one that we ourselves all too often give: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (ibid.). By the very question he asks, God leaves no room for an appeal to determinism or fatalism as a justification for our own indifference. Instead, he encourages us to create a different culture, in which we resolve our conflicts and care for one another.
58. The Book of Job sees our origin in the one Creator as the basis of certain common rights: “Did not he who made me in the womb also make him? And did not the same one fashion us in the womb?” (Job 31:15). Many centuries later, Saint Irenaeus would use the image of a melody to make the same point: “One who seeks the truth should not concentrate on the differences between one note and another, thinking as if each was created separately and apart from the others; instead, he should realize that one and the same person composed the entire melody”.
59. In earlier Jewish traditions, the imperative to love and care for others appears to have been limited to relationships between members of the same nation. The ancient commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev 19:18) was usually understood as referring to one’s fellow citizens, yet the boundaries gradually expanded, especially in the Judaism that developed outside of the land of Israel. We encounter the command not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you (cf. Tob 4:15). In the first century before Christ, Rabbi Hillel stated: “This is the entire Torah. Everything else is commentary”. The desire to imitate God’s own way of acting gradually replaced the tendency to think only of those nearest us: “The compassion of man is for his neighbour, but the compassion of the Lord is for all living beings” (Sir 18:13).
60. In the New Testament, Hillel’s precept was expressed in positive terms: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt 7:12). This command is universal in scope, embracing everyone on the basis of our shared humanity, since the heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Hence the summons to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
61. In the oldest texts of the Bible, we find a reason why our hearts should expand to embrace the foreigner. It derives from the enduring memory of the Jewish people that they themselves had once lived as foreigners in Egypt: “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9). “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34). “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (Deut 24:21-22). The call to fraternal love echoes throughout the New Testament: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Gal 5:14). “Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness” (1 Jn 2:10-11). “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 Jn 3:14). “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
62. Yet this call to love could be misunderstood. Saint Paul, recognizing the temptation of the earliest Christian communities to form closed and isolated groups, urged his disciples to abound in love “for one another and for all” (1 Thess 3:12). In the Johannine community, fellow Christians were to be welcomed, “even though they are strangers to you” (3 Jn 5). In this context, we can better understand the significance of the parable of the Good Samaritan: love does not care if a brother or sister in need comes from one place or another. For “love shatters the chains that keep us isolated and separate; in their place, it builds bridges. Love enables us to create one great family, where all of us can feel at home… Love exudes compassion and dignity”.
Avoiding the trap of closed communities. In many ways, this has been at the heart of the psychological stress of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Out of concern for the common good, we have physically closed ourselves from the activities we typically participate in to protect each other's health, which is a good thing. As we have done this, has our heart also become closed to the love we all need? Have we found creative ways to stay connected with the community of faith that is part of our lifeblood not only as Christians, but as a human species? Have we taken time to pray with the hope-filling question, "How will I live as a child of the Covenant once I can fully embrace my neighbor?" Or have we chosen a darker road of deeper exclusion, allowing physical distance to bleed into an emotional and spiritual distance from each other and God?
As word of vaccines and new treatments offer glimmers of hope amid this pandemic, let's ready our hearts this Advent to turn our world on its head in a good way. Let us distance ourselves from the cultural hate, distrust, and fear that is tearing our global community apart. Let us not behave in an exclusionary manner, seeking only to affirm those who are closest to us. Let us have a true Advent of embracing the breadth of God's Covenant. To put it simply, this Advent, let us start the Church's new year by loving one another as Christ has loved us.
Spiritual Exercise: As we approach Advent, is your heart filled with hope or fear? Are you joyfully awaiting with hope the end of this pandemic and a return to communal life or has depression and fear created barriers that need to be torn down. Wherever you find yourselves spiritually, let Christ turn you and our world on its head. It's time to move away from a culture of distrust and hate. Let us live as citizens in the Kingdom of God and rebuild the bonds of trust and love.
To begin, I apologize for not being with you last week to offer a reflection. I received a phone call from the Diocese of La Crosse a little over a week ago with the news I was being named a Dean (Vicar Forane). What does it me to be a Dean? Well, it really depends on what the Bishop needs us to do since each Diocese has different needs. My Bishop, Bishop Callahan, explained in his letter that he wants me to care for the well being of my brother priests in the area I live, field concerns from the people of God, oversee the Regis Catholic Schools system, and other tasks the Bishop may ask of me. In other words, to avoid the use of any snarky jokes, people both congratulated me and offered condolences upon news of my appointment!
All kidding aside, it is an honor to be named a Dean. It's one of those honors we privately (and at times publicly) pray never comes to us as priests, but we also know is an inevitability (I thank God for term limits as a Dean). Do pray for me as I embrace this new ministerial role.
In addition to this news, something else has kept me away from writing: Covid-19. Thankfully, I have yet to bear the cross of this disease, but my home state of Wisconsin and the city I serve of Eau Claire are sadly becoming hotspots. I have had five Covid-19 funerals (and received a call this morning of another C-19 death while working on these final edits) and currently have a number of hospitalized parishioners. Given the unfortunate politicization of Covid-19 in the United States, even mentioning the subject can create deep divisions and anger. It is not my intent to anger any of you by sharing this, but only to offer a Pastor's plea: This disease is real - stay safe and pray for those who suffer with this disease.
Of the many inflammatory topics that arise with Covid-19, there are two that need to be addressed that fits well with Fratelli Tutti: What are the roles of politics and the economy for a society? One reason why people in the United States are resistant to embrace all the suggested safety measures for Covid-19 is for economic reasons. Whether it be indefinite furloughs or a small business that no longer can survive, we need to be careful not to jump to presumptions about people who are fighting Covid-19 protocols. The reason for opposition might not be selfishness, but simply the human desire to care for their family's fiscal needs. I, too, feel that tension. Thankfully, I have not had to lay off any of my parish staff. However, depending on how Covid-19 impacts the parishioners ability to support the parish, I may have to face hard decisions no pastor wishes to make.
This leads to the heart of my reflection for this week by starting with a foundational principle of Catholic Social Teaching: An economy is meant to serve the people, not the people serve the economy. A beautiful reflection of this principle was practiced by our Government when the Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) was enacted. It preserved a fundamental political philosophy of our and most other countries: If the government needs to hinder the employment of an individual or group of people for the sake of the common good, then it is also the government's responsibility to provide for those peoples. Sadly, as our election approaches tomorrow, the discussion of a second round of this assistance has, similar to Covid-19, become politicized to the point of gridlock over ideological stances. Please pray for our country.
These kind of tensions were not lost on Pope Francis when exploring Fratelli Tutti.
7. As I was writing this letter, the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.
8. It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together”. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all. (Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis 7-8)
The masculine character of the word "fraternity" led some to initial confusion of who this document was directed toward. Needless to say, the inclusion of brothers and sisters in paragraph eight clarifies that all are called to a common kinship. Some have criticized Pope Francis for offering in this encyclical a theme that seems so basic and devoid of theological gravitas. However, speaking as a pastor, the tone makes complete sense when looking at the condition of our world. At least in the United States, we have culturally "de-evolved" in our sense of kinship with one another. The fundamental disposition of heart that all are created in God's image and likeness is eroding into inflammatory divisiveness. We are in desperate need of seeing one another again as brothers and sisters with a common goal: To be the best version of the person God created us to be.
In other areas of the world, cultural divides are exacerbated by horrific economic conditions. In the historic interview of Pope Francis after his election as Pope, he cited the greatest challenges he saw in the Church.
The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing. (Pope Francis, The Pope: How the Church Will Change, La Repubblica)
Some found this quote by Pope Francis confusing, wondering why he didn't touch on socially hot button topics like abortion. However, his answer reminded me of an interview I heard by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga right after Pope Benedict XVI's resignation. In the interview, he spoke of the extreme poverty in Central and South America which leaves the youth largely unemployed and in danger of being swept up into the drug cartels. This interview, combined with Pope Francis' insight into the most desperate needs of our world, made me wonder if I had become overly Eurocentric in my presumptions of the greatest issues facing our global community. I invite you to watch the interview below.
Cardinal Maradiaga's reflection on the struggles of youth in Honduras reminded me of Pope Francis' criticism of western culture in regard to migration. The presumption of many is that the United States is the land of opportunity for the downtrodden and forgotten. However, as Cardinal Maradiaga rightly points out, many Central and South American youth who do immigrate to the United States find that they trade one set of problems for a new set of problems. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my homeland and am proud to be a United States citizen. However, that pride must also be tempered with humility, acknowledging our country's brokenness. While reading Pope Francis' reflection on human dignity at the boarders, that tension was revisited.
AN ABSENCE OF HUMAN DIGNITY ON THE BORDERS
37. Certain populist political regimes, as well as certain liberal economic approaches, maintain that an influx of migrants is to be prevented at all costs. Arguments are also made for the propriety of limiting aid to poor countries, so that they can hit rock bottom and find themselves forced to take austerity measures. One fails to realize that behind such statements, abstract and hard to support, great numbers of lives are at stake. Many migrants have fled from war, persecution and natural catastrophes. Others, rightly, “are seeking opportunities for themselves and their families. They dream of a better future and they want to create the conditions for achieving it”.
38. Sadly, some “are attracted by Western culture, sometimes with unrealistic expectations that expose them to grave disappointments. Unscrupulous traffickers, frequently linked to drug cartels or arms cartels, exploit the weakness of migrants, who too often experience violence, trafficking, psychological and physical abuse and untold sufferings on their journey”. Those who emigrate “experience separation from their place of origin, and often a cultural and religious uprooting as well. Fragmentation is also felt by the communities they leave behind, which lose their most vigorous and enterprising elements, and by families, especially when one or both of the parents migrates, leaving the children in the country of origin”. For this reason, “there is also a need to reaffirm the right not to emigrate, that is, to remain in one’s homeland”.
39. Then too, “in some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and it needs to be addressed decisively”. Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person. Hence they ought to be “agents in their own redemption”. No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.
40. “Migrations, more than ever before, will play a pivotal role in the future of our world”. At present, however, migration is affected by the “loss of that sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters on which every civil society is based”. Europe, for example, seriously risks taking this path. Nonetheless, “aided by its great cultural and religious heritage, it has the means to defend the centrality of the human person and to find the right balance between its twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to assure assistance and acceptance to migrants”.
41. I realize that some people are hesitant and fearful with regard to migrants. I consider this part of our natural instinct of self-defence. Yet it is also true that an individual and a people are only fruitful and productive if they are able to develop a creative openness to others. I ask everyone to move beyond those primal reactions because “there is a problem when doubts and fears condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other”. (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, 37-41)
When contemplating Cardinal Maradiaga's and Pope Francis' reflections as a whole, we begin to understand why the pontiff is calling for a new vision of what it means to share a common kinship as global citizens. As I mentioned in my first reflection on Fratelli Tutti, if Laudato Si' was a call to care for our physical environment, Fratelli Tutti is a call to care for our social, political, economic, emotional, and spiritual environment.
It is important to understand Pope Francis' critique of the world before we reflect on his call for a new political and economic vision that is rooted in human dignity. Having reflected on Pope Francis' concerns, let us reflect on how the pontiff proposes we address these issues in the public square.
The politics we need
177. Here I would once more observe that “politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy”. Although misuse of power, corruption, disregard for law and inefficiency must clearly be rejected, “economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favour other ways of handling the various aspects of the present crisis”. Instead, “what is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis”. In other words, a “healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia”. We cannot expect economics to do this, nor can we allow economics to take over the real power of the state.
178. In the face of many petty forms of politics focused on immediate interests, I would repeat that “true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building”, much less in forging a common project for the human family, now and in the future. Thinking of those who will come after us does not serve electoral purposes, yet it is what authentic justice demands. As the Bishops of Portugal have taught, the earth “is lent to each generation, to be handed on to the generation that follows”.
179. Global society is suffering from grave structural deficiencies that cannot be resolved by piecemeal solutions or quick fixes. Much needs to change, through fundamental reform and major renewal. Only a healthy politics, involving the most diverse sectors and skills, is capable of overseeing this process. An economy that is an integral part of a political, social, cultural and popular programme directed to the common good could pave the way for “different possibilities which do not involve stifling human creativity and its ideals of progress, but rather directing that energy along new channels”.
180. Recognizing that all people are our brothers and sisters, and seeking forms of social friendship that include everyone, is not merely utopian. It demands a decisive commitment to devising effective means to this end. Any effort along these lines becomes a noble exercise of charity. For whereas individuals can help others in need, when they join together in initiating social processes of fraternity and justice for all, they enter the “field of charity at its most vast, namely political charity”. This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as “a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good”.
181. Every commitment inspired by the Church’s social doctrine is “derived from charity, which according to the teaching of Jesus is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36-40)”. This means acknowledging that “love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world”. For this reason, charity finds expression not only in close and intimate relationships but also in “macro-relationships: social, economic and political”.
182. This political charity is born of a social awareness that transcends every individualistic mindset: “‘Social charity makes us love the common good’, it makes us effectively seek the good of all people, considered not only as individuals or private persons, but also in the social dimension that unites them”. Each of us is fully a person when we are part of a people; at the same time, there are no peoples without respect for the individuality of each person. “People” and “person” are correlative terms. Nonetheless, there are attempts nowadays to reduce persons to isolated individuals easily manipulated by powers pursuing spurious interests. Good politics will seek ways of building communities at every level of social life, in order to recalibrate and reorient globalization and thus avoid its disruptive effects.
This section begs a simple, but powerful question: Are we a people bound together, despite our differences, in a common vision of all being God's children or are we a collection of individual persons, finding meaning through a narrow narcissism of satisfying individual wants and desires?
Some of you may be screaming at the computer, "Enough politics, this is a site about faith and science!" First, my apologies if any sensitivities were rubbed. As I shared in the past, these reflections on Fratelli Tutti are meant to share with our readers, both Catholic and Non-Catholic, what is going on in the Church, seeking to further promote a spirit of charitable dialogue. Fear not, I will get back to more explicit faith and science topics in the near future!
However, I would also argue that this piece is precisely about faith and science. How? Through our Faith and Astronomy Worship we have held over the years, one of my constant takeaways is that both faith and science require community. The same tensions mentioned by Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti run through the blood of every person, meaning they are also baggage in the realms of faith and science. The key question is whether or not we confront our biases to try to move toward an understanding of what is true, good, and beautiful or do we pull away from community with a false sense of security to protect our biases. Through faith, we confront our biases by grounding our lives in Scripture, Tradition, and the lived reality of a communal faith. The scientific community confronts biases by exploring common data, engaging in the process of examining, reexamine, and examining again and again as a community to achieve a deeper understanding of our world. Are both faith and science pristine explorations that are devoid of prejudice, professional jealousies, clashing world views, and personal motivations that may be contrary to the end goal? Absolutely not! Faith and Science are pursued by humans, meaning the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity can and will seep into both. At the same time, is it ultimately trust that these communities are committed to something beyond themselves that help people transcend their brokenness to achieve a deeper sense of truth? Absolutely!
These thoughts lead me to a final thought - Is it really politics and economics that we struggle to speak of with civility and respect, or are we losing the ability to speak of what it means to be truly human - both in the best of who we are and the worst of who we are? Whatever it may be, including deeper insights than what I can offer, let us embrace our common humanity in both its glory and its brokenness. Let us transcend the struggles we face this day and strive for a common kinship of dignity and love. A kinship that emerges when we discover (or rediscover) the beauty that all are created in God's image and likeness, worthy of love, dignity, and respect, and are sojourners on this good Earth to bring out the best of each other, not affirm the worst in each other.
Next week, I will conclude my reflections on Fratelli Tutti by reflecting on what I consider the heart of this encyclical - Pope Francis' reflection on the Good Samaritan.
Unlike last week, part of my reflection on Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, will invite a dialogue on faith and science! However, to set up that dialogue, we need to explore some foundational principles gleaned from the Pope's writing. At the heart of Pope Francis' new encyclical is a commentary that could be summarized as "towards a new politics." One of the greatest obstacles identified by Pope Francis to this new vision of politics is the slippery term, "populist." Therefore, we will explore what the Pope is addressing when he speaks of populism and then I will invite you to offer your response on this subject as it pertains to faith and science.
The Non-Populist Pope
What does it mean to be a "populist?" In my home county of the United States, I think the term "populist" is seen as a bit benign. For example, our culture has an entire genre of music called "Pop" that lives and dies on whether or not a song becomes popular. In many ways, this simple reference to music begins to illuminate much of the entertainment culture of our country. One of the valid critiques of artistic expression in the United States is that there is little of it that will endure since most of our artistic expression gravitates toward glorifying the immediate and emotional response. As a student of music before entering seminary, it is often said in artistic circles that a culture's artistic expression often foreshadows its social future. Therefore, an artistic culture that gravitates to the immediate and our emotions leads to a social and political reality that does the same.
If you do a quick Google search on the term "populist" or "populism," you find some interesting reflections. Most attempts at a clear definition will speak of movements "for/of the people" in contrast to elitism or perhaps a summary of populist political movements. However, the inability to really pin down what this term means in practical terms is precisely the problem. For example, a student of the history of the United States could argue, "Well, constitutional democracy is 'of and for the people,' so populism should be at the heart of American society." On the surface this sounds well and good, but what happens if the "popular" stance of a people begins to single out groups of people as a cultural scapegoat? What happens when the most "popular" view of a group of people, religion, political group, or institution is misrepresentative of who they really are? It is at this point when we begin to see the danger of populism: When truth is what is popular all is well, but when lies become popular it can lead to ruin.
As I stated in my piece last week, I want to explore Fratelli Tutti by looking to what inspired the Pope to pen this encyclical. To recap, the Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and Pope Francis signed an historic statement of condemnation of acts of terrorism. To read the document in total, you can click on the highlighted text. The Grand Imam was appointed as such by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2010 and is the former president of al-Ahzar University, which trains many of the world's Imams. In Islamic countries, the Grand Imam plays a major role in guiding a country culturally and politically. Therefore, the role of the Imam in a Muslim country is a bit more complex than say Catholic clergy in the United States. There is much that can be said of the pros and cons of the complexity of these relations, but, for the sake of brevity, it will suffice to say in this reflection that the Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb wields a great deal of influence not only in Egypt, but the Muslim world as a whole. Therefore, an agreement between Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb and Pope Francis would not be taken lightly in the Muslim world. And neither should it be taken lightly in the Christian world.
Writing to you as a Christian, the mere reference of Egypt sparks emotions over the persecution of Coptic Christians by terrorist groups, highlighted by the beheading in Libya of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians. Amid the emotion of this and other reports of persecution of Coptic Christians in this region, it was encouraging to read Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb's call to embrace Christians and condemn acts of extremist violence. It is clear signs of hope such as these I look for to have optimism we can come together as a global community, embracing each other as expressions of God's love in the world, and, despite our differences, develop societies that go beyond superficial civility and plants deep roots to help the common good flourish. I was comforted to see the Grand Imam tweet his support of Fratelli Tutti upon its publication.
“My brother, Pope Francis’s message, Fratelli tutti, is an extension of the Document on Human Fraternity, and reveals a global reality in which the vulnerable and marginalized pay the price for unstable positions and decisions… It is a message that is directed to people of good will, whose consciences are alive and restores to humanity consciousness.” (The Grand Imam)
Why do I start my reflection on Fratelli Tutti with this brief and inadequate reflection on Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb? The reason is that the call for unity he and Pope Francis made in February of 2019 is an historic effort to combat another 'populist' movement, which is terrorism. Now, am I saying that the "pop music" I listen to in my car is equivalent with ISIS? Absolutely not. Rather, these two radical extremes display just how meaningless this term has become over time. Here is Pope Francis reflecting upon the very issue at hand that can create a radical sea of interpretations in regard to the term "populist."
Popular vs. populist
156. In recent years, the words “populism” and “populist” have invaded the communications media and everyday conversation. As a result, they have lost whatever value they might have had, and have become another source of polarization in an already divided society. Efforts are made to classify entire peoples, groups, societies and governments as “populist” or not. Nowadays it has become impossible for someone to express a view on any subject without being categorized one way or the other, either to be unfairly discredited or to be praised to the skies.
157. The attempt to see populism as a key for interpreting social reality is problematic in another way: it disregards the legitimate meaning of the word “people”. Any effort to remove this concept from common parlance could lead to the elimination of the very notion of democracy as “government by the people”. If we wish to maintain that society is more than a mere aggregate of individuals, the term “people” proves necessary. There are social phenomena that create majorities, as well as megatrends and communitarian aspirations. Men and women are capable of coming up with shared goals that transcend their differences and can thus engage in a common endeavour. Then too, it is extremely difficult to carry out a long-term project unless it becomes a collective aspiration. All these factors lie behind our use of the words “people” and “popular”. Unless they are taken into account – together with a sound critique of demagoguery – a fundamental aspect of social reality would be overlooked.
158. Here, there can be a misunderstanding. “‘People’ is not a logical category, nor is it a mystical category, if by that we mean that everything the people does is good, or that the people is an ‘angelic’ reality. Rather, it is a mythic category… When you have to explain what you mean by people, you use logical categories for the sake of explanation, and necessarily so. Yet in that way you cannot explain what it means to belong to a people. The word ‘people’ has a deeper meaning that cannot be set forth in purely logical terms. To be part of a people is to be part of a shared identity arising from social and cultural bonds. And that is not something automatic, but rather a slow, difficult process… of advancing towards a common project”.
159. “Popular” leaders, those capable of interpreting the feelings and cultural dynamics of a people, and significant trends in society, do exist. The service they provide by their efforts to unite and lead can become the basis of an enduring vision of transformation and growth that would also include making room for others in the pursuit of the common good. But this can degenerate into an unhealthy “populism” when individuals are able to exploit politically a people’s culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their own personal advantage or continuing grip on power. Or when, at other times, they seek popularity by appealing to the basest and most selfish inclinations of certain sectors of the population. This becomes all the more serious when, whether in cruder or more subtle forms, it leads to the usurpation of institutions and laws.
160. Closed populist groups distort the word “people”, since they are not talking about a true people. The concept of “people” is in fact open-ended. A living and dynamic people, a people with a future, is one constantly open to a new synthesis through its ability to welcome differences. In this way, it does not deny its proper identity, but is open to being mobilized, challenged, broadened and enriched by others, and thus to further growth and development.
161. Another sign of the decline of popular leadership is concern for short-term advantage. One meets popular demands for the sake of gaining votes or support, but without advancing in an arduous and constant effort to generate the resources people need to develop and earn a living by their own efforts and creativity. In this regard, I have made it clear that “I have no intention of proposing an irresponsible populism”. Eliminating inequality requires an economic growth that can help to tap each region’s potential and thus guarantee a sustainable equality. At the same time, it follows that “welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses”.
162. The biggest issue is employment. The truly “popular” thing – since it promotes the good of the people – is to provide everyone with the opportunity to nurture the seeds that God has planted in each of us: our talents, our initiative and our innate resources. This is the finest help we can give to the poor, the best path to a life of dignity. Hence my insistence that, “helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work”. Since production systems may change, political systems must keep working to structure society in such a way that everyone has a chance to contribute his or her own talents and efforts. For “there is no poverty worse than that which takes away work and the dignity of work”. In a genuinely developed society, work is an essential dimension of social life, for it is not only a means of earning one’s daily bread, but also of personal growth, the building of healthy relationships, self-expression and the exchange of gifts. Work gives us a sense of shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as a people.(Fratelli Tutti, 156-162)
When reading this section of Fratelli Tutti, does it speak to our current political reality in the United States as we approach a major election? Yes, it does. Does it speak to regions of the world where women still lack basic rights to participate in their culture beyond the domestic sphere? Yes, it does. Does it speak to global leaders to distance themselves from scapegoating groups of people as the cancer of their society so they can gain political advantage and power? Yes, it does. And does it challenge me as a priest not to see the parishioners in the pews before me as "this group of Catholics" and "that group of Catholics," but to see the entirety of my parish as a family of faith? Yes, it does.
Unlike my post last week, there is a morsel of this week's reflection we can chew upon in regard to faith and science. The starting point for our reflection is this: Are there "populist" approaches to faith and science, both healthy and unhealthy? This question takes on many different dimensions.
Are there "populist" approaches to faith that are both healthy and unhealthy?
Are there "populist" approaches to science that are both healthy and unhealthy?
And are there "populist" approaches to the relationship between faith and science that are both health and unhealthy?
I would love to see your honest, charitable, and noninflammatory comments below (hint, hint, hint.). Together let us explore this theme laid out in Fratelli Tutti. Let us give thanks that Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb are trying to lay the groundwork for a peaceful society. And let us move away from a culture of combative emotionalism that, at its worst, leads to violence and division. Instead, let us move toward a culture of encounter, embracing the equal dignity we all have as children of God.
I took a break from offering a reflection for Sacred Space Astronomy last week to build in some time to give Pope Francis' latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, a prayerful read. My hope was to have two full readings of the encyclical done by today, but parish life has limited me to about one and a half readings at this point. Still, after reading some of the professional commentators on the encyclical, I feel confident that I have a good read on what Pope Francis is trying to accomplish.
Now, is this going to be a "faith and science" piece or an astronomy reflection? No. Therefore, if you're not really interested in reading things non-science related on this blog you can save some time and check out some of our other wonderful authors. That being said, I also feel that some of our readers might be interested in what's going on with the Catholic Church beyond faith and science. If that's true for you, whether you are Catholic or not, I invite you to read on!
Reflection: A Trajectory of Encounter In Pope Francis' Papacy.
My first take away from Pope Francis' encyclical is the beginnings of a theological trajectory that calls us to an ecumenical/interfaith heart. Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, is well documented as being more from the pen of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI versus Pope Francis. Therefore, Lumen Fidei fits more as the end of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's theological arch versus the beginning of Pope Francis' theological arch. Now, it would be a stretch to say that two encyclicals create a theological arch for a Pope. Still, I find it interesting that both encyclicals start by established relations with religious leaders outside of Catholicism.
At the beginning of Laudato Si', Pope Francis praises the work of Patriarch Bartholomew in the area of ecology. This relationship between the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and the Catholic Church has spanned a number of papacies and is at the heart of many theologian's hopeful speculation that, someday, a bringing together of the Apostles "Andrew and Peter" (symbolizing the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church) might be possible. Here is what Pope Francis had to say of Patriarch Bartholomew.
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”. (Laudato Si, 8-9)
Fratelli Tutti has a similar trajectory. At its beginning, Pope Francis speaks of an agreement he signed with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in February 2019 and how this encyclical takes up the themes of that agreement.
5. Issues of human fraternity and social friendship have always been a concern of mine. In recent years, I have spoken of them repeatedly and in different settings. In this Encyclical, I have sought to bring together many of those statements and to situate them in a broader context of reflection. In the preparation of Laudato Si’, I had a source of inspiration in my brother Bartholomew, the Orthodox Patriarch, who has spoken forcefully of our need to care for creation. In this case, I have felt particularly encouraged by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom I met in Abu Dhabi, where we declared that “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters”. This was no mere diplomatic gesture, but a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment. The present Encyclical takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in the Document that we both signed. I have also incorporated, along with my own thoughts, a number of letters, documents and considerations that I have received from many individuals and groups throughout the world.
Therefore, if we are going to understand this encyclical properly, we need to understand the agreement between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. After all, Pope Francis himself states that his current encyclical develops the themes that emerged from the February 2019 agreement. Excluding the introduction, let's read the core agreement that Pope Francis and the Grand Imam made back in 2019. Yes, it's a long statement, but essential reading before we get into Fratelli Tutti.
In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace;
In the name of innocent human life that God has forbidden to kill, affirming that whoever kills a person is like one who kills the whole of humanity, and that whoever saves a person is like one who saves the whole of humanity;
In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized and those most in need whom God has commanded us to help as a duty required of all persons, especially the wealthy and of means;
In the name of orphans, widows, refugees and those exiled from their homes and their countries; in the name of all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; in the name of the weak, those who live in fear, prisoners of war and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction;
In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace, and the possibility of living together, becoming victims of destruction, calamity and war;
In the name of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal;
In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women;
In the name of freedom, that God has given to all human beings creating them free and distinguishing them by this gift;
In the name of justice and mercy, the foundations of prosperity and the cornerstone of faith;
In the name of all persons of good will present in every part of the world;
In the name of God and of everything stated thus far; Al-Azhar al-Sharif and the Muslims of the East and West, together with the Catholic Church and the Catholics of the East and West, declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.
We, who believe in God and in the final meeting with Him and His judgment, on the basis of our religious and moral responsibility, and through this Document, call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.
We call upon intellectuals, philosophers, religious figures, artists, media professionals and men and women of culture in every part of the world, to rediscover the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence in order to confirm the importance of these values as anchors of salvation for all, and to promote them everywhere.
This Declaration, setting out from a profound consideration of our contemporary reality, valuing its successes and in solidarity with its suffering, disasters and calamities, believes firmly that among the most important causes of the crises of the modern world are a desensitized human conscience, a distancing from religious values and a prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendental principles.
While recognizing the positive steps taken by our modern civilization in the fields of science, technology, medicine, industry and welfare, especially in developed countries, we wish to emphasize that, associated with such historic advancements, great and valued as they are, there exists both a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility. All this contributes to a general feeling of frustration, isolation and desperation leading many to fall either into a vortex of atheistic, agnostic or religious extremism, or into blind and fanatic extremism, which ultimately encourage forms of dependency and individual or collective self-destruction.
History shows that religious extremism, national extremism and also intolerance have produced in the world, be it in the East or West, what might be referred to as signs of a “third world war being fought piecemeal”. In several parts of the world and in many tragic circumstances these signs have begun to be painfully apparent, as in those situations where the precise number of victims, widows and orphans is unknown. We see, in addition, other regions preparing to become theatres of new conflicts, with outbreaks of tension and a build-up of arms and ammunition, and all this in a global context overshadowed by uncertainty, disillusionment, fear of the future, and controlled by narrow-minded economic interests.
We likewise affirm that major political crises, situations of injustice and lack of equitable distribution of natural resources – which only a rich minority benefit from, to the detriment of the majority of the peoples of the earth – have generated, and continue to generate, vast numbers of poor, infirm and deceased persons. This leads to catastrophic crises that various countries have fallen victim to despite their natural resources and the resourcefulness of young people which characterize these nations. In the face of such crises that result in the deaths of millions of children – wasted away from poverty and hunger – there is an unacceptable silence on the international level.
It is clear in this context how the family as the fundamental nucleus of society and humanity is essential in bringing children into the world, raising them, educating them, and providing them with solid moral formation and domestic security. To attack the institution of the family, to regard it with contempt or to doubt its important role, is one of the most threatening evils of our era.
We affirm also the importance of awakening religious awareness and the need to revive this awareness in the hearts of new generations through sound education and an adherence to moral values and upright religious teachings. In this way we can confront tendencies that are individualistic, selfish, conflicting, and also address radicalism and blind extremism in all its forms and expressions.
The first and most important aim of religions is to believe in God, to honour Him and to invite all men and women to believe that this universe depends on a God who governs it. He is the Creator who has formed us with His divine wisdom and has granted us the gift of life to protect it. It is a gift that no one has the right to take away, threaten or manipulate to suit oneself. Indeed, everyone must safeguard this gift of life from its beginning up to its natural end. We therefore condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, trafficking in human organs, abortion and euthanasia. We likewise condemn the policies that promote these practices.
Moreover, we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women in order to make them act in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted. We thus call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression. We ask this on the basis of our common belief in God who did not create men and women to be killed or to fight one another, nor to be tortured or humiliated in their lives and circumstances. God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people.
This Document, in accordance with previous International Documentsthat have emphasized the importance of the role of religions in the construction of world peace, upholds the following:
· The firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace; to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence; to re-establish wisdom, justice and love; and to reawaken religious awareness among young people so that future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law;
· Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;
· Justice based on mercy is the path to follow in order to achieve a dignified life to which every human being has a right;
· Dialogue, understanding and the widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity;
· Dialogue among believers means coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and, from here, transmitting the highest moral virtues that religions aim for. It also means avoiding unproductive discussions;
· The protection of places of worship – synagogues, churches and mosques – is a duty guaranteed by religions, human values, laws and international agreements. Every attempt to attack places of worship or threaten them by violent assaults, bombings or destruction, is a deviation from the teachings of religions as well as a clear violation of international law;
· Terrorism is deplorable and threatens the security of people, be they in the East or the West, the North or the South, and disseminates panic, terror and pessimism, but this is not due to religion, even when terrorists instrumentalize it. It is due, rather, to an accumulation of incorrect interpretations of religious texts and to policies linked to hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression and pride. This is why it is so necessary to stop supporting terrorist movements fuelled by financing, the provision of weapons and strategy, and by attempts to justify these movements even using the media. All these must be regarded as international crimes that threaten security and world peace. Such terrorism must be condemned in all its forms and expressions;
· The concept of citizenship is based on the equality of rights and duties, under which all enjoy justice. It is therefore crucial to establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority. Its misuse paves the way for hostility and discord; it undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against;
· Good relations between East and West are indisputably necessary for both. They must not be neglected, so that each can be enriched by the other’s culture through fruitful exchange and dialogue. The West can discover in the East remedies for those spiritual and religious maladies that are caused by a prevailing materialism. And the East can find in the West many elements that can help free it from weakness, division, conflict and scientific, technical and cultural decline. It is important to pay attention to religious, cultural and historical differences that are a vital component in shaping the character, culture and civilization of the East. It is likewise important to reinforce the bond of fundamental human rights in order to help ensure a dignified life for all the men and women of East and West, avoiding the politics of double standards;
· It is an essential requirement to recognize the right of women to education and employment, and to recognize their freedom to exercise their own political rights. Moreover, efforts must be made to free women from historical and social conditioning that runs contrary to the principles of their faith and dignity. It is also necessary to protect women from sexual exploitation and from being treated as merchandise or objects of pleasure or financial gain. Accordingly, an end must be brought to all those inhuman and vulgar practices that denigrate the dignity of women. Efforts must be made to modify those laws that prevent women from fully enjoying their rights;
· The protection of the fundamental rights of children to grow up in a family environment, to receive nutrition, education and support, are duties of the family and society. Such duties must be guaranteed and protected so that they are not overlooked or denied to any child in any part of the world. All those practices that violate the dignity and rights of children must be denounced. It is equally important to be vigilant against the dangers that they are exposed to, particularly in the digital world, and to consider as a crime the trafficking of their innocence and all violations of their youth;
· The protection of the rights of the elderly, the weak, the disabled, and the oppressed is a religious and social obligation that must be guaranteed and defended through strict legislation and the implementation of the relevant international agreements.
To this end, by mutual cooperation, the Catholic Church and Al-Azhar announce and pledge to convey this Document to authorities, influential leaders, persons of religion all over the world, appropriate regional and international organizations, organizations within civil society, religious institutions and leading thinkers. They further pledge to make known the principles contained in this Declaration at all regional and international levels, while requesting that these principles be translated into policies, decisions, legislative texts, courses of study and materials to be circulated.
Al-Azhar and the Catholic Church ask that this Document become the object of research and reflection in all schools, universities and institutes of formation, thus helping to educate new generations to bring goodness and peace to others, and to be defenders everywhere of the rights of the oppressed and of the least of our brothers and sisters.
In conclusion, our aspiration is that:
this Declaration may constitute an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among all believers, indeed among believers and non-believers, and among all people of good will;
this Declaration may be an appeal to every upright conscience that rejects deplorable violence and blind extremism; an appeal to those who cherish the values of tolerance and fraternity that are promoted and encouraged by religions;
this Declaration may be a witness to the greatness of faith in God that unites divided hearts and elevates the human soul;
this Declaration may be a sign of the closeness between East and West, between North and South, and between all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.
This is what we hope and seek to achieve with the aim of finding a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life.
In order to emphasize the connection between Fratelli Tutti and the agreement statement we just read, Pope Francis reiterates the heart of this agreement at the conclusion of his encyclical. Let us now read how Pope Francis incorporated this agreement into Fratelli Tutti.
285. In my fraternal meeting, which I gladly recall, with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, “we resolutely [declared] that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women… God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people”. For this reason I would like to reiterate here the appeal for peace, justice and fraternity that we made together:
“In the name of God, who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace;
“In the name of innocent human life that God has forbidden to kill, affirming that whoever kills a person is like one who kills the whole of humanity, and that whoever saves a person is like one who saves the whole of humanity;
“In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized and those most in need, whom God has commanded us to help as a duty required of all persons, especially the wealthy and those of means;
“In the name of orphans, widows, refugees and those exiled from their homes and their countries; in the name of all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; in the name of the weak, those who live in fear, prisoners of war and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction;
“In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace and the possibility of living together, becoming victims of destruction, calamity and war; “In the name of human fraternity, that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal;
“In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women;
“In the name of freedom, that God has given to all human beings, creating them free and setting them apart by this gift; “In the name of justice and mercy, the foundations of prosperity and the cornerstone of faith;
“In the name of all persons of goodwill present in every part of the world;
“In the name of God and of everything stated thus far, [we] declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard”. (Fratelli Tutti, 285)
Now, I realize that offering such massive block quotes is bad form in writing. For the purpose of educating, however, this starting point needs to be understood. Why? If we lose sight of the fact that this encyclical was built upon an historic agreement between a Catholic Pope and a Grand Imam, we can quickly fall into unhealthy interpretations of what Pope Francis writes. For example, my next reflection will be titled "The Non-Populist Pope," reflecting on Pope Francis' criticism of populist forms of government. Since my home country of the United States is currently wrestling with populist approaches to governance, it would be easy to read this encyclical narrowly as a critique on American politics. However, populist political movements take on numerous forms and is a struggle for many places in our common home. In some ways, as I will reflect upon more next week, Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si' was a call to physically "clean the house" of our common home through care for creation. This encyclical calls us to spiritually "clean that house" through fraternal charity and reform of the social structures that exist in our common home that create divisiveness.
Spiritual Exercise: Take some time this week and prayerful read through the agreement statement offered between Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. Pray that we get our spiritual house in order. And pray that our world may move toward true peace through the authentic love of God and our neighbor.
As we continue to reflect on the hidden gems of Laudato Si', we begin this week by exploring Pope Francis' overarching view of the heart of Scripture's story of salvation. It may seem incredibly simplistic, but the heart of Scripture is essentially a love story: God creates in love, we reject God's love, and God seeks to restore that love.
The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. (Laudato Si' 66)
What I think is of great importance is to see that Pope Francis is emphasizing that the fall of humanity was not simply a rupture between God and the human person. Rather, this rupture also profoundly impacted the whole of creation. As I have reflected with you in the past through the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor, a fall in the cosmos that is our very self is also a fall in the cosmos that is creation itself. (Check out my previous piece on Maximus' view of creation: Priests of Creation.)
This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19). It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence. This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature. (Laudato Si' 66)
As I shared with you in my sabbatical journal, this insight of Pope Francis into the life of St. Francis is in so much need of recovery. When I went on sabbatical, I realized I had fallen into the trap of thinking that contemplation was a state of prayer that radically removes us from creation. It was a prayer form I greatly struggled with, finding it rather dry and fruitless. When I reenter the writings of the desert mothers and the fathers, I was reminded that true contemplation occurs when we enter into radical connection with creation. This connection does not see the world as God - that would be idolatry. Rather, we are to be attentive to the profound gift that is God's creation and this gift comes with responsibility. As I've shared with you in the past, in order for there to be true human dignity we must first live in a world that contains the resources needed for that dignity to be discovered. If we destroy creation, we destroy human dignity. This theme continues in paragraph 67.
We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).
The Pope goes on...
68.This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for “he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away” (Ps 148:5b-6). The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures. 69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”. (Laudato Si' 67)
To conclude this weeks reflection, I pose this question: Is the story of salvation simply about "Me and Jesus?" No, in fact, it isn't enough to say that the story of salvation is about "We and Jesus." These are phrases I often hear Christians of many denominations, including Catholicism, use when trying to summarize the core of the Gospel message. To reduce the story of salvation to how God and humanity relates to each is only part of the story. Essential to this story is how we relate to the whole of God's creation. In order to get our love of God and neighbor right, we must also understand how we are to relate with God's creation too.
Spiritual Exercise: How can all of improve our love of God, neighbor, and the world around us today? Pray with these questions and, as we are a week away from learning what is in Pope Francis' latest encyclical, let us embrace the full story of salvation in which God not only seeks to restore humanity, but seeks to restore the whole of creation.
This week, I would like to continue a brief re-visit of some of the hidden gems of Pope Francis' most recent encyclical, Laudato Si'. Again, I am offering this as a refresh before Pope Francis introduces his newest encyclical on October 3rd. Nevertheless, since Sacred Space Astronomy has also embraced reflections on Care for Creation, it never hurts to reacquaint ourselves with core principals as to why Catholicism has elevated the care of our common home to one of the core themes of Catholic Social Teaching. In that spirit, let's get into it!
65. Without repeating the entire theology of creation, we can ask what the great biblical narratives say about the relationship of human beings with the world. In the first creation account in the Book of Genesis, God’s plan includes creating humanity. After the creation of man and woman, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31).
The reason I highlighted the words "very good" is because they are unique in the first creation account. In the previous days of creation, God looks upon what was created as "good." To modern Christians, this affirmation might slip by with little thought or perhaps evoke a nostalgic moment of remembering the children's song "It was good, good, very, very good" some of us were taught to remember this passage. However, when studying world religions, this affirmation of the goodness of creation is actually a bit counter cultural. Outside of the biblical worldview, it was far more common to see the material world in a negative light, even to the point of being evil, and something to be liberated from. Simply affirming that the created world is good would have been quite troubling to some of the ancient views of creation.
As I've shared with you in the past, one of the greatest threats to early Christianity was the Gnostic movement, which emphasized this radical detachment between humanity and the material world. The affirmation that creation is "good" points out a fundamental difference of worldview between Christianity and the Gnostics. Further, to identify the entirety of creation as "very good," or in the Hebrew "Good, Good," provides us, as Christians, with an interesting narrative: It is only when God beholds the entirety of creation that the strongest affirmation of the fundamental goodness of creation is uttered.
Why is this important? An anthropocentric reading of Genesis might presume that God would save the highest praise for the human person. However, that is not the case. It is only when all of creation is beheld that the highest praise of creation is offered. Therefore, it reminds us that the biblical place for humanity is as a part of creation and not something that is removed from creation. This is very important in order to understand why an authentic reading of Genesis leads us to stewardship of creation. In order for us to protect human dignity, that dignity needs to be found through the broader context of caring for the totality of creation. To find our dignity apart from creation risks recreating the very mindset of the Gnostic worldview that seriously threatened early Christianity.
The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons”. Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.
This section addresses the logical question that arises from my first reflection on our place in creation, "If we are to see ourselves as a part of creation in contrast to apart from creation, are we as 'unique' as we think?" The answer is that, yes, we still are seen as having a unique relationship with God in contrast to the rest of creation. St. Bonaventure reflects beautifully on this distinction in his classic The Mind's Road to God. In this work, Bonaventure explains that all of creation is made in God's image. However, it is only the human person that is made in God's image and likeness. Some may argue that, in light of this distinction, that God is setting humanity apart from creation instead of being a part of creation. This is not true. It is important to remember that the uniqueness of the human person is not affirmed apart from creation, but only when it is examined and beheld as a part of creation. For a deeper dive, here's a video I put together on Bonaventure.
This will be a good place for us to stop for this week. We will pick up the second half of Pope Francis' reflection on "The Wisdom of the Biblical Accounts of Creation" next week.
For today, I want you to reflection this question: How do you see yourself in relation to creation?
Do you see yourself as a part of creation in contrast to being apart from creation? Do you see the world as fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? Do you see yourself as fundamentally good or fundamentally bad? Pray this week to find your dignity in relationship to the goodness of creation. And if you have lost that sense of dignity during this international pandemic, remember that this momentary struggle for humanity does not redefine creation and humanity in a negative light. More on that next week! In the mean time, stay safe, stay close to the Lord, and trust in these difficult times that the Lord is close to us, even when we are socially distant from each other.
It has been announced that Pope Francis will sign a new encyclical on human fraternity on October 3rd of this year. I cannot speak for other countries, but, as a United States citizen, I couldn't think of a more timely theme to reflect upon. The hyper polarized nature of the United States has become rather worrisome. The co-mingling of an international pandemic and political aspirations has placed my beloved home atop a powder keg that feels ready to explode. I hope and pray that our Holy Father will provide insight and guidance during these difficult times. And if there is anything I think would be a good fit for Sacred Space Astronomy, I'll be happy to comment on it!
As we await the words of our Pontiff, the announcement drew me back to the Pope's last encyclical, Laudato Si'. It seems like eons ago since Laudato Si' was a hot topic. Though seldom mentioned now, it's safe to say that this first papal encyclical on Care for Creation has had a significant legacy on the global front. As I reflected on in the past, Laudato Si' helped influence the Paris Climate Accord (COP21) to develop a global response to our rising ecological crisis. In regard to its impact on people's daily lives, the encyclical, sadly, has been widely ignored in my home country. Therefore, before we shift our focus to Pope Francis' new encyclical, I simply want to share some of what I think are the hidden gems of Laudato Si'. For this post, I wish to share Pope Francis' Biblical vision of the mystery of the universe.
In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion. (Laudato Si', 76)
Reading this paragraph reminds of studying Scripture in seminary and how the Greek word for "mystery" (mysterion) is the foundation for the latin "sacramentum" (sacrament). Therefore, to begin this section on the Mystery of the Universe with a reflection on the universe as a gift from God harkens to the sacramental worldview at the heart of viewing creation with the eyes of Christ. For more on this, feel free to explore my piece "When the Heavens and Earth Were Sacred."
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps 33:6). This tells us that 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: “For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it” (Wis 11:24). Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. Saint Basil the Great described the Creator as “goodness without measure”, while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves the sun and the stars”. Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of God and to his loving mercy”.
At the same time, Judaeo-Christian thought demythologized nature. While continuing to admire its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw nature as divine. In doing so, it emphasizes all the more our human responsibility for nature. This rediscovery of nature can never be at the cost of the freedom and responsibility of human beings who, as part of the world, have the duty to cultivate their abilities in order to protect it and develop its potential. If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power. (Laudato Si' 77-78)
In short, it comes down to relationship. How do we relate with God? How do we relate with our neighbor? How do we relate with the created world around us? Simple questions with potentially explosive and life changing answers. At the same time, in order to answer these questions properly, we need to understand the essence of each relationship. God is my source and summit. If l reduce God to a mere abstraction, a theoretical "it," then I cannot grow in proper relationship with God. If I fail to see my neighbor as an essential expression of God's love and mercy in the world, I cannot develop a healthy relationship with that person. And if I lose the sense of creation as gift and the insight that I am part of that creation, I risk reducing creation to mere material I can use for selfish motivations with no concern of its impact on the world around me and my neighbor. Again, it all comes down to relationship!
In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation. This leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s transcendence, within which it develops. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious beauty of what is unfolding. We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks. This is what makes for the excitement and drama of human history, in which freedom, growth, salvation and love can blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual destruction. The work of the Church seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time “she must above all protect mankind from self-destruction”. (Laudato Si' 79)
All I can say of this is welcome to our current situation!
Yet God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done. “The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, including the most complex and inscrutable”. Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator. God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs. His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation”. The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”.
Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou”. The biblical accounts of creation invite us to see each human being as a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object. (Laudato Si', 80-81)
These paragraphs speak to me of the theological buzz word these days that is used among theologians who reflect upon St. John Paul II Theology of the Body: Objectification. Often times, the focus of the word objectification in the theological context is to not turn a person into a mere sexual object. However, the broader context of objectification not only speaks to human sexuality, but reminds us that whenever we reduce something or someone to a "thing" and lose the sense of something as being a gift from God, we have objectified the person or thing. Can we objectify our common home? Absolutely! Some of my favorite ecological writings come from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI when he writes about a "forward looking solidarity" in which we need to make environmental decisions that not only benefit the human person now, but to allow creation to support future generations as well. If we objectify creation into a thing to possess and control, we can lose this forward looking solidarity, creating a future crisis for humanity by our lack of action today. For more about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's vision, I invite you to read my post titled, Problems at the Poles.
Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus. As he said of the powers of his own age: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:25-26).
The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.
Here we can add yet another argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator. (Laudato Si' 82-83)
This final section on the mystery of the universe reawakens an old question: Is there a purpose, direction, and end to life? Even if I were not a priest, I would be equally shocked at how many people question whether or not life has a purpose or ultimate end. Does not evolution point to a direction of self-preservation as adaptations help species survive into the future? What about Victor Frankl's insight in his classic work, Man's Search for Meaning, that while being detained in a Nazi concentration camp he observed a common trait of survivors of the horror of the holocaust was not losing a sense of hope and purpose? Can I empathize with someone who went through these horrors that now questions God's existence and wonder where God was during the insanity of the concentration camps? Absolutely. I have no idea how such an experience would impact me personally and spiritually. Still, there is so much in our world, both inside of faith and outside of faith, that points to a destination for life's journey that it is hard for me to wrap my head around seeing life without a direction or teleology. Perhaps your comments below can continue the discussion and help me understand better!
In the weeks to come, I will continue these snippets from Laudato Si' to explore Pope Francis' spiritual vision. Until then, stay safe, practice care for creation, and pray for peace in our troubled world.
The readiness is all. This famous quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet can be spun in many ways. Ironically, the times I've heard this quote used most, directly and indirectly, is in the context of sports. Having worked in education environments as a major part of my ministry, I often hear student athletes share with me the importance of off season programs and how games are not won or lost on the field of play, but in the weight room, the video room, and the daily 5 mile run.
A good friend of mine, Kendra Pagel, is a wonderful school counselor and a successful women's volleyball coach I had the honor to work with while I was chaplain at Regis High School in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In 2013, she coached the Regis Ramblers volleyball team to a Division 3 State Championship in the state of Wisconsin. When I left Regis, Kendra always invited me to her volleyball games when Regis was playing a match close to my new assignment. One time, while sitting behind the team bench, I listened to how Kendra coached her team. There was a point during the match I could feel the team was losing focus and Kendra, predictably, called a timeout. I was curious what she was going to say to her student athletes. I was stunned when all she said was, "Settle down.... figure it out... figure it out... okay?... let's go!" The team then went on to win the match. I was a bit stunned. I was waiting for the dry-erase board to come out with quick sketches of formations trying to "coach them up."
Kendra and I went out to dinner shortly after that game and when I mentioned what I observed I asked her, "Why was your simple encouragement so effective?" Kendra explained that the players already knew what they were doing wrong because they knew the game plan through and through from practice. All Kendra was doing was calming them down to help them remember the game plan. "Father, if I have to coach them during the game, it isn't the players who fail, but I who failed because I didn't give them the tools they needed to win during practice." The readiness is all! I was happy to hear upon my return to Eau Claire that Kendra was hired to the high school in my parish boundaries, allowing me to cheer for my friend again!
I was reminded of this story while watching the latest updates on the OSIRIS-REx mission. As you know, I've been following this mission ever since we visited the mission center at the University of Arizona as part of the first Faith and Astronomy Workshop. It has been exciting to watch the slow process on this ground breaking... or should I say "dust sucking" event! At the same time, I would also empathize with those who feel "Come on already, drop the asteroid vacuum cleaner, suck up the dust and come home.... What's taking so long?!" The simple answer: The readiness is all! Similar to my friend Kendra, NASA is taking the approach that if the mission fails, it wont be because of a lack of readiness. When NASA released the below video equating the OSIRIS-REx mission to preparation for a professional basketball season, the connection of Shakespeare's oft used quote came to mind. To put it another way, perfect practice makes for the best possible outcome for a game... and space missions!
(To read my previous posts on ISIRIS-REx, you can follow the hyper links to these articles: (Infancy and Urgency: What Can We Learn From ISIRIS-REx and God, Goddard, and Asteroid Dust: An Update On OSIRIS-REx and the Parker Solar Probe. Also check out these wonderful pieces by Bob Trembly, OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return Mission Arrives at Bennu, Dr. Brenda Frye's piece, The Symphony Recored OSIRIS-REx, and Br. Guy's piece, Relics of Space to name a few. Just type OSIRIS-REx in our search engine for even more! )
A brief video explaining how the OSIRIS-REx mission team is preparing for the extraction of dust from the surfaced of asteroid Bennu
A brief video of NASA practicing their "touch and go" mission on Bennu. The mission equivalent of shooting free throws!
The quote, The readiness is all, not only is applicable to sports and NASA missions. In many ways, this timeless quote is deeply embedded in the practice of authentic faith. As I shared with my students and now share with my parishioners, Christian faith in not an "all-nighter" reality. We don't see faith as something we do in brief moments, but is a slow, daily process of taking what we have learned and then put that knowledge into practice. This is why Catholics so emphasize daily prayer, reception of the Sacraments, and a commitment to weekly attendance of Mass. In many ways, prayer, study, and the Sacraments are our version of "shooting free throws," preparing our hearts to live our faith in the world around us.
Similar to my friend Kendra wanting to instill in her players the tools they need to be successful on the court, so, too, we can infer that if we don't commit to the formation needed to live our faith, our ability to make the right decisions in the "game" of life will be limited. Instead, we need to be intimately aware of God's love and presence, allowing our hearts to be formed to understand what that relationship means for how we live our lives. Yes, we need to have people walk with us in faith to help us refocus and "figure it out" when we forget the "game plan." Yet, much of our ability to be faithful is found not in the fire of the world's moments in front of us, but in the calm waters of when we are alone or in community, placing ourselves in God's presence. Whether it be Kendra's volleyball team, OSIRIS-REx's mission objectives, or living authentic faith, The readiness IS all!
Spiritual Exercise: What is the "readiness" you know you need to do today to live your life of faith? Have you prayed today? Have you taken some time for sacred reading? Take these questions to prayer and let us be inspired by athletics and scientists to embrace one of the most fundamental lessons of living a good life - Ready your heart for the Lord through a daily commitment to the "practice" of your faith!
Here's a wonderful interview conducted by Michelle Thaller going over the basics of the OSIRIS-REx Mission.
When Pope Francis put forward two new Works of Mercy that pertain to Care for Creation and Contemplation of Creation, the response was underwhelming. I wish the reason was because people realized these Works of Mercy have already been a long part of our spiritual tradition. Whether it be Maximus the Confessor's understand of Cosmic Liturgy, St. Bonaventure's classic the Mind's Journey to God, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's theology of Human Ecology, or Pope Francis' expansion of his predecessor's work into Integral Ecology, the Catholic Church has a long tradition of expounding upon the Biblical theme of Care for and Contemplation of Creation.
In regard to Contemplation of Creation, I think it's important for us to remember that the first call to practice this spiritual Work of Mercy was presented when God makes a sacred promise with Abram (soon to be Abraham) in the book of Genesis. How beautiful for a blog dedicated to faith and astronomy that one of the first symbols of God's promise to humanity is the night sky. All of these examples from Scripture and Tradition must be why Care for Creation and Contemplation of Creation is taken so for granted... right? Well...
Abram continued, “Look, you have given me no offspring, so a servant of my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: No, that one will not be your heir; your own offspring will be your heir. He took him outside and said: Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, he added, will your descendants be. Abram put his faith in the LORD, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness. (Genesis 15:3-6)
Not only has Catholicism had a "Green Theology" but, in many ways, the strongest Christian voice of ecology comes from the Orthodox. If Pope Benedict XVI was the "Green Pope," then Patriarch Bartholomew is the "Green Patriarch." His practical, hands on trips with faith leaders, scientists, and theologians as part of the Religion, Science, and Environment Symposia was one of the most creative, forward thinking approach to Care for Creation and Contemplation of Creation I have come across in my years a priest. Sadly, it is also one of the most under appreciated and forgotten efforts to address environmental concerns from a Christian perspective. Why did we not study these symposia in seminary? Why did I not see any reference to these symposia in the curriculum for Catholic Social Teaching when I taught Care for Creation at Regis High School? And why has its legacy among other Christians been so muted? Here are a series of links to articles I put together on the symposia.
One of the great contributions of these Symposia in regard to Care for and Contemplation of Creation is not only providing intellectual reflection on our environment, but to bring scientists and theologians out to these locations to experience them first hand. I think this twofold process of intellectual reflection and practical experience of creation points to one of the main reasons Care for Creation has been received in an underwhelming manor: In order to appreciate a healthy environment, one must experience both a healthy environment and a degraded environment.
For example, a true blessing of my priesthood has been to lead mission trips to our Diocesan Orphanage in Lurin, Peru, Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II. Of the many eye opening experiences youth and adults I've taken on these mission trips have had, one of the first pungent experiences of a less than ideal environment occurs when we cross the bridge that leads to the orphanage's front gate. The "stream" we cross quickly greets the noses of our mission group with the reality that it is basically an open sewer that is a dump point for everything from human feces to dead animals.
In subsequent trips, it is clear the city of Lurin is making efforts to address this issue, but that rude greeting often would lead members of our group to instinctually comment, "How can this be allowed?" Good question not only for the city of Lurin, but for all of us, regardless of where we live, wondering why we allow our environment to suffer so much when we instinctually understand environmental injustice when it stares us in the face... or our nose!
Another reason I fear that calls to Care for Creation specifically are met with an attitude of apathy is because of how it challenges our lifestyle. For example, one of the big stumbling blocks I see in the United States when it comes to Care for Creation is the cultural debate on fossil fuels.
The argument ultimately becomes about production and consumption: Given the growing population of our country we will need more energy to provide for the needs of people in the future.
The debate then begins by asking, "Do we approach this problem by producing more fossil fuels or by developing green energy sources?" Absent from this debate is a mentality of simplicity and conservation. The irony for me is that when I talk with people and get them out of their political mindset, most people will acknowledge that we as a people are too depend upon fossil fuels and need to develop new energy sources. However, the bigger challenge is to develop a mentality where we use less, save more, and refine what we already have. Consumption has become an addiction and our addiction culture is refusing to detach from this dysfunctional mindset.
In regard to Contemplation of Creation, there is an understandable fear that calls to contemplate creation will slip into nature worship. Christianity, after all, has defined Pantheism (a belief that the world and God are one and the same) as a heresy. Wouldn't the Contemplation of Creation do precisely what the faithful have defined as a fundamental error? The answer is that there is a clear difference between seeing creation as God vs. seeing God's "finger prints" in creation. A great role model for us on how to make this distinction is Jesus himself. When we look at the parables, Jesus is practicing the Contemplation of Creation all the time throughout Scripture.
“Hear then the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
He proposed another parable to them. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
He spoke to them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” (Matthew 13:18-33)
There are more examples I could give, but they would all come to the same conclusion: Jesus teaches us, time and time again, that if you want to understand the Kingdom of God, practice the Contemplation of Creation. Do we think of the parables in this way? To be honest, I think we already do. Sadly, I think our culture of suspicion and distrust toward things pertaining to both caring for our common home and praying in a way that engages creation has created an acidic spirituality of unhealthy detachment from the natural world. We need to rediscover the beauty of this relationship that has been a part of our heritage from Genesis.
Let us remember, one of the first threats to the early Church was the Gnostic movement. And what was the mentality of the Gnostics in relation of creation? The material world was corrupt, evil, and an illusion with the goal of the spiritual life being to liberate yourself from the material world and ascend to The One. Let us not implicitly recreate one of the most fundamental errors in the history of Christian thought by rejecting Care for Creation and Contemplation of Creation. Let us see these Works of Mercy as an antidote for struggles we face when it comes to understanding our relationship with each other and our common home.
Spiritual Exercise: How can you practice the Works of Mercy of Caring for Creation and Contemplating Creation today? How can you deepen your understanding of these Works of Mercy? Both of them require us to get out and engage creation, both in its pristine form and in its denigrated state. Whether you perform a Corporal Work of Mercy with your hands, a Spiritual Work of Mercy with your mind and heart, or both, do them for the Lord as an expression of your love of God. Let us be good stewards of God's creation. And may that creation both provide us with our daily bread and lead us to long to embrace God's Kingdom now and in the New Creation of the Resurrection.
I wish to conclude this posts with Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew's joint statement on the World Day of Prayer for Creation. May we embrace these words as challenge to embrace our responsibility for caring for our common home.
The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.
However, “in the meantime”, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.
The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development.
Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on 1 September. On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labour in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps 126-127), if prayer is not at the centre of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.
We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.
It's embarrassing for me to admit, but I didn't know what the Templeton Foundation was before Br. Guy invited me to write for Sacred Space Astronomy. Since then, not only have I been thankful the Foundation offered the Vatican Observatory a grant to help make this blog possible, but exploring the mission of the Foundation and learning about those who have received the prestigious Templeton Prize has helped me grow as a priest, a theologian, and a person. Here is a brief video explaining the mission of the Templeton Foundation.
Recently, a good friend sent me a link from Word of Fire Ministries announcing they have received a major grant from the Templeton Foundation to create programs in faith and science. Of the many wonderful reasons for me to follow Word on Fire's work in this area, the ultimate reason is rather personal: Bishop Robert Barron was one of my professors when I was in seminary. Bishop Barron, then Fr. Barron when I was in seminary, was always regarded as one of the most engaging professors amid a stacked academic faculty. Looking back, I am humbled to have been taught by intellects of the highest caliber such as Bishop Barron, the late Fr. Edward T. Oakes, Dr. David Fagerberg, Dr. C. Colt Anderson, Sr. Sara Butler, Deacon Owen Cummings, and many more. Combine this with the pride I feel for friends who are doing great things in the Church, such as Fr. John Kartje (aka "astro-priest") who also received a Templeton Grant to help develop Science courses for seminaries, and it becomes obvious that I have little to complain about and much to give thanks for in my life.
These amazing women and men have helped me become the man and priest I am today. In that spirit, I wanted to thank all the mentioned people along with those unnamed that have helped shape my life. And thank you to Br. Guy and the Templeton Foundation for making the gift of writing for Sacred Space Astronomy possible!
Some of you may think, "So, do you have an inside scoop as to what Word on Fire is going to produce?" Nope, not a clue. The last time I had a long conversation with Bishop Barron was a few years back when I flew to California to make some videos for the Vatican Observatory Foundation as part of Sacred Space Astronomy's grant from the Templeton Foundation. I am, however, very excited to see the summary of projects coming in faith and science that Word on Fire is going to produce. Here is an excerpt from their press release.
First, the Word on Fire Institute will offer a series of video courses from prestigious physicists, astrophysicists, biologists, and theologians to establish a Faith/Science educational track for the 15,000 members of the Institute. The courses will be supplemented by a highly publicized digital summit.
Second, the Institute will host a formal colloquium featuring top scientists, theologians, philosophers, and popular-culture influencers to discuss various aspects of faith and science. This colloquium will draw thousands of attendees and feature live-streamed keynote addresses and breakout sessions.
Finally, Word on Fire will create a series of original videos to highlight and address the most common misconceptions about the incompatibility of faith and science. These will be freely accessed and publicly shared. (Click here for the full press release)
In light of this, I would like to congratulate Bishop Barron and the Word of Fire Institute for receiving this grant from the Templeton Foundation. I can't wait to see and share what will come from this blessing!
As a review, here are some pieces I have written in the past in regard to the Templeton Foundation, resources from other groups that the Foundation has supported, and some past Templeton Prize winners. Enjoy and happy Monday!
Rabbi Sacks - Embracing the need for faith and science: How not to read the story of the “Doubting Thomas” (This link contains a MUST SEE documentary of Rabbi Sacks that includes a fascinating interview with Richard Dawkins)
Some outlines I put togethers with resources from the AAAS and Fr. Kartje
In past posts, I shared with you the wonderful work the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has done to bring science into seminaries of all denominations. Last year, I had the honor of speaking at an AAAS sponsored program at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. Currently, as a pastor who needs to make important and stressful decisions in regard to whether or not we should have in-class religious education/formation or home-based education and formation during this pandemic, I have come to appreciate the work of the AAAS even more!
Today's post is not going to be a commentary on pieces by the AAAS, but simply a sharing of their resources for the readers of Sacred Space Astronomy. At this important time in our global history, may we walk with each other as one human community, despite our individual differences, to choose the best possible good for humanity. And let us pray that God will give us a super abundance of wisdom, understanding, the ability to seek out good counsel, grow in knowledge of the dangers we face, and find the fortitude to walk the best path for the common good.
AAAS Covid-19 Resources: https://www.aaas.org/covid-19-resources-researchers
AAAS Collection of Professional Articles on Covid-19 from Science: https://www.sciencemag.org/collections/coronavirus?intcmp=sci_cov&_ga=2.120772360.1699174149.1597062060-108354240.1597062060
The impact of Covid-19 on inflammation issues in the elderly: https://www.aaas.org/news/age-related-inflammation-may-worsen-covid-19-outcomes-older-individuals
Risks to Pregnant Women from Covid-19: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/why-pregnant-women-face-special-risks-covid-19
The rising concern about brain and heart issues from Covid-19: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/brain-fog-heart-damage-covid-19-s-lingering-problems-alarm-scientists
Mental Health and Covid-19: https://www.aaas.org/news/sciline-briefing-explores-mental-health-social-isolation-and-covid-19
Covid-19 testing in relation to schools and businesses: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/radical-shift-testing-strategy-needed-reopen-schools-and-businesses-researchers-say
Other Resources for the best science on Covid-19
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1
American Society for Microbiology: https://asm.org/Press-Releases/2020/COVID-19-Resources?et_rid=644027183&et_cid=3250646
Association of Science and Technology Centers: https://www.astc.org/coronavirus/
Have a safe and healthy Monday!
One of the challenges of writing for Sacred Space Astronomy is we write for an international audience. Yes, when looking at our little readership globe, the majority of hits do come from the United States. However, Br. Guy emphasizes that we are writing to a global audience and to keep this fact in mind when posting. This creates some challenges, especially when I write of my life in Wisconsin, but, sadly, Covid-19 has made writing with a global mindset a bit easier.
We, as a global community, are going through this pandemic together. Covid-19 has created much frustration and pain for many regardless of race, gender, country of origin, and/or state of life. Obviously, I would prefer that an historic moment of global unification would come through something positive. Still, this is our reality, this is our present, and this is our immediate future. This reality begs the question: What are we going to do about it?
In my home state of Wisconsin, our Governor has ordered a mandatory mask order. I support the order and sadly see it as a necessary means to try and stop the rapid increase of Covid-19 cases in my home state. In the United States, a pandemic that should be the most apolitical topic of society has sadly become nothing but politics. The political rifts on the subject of Covid-19 has made civil discussion of this pandemic impossible at times. This communication breakdown causes two huge problems. First, how does one communicate essential health information in a cultural whirlwind of distrust? Second, how do we explore healthy outlets needed as a member of the human race to help take the edge off of the stress and pressure we all feel?
For the best information on the science of Covid-19, we need to look to groups like the World Health Organization. Regardless of which country you live in, the basic recommendations for all people are the same: Social distance, soap wash/sanitize your hands, and wear masks when social distancing becomes compromised. This, however, creates a tension with the fact we are wired to be a social species. Therefore, one of the core attributes of the human race now contributes to the contracting and passing on of this virus. This begs the question: What should we do to maintain both our physical health and our emotional health while being socially distant?
At the heart of this balance will always be rest, exercise, spirituality, and acts of recreation or "re-creation." Personally, I tend to be an introvert so, by nature, I gravitate toward doing things to re-create on on my own. As you have seen in the past weeks, astrophotography has become central to my "staying sane" plan during this pandemic. However, I've also found that photography in general has been a great way for me to get out of the house, but still maintain social distancing, simply looking for interesting subjects to photograph in the world around me.
This process of looking for inspiration for photography has also fed my desire to practice contemplation of creation. At this time of year, sunflowers are on full display in Wisconsin. Their stunning beauty and ability to transform a landscape visually are unparalleled. These past few days, I have been exploring different fields of sunflowers to get out and enjoy the outdoors. I find it fascinating that sunflowers have such a universal appeal. Wherever I go, there are at least four or five cars parked alongside the road of these fields. Some people are there to take professional portraits while others, like me, just find them beautiful. Here are some of the images I've captured of local sunflower fields.
For residents of western Wisconsin, sunflowers have taken on a unique, local symbol. If you were driving with someone from Eau Claire, Wisconsin and saw a field of sunflowers, it wouldn't surprise of me if you would immediately hear, "Are those sunflowers from Seeds of Hope?" One of the more successful charitable movements locally has been the selling of sunflower seeds to support researchers, hospitals, and families who deal with and are touched by cancer. It started when a family lost their loving mother who also loved sunflowers. Now, the tragedy of her death has become a thriving family business and charity to the point that sunflowers have become a symbol for support of cancer victims and their families.
For those of you who read Sacred Space Astronomy, a sunflower might evoke the powerful image of the sunflower galaxy. Obviously, the stately flower inspired scientists when naming the galaxy. It is a powerful reminder that in this world of wonders, there are some that stand out among others in a way that can become a powerful symbol both locally and universally. Add this to Pope Francis' call in Laudato Si' to practice the contemplation of creation and we find a powerful backdrop of something profoundly positive amid the stress we all live with during this national pandemic.
Spiritual Exercise: What are the healthy outlets you have discovered to emotionally and spiritually get away from the stress of Covid-19? Leave your socially distant stress relievers below in the comments. Together, let us ask God to walk with us in these difficult times and give us the daily manna we need to be fed in this desert of wandering due to the Coronavirus.