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St. Elizabeth of Ravenna Catholic Church
September 1, 2022 Reflecting on the Serenity Prayer
Serenity Prayer: God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen. Reinhold Niebuhr
A truly beautiful prayer, so why say more? Certainly, this prayer is complete in itself and may not require more words, for it is short and directly to the point. However, this prayer demands a high form of sophistication, for how many of us know the things we can or cannot change, and know them fully to our own satisfaction? Furthermore, the courage to change what we can does deserve a sincere prayer in these critical times of pandemic and the urgency to curb climate change. We are very aware we can deny that the problems demanding change exist, excuse ourselves and say the problems are too big to handle, or admit the problems but seek to postpone action or escape to other issues less taxing. The temptation is to remove ourselves from making changes through a false humility with regards to the possible work involved.
Serenity is a virtue involving manifestation of trust in God to help us with a steadfast condition during troubled times. But what about those who lack acceptance of being able to act or who lack the courage when most needed? For specifically personal actions the above prayer has greater meaning; for social actions at the global level that involve individual contributions, the prayer is a little more complicated. To wisely see the current global situation is certainly food for sincere prayer, for it is highly needed at this period in world history.
The fact that each of us can make a difference through our prayers and actions must be emphasized when times are so critical. Never before in human history has the need for global collaboration been greater, and yet it is the degree and willingness of that cooperation that is urgently needed right now. Each person has a role to play and yet this is often overlooked.
The Serenity Prayer presumes knowing this global condition and our place in resolving it. But what if people fail to accept their change role? What if they fail to see the need for divine assistance? What if they do not know their role at this moment? My point in reflecting is that we are spiritually empowered to work together to save our wounded Earth, but we must accept the spiritual dimensions of this work. The key issue then is one of admitting the urgency of change and our own unique capacity to enter into the fray to make a difference. Our prayer is one of level-headed acknowledgment that we know and will not deny our place, and not excuse ourselves, or escape to other issues. Simply put, we need a prayer to know what we can change and be willing to do so on the global level. Keep the Serenity Prayer for personal matters where needed, but on these global issues we need more.
Prayer for Global Harmony: Lord, help us to imitate the harmony of the Trinity in world affairs. We individuals must each do our part in prayer for the human family; we must seek to harmonize in our individual ways in the ordinary activities of life. May we give special attention to praying for contrarians who seem to delight in fostering disharmony. We realize that perfect harmony is not possible, and yet a serviceable amount is needed to collaborate in curbing climate change. Give us courage to endure!
The Sound of Rain
During this past summer, I reflected often as the rains came day after day. Through most of my life the sound of rain was a comforting feeling; since rain was so often needed to break a drought and give adequate water to the plants and animals. My heart would gladden at the first sound of the splatter of raindrops on the roof; furthermore, this sense of wellbeing would even occur amid times of heavier storms, with lightning flashes and thunder rumbles. The sound of raindrops was music to my ears.
However, this summer climate change was having its effect and we witnessed heavy and frequent rains in central Appalachia, and heard about the super droughts in states out West. An equality of precipitation seems lost, when rising summer temperatures occurred in so many parts of the normally cooler world; it all seemed quite foreboding. The amount of July rainfall was incredible, with ten inches falling in a one-day period in parts of Kentucky’s Appalachia. The creeks and rivers gave way to sudden flash floods, the likes of which had never been previously experienced. At least three dozen human residents were swept away and many additional folks, who had no house flood insurance, lost everything.
As this summer continues, I have rethought the sounds of rainfall, even when the first instance is one of welcome. I never knew I would pray that the rains miss us, considering a deep fear that drought always lurks just around the corner. However, the thought of those just over the hills, who had twice as much rainfall as we here in Estill County, has made me shutter. “Please, Lord, give us time for the plentiful waters to recede.” And our hopes are that the generosity and assistance for victims will continue, even if and when more flash flooding occurs.
At the sight of mass destruction in these areas, we want to assign blame, even though the weather is often outside our control. In a longer run, that assigned blame is possible considering the heavy use of fossil fuels and the resulting excess of carbon dioxide and its greenhouse climate effect. Yes, much of that long-term blame may be social, whether because so many used the fossil fuels with their toxic emissions or a democratic people proved unwilling to curb the use by wanton wasters of natural resources.
The sound of rain to youngsters who are swept from home and barely survive the onrush of flooding is not a comforting one; and it may take much time to healing their shock. Their youthful experience is different from what mine was; hopefully, for them flash flooding was once in a lifetime, but the reasonable suspicions are that more flooding will come. For some it means moving out of the danger zone, or to find a higher location; for others it means establishing a safer escape route in times of emergency. Such solutions are difficult. We now expect that adequate climate change legislation will include enforcement. Perhaps the future will be expected to bring more gentle rains and the return of the traditional sound of comforting showers.
Buckeye butterfly on late summer blooms.
(*Photo by Sally Ramsdell)
September 2, 2022 Benefits from Local Church Sales
The church for which I am pastor has a monthly sale of used clothing, household and personal supplies, for all people in the local community. This has been going on for years in part with assistance from the Benedictine Sisters in Northern Kentucky who formerly staffed our local hospital. The sales are known far and wide for excellent materials at very low and reasonable prices. The lower-income local people are regular customers at all times of the year come rain or shine. The displayed materials sell for only a fraction of what new items would cost and include only donated higher quality clothes, books, cards, trinkets and kitchenware.
Virtually all local residents know our Catholic church for her basement sales, and over the past half century a sizeable selection of the local community has ventured there to look for bargains. The sales do the following:
* Provide some with the only good clean and quality donated clothing that, when new, would prove beyond the price range of these low-income buyers;
* Become an outlet for wealthier people or those who no longer need items that are donated (provided the practice is not an excuse to change wardrobes to the latest fashion);
* Make available bargains for those who could not normally afford to obtain gifts for relatives and friends, because of their limited incomes;
* Upholds the dignity of individuals who want to purchase what they obtain and not be purely beggars;
* Prove a meeting place and opportunity for seniors who are not able to circulate, except when acquaintances feel willing to take them to this place of conviviality;
* Offer a good feeling about the Church for almost all in the community. I meet many who know our parish through these sales and invariably smile when thinking of past visits;
* Become an outlet for those who endure a fire or other emergency and need to be refurnished or reclothed in an orderly fashion;
* Allow the Church to make additional income (even at extremely low sale prices) that is used for local and foreign ministries; and
* Open doors to other types of charitable support.
While basement sales are the lifeline for poorer community folks, my only hesitancy is that it may confirm some customers in the prevailing materialism of our culture. However, I believe the basement sales fit into the proper parameters listed by Robert D. Lupton in Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, HarperOne, 2011. Items are not given as charity except in genuine emergencies, thus allowing local people to feel at home obtaining necessities at low but not giveaway prices. The dignity of the individual participants is preserved and genuine needs met.
Prayer for Laborers: Lord, give to each person the opportunity to find and perform the labor it takes to keep self and dependents alive and well. More so, inspire those who can furnish opportunities for laborers to use the full capacity of their skills and talents to create job openings, so others can fulfill their aspirations. Help us all to use what influence we have to ensure that the government is the last means of work and that enough resources are available to make this happen. Encourage us to labor for the good of all.
Red fox, Vulpes vulpes, pauses for rest in summer heat.
September 3, 2022 Warning Levels of Severe Climate Change
In mid- 2021 the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii found carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) levels reached an astounding 420 parts per million (ppm), and extrapolated this to be the highest level in four million years. Clearly, levels that were at 320 ppm just 64 years ago (when the observatory started taking measurements) continue at a steady climb with no plateau or decline in sight. However, the rate of rise has grown from 0.7ppm in the 1960s to 2.1ppm now in the third decade of the 21st century. Amid international climate treaties and agreements, global ppm rises have not slowed down.
The seriousness of the situation is not to be dismissed by certain pundits, for over 97% of scientists agree that changes must occur. To hold to an overall 2-degree Celsius rise (perhaps catastrophic in itself) would require holding CO2 levels to 450ppm. Effects grow and linger for years and require not only unforeseen limits to growth, but nearly impossible cutting of artificial CO2 rises to zero by 2075. In other words, as the window of time for taking immediate action closes, the amount of action in curbing CO2 becomes more and more difficult. A future generation will ask, "Why didn't they act when they knew what was happening?"
Part of the problem is not only that some adamantly oppose recognition of human causation, but that such opposition reduces the sense of urgency to change the status quo. And changes risk hurting the almighty bottom line of profit-making Big Energy companies that include coal and oil, along with frackers of shale to capture natural gas and more oil. Yes, in this age of cheap natural gas and talk of American energy independence, "fracking" sounds like a dirty word and IS. One supposed cleaner fossil fuel allows us to pretty much live like we have in the past, except that now hundreds of millions of Asians and others are consuming and enjoying the good life with us Americans and Europeans. All of this takes fossil fuel, because renewables are not yet sufficient.
In this series of Daily Reflections, we return to the frightening legacy that this generation is leaving to the next -- a form of indebtedness. Our sensible hope is that we can cut damage and ward off major disaster and, at times, these hopes seem to dim. We count on others countries to quickly make changes that are needed with urgency. Yes, those concerned have initiated practices that curb CO2 emissions, through recycling and acquiring energy-saving appliances and electric autos to planting trees and opposing tar sands oil pipelines. But are these actions enough? We must truly face our global addiction to fossil fuels and start profound changes in the way people live their ordinary lives. We must replace fossil energy sources with renewable energy ones and do so with a spiritual commitment to save our wounded Earth.
Prayers on the Dignity of Work: Master Builder, show us, who earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, the way to extend kindness to co‑workers; help us express enthusiasm and responsibility in what we try to achieve through solidarity. Set blessings rather than curses on our lips, smiles rather than frowns on our faces, and warmth in our hearts for those who prove to be builders of a better world. Challenge us to cherish the gift of laboring for your glory and human betterment. On this Labor Day weekend may we lead others to treasure a sense of dignity in what they do for a livelihood. May our collective labors be blessed!
Common arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia, Kentucky autumn bloom.
September 4, 2022 Releasing the Death Grip on Possessions
None of you can be my disciple unless he gives
up all his possessions. (Luke 14:33)
This quotation is a tall order. We all know Christians who have possessions and who struggle to keep them intact. But what does it all mean, for private holdings seem part of our everyday life such as house, car, lawn, and investments? The issues are how much we hold, how hard we hold to possessions, and how reluctant we are to let go of them. Pity those who hold much, hold firmly, and find it hard to let go. Thomas Jefferson's fine furnishings at Monticello along with the place were auctioned soon after his death to pay debts incurred through unchecked spending. (Alan Pell Crawford, Twilight at Monticello, Random House, 2008).
If the heart is bound to the holdings, then a terrible shock is in store when the day of giving up arrives -- as it must for everyone. Jesus likens possessions to the building of the structure, preparing the site and manner of construction so it can withstand storms. Today this lesson is needed for Atlantic Ocean-front owners expecting public money when inevitable hurricanes and tropical storms raise havoc. Holding on to wealth, grandeur, and material security is a facade that is passing. Proper planning and understanding of risks are needed. We accept our limitations and find that what is held firmly is in trust to serve the common good within a democratic society. Why should individuals have a "right" to hold on to billions of dollars’ worth of property and say how these funds are dispensed? Should we not make large-scale holdings an ultimate responsibility of the general citizenry by taxation?
Besides quantity, we are fully aware that some possessors are poor folks who hold tightly to the little they have. In fact, they take more energy in the grip than do some who are termed wealthy. How do we get them to see how futile holding on is, for it will soon be released when the death grip slackens in the tomb? Grasping for goods takes efforts and enhances lack of sharing with those who must acquire their necessities. Inattention to needs of others is critical. The death grip is a desperate effort to go against growth in love and sharing with neighbor, and runs counter to Jesus' call for us to serve others.
When some generous souls are near death's door, they decide to let go of possessions and enjoy the act of doing so. They have practiced good stewardship with God-given gifts that they release in a spirit of generosity; materialism has not contaminated their grace to love and share. We find their generosity a gift of a valuable lesson about possessions, a lesson needed by all, especially youth who are given all that they wanted. What a horrible legacy, to be death grippers of limited possessions.
Prayer for the Privilege of Work: Lord, some see work as a duty, a necessity, a burden, and a hardship that may soon be lifted. While we have energy, give us a sense of fulfillment in doing something meaningful to help others. We thank you for the privilege to do meaningful labor in your name. I realize that my time is short and that the span of doing things shrinks each day, so I regard today with gratitude for being able to work for you. Help others to join me in proclaiming the privilege of work.
Autumn sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale, appropriately named.
September 5, 2022 Facing Global Unemployment: A Volatile Time Bomb
A Christian who is not a revolutionary
today isn't a Christian. Pope Francis
On Labor Day we ought to consider the condition of laborers and those who would like to be laborers, but are held back by an economic/political system from acquiring an honest livelihood. Three realities (willing workers, available jobs, and financial resources) fail to come together due to the current fiction that the status quo is quite satisfactory. In point of fact, the present situation of 300,000,000 unemployed throughout the world -- most wanting jobs to secure their livelihoods and that of their present or future families -- is a time bomb ready to explode. Free marketeers rant about productivity and ready jobs for the far-sighted, provided workers play the rules; they regard themselves as clever enough to operate where there's little taxation on the rich.
The millions of unemployed suffer while some of them seek to organize and take what is rightfully and collectively theirs. These perceive the willingness of many to work and seek a meaningful life and ability to contribute during their life time; second, there is a plentitude of work in such areas as caregiving and rebuilding a deteriorating national, regional, and local infrastructure (roads and bridges, flood control systems, public housing, brown fields, high speed rail, airports, seaports, and canals); and third, there are financial resources in untaxed billions salted away in tax havens and held by billionaires who sequester funds from the public commons, that when taxed could be applied to useful work projects.
The interaction of workers, needed work, and work project funding is absent due to privileged wealth with excessive influence in our economy and government. The privileged few pretend to be generous with their charity when they ought to be surrendering their surpluses for the common good of those desiring to work. They fail to see the dignity of work and the need to preserve the commons; they are colored by their own self-interest in retaining the ill-gotten goods and dispensing them in dribbles as they deem best as autocrats. Democracy suffers as we tolerate such views.
The Church can act as catalyst and incite laborers to rise up and exert their democratic responsibilities as true but non-violent revolutionaries. This means to put pressure on governmental leaders to free up locked-in capital that could be used for funding projects to benefit the people. Unemployment in a time of needed work and eager workers is the crime of our capitalistic system, seeking a ready pool of lower-waged people patiently standing in line for limited jobs. All workers need to show a holy impatience by insisting that government is employer of last resort -- and global security ultimately means eliminating unemployment.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Mother Teresa, for those of us who in life have seen and heard you, we feel excitement at being near a saint. We admire your universal love of everyone, no matter of what race, creed or color; we admire your simple way of cradling those who are nameless and dying. Please intercede to the Lord that we might have this same sense of universal love and caring. May your community of the Missionary Sisters of Charity thrive, and may their simple ways inspire others.
Gardener's blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata, late summer colors.
September 6, 2022 Ridding Ourselves of Clericalism
Rarely do I speak out about church-related problems, because that goes beyond our earthhealing mission. However, one church issue impinges, especially in our efforts to enhance the democratic process. I regard the Church as my mother and so I never speak ill of her. However, some take advantage of my mother for their own advancement and ambitions and thus we must speak up. Pope Francis speaks out forcefully against the "leprosy of careerism within Church circles" -- and such words are within his role as chief shepherd. He says that this careerism and ambition cuts into the efforts of the Church to speak out with authority against the disparity of wealth and inexcusable poverty plaguing our world.
Clericalism distracts and draws attention away from the needs of the Church's mission to bring Christ to the world. Jesus washed the feet of the apostles to indicate the humble service demanded of each of us. The Pope sees that some shepherds are mischievous and he calls for order in the institution so that our mission in a world of need not be distracted by privileges gained through wrongful entitlement. They did not pass out medals in 1940 at the evacuation of Dunkirk. Special privileges are not needed now. Urgent and proper order involves healing a troubled world where disorder reigns supreme, and the only privilege is one of unheralded service. The curse of clericalism is that it encourages some to sit on pedestals when they should be out in the field of hard knocks. Traditional privileges segregate servants into house and field slaves, and that is not proper if all must help harvest.
Clericalism is deference to rank; this is either by clergy themselves and their ranking esteem or deference by laity to clergy ranks, a residue from absolute monarchical days and three "Estates." Clericalism can be a form of excessive attention to self for it allows a privileged culture to expect special favors and then to side with the privileged who bestow them. An excessive concern about expected benefits is a subtle clericalism just as much as the Second Estate of the old French monarchy -- and then came the tragic effects of the French Revolution.
Unpopular moral teaching is not clericalism. Some would say that the Church's influence is exerted in speaking for proper public policy -- but silence could be worse. Spiritual power must speak out on issues of moral conduct. We reflect on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chapter 6 and following). Name-calling that defense of proper moral conduct is an exercise of "clericalism" is untrue and can be a form of intimidation. The best argument against excessive power by Church leaders is to accept damage from speaking out and to risk losing any supposed privileged position in order that the truth must prevail. Religious freedom is a right and not a permitted privilege; this right is best exercised when clericalism is eliminated in the face of current secularism.
Grace to Smile: Lord, give us the grace to follow the words of Mother Teresa -- "Peace begins with a smile" or "We never know the good that a simple smile will do." Help us respect what she attempted through simplicity and when she said "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." Help us Lord to unwind from the complexity of daily life and also seek to do our own ordinary tasks with ever greater love. May this day's heaviness be lifted through a pleasant smile. Make me do a little more smiling to lighten the load of our neighbors.
Late summer thunderstorm.
September 7, 2022 Combatting Clericalism through Democratic Means
When the Church does not come out of itself to evangelize, it
becomes self-referential and then gets sick. Pope Francis
Clericalism is a sense of privilege that is enjoyed by clergy either through their own estimation, or by leaders allied with them, or by lay people willing to give deference where it does not belong. When applied by civil leadership it often seeks approval of autocratic rule and thus demands a silent and docile Church with expected privileges. When lacking critique of its own members, clergy can be part of an illness Pope Francis calls ecclesiastical narcissism. Lay folks must not see "Clergy" as special privilege.
The ancient French "estates" of nobility, clergy, and general public created rigid classes within that nation. Why such groups standing in contrast or in opposition to each other? Leaders differ from ordinary citizens, but in a democratic society ought to be drawn from their ranks and not through some entitlement, privilege or birth. Democratic leadership of state AND church respects the elevated and cooperative efforts of all citizens and members. Spiritual empowerment comes from Christ within our midst, not from some sort of endowment of individuals. Better than to regard civic and clergy leaders as inherently different is to see that they are chosen in some manner by the people empowered by God. Leadership is a service and a ministry among the nobility of the multitudes. A better approach in contrast to aristocracy is that all people have a task of exercising citizenship; proper church ministries with responsibilities inherently associated involve a host of duties coming together through dynamic interaction.
Recall that our first American Catholic Bishop, John Carroll, wanted to be called in the pattern of our newly elected president, "Mr. Bishop." Unfortunately, that suggestion was never acted upon for any period of time and to the detriment of all concerned. Outdated clericalism tainted by outmoded nobility harms our democratic spirit. In fact, many of the tenets of a democratic society dealing with equality are emphasized as Christ's fundamental teaching and are found in theological thought. The Church is able to defend the democratic process and thus grow herself ever more democratic. Inherited nobility is outmoded and so is clericalism expecting entitlement. We still need presidents and bishops, but not any form of kowtowing or excessive deference.
Upon further reflection we see laypeople take responsibility as part of "We the Church," especially when working as the principle of subsidiarity indicates, doing as much as possible at lower levels of structure. Don't put saints on distant pedestals, but as models among the people; a priest's role is essential with regard to certain sacred functions, but so are others with specific church duties such as lectors, choir, and advisors.
Fading Daylight Prayer: Creator Lord, you give us the rhythms of lengthening and shortening days. We become conscious of this at various occasions, but need to be mindful that this is part of our ongoing lives. We feel at times the fading of our energy levels, or our past abilities to respond quickly to certain happenings. We need to see that fading is also a mortal condition, and so we thank you for both earlier robust times and for the chance to do what we can in what few years remains.
Late summer forest floor, with littering of leaves.
September 8, 2022 Knowing Throwaway Culture's Detrimental Effects
Without thinking we toss away a used box, plastic cup, or outdated electronic device. If generous and attempting to recycle, we put some discards in the recycle bin or save the device to give as a toy to a kid on our charity list.
Throwaway culture judges superficially. Our culture finds something wrong with the old and some excuse to join those panicked to obtain the latest fads -- to purchase, substitute, and discard as though a sacred ritual. This is a materialistic economy increasingly wounding our Earth by wasting resources. Why hold on to what is not the best and be criticized by peers? Throwing away a serviceable but substituted appliance or device has a tinge of guilt attached and so it is often delegated to storage space.
Throwaway culture includes unneeded people. This portion of the human population has little or no utility; they are overly young, old, ill, poor, or uneducated -- and are thus subject to being overlooked or discarded in favor of the more successful and prominent ones. This compartmentalizing of human beings devalues the qualities of a person, the redemptive power of offered suffering within the spiritual economy of salvation, and omits an opportunity to assist each other. The discarding allows selfishness to triumph and disparity among people to grow. Large-scale discarders expect the lowly will die off and no longer be a financial burden on the affluent; out of sight, out of mind.
Throwaway culture discards tradition. That which has value from the past is of no relevance to discarders. Why bother to respect that which did not involve the latest clothes, electronics, or forms of entertainment. Past era consumers are old, pre-technical, unable to use the Internet well, and only wanting a good retirement. Why waste time learning about such trivia from the past? Current history as such is reduced to informational tips with little feeling for the ancestors' struggles to survive.
Throwaway culture forgets resource expenditures. Attitudes are related to the desire to see immediate convenience at some cost to the environment. We forget the quantity of resources to build vehicles, individual houses, or even cities -- and so discard them. Resources are never perfectly recycled and continued in proper use, and so it is easier to abandon them or bury them in a landfill. Little calculation is made of replacement structures and devices and accompanying pollution in processing, shipping, and distribution of these substitutes. The throwaway culture is part of an indebtedness that allows a future generation to be saddled with unpaid bills. When a few are throwaway people, the impact is light; when hundreds of millions enter this wasteful practice, results are staggering and frightening. Will it ever stop?
Prayer on Mary's Birthday: Loving Mother of the Redeemer, Gate of Heaven, Star of the seas, assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again. To the wonderment of nature you bore your creator, yet remained a virgin after as before. You who received Gabriel's joyful greeting, have mercy on us sinners.
A More Balanced Mobility
Air cancellations by the hundreds, gasoline prices far too high, kids stuck at home by the virus: these and many other issues have made each of us reconsider our mobility and what it means for our wellbeing. I bring up the issue more frequency now because my mobility has plummeted early this year, through imbalance and falling and later through severe hip problems. Yes, when it comes to human tendencies to move about, we should ask what the various mobile excursions have meant to us. Could we have gained as much or more through less travel? This reflection is meant for both those suffering from over- or restricted mobility, and for those of us who can do very little travel right now.
Over-mobility: The driving force is to be ‘with it’ and chat person-to-person, participate in far-flung events and sight-see places first hand. The touring ads press us to travel and the trips seem more reasonable than in former times, when one was more confined. Freedom, curiosity, and advancing age all enter the decision-making, and many respond quickly to the bite of the travel bug. A student brags to a classmate that the family went to Europe; unmentioned was the stress and worry during parts of the trip. In fact, the listening classmate who participated in a close-at-hand excursion may have had a more enjoyable travel experience. The contrast was one of bragging rights, not personal enhancement. With the let up to some degree of the pandemic, the urge to travel more by compensating lost time seems inevitable to many Americans and others.
Under-mobility: Staying within the four walls for the shut-in and the temporarily ill seems such a burden, when neighbors and loved ones pack bags and go to distant exciting places. Just as actual travel can be stressful, so can the stay-at-home restrictions due to personal difficulties or economic conditions during inflationary times. People who are unable to slip away see their past freedom restricted and curiosity stifled; without compensating activities they can become depressed and in the pits without the support of others who recognize their condition. Games, hobbies, films, Zoom, emails, and a dynamic prayer life may be called for at such times.
Arriving at a balance: We all need to pause. Busy travelers could well afford to reflect on cutting unnecessary travel and giving quality time to less frequent ventures. In the past, a journey was a risky undertaking and done only with much forethought, when possible. Too often such trips involved flights from harm or vague hopes for improved livelihood. Today, equal reflection is a proper ingredient before buying the ticket and packing the bags. In thinking about going away or staying in place, the option of virtual sight-seeing can prove immensely enjoyable. We can see much while letting experts record and present the scenes on a screen for us, skipping the hot, buggy personal tour. For shut-ins, Zoom is a possibility with non-perfect but highly compensating visits. All said, some mobility is recommended for all. Getting outside for the shut-in is a great pleasure that includes fresh air and full sunlight; may we soak in every opportunity fully. Staying rested by the busy person who loves to travel can include the delight in absence of strain – and the saved funds can help those in need. Our mobility always needs to be coupled with adequate reflection.
Emergence of cultivated shiitake mushrooms.
September 9, 2022 Gleaning Can Be Ecological
When you gather the harvest of your land, you are not to harvest to the very end of the field. You are not to gather the gleanings of the harvest. You are to neither strip your vine bare, nor to collect the fruit that has fallen in your vineyard. You are to leave them for the poor and the stranger.
Gleaning in its primary meaning pertains to collecting after the reapers have gathered in the harvest; in a simple way it involves sharing with the poor. During this harvest season let's reflect on the nobility of honest gleaners. They are certainly not jackals and vultures picking after lions have their fill. While gleaning is not generally regarded as something noble, still there is a good characteristic in the provision of the harvester for the poor (a largesse) and in the noble gleaning as performed by Ruth (an ancestor of Jesus) in the Scriptures.
Gleaning can take subtle forms; it can be more urban and involve the gleaner's livelihood as a rag-picker or beggar. Really, any resource recycler who takes from another's surplus is gleaning the economic leftovers. Beggars can be quite skillful and even highly successful. Some people are more professional in knowing how to be at the right place and time; they can take advantage of harvesters and their sense of charity. However, there is resourceful skill in recognizing gleanable surpluses and in taking the effort to acquire through such takings -- as wild geese which follow combines and mechanical harvesters today. Some of the resourceful follow the heavy spenders, but do not critique them.
Gleaning can be foraging for urgently needed food such as during the Great Depression or in wars. Gleaning can be foraging or even stealing under another name. One Civil War Confederate soldier tells of foraging as a necessity for his supply-short cavalry corps; in Unionist eastern Tennessee in 1864 towards the end of that horrible war, the foraging parties forced residents to give from a limited store of food on which a family had to survive -- commenting years later that his gun spoke louder than the poor family's prayers. It apparently haunted this veteran a half century later in his memoirs. Excessive gleaning is as faulty as harvesting every bit, and foraging fits that category.
Gleaning can have an ecological character. Renewable energy seekers can glean the wind, sun, geothermal heat, tides, waste dumps, and free-flowing rivers. A more concrete case is that of "gleaning" from spent cooking oil or agricultural wastes to make biofuels. Recycling and reuse of materials are forms of gleaning as are yard and other second-hand sales and energy efficiency measures. Here gleaning is not allowing resources to go to waste, for gleaning has far more possibilities than mere grain fields.
Saint Peter Claver: Lord, through the intercession of St. Peter Claver may we pray for the flowering of the Afro-American Church; let us extend prayers to offspring and their ancestors who came to our shores as slaves. We need to work for forms of reparation, for all the free labor given over 24 decades in the building of our country to be what it is. May all our people see the need for special treatment of all who have suffered from racial injustice.
Ripening fruit of the American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana.
September 10, 2022 Curbing Weapons Trade through Real Offsetting
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961 Farewell Address
On Swap Ideas Day we could suggest practical ways of making life easier, but why waste time and communication opportunities on individual practices alone? A sound national and global policy of reduction of the booming arms trade would be far more practical in the long run. In the early nineteenth century, ideas were swapped about curbing trade in human slaves -- and it grew rapidly in popularity when people realized the injustice; they pressured to cease the practice -- and it stopped. Today we must curb trade in modern inhuman slaves, which is sophisticated weaponry.
Currently, in this country and among the major weapons' producers, military contractors sweeten their bids for the booming sales of weaponry through development of local technical projects -- a form of kickbacks and "offsets" that economists call distorted, and which is even banned by the World Trade Organization. The two-trillion dollar global military structures (heavily American) and the booming manufacturing and exporting businesses must be cut to size, for we should never forget President Eisenhower's wise words as he left public office.
A military/industrial complex has become a reality and is a tail that wags the dog. This movement of weaponry of enormous power and killing capacity haunts our peace-seeking world. The arms trade grows through these enticements (or bribes) that include economic offsets for targeted leaders of nations with loads of oil money and willingness to spend -- and private contractors taking advantage of these imprudent leaders. In times of drone strikes and cyber wars isn't it time to become realistic about the weapon's trade? One answer is to offset such temptation to military trade with peacetime infrastructure improvement, primarily at home where taxpayer support is popular. Let's not omit foreign needs as well.
As currently conceived, the vast American military-industrial complex weakens global security when weapons are made and exported that create a heightened arms race. This feeds on misguided taxpayer willingness to support strong U.S. military global presence. America's military advocates promote pet "Star Wars" programs, multi-billion dollar aircraft carriers, and stealth bombers, which add little genuine global security. Tanks and heavy equipment consume two to three gallons of precious fuel per mile and military aircraft are major users of petroleum-based fuel. Where is resource conservation? True "offsetting" and real security call for improved health and infrastructural buildup.
Prayer to Overcome Terrorism: Lord, as 9/11 approaches, we cannot help but recall that fatal day when, a little over two decades ago, terrorists did so much damage in our land. We find it difficult to pray for those who contemplate such acts against innocent people, but we must. Give us the courage to show a sense of universal love and compassion, even for those who seem so intent on destroying the peace of our fragile world. Open our hearts to see what they desire even amid their despairing acts; we realize that is not easy to do, so we beg you to assist us.
Bridge over the Carp River. Hiawatha National Forest, MI.
September 11, 2022 Celebrating the Prodigal's Return
But it is only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found. (Luke 15:32)
Rejoicing in a discovery is a human experience we have whether the matter is of monetary or sentimental value. However, far greater is the happiness that can occur when someone who had entered a drug culture and abandoned family, community, and church now returns and is active again. While forgiveness is at the heart of the Prodigal Son Parable, it is more than just forgiving; it is rejoicing in the return and the bringing back to life of the person who was lost. It is the resurrection theme that is not just at the end of life, but occurs with each renewal of spiritual life.
Forgiving another opens the door to an act of restoration of life. A drug addict who comes clean or someone who has abandoned the Church and returns now calls us to special celebration. The prodigal may experience the uncomfortable circumstance of approaching others who apparently live on the straight and narrow path. The wayward fear a judgmental host community just as the Prodigal did not know what to expect on his return. Actually, in most cases the home community welcomes the returnee and sponsors a genuine celebration. It is important that celebration accompanies forgiveness and completes the grand return. In some cases, this is not so due to the mentality of the Prodigal's brother.
Drugs are an immersed culture that surrounds us. The ubiquitous nature of legal and illegal drugs of all sorts through advertising and easy access make this a more challenging situation in our modern world. Stress, unemployment, even peer pressure opens the door to a pervasive drug culture that, once entered, is hard to break and leave. The user seeks comfort on a purely material level and this can be detrimental to self and family. Yes, no one should over-indulge in drugs whether legitimate or otherwise. However, permissiveness in our culture makes breaking drug dependency all the harder, along with an over-emphasized sense of private individualism allowing all to do whatever they want.
Believers in the resurrection strive to break the hold and with open arms encourage those wishing to come clean. An ex-addict is a person of courage; forgiveness opens the door to a loving welcome. Creating a drug-free sub-culture is not easy, for boundaries are so fluid and opportunities to reenter the culture are numerous. This is all the more reason to extend community and individual support to the ones who desire to be drug-free; let's celebrate their return. It takes effort to break the addiction, and effort to remain clean, so let's support all social organizations that work to overcome drug addiction.
Prodigal Son Prayer: Jesus, you show divine compassion for the wayward son who squanders his fortune on loose living and then returns to his awaiting and anxious father, who receives him with open arms. The son represents all of us as we approach God with full awareness of our misdeeds. You give this telling parable that also includes the unforgiving brother who is correct in many ways, but lacking in compassion. The parable is one of the most instructive, and you ask us to reflect deeply on all aspects of sinning and then readmission to the divine family. What has been lost now has a chance for a new life. Help us find ourselves in the story, and convey our insights to others.
Bearded robber fly, Asilidae sp.
September 12, 2022 Counting Traffic Fatalities in Appalachia
Traffic fatalities are currently reported to be 45% higher in our Appalachian region than in any other part of the United States (16 per hundred thousand people per year versus 11 on the national average). In fairness, these rates are far lower than in some developing nations of the world with poor roads and rapidly rising rates of automotive use. While any accidental death is one too many, why such higher rates in our region?
Poor, curvy and narrow roads are only part of the answer. The rest is that road users drive too fast and hog the road. I have had too many near misses; to avoid being reckless I refrain using certain roads, except when absolutely necessary. In the eighteen years since I've traveled between my home parish and the other neighboring Stanton parish there have been six major accidents killing seven people, and most were during rush hour. Is it really bad road conditions? These roads are certainly not perfect, but not bad either; it is just that they were not built for volume or SPEED of autos commuting to and from work.
Furthermore, our roads are not built for distracted people exceeding the speed limit, and I do not admit to always keep to the posted speeds. When no one else is on the highway, we drivers tend to maneuver at reasonable speeds that exceed the posted limits by ten or so miles. Two of the deaths on my stretch of road were on a parkway (the last element of my twice weekly trip to the other parish) with a posted 70 miles an hour. One fatality was a young student nurse and parishioner killed on "black ice," or a frosted road condition in winter that is highly dangerous for travel because of little warning of danger.
Causes are many and often more than external road and weather conditions. There are the usual alcohol and drug-related accidents that send our yearly auto insurance rates to very high levels. Add to this the national trends toward distracted driving through texting and operating of cell phones and electronic devices. Some of these distractive conditions are being addressed by various state governments; however, enforcement is extremely difficult and not the primary focus of our state or local traffic police. When accidents do occur, distraction by culprits comes to light.
Caution is really the greatest need. Excessive driving speeds can be reduced through aggressive policing of our roadways, especially in times when people are hastening to or from work with a multitude of other activities running through their minds. The combination of roads, weather, speeds, distractions, and the chances of meeting another in split seconds of possible reaction time all result in accidents and crashes. It is the situation for a "perfect storm" on highways -- and fatalities reflect this.
Hills Prayer: O Creator God, you give us variety that shows degrees of glorious landforms, and moderate ones have their worth. Such are hills in contrast to mountains. Hills have a soothing effect on our vision; while humble, they exhibit a majestic power to move some of us deeply to praise you. Hills have a way of gently calling us to rest in their presence and to trigger more gratitude for your gifts. Hills may be worn down, but they have an embracing beauty that other landforms lack. They are truly the work of your hands and deserving of praise.
Frost grape, Vitis vulpina. Wild Kentucky grapes.
September 13, 2022 Being Thankful for Bountiful Grape Harvests
Last year (2021) was my most bountiful grape harvest, and I was able to share the plenty with my parishioners. It started to be a cool year with first sprouting freezing and yet the final one was the best ever. Further reflections on grapes include:
1. Annual variations -- Much depends on the early shoots and how they must weather the variations in frosty early springtime. We can have late winter warm weather that brings out the grapes and even the tiny clusters that must often weather cooler weeks.
2. Broad growing areas -- Grapes are of numerous varieties and species, but they also thrive in a variety of temperature, soil, and climatic conditions, depending on type grown. On every inhabited continent vineyards yield variety in quality; tastes may differ widely from year to year and one area to another.
3. Unique to regions -- Grapes are sometimes named for the territory in which they grow best (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, etc.). In southeastern U.S. we find a variety of wild grapes -- Fox, Frost, Muscadine, Riverbank, Rock and others as well as European grapes in an assortment of variations and hybrids. My paternal grandfather came from France to grow grapes in what was regarded as America's finest wine country (Ohio Valley areas of Kentucky), but a major blight about 1880 forced him to other farming.
4. Grape-growing opportunities -- Growing grapes takes special skills of which some people are more adept than others. Viticulture offers employment opportunities for people with limited land areas and a willingness to work. The grapes take intensive work in manuring, weeding, trimming, picking, and processing.
5. Wild grape celebration -- The glory of wild grapes is that these give consistent plentiful yields with no attention to maintenance at all. The Fox grape and other wild grapes are constant delights and well worth celebration, but do not always make good tasting wine.
6. Rich in symbolism -- Grapes stand for annual bounty, fertility, plentitude of gifts, joy of heart, natural wealth, hidden allurement to enjoyment or over-indulgence, regular celebration, divine graciousness, and general prosperity. In negative ways, grapes of wrath (Book of Revelation) are the fruit of bitterness as also in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
7. Culinary possibilities -- We see grapes as a fruit from which many culinary delights can be prepared besides wine, all of which can have strong grape flavors, perhaps more than any other fruit. Besides jellies, vinegars, and soft drinks -- one can add fresh grape juice, and concentrate or dried raisins to jams, marmalade, rolls, breads, pies, candies, juices, omelets, cobblers, cakes, ices, and ice creams -- and grapes can certainly be enjoyed fresh off the vine.
Mountains Prayer: O God, the Scriptures say how you love mountains and have your favorites. You give highlands to praise you in special ways, and we are moved into the rhythm of these monuments of majesty. We cannot help but see them in their glory in late summer; we hear their music when we listen intently; we feel the vibrations among them and glory in their steadfastness. Help us, Lord, to praise you within landscape visited at least virtually, if we can do no more right now. May we proclaim the often-hidden characteristics of the mountains and treat them with continued respect; may they comfort us!
Nurse tree for new growth.
September 14, 2022 Probing the Mystery of the Holy Cross
The Feast of the Holy Cross is a perfect opportunity to probe into the mystery of the ignominy of the cross, and what the Lord's ordeal means for our redemption. The cross is more than a symbol that Christians embrace and others find odious -- as was the practice of crucifixion in ancient Roman times. The cross can be expanded in meaning to be a key to who we are as Christians and how we engage in life.
Jesus emptied himself of power. Jesus Christ became one of us, taking on the weakness of an infant in poverty and accepting the limitations of human being in all but sin. In becoming powerless, Jesus joins us in our human state and as a united people who grow spiritually through the helping hand of God. Out of love for us, Jesus submitted to a death of the most bitter punishment of crucifixion. As Christians we believe that this dying is coupled with his resurrection and new life -- a divinely transformed Lord in power (Roman 1:4) who empowers us as well.
Powerlessness is part of our condition. As Job says, Naked I came forth from my mother's womb, and naked I shall go back again. (Job 1:21). For a brief period in life, we seem empowered to undertake our journey of faith. Through this time of stress and troubles, we need God's continued assistance. That condition of vulnerability exists on broader than individual levels, for we cannot overcome the deterioration of social and economic systems without spiritual insight and help. These economic/political systems rise, flourish, and fall and cannot overcome inherent weaknesses without spiritual revival and growth.
Power begins by accepting our cross. Mere acknowledgment of our condition is the very turning point in the journey. To acknowledge the need for power is in some mysterious way empowering. The grace of Christ's resurrection is now at work in the world and moves us to go beyond a state of paralysis in our troubled and quarrelsome world. New life demands accepting our crosses joyfully. Even sincere non-believers must reach out and accept their crosses whether or not called by such a name. The outreach of the Lord's cross is cosmic and transcends time; it is symbolized by a crucifix as embracing today's suffering people.
Acceptance is openness to power; accepting new life is empowering. Many are expected to accept their crosses and to grow in the virtue of patience. But there is more in store. At the moment we die to ourselves and accept God's hand outstretched in our world, we abandon the idols of our own supposed power and the material things we find so comfortable. Being willing to be emptied opens us to acceptance of a Higher Power at work in our hearts and entire being. It is the empowerment of new life that ex-addicts find in moments of greatest weakness and need.
Triumphant Cross Prayer: Jesus, you accepted death on the cross, a horrendous instrument of punishment. You embraced your cross and in triumph lifted the curse of death to that of transformed global redemption and blessing. May we see that cross in the fullness of its glorious mystery; may we be willing to sign it with our respect and embrace it with our full devotion. Let it be the symbol of our renewing this fallen world as we follow in your staggering weary footsteps to Calvary.
Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum.
September 15, 2022 Realizing Environmental Gun Threats
In our growing consciousness about the need for gun control something is emerging that is not strictly new, but has not been clearly defined, namely, the overall threat to peace-loving people by the actual presence of guns in our communities. These weapons can create a suspicious atmosphere that can be toxic. Guns within homes or carried by another, or the potential danger signaled by rapid loud gun reports on occasions gives rise to mental and emotional disturbance. Just as environmental tobacco smoke gave rise to the general public's activism to eliminate smoking due to spill over to non-smokers, so presence of a national arsenal dispersed out to all sound citizens and crazies, leads to basic insecurity and environmental risks to mental and emotional health. Ironically, gun "security” precipitates insecurity -- the premise of our book, GUNS: Giving Us No Security (Brassica Books, 2014).
If a community is aware of military weapons in hands of mentally disturbed individuals, that insecurity spreads to more and more citizens. What happens if a person wielding a weapon comes to your door and pushes the gun in your face? This question was posed by a gun owner who challenges the basic premises presented here. Kentucky is a very red state where guns are in well over half of the homes. My initial response is that I have outlived average white males by several years and continued mortal life is somewhat like "gravy," an extended gift that is perhaps more expendable than people with family obligations. This answer overlooks the divine gift of longer life that deserves respect.
Our entire national "neighborhood" is threatened by the mental unsettling condition of having 300,000,000 uncontrolled guns. This is environmental gun threat (EGT). As a nation we are being bullied and are too embarrassed to speak of it. When Colorado's gun laws were enacted in March, 2013, the concurrent assassination of the state's director of public safety pointed to the risk of being public in gun-related matters. Assassins are moved to respond to threats to their supposed right to current practice by removing the threat. With interior terrorism is so prevalent since January 6, 2021 it is all the more reasons to focus on this very real environmental threat. However, infringing on "gun rights" arouses deep and unpredictable emotions.
We are aware that massacres occur and await the next shoe to drop at any time. Murder during incidents of domestic violence is a national phenomenon that affects all in a neighborhood -- and studies are now occurring in social psychology and mental health circles. The community mental health situation has a scientific basis, and domestic gun violence affects general mental health. Yes, it is less messy to kill another with a gun than by stabbing or bludgeoning with knives or clubs. However, the end result of use of any weapon in a lethally meaningful manner is horror.
Sorrows Prayer: Lord, you called your mother to share in your passion by standing at the foot of the Cross during the crucifixion event. Her sorrow was the deepest of any woman, for she above all others knew your innocence and your desire to love and redeem all of humankind. She heard them cry "Crucify him," and yet followed you in forgiving them. Let her model of suffering be an inspiration to us in our times of sorrow over the suffering and passing away of our loved ones.
Looking More Deeply at Health Care for All
A South Sudanese calendar shows happy faces of a host of photogenic kids. In seeing them I was struck as to whether in the course of their respective lives they would be able to receive the vast assortment of medicines, treatments, and doctors’ advice that I have in my life. Or will they be severely limited by the economic conditions of their poor country? The answer awaits the political will of the world’s nations and the successful recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), which seeks good health care for all people.
Six weeks ago, I gave a homily at a Mass for expanding the nursing program at St. Thomas More University; in it I mentioned that Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis’ precursor, spoke of the right of all people to adequate health care. I mentioned that it was a good conversation piece for those concerned about global health issues. On deeper reflection it appears that universal health care is more than a mere discussion topic and is rather a necessity for the wellbeing of our planet and all people. Inherent inequality that allows some the best care if they can afford it, and other a minimal series of inoculations and perhaps some clinic visits and basic medicines, is unfair. But health care is expensive!
Certainly, the challenge of paying for global health care stands out as a reality worth immediate consideration. No doubt it could amount to a trillion dollars a year at the least, even if medicines were held to a minimum price and voluntary care-giving encouraged. Of course, the trillion is only a portion of the total global military expenditure each year. Granted, we hope the Ukrainian/Russian conflict will soon be resolved and the “need” for more weaponry and standing armies may be reduced. Looked at this way, withdrawing part of the military budget for the equally safe and secure goal of health care would be one option. Taxing the super-rich is always a second one, with hundreds of billions of dollars involved by proper collecting methods.
More universal health care adds to the economic development of the planet’s people, and the added prosperity can be a base of still further economic growth. In other words, enhancement of health care can increase the very availability of previously untapped resources that can advance medical research and development of potential healing techniques. Furthermore, lack of health can drag whole economies down and this adds to tensions and conflicts in our troubled world. The upbeat atmosphere of an expanding health care program would be most welcome. Local temporary limited options (such as a limited supply of limb and organ replacements) should be expanded to broader areas of sources and needs. Taking the right of universal health care seriously could change the thrust of R&D medical research. Some overlooked medical needs in underdeveloped lands should be given higher priority. During the recent pandemic, both North America and Western Europe accepted leadership roles in global vaccination; these nations are the potential platform for expanding health care to other areas as well. WHO champions this movement; so ought all of us who value the health and care of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Let’s speak up for all peoples.
Autumn's approach in rural Kentucky.
September 16, 2022 Questioning Domestic Tar Sands Development
Certain environmental temptations continue to crop up all around us. Wherever there is a buck to be made, someone out there tries once more to ignore environmental costs that will saddle future generations. How about tar sands as source for oil?
Canada's Alberta Province contains a major portion of the world's discovered and exploitable tar sands, which hold an estimated 175 billion barrels of crude oil -- making Canada second only to Saudi Arabia in known and proven oil reserves. This "black gold" is locked in sands at various depths of soil. Tar sands extraction is energy intensive and thus climate-change-causing carbon dioxide is emitted in oil production and use. In surface mining operations, tree cover is lost; water is needed (2 to 4.5 barrels per barrel of oil) with waste water contaminating pristine rivers and lakes. And then after piping to distant places, oil burning causes further pollution.
Now the urge is to develop far smaller but still sizeable tar sands deposits in Morgan County in Kentucky, for these deposits have been known for some time. The potential developer promises that less damaging methods will be utilized as he projects production of 1,000 barrels of oil a day. He assures us that the company will use better methods than Alberta extraction processes; the sand residue will be returned where found. However, the environmentally concerned seek further answers to questions before any possible domestic production commences:
* Does surface mining of tar sands fit under regulations governing extraction of coal at federal and state levels?
* Is this a single operation or the beginning of a major extraction of Kentucky and Midwest tar sands?
* Is the community sufficiently alerted as to this form of surface mining, and have local residents had an opportunity to make comments?
* Are there air pollution problems from the extraction or the transportation of extracted oil?
* Has a sufficient reclamation plan been proposed and made available for public comment?
* Is waste water disposal according to accepted guidelines? * Will local water aquifers be affected in any way?
* What is meant that less contaminating and more natural chemicals are to be used in the process, and is this a comparison to fracked natural gas or oil use of extracting chemicals?
* Shouldn't attention be given to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar instead of fossil fuels with carbon dioxide emissions and climate change potential by burning tar sands oil?
* Doesn't the process require more fossil fuel in extracting than the use of pumping of liquid petroleum in traditional oil fields?
Apples Prayer: Lord God, you give us all good things and apples stand out from the days of Eden. You give us the senses to enjoy the wonderful fruit with its sight, aroma, taste and texture. If we listen hard when approaching the orchard with the ripening fruit, we hear the music of the trees themselves -- praising you in their simple ways. With culinary creativity, we turn these blessings into the flavorful goodies for pure human enjoyment -- pies and cakes and pudding, etc. May we glory in the bounty of apple time!
Interdependency of stump and mushroom: Lycoperdon pyriforme.
September 17, 2022 Constituting Citizenship in 2022
On Citizenship Day we recall that on this day in 1787, delegates to the federal Constitutional Convention endorsed the final form of the U.S. Constitution as prepared by Governor Morris, though it still required nine states for ratification. The document was sent to the states on September 28th and the ninth state, New Hampshire, signed on June 21, 1788; thus, the Constitution was adopted and remains the oldest such document currently operative on this planet.
The elements of citizenship mentioned in a previous Daily Reflections (9/17/16) are numerous. Citizens are members of the United States by birth or naturalization and bear responsibility along with privileges, which are enhanced through listed duties: voting in elections; serving on juries of our peers; assisting others to citizenship; monitoring elected officials; looking out for the commons as citizen monitors; defending our democratic way of life; paying fair taxes; volunteering when needed, especially during emergencies; exercising civility and respect for others; obeying just rules and laws; knowing the history of our country; respecting those fallen in defense of our country; and embracing global citizenship and a New Heaven and New Earth.
Over the years, still other acts of citizenship are also worth mentioning:
* Defending the right to life in all its manifestations, from conception to death as well as the vitality of Earth herself in this time of climate change and its catastrophic consequences;
* Conserving natural resources through energy efficiency, curbing of fossil fuel expenditure, and moving rapidly to renewable energy applications;
* Seeking adequate food supplies and potable water;
* Giving citizenship without impossible conditions to those who have proved law-abiding and responsible migrants in residence;
* Expecting proper educational and recreational facilities on par with others in our country;
* Proclaiming the right to proper health facilities and care;
* Confronting those who through privilege and influence have subverted our democracy by obtaining and retaining an unfair amount of natural and financial resources;
* Reclaiming the commons through effective actions that are non-violent in character -- especially levying taxes on all in proportion to their wealth and ability to pay;
* Demanding the right to employment and a government as employer of last resort, and expecting work from all able-bodied;
* Perceiving the right to bear arms as a collective right under a well regulated militia, and not as some selfish individual right to any sort of firearms or ammunition;
* Insisting on a smoke-free and arms-free environment; and
* Respecting silent space in localities.
Waters Prayer: The waters have lifted up, O Lord, the waters have lifted up their voice, the waters have lifted up their thunder. Greater than the roar of the mighty waters, more glorious than the surgings of the sea, the Lord is glorious on high. (Psalm 93)
Lovely exotic species, Japanese honeysuckle, in Kentucky.
September 18, 2022 Mastering the Art of Servanthood
Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and try to
suppress the poor people of the country. (Amos 8:5)
Amos awakens us from our slumbers and our cultural permissiveness; this entices the poor and sets their eyes on winning a lottery of which only a tiny fraction will be fortunate. Too often a way of pacifying the poor is through such enticements, along with just enough to continue scratching for a living. The philosophy was to entice the poor into thinking it takes too much time to revolt and claim what is rightfully "ours collectively." Haunting questions: must we persuade others to be masters of this world? How can they do this in a non-violent manner? Does risk of successful taking turn them into imitators of the affluent?
Serve the Divine Master. We cannot serve both God and the worldly as Jesus tells us. To serve only God requires us to master our tendency to the world's allurement. The "mastery" of the art of service requires spiritual growth; amazingly, we are called to acknowledge a master and to be a master over ourselves. In so doing we enter into the life of the divine Master and abandon the path of the worldly that stands out. No matter how hard we try, we still find spiritual mastery difficult, because worldly culture entices us: TV, billboards, and social media.
Master ourselves. How are we to become master of our conduct in this world? We can turn off the TV or limit ourselves to social media times and places. We can reflect on how powerful these allurements are to us and especially to the younger generation. If we are to be truly masters of ourselves, we must be willing to say NO to the informational overload that tends to overwhelm us and occupy all of our attention. It is like attempting to see a flood of displays at a world fair, but to do this daily during every waking hour. If we give in to random bits of time given to each item and hurry from one to another, we become steeped in worldliness; we forget the span of time it takes for prayer and service to and for others.
Help others to master themselves. The goal is not to be masters over others, but to encourage them to master themselves so that we can work as partners for a better world. We pray for all to break the barriers that bind them to the world. We take creative steps to frustrate a world of allurements by not taking seriously billboards and advertisements that attract folks. When we find people who are regarding these worldly allurements seriously, we can confront them, discuss with them, and challenge them for the short time we can hold their attention. Are there ways to hold their attention at least for a while? Success is fleeting, but it can result through our trust in God.
Grace to Be Honest Stewards: Lord Jesus, you gave us in parable the example of a steward, who seeks to save his position by practicing dishonesty with his own associates. You know that each of us is tempted to do such similar practices in order to be regarded more highly. Rather, you expect far more of our stewardship, which is so limited in precious time. Give us the grace to realize the limited opportunities to be of honest service to others and to fulfill what we are called to do.
Purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata.
September 19, 2022 Saving Our Wounded Earth
Yesterday was World Water Monitoring Day; we need to consider the water problems facing the global population: water pollution, shortages of drinking water, and lack of proper water treatment. The trouble is water, though related to serious issues, is not THE major one, namely curbing the more extensive climate change. However, this impinges on water levels (ocean rises), weather disasters (floods and droughts), lack of water supplies through glacier melting away, and water quality deterioration.
A pessimist says that greenhouse gases rose again in 2021 and this means it will be all the harder to meet a reasonable one-and-a-half-degree Celsius rise by the end of the century -- and the failure could be catastrophic. An optimist says that these predictions by the International Energy Agency are overblown, that global warming is not humanly-caused, or that something unexpected will change things -- but this group is waning. A realist seeks the remaining opportunities that urgently need addressing.
Saving our world means today cooperating in the work of the Lord, and that means embracing spiritual and physical savings. This is a new phenomenon that others in previous generations never had to cope with in their lifetime. We are uncertain as to whether we can succeed, but we must hope for the good of all that something meaningful can be achieved. That is why we must continue to rethink the ways that we can consume less resources.
Physical measures must be implemented. Instead of focusing on a multitude of small individual activities that have some impact on consciousness-raising, we must concentrate on broader and more proven long-term strategies. In actuality, we must introduce public energy efficiency measures, cut fossil fuel consumption in all measures (coal, petroleum, and methane consumption), and replace fossil fuel consumption subsidies by renewable energy ones (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, tidal, and others). If these three areas of efficiency, curbing fossil fuel, and replacement with renewables were undertaken in a meaningful fashion in the next few years, we could save our wounded Earth. But in themselves physical measures will be insufficient due to our addiction to resources and especially energy consumption.
Spiritual measures must be implemented. Secularists often ignore the spiritual dimension of our current needs. Believers must stand up and embrace a resurrection-centered spirituality that calls for the renewal of heart and soul. As a culture we are socially addicted consumers who must acknowledge collective misdeeds. Thereupon reparation must be made by the believing community that is empowered by the resurrection to bring about change. A few spiritually-inclined and -inspired can save our wounded Earth provided we are free to function openly.
Energy Awareness Prayer: Creator of all things, make us all the more aware that you give us energy to heat, cool and to cook and move about. Too often we are wasteful of what has been so generously bestowed and have been unthinking in application. With time and knowledge, we know exactly how much we need for comfort and effectiveness. May we turn from fossil fuel use and apply the sources of green renewable energy for both effectiveness and for the service of others. May we encourage others to do the same.
Burst of autumn color: common St. Johnswort, Hypericum perforatum.
September 20, 2022 Discussing Aquaculture and Modern Fish Farming
The world's fish stocks are being depleted, mainly through highly efficient commercial factory-fishing methods that can strip the oceans of desired stocks along with other marine life. One method of returning balance is through global regulations against such fishing, but some nations are remiss at enforcing global recommended practices in fishing and whaling. Aquaculture is a substitute to furnish needed fish protein for a hungry world.
Aquaculture is the managing of marine plant or animal life for commercial purposes. For centuries a successful fishing alternative has been to farm fish stock just as farming for meat by raising cattle. We cannot expect bush meat (wildlife) to furnish human protein needs, and have for millennia resorted to livestock-raising; the same need for aquaculture arises today.
Fish farming benefits include the following: a livelihood for people who want to farm on smaller amounts of land and yield a high return per acre; a steady supply of protein at reasonably low cost for people highly impacted by loss of traditional fishing grounds and stock; less resource impact than farming with free-ranging or confined commercial cattle and hog operations (and less potential pollution); and promising opportunities to turn marginal land into ponds for fish production. Aquaculture requires skills and maintenance more than throwing in lines and drawing out fish.
Aquacultural problems arise as expected, for no development is totally free of problems. However, research shows that with proper growth of plants as companion to fish, the waste of one class becomes the nourishment of another -- similar to keeping fish tanks healthy. Current Canadian research/commercial operations show seaweed grown on fish farming wastes has food value as a source of its own protein for a hungry world. Small fish farming operations do not pose problems, and use of artificial or natural water bodies has productive potential and can be a green practice.
Critical commercial issues arise with large-scale fish farming, just as with factory ships depleting ocean fish stock. As fish farms multiply in number and size due to growing demand (currently over half of fish are obtained by farming methods), efforts must be made to keep production within bounds. Caged fish farms in natural water bodies emerge with a set of problems as well. Large concentrations of specific types of fish (e.g., salmon) result in diseases that can spread and possibly escape from hybrid species into the ocean stock. Reduction of factory fishing allows return of income to small-time ocean fishers. No aquacultural problem is insoluble for one cannot expect that the world will go back to near total dependence on catching wild stock to satisfy fish demands. Aquaculture and ocean fishing can and must be fostered with ecological balance in mind.
Autumn Prayer: Lord, we thank you that we have survived summer's heat and are eager to enjoy the cooling autumn air, along with the colored leaves of the season. We love all seasons, but autumn with its waning daylight touches the soul; it comes with a sense of relief and yet a yearning for what is in store. One season is ending but another beginning. Keep us well-balanced in the autumn of our lives, and guide us to take each day for what it brings; at least we refrain from being shocked.
Soon to be migrating. Ruby-throated hummingbirds.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
September 21, 2022 Proclaiming Good News as Church
He has sent me to bring the Good News to the Poor. (Luke 4:18)
We are faced with the need to spread Good News, especially in this year following the global pandemic. Nonetheless, we have the paradox that we are watching the window of opportunity closing to save our world from catastrophe due to failure in curbing climate change. We certainly do not have to be overly optimistic when viewing the actual situation, and even when proving that the conditions are humanly caused -- and open to being humanly addressed. Nor can we be overly pessimistic as though the causes are beyond human change, and all we can do is patiently allow the world to go to pot as we strive to save our precious necks.
The Church teaches us that past generations deserve appreciation; future generations deserve consideration; both groups orient us to be good proclaimers of Good News. We must be informed as to history; we must affirm a hope-filled future. We cannot walk backward, favoring a return to a rigid past tradition; we cannot become so futuristic that we lose contact with current human need. The Church is the messenger of Good News with new forms of communications to help carry out this mission. Information overload can fill our minds with issues, which distract us from our mission. Devices are susceptible to scams, chatter, and shallow information can divert our attention. Cautions are necessary, but travelers know that busy highways have both peril and promise.
Action 1 -- Embrace the communications revolution. This is an opportune time to spread the Good News, for we are able to communicate with people more easily through Internet and cell phone. We touch those in distant lands frequently and with ease, and at relative low costs. All levels of Church organization are challenged. Some give individual encouragement and counseling via Facebook or Email; other bodies teach via Internet courses and give physical assistance when disaster strikes. As communication becomes instant, varied, and far-reaching, the time between disorder and global assistance shortens. Good News cannot delay.
Action 2 -- Remain critical of shallow communications. The airwaves are filled with bad news from many sources. In certain cases, misinformation is a form of paralysis and must be publicly addressed. Being critical means to a limited degree that the Church must be critical of itself and what holds it back from proclaiming Good News. Confess wrongs, recognize and show gratitude for forgiveness, and accept the hand of God at work in what we strive to do. The Church has much to give a hungry but improperly overly-sated world filled with junk information. Truth needs to be told with courage; the urgency of the times means we cannot postpone or delay the proclamation.
Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist: You were chosen by Christ even while a tax collector who was so unpopular in the community. You faithfully followed Jesus and then spread the Good News in the East. Before martyrdom for the faith, you completed in Hebrew the longest of the Gospels and include the Epiphany and the Sermon on the Mount. Be our intercessor for the needed social justice issues that we face today.
Goldrod and autumn sky.
September 22, 2022 Listening for September's Distinctive Sounds
Today, we celebrate the Autumn Equinox and the coming of a new season. Each season has distinctive sounds, though autumn's may be less pronounced than those of icy winter conditions or spring's mating season. A perceptively blind Rip Van Winkle could awaken and still know the season from sounds alone. It may be falling and drifting leaves, breeze in partly clothed trees, shouting at football games, buzz of yellow jackets, and rustling of scurrying varmints preparing for winter.
Perhaps the most distinctive autumn sound is that of flocking birds that tend to come rapidly, make an immense chatter, and leave like a gush of wind or what we would call the "warning breeze" before the storm. Many of the birds-of-a-feather do flock together and these are exciting to observe. In fact, I have only one funeral wish and that is that a flock of birds would form an escort. Their presence is always most welcome.
The following is an excerpt from Appalachian Sensations --
September -- Autumn's First Signs: Flocking birds
Like a bird flying through the air --
leaving no proof of its passing;
it whips the light air
with the stroke of its pinions,
tears it apart in its whirring rush,
drives its way onward with sweeping wings,
and afterwards no sign is seen of its passage.
I go out and hear them congregating
all speaking at the same time -- winter comes
maybe so, maybe so.
How am I to interpret their animated chatter?
They fly within the leafed tree in a flutter;
just as abruptly they depart for another;
Is it the stress of impending seasonal change,
or induced excitement of sheer number?
When they pass over as a noisy flock,
I shield my eyes for fear
their droppings might miss the free space
and hit me right between my eyes.
Autumn Flowers Prayer: Lord, you give us the bright yellow and golden flowers of this season. The landscape stands out in special array just before leaves turn in the October frost. May we pause to express our praise and realize that the foliage is here for a short time; the brevity makes it all the more glorious. Thanks for these golden moments of our lives. They are happy memories.
Participating in a Climate Change Program
A potentially catastrophic global climate change picture confronts those who are concerned. Following all the details is bewildering and even challenging to experts. Data is being constantly gathered and analyzed. Can we succeed in resolving differences and working together in a fashion never before evidenced in human history? First, however, the Ukrainian conflict must be settled ASAP.
Think Resource conservation. Place this issue first, since so many feel that climate change is a matter for experts and they are personally exempt. Each of us is called to consume fewer fossil fuels; we are coming to know that the greenhouse emissions from these fuels continue to warm the planet, melt the ice sheets, raise ocean levels and lead to frequent weather extremes. Wasting energy, like wasting food in times of famine, is out of the question. Consider keeping the indoor space a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter -- and discover that this is healthy.
Practice energy efficiency. If purchasing appliances, make sure of consumption rates; if you must buy a new vehicle, consider an electric one whose battery can be fueled in part by domestic solar arrays. Do you really need a new electronic device, or the amount of use of the current one? Refrain from the energy-consuming bit-coin rage and stay traditional in financial matters.
Defend progressive legislation. Recently-passed federal legislation demands support as it aims at a 40% reduction in 2005 carbon emissions by 2030 – a little over seven years from now. Consider taking part in and talking your friends into receiving tax credits for home and business retrofits. Learn what is now available at the national, state and local levels; speak forcefully in conversation with those who are less energy-conscious or are negative about the climate change issue.
Support the renewable energy revolution. No doubt we ought to support, invest in, defend and broadcast the growth in renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal and tidal). These are coming with a quarter of energy use and growing, but not fast enough when in competition with older and polluting fossil fuel sources. Unfortunately, global energy growth is occurring even with the economic downturn. Replacement of fossil fuels must come quickly if 2030 goals are to be reached. All citizens must do their part in breaking the clutch of these traditional fuels, but we need to be aware how difficult and frightening the situation is.
Engage in climate conversation. The media likes new issues and relegates older ones to the archives. This climate change issue has been around for decades. On the other hand, weather (and climate) is popular local small talk points. Much can be done by bringing the global climate issue to the forefront where it belongs and ought to remain.
Pray for success. A host of conflicts, disagreements, allurements and everyday distractions hinder the ability of global collaboration by all people; we must save our planet from the effects of two-degree Celsius rise in temperature during this troubling period. Success can be achieved, but only through the good will and interactions of hard-pressed folks, who need encouragement to maintain their enthusiasm. We cannot do this alone; those more spiritually inclined must speak up for and offer timely petitions for continued cooperation and an atmosphere of good will in a troubled world. May God help us!
Last of summer morning glories.
September 23, 2022 Preparing Domestic Space for Winter
Yesterday we celebrated the Autumnal Equinox and a new and cooler season is before us. It's time to inspect our homes, offices, and grounds to determine what can be done as summer fades and frost is coming. Here are some hints, besides additional winter gardening points discussed in previous Daily Reflections.
* Caulking time means inspecting the house and work space for cracks and leaks. It takes a little time and a small additional investment in higher quality caulk.
* Insulation is a major investment, but it reduces heating bills. In fact, there are few more economic paybacks. It pays every other year to consider the current insulation conditions.
* Weather strips are something that are also worth doing, especially for doors that can be quite leaky if left unattended.
* Window inspection includes ensuring that storm windows are properly fixed and insulation added where needed. Use clear plastic for insulating door-glass space.
* Food supplies (up to a week) are needed for any emergency. Inspect the store and remove and replace dated materials. Stock up on canned and dried goods as well as jerky and other items you may desire to tide through a snow-bound period -- though that is less likely in current climate change weather.
* Car checks are important for the coming months and an early inspection is well worth the time (for tires, wind shield wipers, and winterized engine fluids).
* Winter equipment includes snow shovels, proper winter wear and boots, and deicing materials. Are they sufficient and in good repair?
* Domestic lighting/heating units include flashlights and batteries, candles, a safe space heater where needed, and a solar powered radio for emergency situations.
* Elderly care means that all seniors who live alone ought to have a buddy system and plans in place in case of emergencies, for the care of neighbors is a priority for the health of the community. Mobile home dwellers ought to be encouraged to participate in energy conservation measures including closing off unused space in winter periods.
* Emergency communications are worth an inspection for self and those with whom you buddy. Are 911 units and emergency radio/phone announcing systems in good order?
* Fuel wood supplies are important for those who have wood-burning space heating systems. Check chimneys annually. Think of doing this now before the rush is on when the weather gets decidedly cooler.
* Entertainment possibilities include books and games in case of being homebound and needing something for spare time.
* Greenhouse preparation is worth activating as well as outdoor coldframes and extension to year-round garden projects.
* Winter clothes are examined and, where needed, refurnished.
Prayer at Extreme Weather Crisis: Lord, teach us in moments of disaster to pause and reflect on where we have been and where we are going. May we prepare for the worse with proper food in storage and escape routes in mind. Allow us to face good times and bad, to work through pandemics, to offer a touch of humor, and submit to your holy will. Grant us the grace to confront challenges, to define success as fidelity, and to be protected from the forces of evil which contaminate modern culture. Shine light through dark clouds with assurance that your providence is always at work. And may we encourage fidelity in others.
Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium.
September 24, 2022 Caring for Creation on Nat. Public Lands Day
Are we truly cultivating and protecting creation? We
are losing the attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of
listening to creation. Pope Francis, June 5, 2013
Caring for creation is part of being responsible before God for all the good things done. Certainly it involves individual responsibility in our everyday activities; but it also involves larger issues and how we as citizens must react to fracking, or tar-sands-oil transport, or nuclear waste disposal. Some of these affect limited space and some affect our public land trust.
Our national public lands are our collective American commons, somewhat similar to what we have as family or community parks or state forests. The federal lands are numerous and would occupy space merely listing detailed categories of recreational parks, national forests, wilderness areas, shrines and battle sites, military reservations and bases, Interstate networks, federal buildings, cemeteries, river levees, and others. In fact, almost half of the U.S. land surface is federally-owned lands. There's little pressure to release public ownership; however, there's much effort by private groups to capture profitable resources on those lands through leases and subterfuges. The privileged powerful seeks to steal the kernel and leave the shell as a bushel of nuts.
The federal lands as national commons deserve our collective attention and protection. Legislators argue that this is the case and that a responsible citizenry is already at work. To some degree that is true; there are existing organizations to protect the national trust (parks and wilderness areas) and at times an aroused citizenry to counter blatant efforts to take from the commons in the name of common benefits when it is enhancing the coffers of the superrich and influential. More financial resources are needed to properly maintain and improve these federal lands. Neglect has been more apparent in recent years with austerity and budget redirecting. What about satisfying some of the employment problems, especially with youth, by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs to properly maintain and protect federal lands? What about nature experiences for the ecologically-deprived that involve visits and vacations on public lands?
The federal lands must be kept pristine, for they are a resource bank for our future as well as areas to be visited and enjoyed for their beauty and serenity. Statewide, we have such beauty in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Red River Gorge, and the Natural Bridge State Park within my parish boundaries. These are resources worth appreciating through sight-seeing, hiking, camping, and rock-climbing. Instead of supporting the view that "Less government is better," the dictum should be "Better government through more responsible citizenship and participation."
Lakes Prayer: O Creator God, you gave us lakes with plentiful water to soothe our souls upon sight and sound. You gave them for us to enjoy, and yet in many instances we have contaminated them, drained them, or used these fragile creatures in corrupting ways. Help us see the need to reclaim lakes for what they deserve to be. May we glory in their settings and benefits, for many of them are quick to recover wellness with a helping hand.
Water willow in September. Justicia americana.
September 25, 2022 Being Aware of Lazarus in Our Midst
If they will not listen either to Moses or the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)
Let's get uncomfortable now. Every three years we hear this Parable and sort of wish it would go away, for Lazarus the destitute intrudes on our comfort zone. Is it enough to run out and forget our temporary discomfort, or can we do something meaningful to bring about change? Is it enough to throw pennies at the world's poor? Can we break our own impoverishment when we choose to associate with those who are most in need in our society? "They" may be homeless or homebound, drugged legally or illegally, imprisoned physically or emotionally. We must examine our comfort zones, our disturbed mental areas where we retreat and can't bear to see dogs licking a beggar's sores. Is Lazarus, Jesus in our midst? To affirm Jesus in the Eucharist is to see Jesus here among the suffering -- a broader picture. If we believe that Jesus is present in the bread, he is present in the suffering also.
Let's be willing to share. Many cannot bear the story of Lazarus, for it involves distant poor nations to whom we limit charity within budget considerations. Sad enough, but we are startled to hear that destitute folks are not only those distant; they intermingle in our midst, for distant neighborhoods become very present through communications. "Dives" are ordinary people capable of making changes and sharing plentiful resources with the neglected -- and yet look the other way. We are challenged by Lazarus, the only named person among Christ's parables. Wealth surrounds us; wealth smoothers us; wealth allures us. We have Haiti at our door step, and we have others who are needy within, for even with progress being made, still we have a billion hungry people so close because of the immediacy of modern communications. Are our food wastes alone enough to feed an entire world's hungry? Why acquire and cook what we will not or should not eat?
Let's realize our collective salvation is at stake. If we neglect those who are destitute or highly impoverished, we could lose our soul. That is our individual souls through silence and the sin of omission, and our collective souls as a potentially democratic people overcome by distractions. We become the insensitive ones, the affluent who excuse themselves by overlooking those in need. Individually, Jesus will confront us at the judgment that will come only too soon. But there is more. We are challenged by a collective judgment soon to come as well. We don't know when or under what circumstances, but the threat by an outside world haunts us like early American slaveholders haunted by the radical preacher Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion and massacre.
The Poor Lazarus Prayer: Lord Jesus, you give us a parable about the poverty of a beggar and the disregard of his wealthy neighbor. Allow us to see in this world of great disparity of wealth that this same condition exists today. Keep us from siding with the rich man, with all his opulence and lack of sensitivity. Make us realize that affluence breeds this insensitivity with respect to the lowly; may we see that matters may even get worse with global warming. Make us ever more aware of what we can do in Christian charity.
Quiet spot for nature observation.
September 26, 2022 Returning to the Land of Origin
Occasionally, each of us should have the opportunity to return to the land of our ancestors, for some of our attitudes and practices stem from these origins. Some may argue that the author of Contrasumers should not undertake such jet fuel costs. I do not deny or minimize energy expenditure when needed, and even argue for the relative "necessity" of this type of trip for personal family relations, both here and in the land of origin, as well as a broader world view that is part of our ongoing education. This is a reason for a special vacation and an opportunity to relax and learn about another land that has meaning in our lives.
On rare occasions, we ought to travel and reestablish roots with our more distant home. We say rarely, for over-mobility is not good for any of us -- though some occupations demand extensive travel. This month we are talking about educational and intellectual advancement; often moderate travel allows us to solidify personal growth and the global community's good; our minds are broadened and our hearts expanded. A globalization, where at choice times we connect in person, is a necessary bonding that only face-to-face contact achieves.
Travel back home is good for the soul, giving it some spirit to extend greetings to others we do not often see. Spreading Good News can be done by communication over the Internet and phone systems, but also in special ways through personal contacts. On occasions, I am impelled to go out of my shell and interact with others. A rare religious pilgrimage or educational program is justified; so are social and emotional aspects of returning to one's roots and reestablishing contacts. This is especially true while health permits and we can say farewells to aging relatives.
Reconnecting with family is good for hosts as well, for the chance to meet and greet and interact builds the social bonds of kinship so needed in our troubled world. My French cousins (many of my grandfather's sibling's offspring) certainly liked to see us and give each other a final blessing. Furthermore, these relatives speak Alsatian, an endangered language valued by those of us wanting to record our precious past. Valuing these distant relatives enhances a web of love holding our world together.
Cultural tourism is worthwhile, allowing satisfactory jobs and demanding the talents of skilled and trained individuals. This service industry takes lower amounts of energy per job than many others. Service people are locally employed in guiding, lodging, hospitality, travel, maintenance, and food preparation services. Tourism is a major source of employment in Alsace and especially in the area where my folks originated. In learning how cultural tourism works, we can improve our locale here at home, as well as a distant economy.
Adventures Prayer: O God, teach us to see that nature is meant to be appreciated and not conquered, explored to reasonable limits and not exploited, and touched gently without leaving an indelible footprint. Allow us to see beyond the youthful thrills to genuine mature enjoyment. May we see that ventures towards Heaven are more than thrill‑seeking episodes; they overflow with the love that you provide through your grace. May we extend a sense of serenity to all our undertakings and still yearn for a sense of childlike enthusiasm in these efforts.
Trio featuring the sweetgum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua.
September 27, 2022 Touching and Celebrating Earth through Dancing
During this first week of autumn, we honor people who love to dance or encourage the more energetic ones to express joy through dancing. Many cultures of the world celebrate in this manner; we look a little deeper and find that they are in rhythm with the vibrations of Earth herself. No, Earth is not firmly concretized and devoid of movement; rather is it full of life and we show at times that we are one in harmony with Earth's vibrations. Thus, the practice and art of dancing is one of being in communion with the heartbeats of our planet -- and celebrating with others who experience the vibrations. The joy of dancing is that we all agree with the exuberance of those who express themselves in bodily movement.
At special occasions this celebration occurs in our region and is captured in words and photography as now available in Appalachian Sensations: A Journey through the Seasons together with photographs of Warren and Pat Brunner.
September --Dancing with the Hills
Why skip like rams you mountains, why like lambs you hills? (Psalm 114:6)
How could people discourage dancing in the name of religion, when the Scriptures are filled with this expression of joy? Didn't David dance and sing? Were not the people returning to Jerusalem expressing their feelings through sacred dance? And aren't the Scriptures replete with "natural theology"? Don't those seemingly ever-solid mountains and hills express joy through movement, or at least vibrate so subtly that we have to be in tune to feel it? Are we too leaden‑footed, stone-deaf, and hard‑hearted to experience the feeling of land and people when they get together and celebrate?
In this land of plenty we have much to dance about at harvest time. By expressing these feelings of joy, we praise our loving God. We speak, we shout, we sing, and we dance. We can become glum for many reasons. There are a multitude of grander reasons why we ought to be happy and to skip like the hills. The waning away of summer might be the perfect time to start again. Let's be on the lookout for the right festival, fair, feast, or other harvest celebration.
Prayer of the Aged: O God, render us mercifully critical of what we are called to do and be. Give us a deeper sense of spiritual values and an overview of what is true material progress. May we perceive that all change comes at a cost, and that some changes leave folks behind; may we show solicitude for others who age as they struggle to adjust to life's ever-growing challenges. And may we continue to thank those who are so very kind in helping us along our elderly way.
Burst of gold in early autumn.
September 28, 2022 Considering a Recorded Funeral Oration
How about this as a touchy subject: create your own funeral oration? Are these good enough reasons: No burden on others to compose some half-truths? A final chance to insert a word on favorite issues? A way to keep attendees awake? A last ability to control an important personal event? You, not I, will decide whether this will occur. Am I not at your mercy?
Isn't wisdom knowing the shortness of life, age the shortness of breath, and charity the shortness of a homily? Whether rainy, snowy, foggy, or sunny, isn't it best to demonstrate all three today? Why no statements, no should dos, no prolonged bully pulpit? Isn't this a better way to get folks to settle down and undergo a "Daily Reflection" for a moment? Does it make sense?
Has not my life been environmental for the greater part, and one with a spiritual connection as well? Then how about spending a little while reflecting on the condition of our wounded Earth that needs healing as said so often before? Have we not shared this God-given beautiful planet together and dislike what greed and selfishness has done? How about listening to the gurgling brooks, singing mockingbirds, or chatter of flocking birds? Do you taste the Eucharist and realize Who is really HERE? Do you smell the smoke and pollution of a troubled world and contrast these with flowers and well-cooked food? Will you sense the need to complete many works-in-progress right NOW, since urgency is bequeathed to you? Aren't you the ones who say WE and engage together in one grand movement to fill up what is wanting in the suffering of the Lord? Are you to save and renew this endangered planet in ways I cannot fully fathom -- not am able to assist once departed?
Does the tenuous and incomplete work seem overwhelming? Perhaps, but doesn't it take trust in God, a trust involving everyone? Or is this like Lot haggling at Sodom's being saved by an ever-smaller number of the righteous? Didn't it require a minimal number, a believing critical mass to break the social addiction gripping our world? Won't that be sufficient to do the unfinished task that I somewhat reluctantly leave to you to do? Perhaps it ought to be regrets that I take this departure, but really, is it? Isn't it the task of another generation when we let go of our grip on problems, and leave to them problems we failed to solve -- and we beg forgiveness? Yes, and C'est la Vie?
Won't we meet again quite soon, or do you prefer to define soon as "later," some say, "Very much later"? How about looking back and finding that youth was a very short time ago? Isn't time quite soon, no matter how many decades? Can you accomplish what some of us attempted and failed to complete? Should each of us try our hand at a final oration, even though it launches an eternal journey of vast expectation? Well at least shouldn't we be upbeat about it and sing a song together?
Saint Lawrence Ruiz & Companions: Lord, you make a host of saints for our imitation. St. Lawrence or "Lorenzo of Manila" was the Filipino protomartyr. He went with others in the 17th century to give his life in Japan in your name. Help us to be always mindful of him and his companions who gave up everything to spread your word to those who have been overlooked. Strike our consciousness to be mindful of all of today's missionaries; may we whisper a prayer that they continue in fidelity during these challenging times.
Bouquet of yellow mums with backdrop of Kentucky hills.
September 29, 2022 Supporting Disaster Early Warning Systems
Disasters often occur when and where least expected. However, remote and proximate preparations an alleviate the suffering. The presence of modern communications and the information revolution can go a long way in both remote and proximate forecasting of coming disasters. Certainly our American, as well as other national systems, are needed for warning citizens. Global alerts help all people and American interests abroad such as military and diplomatic personnel, travelers, students, and residents abroad and U.S. territories (Guam, Pacific Islands). Let's remember that disaster warning for Americans also helps warn the world.
Today, hurricane warnings can be given well in advance, though exact paths may not be determined precisely. Current weather forecasts are far more accurate than those of a century ago, mainly through use of modern information-gathering orbiting satellites. Predicting upcoming hurricanes, tornado events, and flooding conditions have a higher degree of accuracy than some other classes of disasters. Volcanoes can be anticipated to some degree with increasing accuracy. Earthquakes are hard to forecast in advance, though the likelihood of a destructive tsunami can be communicated to possible target areas instantly when an earthquake occurs. The global tsunami alert system had it existed earlier could have saved many of the 200,000 Indonesians and others who died in the December 2004 tragic event. However, many of the 30,000 Japanese who died in March 2011 had no lead time to escape.
Discussing warning systems may help encourage residents to build tornado-proof shelters, to improve building designs in earthquake-prone regions, and to monitor possible volcanic disturbances. Furthermore, serious weather events are projected to be of greater frequency with modern climate change conditions. If each reader would take or encourage others to take longer-range precautions, human harm could be reduced to some degree. What if an Oklahoma school system had tornado-proof shelters? While we may take measures to curb climate change and subsequent weather-related events, we cannot halt natural disasters -- but we may be more able to be prepared a little better when they happen.
Richer counties do and should continue to cooperate on warning systems. Just as we in Appalachia have radio-activated warnings in case of unusual weather events, so such systems could be globalized because of the vast increase in cell phone systems in all continents. Communications costs are relatively small compared to the potential damage resulting from a disaster with no or little forewarning. Better than implementing some sort of global tax is to internationalize existing warning systems and to persuade reluctant nations to come on board as a benefit to all. While this is a global concern, we should act, even unilaterally, for all.
St. Michael Archangel: O guardian of those who are engaged in Earth's battles, do not be far from me at this time. I drift and wander and sway with the winds. I need sure footing and you are the one who has intercession to the Almighty in such circumstances. I am basically a peaceful person drawn inadvertently into struggles beyond my power. My calling to you is in a moment of need, a time of utter hope, a confidence in your acquired strength to offer needed protection.
Turning leaves of the poison-ivy plant.
September 30, 2022 Glancing Back and Looking Ahead
Today I am officially 89. The nine decades have gone quickly and I look ahead to the horizon. In looking back and forward I need to pause and thank God in special ways for being able to live so long and have the privilege to serve others -- though not always perfectly. Our belief in a merciful and forgiving God enhances that depth of thankfulness as does the horizons that stretch up ahead. It's time to bring together the faithful and hopeful moments and discover God's ever-present love.
Our past has fashioned us. A birthday harkens back to roots and our springing into life, something beyond memory for our coming to be is not remembered, even though experienced. We reach back in memory to the good people and events that came into our history, and are thankful for parents, their faith, their devotion, their hard work, and their loving provisions for offspring. They believed in a future for us all, a future even after they were gone. Thanks is also due to all who nourished our faith, taught us rudiments of that faith, and introduced us to cultural and scientific treasures. A glance back does not give full credit to people and elements that brought us to this present moment. Our past formed and fashioned us, but within an atmosphere of freedom.
Our future draws us with some degree of anticipation and even trepidation. Hope is an expectation that includes an element of uncertainty, if not about the outcome at least about our role in it. Looking ahead can be regarded by some as futile, when aging means restricted physical activity and expecting a profound change that is inevitable. Hopefully, we await with great expectation and a rather holy impatience what is to come. The horizon actually looms ever greater with time and does not recede unless we still cling to a false retreat into mental canyons with their pleasant but fading memories. We are empowered by our hopes in the future.
Our present is this incident when past and future converge and we welcome them together as friends in a party, not in an overly optimistic or pessimistic manner; being together is a sense of realism about who we are. Realists know the limitations of the past recede behind us as memories fade; so, to some degree, do the dreams of future horizons as well. Our misdeeds call for God's mercy and forgiveness; our hopes of achieving on this planet recede as well in the fog of our limitations and shortening time span. Realism does not allow us to hold our past as though present and walk backward on life's journey. We face ahead for whatever the future brings with a hidden brightness that we cannot yet distinguish. Mystery foreshadows an infinite road ahead. Mortal time is short and knowing this brings wisdom; that time is ever shortening enhances our realism. I write this a year before the event and may even be gone when it is posted. In God's good grace past fidelity and future hope blends into Pure Love. Such is the 89th!
Prayer of Shortness of Life: Lord, I come to you somewhat beyond the average lifespan of my peers. The span of my mortal life narrows. I thank you for each precious day that remains and continue to ask forgiveness for not living a perfect life up to this point. In gratitude, I place myself all the more at your mercy. Guard my faltering steps, soften my pillow at night, give me a sense of thankfulness at the beginning of dawn, and help me be a model to those who hold the door for me. May all see the wisdom of knowing the shortness of life -- and help me to continue to spread the Good News.
Celebrate the Beginning of a New Decade
Today at 2:00 a.m., I ended my 8th decade of life and began the 9th. Why the exact time? Because Mama said I missed her birthday on the 29th by two hours. Dr. Pollit, our family physician delivered me at our home and thus I have avoided a hospital stay up until now. He held up the payment to the light and said it was the first folding money he had seen that month (the 30th); there had been nothing but chickens and eggs. I was never sure of the amount, but it was appreciated in those Depression Days.
Why a new decade. Because on this 89th birthday, I now launch my 9th decade with the start of my 90th year. With excitement and wonder, it is a time when eternity looms ever closer and the time calls for special solemn reflection on what lies ahead. I realize how many of my classmates and confreres have passed on before reaching such an occasion, and all the more I must respect this special gift of mortal life from the Creator. I recall again that ten years ago I asked the Lord for the opportunity to do privileged service during my 8th decade, and this has been granted to me without having to endure the hated “R” word of the retirement community. Such lies in the future.
Now that opportunity has been achieved, thank God, and hopefully other things are in store. This decade begins for me with no sense of taste or smell and with poor hearing, but still with adequate and grateful eyesight and enough mental capacity to continue our Daily Reflections and weekly Face Book essays. I am deeply thankful for continued environmental and pastoral work, though at a more limited capacity. A possible hip replacement may demand a move to the Columbiere ‘ole folks’ Center, at Clarkston Michigan. Recuperation from that surgery will require daily care and I will be among our five surviving ordination classmates, all retired for some time. We Jesuits do not strictly retire, but are commissioned after active ministry to be “praying for the Church and the Society.” Goodbye independence. Such is life!
Thus today I start my 9th decade, but it doesn’t feel that different. More people are reaching this decade, and we ought to champion respect for elders all the more. God gives us precious mortal time, a span that shortens with each day after birth, and we are expected to make the best of this divine gift. Our past activities were imperfectly executed, but with time we’re more aware of what could have been done better or simply avoided; this painfully acquired memory is called experience and ought to have made us wiser. If nothing more, that acquired knowledge should now help us improve our disposition all the more.
“Celebrate” is my favored word to those who feel aging coming on relentlessly and who dread the upcoming birthday; it is better to see this date as a gift and not a mere event. Welcome the day as long awaited and worthy of special feeling, for God bestows all life and through living we offer praise. Others may not have had this time for improvement, so we should call our given time a blessing. Readers take note; my suggestion is to welcome aging as a time for new possibilities; offer up the coming aches and pains for the wellbeing of other folks and creatures on this troubled planet. Let this be a time of genuine celebration.