Spring brings a new growing season with carpeting dandelions, shrieking youngsters at outdoor play, and scampering wildlife happy to soak up sunshine. Rejuvenated flora of yellows and greens punctuated by red and purple tulips, and the white and pink blooming cherry and other decorative fruit trees. Easter faith springs eternal and ushering in a growing season, when resolutions are tested and we await the soon to arrive hot weather. April is a changing of the guard, a time of house-cleaning, a period when we can open wide the doors and windows and let in fresh air. April marks the post-adolescent period of a maturing year 2020, and a time for sun block and insect repellants. Spring has sprung.
What a gift within a floral world!
Evergreen and trusty ground cover,
A springtime blue-violet delight,
Agent to retard the flow of blood,
Yes, with an eye-catching name as well.
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April 1, 2020 Listening and Discerning God's Voice
God speaks to us in varied ways. Believers are aware of this as part of our journey of faith, an attentive journey. We have more than a single calling and we can get fooled and follow false voices if not attentive. All Fool's Day is a perfect time to reflect on God's communication to and with us, for we desire to be faithful people. We hear voices and sounds out there, the noises of a cluttered world. Yes, God speaks in varied ways, and so discernment through prayerful listening is of utter importance.
We must be always attentive. We do not want to be like spoiled children who are impatient for what they want at a given moment. "Okay, God what are you saying?" There are many competing and alluring voices coming over the air waves; and we have to discern God's call. We may be like Samuel in the Old Testament, who mistakes God's voice for that of Eli. However, God's voice may come in unexpected ways through flowers or birds or scenic views; it may come from humble people or even in a talk or dramatic performance; it may be triggered by a failed test, or a doctor's examination with a revealing diagnosis; it may be the soft comfort at a moment of desolation or sorrow -- or that of joy and happiness. It takes attention on our part to hear and listen to a divine call to suffer, serve others, or avoid something or someone.
We discern so as to make a correct response. The critical issue is not that we are called, for God constantly calls, or even that we discern at this very moment. The issue is our clear response that can break through excuses or hesitation. Yes, God calls us, but pride or fear enters in to change the degree of our response. The evil spirit can fool us and so we may need help from a spiritually astute friend or a retreat director or from a regular spiritual director. Quality response time is critical. Small matters require daily or weekly quiet prayerful moments; major decisions require more time and the silence that comes with breaking away from routines and the tyranny of connecting devices (phones, TV, Internet and personal interaction). For some people the demands of life do not allow them to get away -- but they should be assured that under unusual circumstances God provides enough time for reflection.
We respond in our own way. Calls are heard and require our ongoing attention and our examination and testing. People respond in different ways, for we are all unique. Hopefully, our response is definitive and there is no turning back, as in Mary's response at the Annunciation. At other times, the response occurs over a period of time, as when the person senses the need for a change in lifestyle that will take time to effect. The Lord is merciful. Often we may need the encouragement of kindred spirits.
Prayer: Lord, help us to hear, listen and discern. Allow us to be sensitive to others who have difficulty in their journey in faith -- and make us see our assistance as part of our service.
Cardamine douglassii, purple cress, a somewhat bitter early spring edible plant. (*photo
April 2, 2020 Partaking in a Seder
During my formal training period in the aftermath of Vatican II, ours was perhaps the first Catholic theological group in the Chicago area to engage in broader ecumenical activities. This was a stepping out of our own religious community and attempting to understand those of other faith traditions. The coming together with these folks was eye-opening and always heartwarming on the part of all parties. Actually I did celebrate in later years a meaningful Seder with a Jewish person (along with other public interest volunteers) when he could not get away for a Passover event. This had special meaning, but so do church "Seder" ceremonies that are occasionally celebrated in the time leading up to Holy Week. These events seek to be faithful to Jewish rituals except they are in English; however they do include prayers, wine servings, bitter herbs, lamb and matzo. Also, such times are opportunities to discover the emerging significance that God commanded: that this was to be a "perpetual" celebration.
It became evident at my first experience of Seder and in every subsequent one that our Catholic Mass and Orthodox Liturgy are the continuation of that first Passover event, and that we are part of the perpetual remembrance as Jesus commands us. Jewish people may not fully agree with that assessment, but we still ought to affirm our proximity and kinship to their ancient and valid tradition. God has delivered us from enslavement of all types; we are now in exodus or a journey of faith to deeper involvement in the growing harmony; we are in need of symbolic reminders of that sacred history. If and when we find togetherness in such celebrations, it is because we share the exclusive focus on God as absolute deity; we likewise share inclusive brother/sisterhood of all God's people.
I am not overly liturgical, and thus do not subscribe to any individualistic embellishment of the Sacred Liturgy -- just the basic celebration. However, the Seder has immense significance and is worthy of our attention. Through the use of food and drink, this festival gives us a sense of our need to thank God for deliverance, our fellowship with others on their journey of faith, our need to grow in understanding with fellow human beings, and a love of carrying on traditions as part of a living memory.
In celebrating our Seders we believers want to engage in an Interfaith practice. Just as we do not invite the ones who are out of communion with our faith tradition to partake in our communion, we should not impose ourselves on the sacred Jewish ritual (except in the unusual case mentioned above). This is their Passover celebration just as our Holy Week is ours. Let us also pray that our Christian rituals become all the more meaningful for us, especially in keeping our traditions within that holy season.
Prayer: Lord, at this Passover help us to reaffirm our Judeo-Christian heritage and to unite all the more closely with the believers in the Book -- and all others as well.
Experiences through Transformation
April heralds a dramatic transformation of woodlands - from near nakedness, except for redbud and serviceberry, to nearly full greenery - a metamorphosis from winter's cocoon to May's flock of butterflies. Nature's resurrection is ushered in by April's carpet of flowers, fresh and full of enticing scents.
Our spiritual outlook is colored by the changing of April landscape, for hope springs eternal over this damaged Earth. In January, we reflect on God's creation and our entry into the fullness of creative mystery; in February, we look into the damage done to creation through human greed and ignorance; in March, we discover a perfect ecological model in Jesus whose public ministry as healer, teacher, and activist is a template for our own activities. Now, in April, we delve more deeply into radical compassion to which we are called and focus upon Jesus' suffering and death and then into the fullness of the Paschal Mysteries on Easter Sunday. We are sensitive to the changing season; our Lenten liturgy deepens our relationship with wounded Mother Earth and Easter gives the promise that restoration is coming soon.
Change comes at a price. Our redemption is paid for at a great price -- the blood of Christ, and his sacrifice shows God's love for us. We are the receivers of this act of love, which we certainly do not deserve. Earth herself alerts us to heralded changes, a foreshadowing of the redemptive mystery that we are to celebrate in full during the Easter season. Our senses alert us to what is coming, and we are more than eager to become participants.
The sight of a greening landscape is April's gift to us; we welcome the renewed promise of fruitfulness and new life. Being future-directed in springtime we await the coming growth of plants and a fresh start in the animal kingdom. Farmers put great hopes in the upcoming harvests while they are busy now in the planting season. In an analogous manner, spring is a challenging period for students, workers and those simply living out the remainder of their days. All come to life in the grand awakening in which we discover that winter is not eternal and that hopes are now able to be visualized. The sight of returning spring is the dawn of God's eternal promise of being with us always.
The sound of April's showers swells within us a sense of gratitude for being alive. Water sounds are invigorating: splashing, crashing, trickling, gushing, cascading, tinkling, dripping, rushing, and on and on. But do we thank God also that we hear the showers of acid rain and their telltale mischief? Maybe the variety of water sounds causes us to pause and arouses within us a compassion for those unable to experience pure and unpolluted streams and showers. April showers can be comforting, but these same rains can bring down devastation through flooding or when polluted by the heavy hand of human-caused pollutants. Spring calls forth new energy and new hopes. Now let's get on with the task ahead; let's protect our water sources above or below us.
Some strong odors change to perfumes in a diluted fashion. It's hard to expect that from a skunk, but the phenomenon applies to many natural scents. Springtime, with its warming of the soil, triggers last year's leaves composting into today's organic matter and we regard this as the aroma of spring's "freshness." April's breezes blow this telltale scent along with whiffs of wood smoke from burning winter's leftover brush. Drying humus has an aroma; add to this the faint fragrance of now blooming daffodil, violet and dandelion -- floral hallmarks of the season. Here and now comes a sense of foreboding -- garbage and callous human throwaway odors that seem so out of place here and now. Let's think about environmental cleanup so that all is scented with pleasantness.
The tastes of April hint at the suffering that precedes the new life of Resurrection. The tastes of pain are bittersweet, but they are soon to pass. April's flavors bring back youthful memories of folks who experienced the Civil War (our neighbor, Joe Davis, regaled us with youthful tales from the 1860s). Soldiers on both sides of that conflict, who survived winter camp diseases and bloody campaigns of summer, knew that spring greens were a nutritious alternative to bland military rations of salt pork, beans, and poached corn; they recalled their kinfolks gathering greens in spring for meals; these soldiers risked leaving trenches to gather fresh dandelions, lambs quarters and plantain. We continue gathering greens today, remembering accompanying our mothers in gathering spring greens. The tastes are truly bittersweet.
We feel like moths drawn to the light; we welcome warming sunlight in these lengthening days. Our Vitamin D surges; our sluggish nature spring back to life. The sown seeds swell, sprout and grow by leaps and bounds. These longer April days remind us that Christ is bright light, and that we are called to be "light" in three ways: we serve as beacons and models for others, and with a certain equanimity we guide them on their journey of faith through troubling times; we illuminate the spiritual void in people's lives through a compassionate warmth that encourages victims to find meaning in their aches; and we show that the community of faith is energized in its "photosynthetic process" of establishing the Kingdom of God. We are lights in the threatening darkness of impending climate change, and we can bring life.
Springtime has a way of making us more sensitive to both the evil our misdeeds have generated and the possibility of doing good works of rebuilding and reclaiming a damaged world. We affirm that we will not lose heart; warmer weather beckons us to plunge into the challenging tasks ahead in this season of activity. This means that in cleaning up a damaged environment we exude a sense of springtime hope to the many who are down in spirit. Even amid the desolation that strikes us, we know deep down that better things are in store for those who endure. Meaning in the life of a believer is to be convinced that we can save our threatened Earth and that we can raise the spirits of all who seem overcome by pandemics and climate change issues. We can and will make a difference, for hope draws us forward.
Close-up of bark, osage-orange, Maclura pomifera (*photo
April 3, 2020 Addressing Climate Change-Related Weather Events
A climate change discussion is often a red flag. In reviewing the recent course of events, we find that extreme weather events happen, and the unexpected becomes the accepted. Since the beginning of this century we have seen an increase in extreme weather events, namely, hurricanes, droughts, floods, multiple heavy snow storms, and forest fires, as well as unrelated but natural extreme events such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Some say we simply have better reporting and not more frequent ones. Certainly forest fires appear more severe in the past few years and floods have had multi-billion dollar damage estimates. Add to the extremes the recorded hotter temperatures in summer (the five hottest for the last two centuries have occurred in this past decade). We cannot deny the fact of numerous extremes.
Human suffering and loss of life are becoming common in today's troubled world. Not only have hundreds died in heat-related situations in Europe and elsewhere, but in 2018 sizeable numbers lost their lives in California wildfires. We are also experiencing deaths and injuries due to increasing hurricanes in various parts of the world and recall tragic events in Puerto Rico in 2017. Too often, the most vulnerable include those who do not have transportation to move quickly out of harms' way. The rising oceans are already causing higher water surges in times of storms that affect the very poor living in low-lying areas. With greater concentrations of people in growing metro areas, disasters will undoubtedly produce more deaths and injuries than if the same numbers were widely scattered over rural areas.
While the situation seems at first quite dire, still there are streaks of hope on the horizon. We are starting to estimate the possibility of severe earthquakes and thus designate quake-resistant building codes in more prone areas. Early warning systems can reduce death and injury by alerting to resulting killer tsunamis. Better weather forecasts, roads and available vehicles can help evacuate potential victims in anticipation of hurricanes and flooding; air conditioning can reduce heat-related problems for the elderly and sick. Improved medical systems make it easier to pinpoint potential outbreaks of disease associated with the extreme weather conditions. Faster transportation and communication facilitates bring needed assistance to ravaged areas, both in this country and throughout the world.
Can we do anything about these possible upcoming events? It is difficult to couple these with natural disasters that will continue to occur. However, curbing climate change will have a major effect if performed in the next few years. If allowed to lapse for a few years the rising carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas effects will make matter worse and more extreme conditions will surely occur. With proper curbing the numbers will be fewer.
Prayer: Lord, help us be aware of the signs of the times. Let us seek to reduce the number of weather-related victims.
An assortment of Bluegrass wildflowers, growing upon old tree stump. (*photo
April 4, 2020 Accepting Evidence and A Crime Against Humanity
In this year 2020 the great majority of Americans believe that climate change is caused at least in part by human activity. There has been a dramatic reduction of deniers in the last two decades, even though there are still hold-outs. The deniers are often merchants of doubt and especially Big Energy profiteers want the climate change issue to be considered questionable, even though most climate scientists say it is only a one-in-a-million chance that evidence is wrong.
In the middle of the twentieth century, industry groups like these deniers cast doubt on the ill effects of smoking tobacco; the resulting procrastination earned hundreds of billions of dollars in profits for Big Tobacco before the public accepted the inevitable through warnings and regulation. Is history attempting to repeat itself? The difference is that now climate change involves hundreds of millions living at the wrong places, whereas the tobacco issue involved millions of voluntary smokers.
Amazingly, in the wake of 2020 just capping the four hottest years on record, we still experience national legislative gridlock over launching a Green New Deal to help solve the problems associated with use of fossil fuels. Our procrastination will be condemned by future generations if we do not act ASAP. However, that could be precious time after Big Oil and Gas have made untold profits from the marketing of more fossil fuel products. The world community of nations (with the exception of our country) abide by the Paris Climate Change Accord and regard doubts about effects as resolved years ago. However, propaganda mills continue to churn with massive financial backing from the fossil fuel industry.
Taken up with other political wrangling over immigration, border security and financial issues the federal government has been too distracted by smaller events to squarely address this prime global issue, namely transition to a renewable energy economy. And this delay is a crime against humanity of the first order. Legislative paralysis is caused by striving to satisfy all powerful political and economic interests and to play politics while the Earth burns.
Most people know that more dramatic effects of rising oceans, melting ice sheets and more costly extreme weather events will occur in an indefinite future -- after they are gone. That will be their grandchildren's struggle, not theirs. If these understand that climate change has human causation, then their message to their grandkids is "prepare for troubles." If prudence dictates that we regard ourselves as a possible cause of climate change, then we have a present, not future, responsibility to correct misdeeds. Our current world does not want to admit we cause any misdeed; however, deep spirituality means facing the truth and that means taking responsibility for continuing the fossil fuel economy.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see the needs of our day, and to know the signs of our times. Help us take responsibility for the deeds we do and the consequences of our actions.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey in royal fashion. Many of the bystanders were convinced that here was someone who could lead them against their Roman oppressors; such were the ideas of a shallow people with a narrow view of the world. They were wanting to give Jesus a royal title, if he would only act in the limited fashion that they expected. However, the divine drama of salvation was different, as would be seen before the week ended -- and salvation history took a different turn, never to fulfill their dreams. Furthermore, royalty itself would be conceived in a different fashion; through the ages believers have given different royal titles to Jesus. Let's remember that each tells its own story.
Word from the Father's heart begotten; Earth‑bloom from Mary's womb; Light dispelling gloom and doom; Mercy's model giver, New Hope awaken; Good Shepherd to the forsaken; Sheep Gate for the left-for-rotten; Emmanuel to the ne'er-do-well, forgotten; Sacred Heart, your nom de plume.
Sower, mower, white harvest reaper; Wind-blown, on that blessed day; Bearer of a Roman lance parlay; Cross-fixed with thieves, True forgiver; Grace-filled Flood, Nature's river; Holy Water, Precious Blood, Gatekeeper; Redeemer quiver, Hell shiver, Divine Sweeper; New Passover, pray come, come we pray.
The "Special Issues" section of this website has listing of 365 titles for Jesus that are all found in standard liturgical sources. You are invited to offer more known titles.
Alpine bouquet, a cluster of native Wyoming plants. (*photo
April 6, 2020 Keeping Easter a Non-commercial Celebration
There is only one shopping Saturday left before Easter; it may occur to us to buy Easter decorations, presents, clothes or cards. Why? Because most of us are reminded to buy in a blizzard of ongoing advertising. What is it, 35 hours of TV a week for the average viewer, with 12 commercials per hour -- or almost 22,000 in a normal year -- encouraging a constant buying spree? To be sure, most commercials in all forms of the media pertain to inducements to purchase something. So, when a special event like Easter comes, those bombarded with commercials reach for the shopping list. Must we succumb to this temptation, or can we make this a major spiritual occasion with little commercialism?
Alternatives to material things are in order, for Easter is not as commercialized and secularized as Yuletide, when the Japanese Christmas salutation is, "Jingle Bells." Yes, Halloween has costumes, face masks, plastic pumpkins, and trimmings; Thanksgiving has its cards, turkeys, and launching of the holiday buying season; Valentine's Day omits the prefacing saint's title, but its cards, candy, and flowers are secularly alluring. What is it about Easter even amid chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, and new clothes that exudes a general non-commercial spirit?
Easter egg hunts -- This is a traditional event enjoyed at homes, clubs, churches, and schools. It can become a secular teaching occasion, that is, to direct youngsters that the one who is fastest, boldest, and most able to run over others will get the most. Instead of this awful approach to grabbing things, why not count out the number of eggs and divide by the number of hunters of all ages; tell the kids how many each may ultimately collect, for there are limited resources in this world; now have the older ones team up with the younger ones and assist them in getting their proper share and only that amount (no exceptions); now let the younger member "help" older children retrieve their proper share.
Personal greeting cards -- Easter is a time of joy, and so personal greetings have a prominent place. No one can deny that a beautiful card or a bouquet says much to a shut-in or ill person. However, a personal visit, phone call, email salutation or hand written letter means much more. Add a smile or even a little personal gift, if that seems proper for the occasion -- and maybe make it something that has religious relevance.
Living plants -- Some people insist on giving gifts and that is still okay, given the propensities of givers, receivers, and circumstances. Since Easter comes in springtime in this hemisphere, potted flowers or transplantable herbs may have special meaning as a substitute for the expected cut-floral bouquet. Home-grown daffodil bouquets are fine as well.
Prayer: Lord, Easter is coming soon and our thoughts ought to be on what to do significantly for our loved ones. Help us make a list of non-commercial items with spiritual significance.
If only you would listen to him today, "Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah..." (Psalm 95)
On this World Health Day we need to consider the health that comes through sharing resources -- not unilateral giving or taking, but through an interchange like our covenant relationship with God. Sharing is more wholesome than merely giving or receiving. It is the response to the God who calls us. God speaks to us in those who hurt -- whether close at hand or distant Africans and Asians who need the necessities of life. Hearing the pleas of others and striving to respond by actual assistance is a necessity for our own salvation. By listening well we can initiate an exchange that has practical significance for all parties involved. Others need the essentials of life; we need the solidarity and need to be compassionate so that we can remain human. The networking and resulting actions are part of global security and health.
When we fail to listen, or become occupied with peripheral issues, sensitivity erodes. A hardening of hearts comes through failure to listen and to discover our oneness with all the world's poor, not just those closer to us. This is why people with surplus can give and give, and still not do so out of love. When the heart is touched then our relationship with the distant neighbor becomes ever closer. We no longer want to dictate just how the assistance we give ought to be used, provided we want it to have maximum impact among all who are in need.
Love is the sharing act, and thus it calls for reciprocity. Sometimes, healing the sick or repairing social injustice demands that we give before we seek to share. However, if nothing more, at least we can ask the receiving person to pray for the giver. Requests for prayers become opportunities to share, because the prayers of the poor help us to hear and respond to the God who calls us. Our loving God offers us pure gifts even when we fail to seek help, or forget to show gratitude. To the degree we are willing to share our gifts with others, our responses are purified.
This brings us back to World Health Day. The greater moments are not acts of giving but of sharing. We need to see that the advancements in medicine need to be shared throughout the world, a challenge that seems impossible until we think of all the money used for global military structure. What a waste! If some grab world's resources so that they can distribute them more wisely, this still is a matter of power being exerted on another. Mother Teresa was moved to share love with the poor; all of us must try to do the same. By listening to the voice of God speaking through others, we are enabled to love in a more universal manner.
Prayer: Lord, teach us not only to hear your voice coming in many and gentle ways, but to listen carefully and respond through acts of love for and with others. Help us to move from acts of unilateral giving to acts of mutual sharing.
Tomorrow is Holy Thursday when we prepare to eat our liturgical meal together. Let's not forget the food needs of people throughout the world, especially those who spend two-thirds of their meager money on food and still watch food prices rise. Perhaps half the world's population spend over half their income on food -- and in severely food insecure regions as much as eighty percent. Even our country has a sizeable minority who suffer from food insecurity and where to get enough for tomorrow's meal.
Many people have difficulty obtaining nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables. Currently such shortages are being experienced in emerging nations such as in lands where rice and other staples increase in cost. Food shortages for the poorer portion of the global population are even more distressing, especially when the demand for staples crowds out a variety of wholesome nutrients; this can lead to unhealthy conditions. The ones who endure such situations are our brothers and sisters, for we are one family and must conceive of ourselves as such, for their welfare and our own salvation. Food security can be enhanced in a number of ways:
* Global food-storage banks strategically located and pest-free, and with food supplies at the disposal of aid groups during times of famine;
* Enhanced programs for improvement of small farms in emerging African and developing countries through access roads, proper irrigation systems, improved seeds, and available fertilizers and farm implements;
* Promotion of reduced meat consumption, and avoiding the conversion of grains into wasteful biofuels for use by developed nations;
* Improved trade relations among food-producing and consuming nations, and halting arbitrary food embargoes in times of food shortages due to floods and other weather- or human-caused disasters; and
* Reduction in wasteful food practices in developed nations so that more food is available at lower prices in other parts of the world.
Bringing all this about could be regarded as a combination of personal austerity practices (only rarely widespread enough to make a major difference) and regulations imposed on all. It is a challenge to have plentiful food always available in times of drought and so we must couple this with a global wealth inequality problem. Some people are able to use resources as they please because they have wealth and power; others must endure increasing shortages because they are poor, powerless and insecure. We are called to confront the issue of destitution and over-affluence.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see our responsibility to food supplies in two ways: to act as responsible individuals in daily eating practices; and to see our civic duties as helping to change global food practices, so as to result in fair food distribution among all people.
We begin the three days (Triduum) before Easter Sunday in a somewhat non-traditional manner. We will look at the spirit of each of these three days as a perfect time to assess the need for exclusive worship of our God and not of idols; we extend our sense of worship to a broader-based inclusiveness (by expanding the worshipping community to all believers in the world).
Passover meals were always a family affair, taken in the immediate confines of the homes of the Israelites and excluding all non-believers in the community. In essence, this Passover meal of the Lord with his disciples followed the same pattern of a close knit community of believers. All needed to be worthy to partake, and when Judas left the Last Supper his unworthiness became apparent. He essentially cut himself off through his betrayal, and the rest began to understand their consecration to greater service.
Holy Thursday was an event of momentary exclusiveness, of preparing those present for work that was to be done later. The intimate meal was the framework through celebration of the monumental calling to bring all together as one people. The Chosen people celebrated and still celebrate that calling, and yet it is not a call to remain exclusive, but rather to go forth and incorporate others into the work ahead.
Holy Thursday contains a temporary exclusivity of a chosen few gathered together to celebrate a covenant promise and New Covenant institution. Disciples were to carry on the ministry as priests of the New Law through a consecration handed down from Jesus to them. These followed in the tradition of the chosen ones -- like the Chosen People themselves who were called by God. However, this exclusiveness is often misunderstood -- and some in the Christian community confused the issue of the inclusiveness of the result (an entire world), with the exclusiveness of a calling to be consecrated to help bring this about. The exclusive vocational call to some is to be catalysts to greater universality ND inclusively. It is not glory but work that is involved, namely reversing the Tower of Babel dispersal and coming to unity.
One must concede momentary exclusivity (an intimate meal) for the sake of a greater inclusivity in the world around us. It is not to remove oneself from community but to become an ever more effective agent of change. What occurs is a consecration so that others may ultimately come together; thus the goal is the gathering of the dispersed into an ultimate inclusivity in the divine life to which we are called. This is difficult work and so the symbolic act that Jesus performs at the Last Supper of washing the feet of his followers manifests the service demanded.
Prayer: Lord, teach us that we gather in small communities to pray and have communion, not as an act of withdrawal, but a prelude to going forth to others; help us spread the Good News so all can give praise to your Holy Name.
Reflections on Suffering as Redemptive
The commemoration of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is the heart of our spring liturgical event, especially this weekend. Through this moment of Paschal Mystery, we realize God's saving plan of our redemption. We come to discover our place in this mystery -- as well as that of suffering Earth herself. Within this reflection we are moved with compassion to be closer to the humble Jesus, who is in solidarity with all of us and especially with the world's poor. We move from reflecting on the public life of Jesus as healer, teacher, and activist to that of suffering servant transformed into risen Lord in power.
Jesus as Suffering Servant. Jesus willingly makes his way with his reluctant disciples to Jerusalem, the hostile city, where the confrontation of forces occurs. He goes freely as a person of spiritual power and with successes in public ministry to confront a situation where he will be delivered into the hands of those who hate him. Jesus opens himself to being vulnerable, all in the service of love, for he is the servant par excellence, and he will show this through his passion and death. He loves us deeply -- and this extends to all of creation. Through this supreme act of giving he gently indicates the way we are to follow.
Jesus as priest. At the Last Supper Jesus tells his disciples during the ritual of the Passover meal that through this sacrifice he is to redeem us. Furthermore, his sacrifice is to extend in space and time through the Sacred Liturgy: psalms sung, Scriptures read, homily shared, blessings of gifts, breaking of bread, and the communion of all present. And Jesus adds a ritual, namely, the washing of the feet to show humble service. Through his priestly prayer he shows that love is togetherness and our Earthhealng becomes a grand act of rebinding the separated into a unity of purpose and a New Creation. God's special love extends to the far reaches of the universe; God loves each person, our environment, our world and especially the poor -- the anawim, who include all living creatures, especially endangered creation.
Jesus in Agony awaits what is to come; he is hurt by the void resulting from the lack of love by those capable of love. The "agony" or deep mental and physical pain is so intense that he sweats blood, which doctors tell us could occur in extraordinary circumstances. And this occurs in a garden, an Eden-like place where human activity can begin the process of healing. Jesus now becomes involved in the planet's healing process through sweat mingled with blood -- far more than Adam's sweat alone, for it is divinely given. And Jesus, perfect healer, agonizes over our misuse of opportunities and abuse of gifts, our lack of compassion and forgiveness. Sensate Mother Earth in pain strikes a note. The Scriptures speak of Earth as leaping with joy and crying in sorrow. We are united to Earth's destiny; we share Earth's anguish.
Jesus as Solitary Witness. The formal listing of accusations and the silence of Jesus is like a clash of cymbals with intermediate silence. The decisive moment of history and the Messiah is silent before his accusers! Here at the Holy of Holies, the center of world religious life, he receives jeers by the authorities and bystanders present. A nation prepared for millennia to witness this testimony ignores this moment and fills it with accusations and rejections. Should we be silent when we are persecuted or accused? Does Saint Paul follow the silence of Jesus when he appeals to Caesar as an individually accused person, and thus is sent to Rome? These are not easy questions, and we need be guided by the Holy Spirit at such personal moments in life.
Jesus Carrying His Cross. Jesus is stripped, beaten almost beyond endurance, forced to be the substitute for a common criminal, mocked, crowned with thorns, and forced to carry a cross to the place of execution. The way of that cross has been repeated by thousands of pilgrims in their faithful journeying along the traditional Way, or by symbolic Stations of the Cross. We walk on this journey to Calvary and place ourselves with our difficulties (see below) alongside of those of Jesus whose physical endurance has its own limits: he repeatedly falls; he accepts comfort from the weeping women; and he gets help in carrying the cross. We need the courage to be comforting companions and Simon of Cyrenes.
Jesus on Calvary -- Imagine the mixture of the sounds of Calvary with the noise of jeering crowds. Yet in the shadows under the cross are the few who pray in silent whispers. The terrifying scene is nearly beyond our imagination: the dark clouds are swirling in a foreboding manner, punctuated by lightning flashes all about; Earth trembles knowing a monumental event is now occurring; the odor of sweat, the unwashed, and the garbage heap called Calvary swell up; the taste is one of sour wine and death. And then the end in utter darkness. Or is it?
Jesus as victorious. Sunlight! Life anew is the profound mystery of God's love and mercy. In the Resurrection event we discover that life is transformed and not ended in death, the core message of our faith. In death we are no longer in control of affairs; we are at God's mercy and not abandoned. At this moment of transformation, we can graciously look to the one standard, the risen Lord, the perfect model of ecological concern. On the one side are arrayed forces of influence and wealth -- the "haves" of the material world. On the other side one finds arrayed the poor, marginalized, forgotten, small dirt farmers, illiterate who hide their inability to read, and voiceless slum dwellers, the lowly.
Jesus as Lord. Just as Jesus suffers in each persecuted person as he says to Saul: I am Jesus and you are persecuting me (Acts 9:5), so Jesus continues to suffer in the travails of all people on Earth -- and in other mistreated creatures. And herein rests a hidden spiritual power to bring all to fulfillment. God makes a covenant with all living things at the time of Noah. Now Jesus is the fulfillment of God's covenant with us; Jesus suffers and dies for all of us; yes, his redemption is coextensive with that of the universe, and it springs to life at Easter.
Actions: Stations of a Suffering Earth
Eco-spirituality involves restoration of what has been hurt by human misdeeds. We attend "The Stations of the Suffering Earth."
1. Jesus is sentenced to die. Species on Earth are endangered or threatened with extinction due to general environmental pollution.
2. Jesus take up his cross. People must bear the suffering of their water pollution having no access to potable domestic water.
3. Jesus falls the first time. The understory is trampled upon and soils are allowed to erode for lack of cover in various forms of land pollution.
4. Jesus meets his mother. Chemical Pollution results in birth defects and crippling illnesses which confront poor families in polluted residential areas.
5. Simon of Cyrene helps with the cross. They do symbolic gestures by washing oil-soaked sea gulls in the polluted seaways.
But they mean so well.
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. Reclamation efforts do not erase all the scars of the land, and landfills do not halt the solid waste pollution resulting from an excessive consumer culture.
7. Jesus falls the second time. The forests and all life suffer from air pollution which weakens the immunity of the biosystems and causes many to fall ill to disease. Coal-fired powerplants belch plumes from smokestacks, leading to loss of immunity by forested life.
8. Women weep for Jesus. The anguish of people over Earth silence being invaded by honking, screaming, blaring, and explosive reports occurring over and over through the discordant sounds of noise pollution.
9. Jesus falls the third time. The trees are cut away by greed in the tragedy of clear-cutting. It is the final forest call and trees, like exhausted Jesus, find it ever so difficult to rise again.
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments. Earth is strip-mined and denuded as fossil fuels and other resources are exploited for profits.
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross. Earth is impaled with rows of gaudy signs and rampant visual pollution -- and harmed natural landscape is exposed for all to see.
12. Jesus dies upon the cross. People die of hunger, disease and other afflictions because resources are not available to feed or cure them. With climate change we must confront the possibility of the death of Earth.
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross. The added suffering is the slums and the pungent odor pollution of the ruined land. Should we weep and mourn?
14. Jesus is placed in a sepulcher. This tired Earth is laid low but it is our Easter hope that it has hidden life, a resilience allowing a promised New Creation.
15. Jesus rises from the tomb and brings forth new life. Earth rejoices because he is risen! We now journey in his glory.
Father Al Fritsch celebrates Mass for our journey to Easter, April 9-12, 2020
St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church in Ravenna, Kentucky
April 10, 2020Extending the Calvary Event to the World
Today, Good Friday, is the most solemn day of the liturgical year. A prevailing sadness is felt in the somberness of readings, songs, and liturgical actions. Jesus Christ dies for us, and this Calvary event comes home to us in ways that non-believers can't understand. Yes, this event may appear to non-believers as an utter defeat, a terrible cutting short of a very successful mission by Jesus to teach and heal. However, there is more to God's mysterious plan. The apparent "common criminal" dies in the most horrifying manner and is isolated from virtually all. He is buried in haste before the Sabbath by a small band of followers and family -- not by the presence of the Palm Sunday crowds.
At first sight, Calvary is a solitude that becomes the ultimate ignominy of an execution -- a rare common criminal with no support system in place, and little comfort from the Palm Sunday crowd. In other words, the world created a badge of dishonor that Jesus was willing to endure. It seemed that for one brief moment hell had triumphed and God was absent. However, in the emerging eyes of faith, Emmanuel or God IS with us. At Calvary the divine plan of salvation is revealed. The pride and attempts to be like God by Adam and Eve bears its bitter fruit. However, at this very moment salvation comes through one person, Jesus Christ; in fact, the story really starts and does not end here. A new dispensation and a New Covenant emerges.
On January 12th, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we said we must come to terms with what is exclusive and what is inclusive, for there are theological as well as political and economic issues involved. God alone is exclusively One, and there are no other gods to be tolerated. The Scriptures speak loud and clear; God demands exclusive worship and attention -- and with this solemn demand God directs the Israelite community to prepare the path -- to a common global worship. The commons was broken at Babel into islands of groups worshiping material things and false gods -- and this division still exists to some degree. Reclaiming the commons, a political and economic mandate, is part of the redemptive work ahead of us as we help give birth to a nascent global community. Calvary calls out to us for radical renewal.
Rather than let the Israelite community be a static faithful remnant, the process is extended. Jesus' ministry seems to some to end abruptly, but to believers it is a beginning. Amazingly, the Calvary event is now extended in space and time, and we are invited to enter in -- not in the glory of privilege, but through an invitation by the dying Jesus to suffer with all people in compassion and love. We are invited to enter into the solitude of Jesus, suffering so that all might be saved. We help in filling up what is wanting in the suffering of Christ. A mystery of the inclusiveness of the divine plan is unfolding before our eyes.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to join on the lonely hill of Calvary so we can help bring all suffering souls into the unity you desire.
April 11, 2020Being Empowered to Rise with the Lord
After the liturgical roller-coaster of the last two days we pause to catch our breath. We are gaining the strength to celebrate the upcoming Easter event. In preparation, we take the tried and true spiritual advice of reviewing where we have come from. The seemingly chosen aspects of the Holy Thursday event are simply to prepare us for a mission that is difficult, but needed to help save our threatened world.
Let's return to what we said on January 12th. The winding Babel tower twists the Divine Command, and this twisted image hangs over us still. This man-made structure overshadows a divided world, with individuals seeking exclusive privileges rather than sharing the gifts of God with all. Economic and political theories have been concocted to defend an exclusive privilege that really belongs to God alone. These competing islands of self-interest have brought strife on family, community, tribal, national and global levels -- and they plague us still. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have often misinterpreted the message; they have considered themselves as exclusively chosen for self-possessing privileges of fame, fortune, or power, or special honors.
Those misguided in the name of religion place an "inclusive" privilege as being apart from others, or mistakenly in idols that support their retention of certain privileges. They dare not tell the truth that they can worship idols instead of the one God; their materialism includes an "exclusive" desire to put "all for me, and me for me." They seek to justify large tracts of land in the control of billionaires; they forget there is a limited pie in this world, no matter how much they boast that others can make that pie big enough to justify their own selfishness. The economic/ political world confronts the true nature of the Calvary/Resurrection event. Jesus who dies for us and rises for us is a covenant of the people, the light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness (Isaiah 42:6-7). The Lord's dying and rising now becomes an unfolding mystery, in which we enter through our baptism.
Easter calls us to abandon the materialistic stance of the world and take on that of Jesus. Our mission is to die with him and rise with him, something particularly individual in nature, but only so that we can enter a community of believers who help the Savior to save others. We now understand the exclusive demand to worship one God alone; we now understand the inclusive calling given to all people, to become instruments to bring about this emerging unity, namely the "Kingdom of God." Our divine leader goes ahead of us as light to all and Lord of all. The mission given to us is to participate in the divine work of salvation.
Prayer: Lord, help us to understand the continued divine mission to proclaim you as Lord of all, and allow us to be Easter people called to help bring about your glory.
April 12, 2020 Announcing Easter Past, Future, and Present
Today is a new day: Christ has risen; Christ will come again to usher us to eternal life; Christ comes now to all believers. 0 Our hearts are filled through faithful recall, through hopeful promise, and through present joy.
Faith in Easter past. We are caught up in the excitement of Peter and John and Mary Magdalene, and through the years that excitement and enthusiasm means that we enter into the Easter event as fully as did those early disciples. Easter faith is that continuation of an historic event, witnessed by some who passed on their testimony to us down through the ages as a sacred trust.
Christ is now Lord of New Life -- a new title.
Faith in Easter future. We are swept into the excitement of Easter because it is more than a past sacred event; Easter announces a future for all who believe. Down through the ages followers hope for the time when they will enter into the Resurrection event fully when ushered into eternal life -- a blessing that extends our mortal birth and the life we are living. How precious is that life, and yet we anticipate our promised eternal life -- a rising in victory over death, and the awaited glory of a new dawn beyond the horizon of darkness and present troubles. This event that is to come gives us courage, and also energizes us to face the present moment.
Faith in Easter present. Today, we celebrate the victory of Christ over death, his victory and ours as well. We are invited into the divine family, and thus the graciousness of God extends that past event of his Resurrection into our eternal life; this is a joy that we can begin living that life here and now. How do we respond to what has been given except through sharing this with others? Namely, we share the event of the past and the promise of the future -- and both our faith and our hope become a joyful, loving, present moment. We express that event and that promise through our enthusiasm for the risen Lord within us. Each of us can help give new life to others; we forgive them in loving solidarity within our troubled human family. We invite them to believe and to journey together towards an eternal horizon.
New life. Within this atmosphere of forgiveness we are able to start again, to begin over in joy, to help bring about a new creation, to express a "Resurrection-Centered Spirituality." We CAN heal our Earth; we CAN make life better for others; we CAN do better and be involved in the ongoing Easter event. While being sensitive to the ongoing Calvary of wounded Earth and people, we are enabled by the power of the risen Lord. Both a compassionate sensitivity and a powerful promise of ultimate victory energize us today. Thus we can live the present Easter moment in its full.
Prayer: Lord, make us Easter people; help us rise to the present moment and make Easter an event to heal our wounded world.
Take a closer look for small but marvelous wildflowers on the forest
April 13, 2020Reflecting on Time: Past, Future, and Present
The Easter season opens us to expand our reflection on time from past glorious event (Christ's rising) to the eternity expected for our rising in hopeful glory to the present moment. Shouldn't all time-related discussions be in the traditional sequence of past, present, and future? Maybe it is an opportune moment to discuss the topic of the "philosophy" of time. Easter is a "today" event, but embraces a past Christ happening and a future promise of resurrection of our bodies. We look at the past to find a meaning as to where we are, then to the future as the promise of where we are heading; finally, we return to the present while weighing the future's significance in light of the past. If we help fashion our future we must find our direction from the past, and thus we are more keenly aware of the present moment. The promise becomes partly fulfilled insofar as a magnet pulls us to the future and a past energizes this magnetic power. Yes, Easter makes our today.
Doesn't the manner in which we announce the sequence create a straightjacket on our outlook? The sequence of past, present, and future has a somewhat passive aspect to it. We become the heirs of the past, live in the present, and prepare for the future. There is the slavishness of trying to adopt an orchestral approach to time, as though we live shaped by a past and move on sullenly into the future. Yes, there is a bias shown in my describing this approach, for I conceive of it as an example of "lite faith" -- a faith that finds some meaning in following the past in its precision, but it never allows us to become overly creative. We know from Jesus' teaching that we must grow in a maturing faith.
By placing the future immediately after the past we give it an existential value, insomuch as it gives us enthusiasm to be drawn forward. The future in respect to the past is making the past meaningful; our history enters into the way we see ahead to what lies in our future, a future we help create through our enthusiasm -- the God within. We are spiritually drawn to the future, and thus we find the magnetic pull as beyond us and yet within us. By affirming the spirit of the past, we incorporate it, and this is the spirit that gives the promise of new life. Our future is affirmed and directed through faithfulness to our past.
A faithful acceptance of the past in its eternal potential allows us an eternal future. If Easter is the fullness of God's lordship, then in Easter past comes an eternal future, and so that future stands next to the past in proper sequence. In affirming past and future we live the present moment (that precious instant between past and future), when memory enters fully in the present moment. Elders with reduced memory recognize the limited nature of their present moment and strive to make the best of it by looking ahead to the coming future. Our fleeting present is a meaningful past seeking an achievable future. But as our mortal future narrows, a grander eternal Easter gains prominence.
Prayer: Lord, you came; you will come; you are here and now.
April 14, 2020 Appreciating Roads for Their Blessings
In April each year, road-building crews become active and we start dodging them as they patch winter potholes and repair guard rails; snow equipment has been put away until late autumn; workers are widening streets, constructing bridges and rest stops, and resurfacing areas damaged by road salt used during severe winter weather. Well-maintained roads are needed to take us to distant places; they are the artifacts of politicians, engineers, and builders cooperating with the lay of the land -- Earth's terrain. Our roads are needed for human travel and for commerce; they break the isolation that can bind people too tightly into their own communities. Roads are thus liberating in many ways.
Highways bring us back through history to those first master road-builders, the Romans. The Empire's road system was a masterpiece in early engineering, and these have in some cases been used for centuries. The bridges, types of pavement, drainage ditches, arched viaducts, and even rest areas were well ahead of their times and built to endure. While most bulk commerce was cheaper by rivers and seas, still the good road network allowed for human travel and postal service. However, even with superb construction techniques roads do deteriorate through lack of good government, constant vigilance and ongoing maintenance.
Today, we take our roads for granted; we measure distances by time rather than mileage. Drivers are often in a hurry and strive to shave minutes and seconds during routine trips. However, modern roads invite higher speeds and in some cases tragic results. With the snowy season behind us spring brings on added speed. As a toddler I recall the Wood Lane, a mud road that bordered our farm and is now a two-lane highway. We (Mama and a car full of youngsters) went to visit her aunt; the Model A Ford got stuck in the mud, and she had to walk to a neighbor farmer and get him to bring his horse team over to pull us out. That was the story of the 1930s when many of our farm roads went from horse-use to that of motor traffic. Hardened surfaces called for road-building projects that yielded a national Interstate network. These roads liberate the isolated, and yet can isolate people unable to drive.
I travel on a relatively good two-lane highway between my two parishes. Local people travel rapidly on this familiar route, especially during morning and evening rush hours. They travel at faster speeds when traffic cops are not looking. On this road stretch I have seen several major accidents despite enforced safety belt regulations. Even with good roads and driving practices, roadways are mixed blessings -- air pollution, consumption of petroleum, congestion, excessive mobility, and noise. Skunks trying to cross even an infrequently used rural road risk their lives. Likewise, roadways affect wildlife migration routes. Nothing is perfect, and that includes highways and drivers.
Prayer: Lord, help us travel safely and with respect for others especially pedestrians.
A lovely day in the woods. Franklin County, Kentucky. (*photo
April 15, 2020 Spreading Easter Blessings
This is the time to sprinkle Easter Water on the gardens, fields, homes, pets, and all creation and creatures. Easter for Christians is a most blessed time. We believe that Christ rose from the grave in an unimaginable Resurrection event. That is only a major component of the Good News for each of us. We also believe that we will rise again bodily at the last day, and hopefully will be launched into eternal life. This is not deserving in any way but God's grace at work. How do we make this immense gift known to our neighbor beyond verbal testimony?
Deeds and not mere words are the answer. What we regard as new life can be affirmed by showing that some aspects of new life are possible in this world today. We can become true Easter people by partly implemented in our world the new life of hope in a threatened and fragile world. We do this in our affirmation made that this Earth can participate in the Resurrection by being renewed and made into a new Earth, one that can be in some way incorporated into the promised New Heaven and New Earth.
Renewal is a form of resurrection and new life. An economy that is stripped of the vast inequality of an excessive Capitalism is a hope for the good of all the people who are destitute and in need of better health and educational provisions along with those hundreds of millions in all parts of the world who are going to bed hungry tonight. Renewal extends to all creation and beyond other human beings; furthermore it is more than a local community enterprise and a national policy; it is also part of a global crusade, an effort to incorporate all people of good will into a planetary effort to save our wounded Earth.
Easter is more than a religious commemorative event among Christian believers; it opens possibilities of human greatness, but with eternal life ahead, and a fullness of promise here and now. Don't let atheists or others convince you that they can be as caring and generous in this world as can believers. Eternal promise gives a special flavor to all activities that those who see death as "the end" fail to envision. It is the difference between a book of singular action and an indefinite book series. Eternal life means a permanent "to be continued."
A universal embrace accompanies those who await eternal life. Their expectation is to be with others in the hereafter and to establish closer relations with those who struggle now in distant places. We cannot afford to be idle for this is an opportune time to act for the good of all. This changes Easter from being a special event in MY salvation to that of OUR salvation. We have much to be grateful for, and this is the time to especially remember to spread Easter blessings.
Prayer: May your Resurrection, Jesus, bring true greatness to our spiritual self and may your sacraments be the mirror wherein we may know that self. St. Ephrem
April 16, 2020 Contesting the Individual Right to Bear Arms
Patriot's Day causes us to pause and ask, "Are people armed to the teeth really more patriotic than others?" In the past we have reflected on the right to bear arms as stated in the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This is NOT the right to have ammunition for automatic weapons. The constant series of massacres that is a phenomenon in the U.S. and not elsewhere is in part the result of plentiful guns (one per American) and ammunition. Is this what Constitution framers intended?
The disoriented shooters should not be allowed any weapons nor the "right" to purchase a cache of ammunition. Danger does not come from bearing a weapon, but from bearing a loaded weapon. Why not a strict control on the ammo? In 1775, British soldiers precipitated the American Revolution by their march from Boston to Lexington; they intended to retrieve arms and munitions from a communal arsenal. Americans talk about the right to bear individual arms that many, even those of us who are former gun owners, would consider as a constitutional right. Limiting gun possession by omitting persons with mental disturbance means that all Americans regard this as a communal right.
In some states people are required to take an exam for a license to bear arms. We have driver's licenses, so why not for firearms as well? America has over 300 million individual arms, and the implication that with infants and seniors excluded a great number have multiple weapons. On rare occasions a cache is discovered before a shooting spree and number of weapons and amount of ammo is frightful. Let's become strict interpreters of the Constitution: limit individual gun rights to one shot muzzle-loaded muskets. Let's also keep other weapons and ammo in a regional armory, or among police and those deputized in times of emergency.
All citizens need security; this should not be confused with the sport of hunting with weapons. A crazy person should neither store at home nor even hunt with a weapon, yet regulations in various states are lax. Right now in many places a "nut" can get automatic weapons and ammo, with few or no questions asked. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has influence, but this group forgets that more Americans have died from intentional or accidental shooting in the last three decades (averaging 30,000 deaths per year) than in all of America's wars combined.
Security is not furthered by every individual being armed. The world, along with our communities and homes, needs strict arms control, something that is hard to achieve in our gun-crazy land. We read about Afghanistan's weapon saturation after that unfortunate country has endured decades of civil strife. Let's ban automatic weapons and ammo for them from general commerce, a first step to global and national security.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to advocate for arms control in our world and gun and ammo control in our nation.
Fresh flower of the sorrel, container grown and ready for spring garden. (*photo
April 17, 2020Preparing for a Veggie/Floral Garden
This is the Easter season and also Garden Week. It is a fitting form of praise to testify to the sustaining beauty of a garden where both vegetables and flowers thrive. Some might want the flowers to predominate. I prefer the more subtle approach of many veggies and a scattering of flowers, which give vivid color to the sea of growing vegetables throughout the growing season. The mix is important but allows all to find their proper places. Do not expect to be furnished with a rigid set of "dos and don'ts." Sorry for the disappointment, but it is better to follow your own tastes and instincts. Regard flowers and vegetables as companions and make them feel comfortable growing together.
If there should be a general rule: become a garden artist with flowers acting as your paint. I discovered this in 2010 in the year of the salad; Betsy, a keen herb club observer, asked whether I was constructing my salads (especially with red beets or cranberries or tomatoes) in order to maximize color combinations. That was inadvertently true, and suddenly the quest for color becomes an issue worth more explicit recognition. Hence, consider the veggie/floral garden as primarily one of aesthetic tastes. Added color is meant to please the gardener and neighbors and visitors. Without too much extra work, beauty adds quality to our life, and this gives praise to our creative God.
Flower cultivation and admiration are a way to pray. This, like all reflections, is meant to encourage and not to restrict your creative instincts. Consider changing the landscape throughout the growing season. Make the garden a moving montage, a never-exhausting change of scenery so that we can be greeted each day with slightly different combinations of color and grace.
Do you want me to tell you which flowers to select? There are hundreds to choose from, and my favorites (irises, cosmos, Zinnias, begonias, marigolds, and lilies) may not be yours. Select those that bloom at different times and need sun or shade, depending on specific locations. Consider that some flowers attract butterflies and others discourage pests. In addition choose flowers that are higher on the menu of certain insect pests such as the Japanese beetle (e.g., evening primrose) than are the veggies or grapes.
If you care to record your success in order to encourage other gardeners, take photos at different times, from a special place at a certain day of each month. This may assist visitors who only come by occasionally. Make the garden something you are proud of, for it shares a message to the rest of the world about the grandeur of God's creation. We enhance God's creation and thus cooperate and share in the glory all around us.
Prayer: Lord, accept our humble garden as a prayer of praise to you and to all the vastness of creation. Let this small piece of land be a sample that has the potential of a ripple effect on a damaged world -- a beginning to the healing process.
Considering Three Kinds of Humility
Jesus empties himself for us. Good Friday and the Calvary events in our lives are mercifully short-lived; eternal Easter is when Jesus takes the title of Lord to the greater glory of God the Father. His kenosis (emptying of himself) becomes a preface to future glory in the Resurrection.
We seek to imitate Christ by being humble and merciful caregivers; we face difficulties and lack giving all in serving others, but in imitation of the Risen Lord we strive to extend compassion to all, even Earth's flora and fauna. Jesus suffers and dies for all and so as followers we seek to serve all others, especially the poor, the hungry, illiterate, and those lacking adequate housing and clean water. While reflecting on the Paschal Mysteries we consider the broader degrees of our service.
Three classes of people. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises offers three classes of people who have acquired a large sum of money: those seeking to do what is needed for salvation but the hour of death comes without so acting; those wishing to rid themselves of the attachment but in such a way that they retain what they have acquired; and, finally, those who want to rid themselves of the attachment, but wish to do so in such a way that they desire neither to retain nor to relinquish the sum acquired. They want to do only what God our Lord inspires them to do through a grand act of indifference. These class designations can be applied to individuals seeking to be perfect Earthhealers.
The word "humility" is derived from humus or the soil below our feet. An authentic eco-spirituality encourages human growth and development that is patterned after stages of natural growth, each succeeding one more encompassing and community-centered. Our growing compassion extends to all poor people and other creatures, because we strive to take on the compassion of Jesus and to exercise deeper degrees of humility allowing us to be healed and to help heal others. Our eco-spirituality admits of maturation.
FirstDegree of Humility: Tourism.Come and see. This degree is necessary for salvation. We must see the poor lest we lose our souls, for we could be accountable for our insensitivities on Judgment Day. We must be able to see the suffering and respond: "For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink." This first level involves those who are "eco-tourists" and show a sense of curiosity. A distant gaze could involve actions of basic environmental concern -- saving Earth and one's sweet hide as well. FEAR is the predominant emotion for, unless one acts, all will be lost -- air, water, landscape, Earth herself. This level of awareness includes a charitable, exploratory, volunteerism and an imperfect altruism.
Second Degree of Humility: Solidarity. Come and do or be with. This is the level of "pioneer" or "homesteader" (one who brings baggage) in dealing with the poor. This deeper level involves short- or longer-term meaningful activities; the Good Samaritan stops, binds wounds, puts the injured on his own beast, takes him to an inn, gives resources to assist in healing, and comes back and checks on progress over a span of time. The sufferings of the poor are experienced on a first-hand basis by pioneer or companion. The poor person becomes a friend, not a charity case. This is the level of social justice, of research, study, dialogue, attempts at more mature activities, change of lifestyle, and of restoring and healing a wounded Earth.
Identification: Third Degree of Humility.Come and Be. This most perfect type of humility consists in our wanting to be more like Jesus, the perfect ecologist. If God can be better served, we seek to identify with the poor; we desire to choose poverty with Christ's poor rather than riches, honors, or power. "They, the poor" become "We the poor," a total detachment in order to think like the poor, to be so identified, and to make changes at the existential level of the poor. In seeking to become more deeply involved as healers we must become vulnerable and suffer insecurities such as loss of independence, security, safety, status and, in some cases, life. Healers experience love through self-sacrifice and can identify with Jesus, living simply and looking to work with the poor through hands-on appropriate methodology.
Conserving spiritual energy in suffering. A merciful and loving God gives glory to those who suffer. The suffering of Jesus has powerful redemptive effects; new life arises. No expenditure of energy (and suffering is such) is without its merit. To suffer in this world is to be transformed according to God's Providence. Suffering through divine mercy is like spring rain, and God's compassion is to be imitated in our authentic eco-spirituality. The challenge for us is to transform the "happy faults" we make into restoring a wounded Earth -- and thus part of the redemptive work of Christ.
No planetary suffering is lost; the only true loss is our opportunity to love in a godly fashion. Spiritual energy has a quantitative aspect when it applies to us, its limited recipients and dispensers. We may tarnish our benefits, but in the infinite compassion of God, all eventually is gain. "Conservation" applies to God's compassion, not limiting the energy, but never allowing authentic suffering to be lost. Just as with the conservation of matter, all suffering has a value; however, its effectiveness may be reduced by our lack of participation in the divine plan.
Healers must conserve physical and psychic energy in order to focus well and not be calloused and worn out. Spiritually active caregivers need physical energy when giving care; they realize that union with Christ still demands doing things for others; the total person is involved, physically and spiritually. Believers enter into a renewed life in Christ where and when suffering transcends space and time. All sufferers and compassionate caregivers are at the mercy of God. Here we find our hope, our meaning and, yes, our reward -- pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
Eastern Towhee, Pipilo erythrophthalmus, Estill Co., KY
(Photo by Sally Ramsdell)
April 18, 2020 Recounting That We Are Easter People
On the weekend of Mercy Sunday we delve more deeply into the Easter Mystery. What are the characteristics that make us Easter people? I suspect that all of our senses enter into a deeper appreciation of the Easter mystery.
Easter people taste victory. For the believer, Easter means the victory of Christ over death, and that the ignominy of the cross has been overcome. Death, where is your victory? Where is your sting? Jesus has suffered and died for us and now, as Lord of the universe, Jesus is the first to rise and go ahead of us. We glory in his victory and that gives us immense happiness.
Easter people smell the freshness of new life. The Easter season gives us added joy that comes after a long Lenten season. For those of us in the temperate northern hemisphere, the winter harshness has ended and we are now liberated. We can wear less and lighter-weight clothing, and we can breathe deeply the freshness and sunshine of spring. For us, Easter means renewal -- and all life is a blessing and a mystery in itself. Thus for us, Resurrection as new life makes us ever more aware of being pro-life from the womb to old age, from the human to the animal and plant worlds as well. But Easter is more than a physical seasonal change and an appreciation of life means renewing our threatened Earth.
Easter people see a horizon of promised eternal life. Only when we compare the comfort that comes to a dying believer, do we know what faith can do for others. An absolute darkness and void does not await us, as is expected by those who call themselves atheists, no matter how stoic they are about their own impending end. Their emptiness makes us feel a tinge of sorrow that they have no future to await, a future of unending happiness. The Lord's Resurrection gives us this promise of eternal life, and fills us with a spiritual joy that is indescribable to the non-believer. This state of joy encourages us to show continual gratitude for the gift of life itself.
Easter people hear a chorus of joy. The Easter songs ring out for us. Easter is a season when we invite others into our community so that they too may experience "The Ode to Joy."
The harmony of renewal has a sound for those so attuned.
Easter people feel this as a time of blessings. We can show our thankfulness for life by blessing all life with Easter water. We move about all to which we come near --pets, livestock, wildlife, garden, fields, trees, flowers, people, and on and on. By sprinkling Easter water we show that we regard all creation as a blessing and our encounters as a double blessing.
Prayer: Lord, through faith and baptism we have become a new creation. Give us the strength to show a tired world that it is capable of new life and that all can be part in the process.
Take a closer look for small but marvelous wildflowers on the forest
April 19, 2020Celebrating Mercy Sunday
Today we celebrate Mercy Sunday; it's a perfect time to see that God has shown great mercy in the coming of Christ, in his Resurrection from the dead, and in the sending of the Holy Spirit to inspire and teach us. Mercy has been given and shared, and this calls for mercy on our part in return. We profess our belief in a loving, merciful God, and in trying to be godly, we show love and mercy in our own service for and with others.
Love and mercy overcome any tendency to be vindictive to our fellow human beings. Often we may feel they are not doing the right thing -- true, but what can we then do about it? We can express our disfavor, or how much it hurts us. In response to their saying that their own actions are private, we need to counter that all actions have a social dimension and consequence. We are convinced of this religiously, practically, and scientifically. The first law of ecology is "Everything is connected to everything else." What you do affects me, and so your action is my concern.
Mercy is knowing this and still loving the other all the while.
Mercy means assisting those who want to change their own lives, namely, those who in the past have been overburdened by prison records, or failures in work, or mistreatment of individuals, or acting in an immature manner. People change and must be given the benefit of the doubt without causing us who are assisting to become gullible or off-guard. Accepting on our part possibility of change is an act of mercy that our government, courts, communities, and family members must foster in order to improve the social life of our community and world. Ultimately, forgiveness and mercy can be fused into one attitude.
Mercy means being sensitive to those who have handicaps in a spectrum of practices, from the way they speak or interact to what they do and how they live. Affluence often breeds insensitivity; thus we must examine our approach to others in our society and give them the room it takes to find themselves and change. God shows mercy in giving us the time to know ourselves, reform our ways, and start to act in a more perfect manner. If this is the case in our own lives, so ought we to allow time for others to overcome their shortcomings and change for the better. With each incremental change we must show recognition and genuine encouragement to see the struggling person that we value their success. In fact, our entire culture has to do just this so we can heal our troubled Earth and come to live in harmony with each other.
Prayer: God of mercy, you wash away our sins with water, you give us new birth in the Spirit, and redeem us in the blood of Christ. As we celebrate Christ's Resurrection increase our awareness of these blessings, and renew your gift of life within us. (Opening prayer on the Second Sunday of Easter)
April 20, 2020 Recording Our Ethnic Diversity and Change
Our nation is in the middle of a census counting endeavor that occurs once every decade. I am glad to be counted once more (for the 9th time), for many do not survive to make that statement. Furthermore, with some presence of mind I can join our team to look carefully for the 5th time at ethnic composition in this fair land. For the results of the past four analyses you may want to review our Ethnic Atlas of the United States that includes 1980 (before digital data was fully available), 1990, 2000 and 2010 data. Now we can hopefully incorporate the 2020 data on both ancestry and racial estimates. This will be processed on both a 50 state-by-state level and the 3,000+ county-by-county basis.
Maps currently exist for each of four censuses; the change of ethnicity and racial composition is truly striking and when the final data is present within two years the picture will undoubtedly be most interesting. The 1980 set of maps shows traditional concentrations of ethnic groups; the 1990 set includes 120 ethnic museums and centers that celebrate specific or mixed ethnic groups; the 2000 maps include every ethnic group with 1,000 or more specific groupings such as German or Italian (over 25,000 entries); and the 2010 maps highlights ethnic changes in counties over the four census periods. This coming set of maps will undoubtedly demonstrate the hispanization of vast tracts of our land.
Knowing our American ethnicity helps us appreciate our diverse cultural practices. Ethnic differences invite us to practice tolerance and respect. Smaller language groups are more inclined to forsake their cultural differences and become more homogenized or "American" -- but this can be a mistake. The impulse to become more American tempts second generation people to distance themselves from parents. With cultural integration, children are less inclined and do not seek contact with the "old country." Parents die, ethnic social societies erode, and youth find more exciting things to do than to dress up in native costumes and continue ethnic dances and specific celebrations. Ethnic churches and parishes that were so prevalent in the early twentieth century tend to be merged or closed as succeeding generations move to the suburbs and become more "American."
However, third and later generations tend to move in the other direction -- people desiring to know their cultural backgrounds and ancestral lands. Many are seeking to reestablish roots through genealogical research, visit lands of their forebears, and record their elders' stories when possible. Our country continues to be fed by immigration. Spanish is rapidly becoming the second U.S. language, and this slows traditional assimilation through a rapidly growing transplanted Hispanic culture. In contrast, many people, especially English or Scotch-Irish, declare themselves to be "American" or non-designated.
Prayer: Lord, help us to know and appreciate America's ethnic diversity and to welcome change in whatever way it goes.
During World War II some of the people escaped capture by the Japanese occupiers in the Philippines by fleeing to the wilderness, the less accessible mountainous areas; these were the "bundoks,” a Tagalog word that has entered into modern American usage. In fact, this has become a pejorative term, defined as "being outside of the mainstream." However, in the last decade this meaning shifted from being an area of land to becoming a human condition, as rural people throughout the world are connected through better highway systems, Internet and cell phones.
I would regard my own life of only a few years back as being "in the Appalachian boondocks" by some people's measure. This came at a price and yet with benefits. The price was not knowing all the latest fads and way of acting and thinking with the late night TV sense of humor. However, in part this isolated situation was from NOT watching cable television or reading regional newspapers. Now, it is not where I live (twenty-five minutes from the Interstate System) but how connected I am at a given moment. I am fortunate to have "broadband" Internet access that allows a connectedness denied to many of our country's rural residents.
What are the benefits of living in out-of-the-way places? There is less congestion and noise, though most parts of the world have airplanes flying over. We do have wilderness areas in which to take off time, and with a little travel be far removed from other elements of civilization -- to hike for miles without meeting other human beings. There is fresh clean air that many people would treasure as promoting health and quality of life. There is the lack of pretension by people who know they are not regarded as being "movers and shakers," or of being at the very front of everything. However, the greatest benefit is that this is a deliberate choice made by escapees from areas of cultural captivity. This is a free and restful place -- if escapes still exist. Living or traveling in the boondocks can mean being removed from the temptations of the fast life with all its stresses.
What is the price of being in the boondocks? For one thing, those living here (or "there" depending on viewpoint) are subject to being marginalized by society, for the mainstream may not regard our living or our words as worthy of attention. For residents outside of perceived boondocks, a pecking order of importance is subscribed to, and this is insisted upon by those in the inner circle of whatever power structure they define whether in NYC or DC or LA. In fact, they regard themselves as deserving of special treatment because they are better targets for terrorists. Urban areas are generally more favored by the fast generation. For many, the "boondocks" are to be avoided -- and that may be good or bad.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be satisfied where we are and see benefits and problems associated with any place. Help us make the best of what we have, and to share our benefits with others.
Solar panels at the Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center, Appalachia - Science in
the Public Interest (*photo
April 22, 2020 Considering Earth Day's Fiftieth Anniversary
On this, the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day I remember the first, attending the event as a post-doctorate associate at the University of Texas in Austin. I sat on the grass on the mall at University of Texas to hear speakers, behind a cigarette-smoking individual who swished his filtered butt into the grass and knew at once the issue was more than just polluting corporations; the issue involves everyone in ways demanding lifestyle changes. We expected the environmental issues could be addressed and solved in a short period of time, and discovered to our disappointment that it will take a long process and collaboration by all people.
Partisan rancor and angry voices have increased through the years to a point where they begin to paralyze the environmental protection process. The United States, as the major consumer of goods and current second-highest greenhouse gas emitter, ought to take a lead, lest no general cooperation on global climate change by major polluting nations is reached. On the national level we ought to focus on seven areas of environmental change:
1. Renewable Energy is top priority. A healthy mix of solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal and tidal fuel sources would help in the phase-out of coal as well as petroleum and natural gas -- though that goal is difficult without complete federal cooperation. Renewable energy is coming, but not fast enough due to global increased demands for electricity.
2. Assistance is needed in developing lands. Proposals to reduce climate conditions as presented by the 2015 Paris Accord are complex. Poorer countries were not the principal cause of the problem, but these are suffering the consequences of extreme weather conditions and rising ocean levels.
3. Energy efficiency is a major consideration. The move to omit incandescent bulbs everywhere is a good first step. Along with the move to LEDs are the introduction of energy-saving applications and more efficient domestic appliances.
4. Nuclear power should be totally phased out. Nuclear power plants are too expensive and risky for private management alone. Ultimate waste storage and decommissioning are critical problems.
5. Remove the massive consumer plastic waste stream, 90% of which is not recycled and over two-thirds ends in the ocean; there it remains for long lengths of time while partly breaking down into minute fragments entering into the fish population, to its possible detriment. Ideas exist for recycling this 8 billion tons a year and await technical development.
6. Curb dangerous pesticides and herbicides, which are causing havoc to many animal and plant species.
7. Eat less meat; this one practice could do more than any other for converting land for direct food products for a world's hungry population in need of food security.
Prayer: Lord, help us to continue the commitment we made fifty years ago to work to save our environmentally threatened Earth.
The First Earth Day – Born in Chicago
Arthur H. Purcell, PhD
Resource Policy Institute
When we think of the first Earth Day – incredibly, 50 years ago this spring-- we think of the myriad activities on the National Mall on April 22n*. But the inaugural Earth Day event actually took place in Chicago three months earlier, when Northwestern University student-organized "Project Survival" turned into a standing room only-all night love in with the environment that included folk legend Tom Paxton's writing and singing a moving song for the occasion and attendees staying up in classroom "teach out" sessions until 3 a.m.
As the crowds jammed into Tech Auditorium none other than Mike Royko, one of the night's speakers, accosted me, in search of a cup of coffee. I took him to my nearby lab to concoct some and we quickly got into a conversation about the evening… This is all great, said the famed columnist, but will it do any good?
I tried, of course, to convince him that it would…
And as we filed back into the crowd, past participants like state Atty. General William Scott, Sen. Adlai Stevenson, and ecologist Barry Commoner, I could really feel a new excitement. Something powerful had brought them out on this cold and slushy Chicago winter night. They talked about fundamental changes that needed to be made in the public and private sectors…And their hopes for the new US Environmental Protection Agency to help effect that change. About the possibility of automobiles that would all include catalytic converters and get thirty miles to the gallon…About drainage ditches being turned back into swimming holes. Toxic substance manufacture being banned. Clean air being a given. Quality public transportation being ubiquitous…Consumer products made of only nontoxic materials. Drinking water that would always be pure. Waste that would be a hundred percent recyclable.
The plenary session of "Project Survival" presented a national laundry list of environmental wrongs that needed to be put right. It called for essentially a new order of private and public resource management.
What was new for Project Survival in 1970 became to at least some extent old five decades later. Environmentally friendly products and practices are now an integral part of our economy, not far out concepts…But we have a long way to go to truly give us "green deals." Project Survival was a tremendous start to a long process.
The excitement grew more intense as the crowded house came onto midnight and Tom Paxton rolled out "Whose Garden Was This?" a song about someone in the coming century wondering what plants and flowers looked like in real life. It was very moving……and a real prelude to what could be done to prevent a dry environmental future.
Midnight passed but hundreds young and old stayed behind to take part in teach-out seminars on subjects ranging from auto pollution (the catalytic converter was a new technology then, with which few were acquainted) to waste recycling to drinking water quality.. Incredibly, when it came time to switch classes no one went home.
The Project Survival party finally ran out of gas around 2:30. The walk home through the slush began…And fifty years or environmental progress began…From developing programs ……Yes, Mr. Royko, to answer your question, yes, I think it made a dfference! I really think it did some good…
April 23, 2020 Trimming an Obscene Military Budget
Military expenditures are strangling us and we seem to be oblivious of the current situation. American is not meant to be the policemen or -women of the world. However, our current Tea Party and debt-hating legislators lack the willingness to review these terrible expenditures and start severe military cutbacks for the security and welfare of our nation. Who among these and all the politicians want to curb a military-industrial complex that touches their respective states and districts? The heart of the problem is the power of lobbyists, CEOs and middle management who regard their own productive hardware as of immense importance -- and for the most part it is a complete waste of resources. Exposing the military-industrial complex's appetite for defense spending, which President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address sixty years ago, is an eye-popping exercise.
Think of what could be done with the money that now goes into this military budget. Nearly half of the two trillion annual global military budget has been borne by this country with allies reluctantly inching up their budgets. The emphasis by this Administration is for allies to spend more of the fair share; it should be that we all spend considerable less and turn surplus financial resources over to the health needs of our country and the rest of the world. That is true security, rather than more guns and bombs and rockets and fighter jets. Need we continue such extravagance until our nation is bankrupt?
Make a leaner military budget a very creative one, that is, maximize the security by minimizing the budget; that should include curbing aircraft carriers and new lines of fighter planes and ships. These simple curbs could force our antagonists to help reduce the military rat race in which no one profits. On the contrary, make it official that we are wanting to do two things: furnish lower-priced (less military hardware) jobs for building our own infrastructure that has grave needs; and contribute to universal health needs as a global security measure.
Certainly national needs would be more popular, but to help contribute to African health problems could have global appeal and even stimulate others, including European allies and Chinese antagonists, to follow suit. Good will is an asset and worth the investment; the average citizen is not the force behind the elevated military budget, rather it is a host of lobbyists for the military industrial complex. Military security is not at stake, for other nations do not spend anything near our budget. Unfortunately, Ike's foresight of sixty years ago has come true. We need to trim our obscene military budget and do it now. Amazingly, far more of lower income citizens will benefit by moderate but not extremely lucrative jobs in infrastucture, and the world will turn out to be a healthier and more secure place.
Prayer: Lord, help us bring down the idol of the military establishment and share the savings with a world in real need.
A natural arrangement of pebbles in a creek, Woodford Co., KY. (*photo
April 24, 2020 Discerning Use of Land for Food and Biofuels
As people concerned about our wounded Earth, we are faced with two possibilities: use arable land to grow food for the hungry; use arable land to grow materials that can produce cellulosic ethanol to furnish liquid fuel for our vehicle fleet. Are these clear-cut options? Are the optimists correct in saying sufficient land exists for all -- edible crops for a billion hungry people and fuel for hungry vehicles facing possible petroleum scarcity? Instead, what about moving to electric vehicles fueled by solar energy?
Optimistically speaking, a report was released a decade ago in the technical journal "Environmental Science and Technology," saying that there is enough land available on this planet to produce grass crops for cellulosic biofuels with minimal impact on agriculture and the environment. After subtracting grasslands used for pasture, the report says that there are 1,107 million hectares (a hectare is 10,000 square meters or 2.47 acres) or enough land available to produce 26 to 56% of current global liquid fuel needs.
Pessimistically speaking, the amount of land needed to satisfy transportation fuel should make us pause. Isn't a better approach trying to meet fuel demands by increasing fuel efficiency and electric vehicles fueled by renewable energy? Over two-and--one-half billion acres at full production might only meet one-quarter to one-half of global liquid fuel needs? Aren't transport fuel demands expanding when millions of Chinese, Indians, and others enter the middle class and its auto-buying tendencies? An added question: How much of this enormous expanse of grassland, and possibly forest as well, will be taken from natural habitat for threatened wildlife, such as the orangutan?
Realistically speaking, the production of biofuels from cellulosic materials is still little more than a technical question that is for the greater part outmoded. Climate change has resulted in larger amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and this must be curbed in a realistic manner. Bio-fuels add to this current condition even though less burdensome than petroleum use. The federal government still promotes biofuels especially the use of corn for making ethanol as a petroleum enhancing addition -- for our fleet of gas guzzlers. In fact, global food staples rise as corn turned to ethanol increases and this adds to the food insecurity of a billion people throughout the world.
The desire for biofuels might be good for corn-state farmers and ethanol producers, but it is terrible on some people who have to expend 60 and 70% of their incomes on food. On a global level more and more land should be devoted to growing crops that will be used directly as grains, oils and vegetables and less for livestock production. This means reduced meat consumption.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that our times include a critical call by the world's hungry for essential needs of life; inspire us to meet these needs by refraining from wasteful practices.
An Earthhealer's Election
The cross is a sign of contradiction; it overshadows the Christian's public deeds. It is a symbol positioned on church steeples, over graves, at wayside shrines, in hospital rooms, and on believers' necklaces. Christians glory in this cross; it inspires us not to flee from the suffering around us whether human or Earth herself. We stand as upright beams planted in Earth; the cross-beams are the gathering of sufferers. Both the uprights and the horizonal beams meet in the person of Jesus crucified; when a figure of the crucified is present, a cross becomes a crucifix, especially for Easter people.
We Christians cannot remain immune from a suffering world. Some of our scattered neighbors lack proper food security, health access and jobs; they are poisoned, threatened and endangered, overlooked, considered of little worth. A common ploy of the status quo is to make the landscape of Appalachia and other exploited places appear to be worthless when targeted for profitable exploitation; the cross-beam extends beyond our maligned regions to all exploited parts of Earth; we hear Earth's cry.
The critical question is not "Must I help?" Rather it's "What must I do to help?" With the Paschal Mysteries before us we focus on improving our deeds as Earth's caregivers. Here discernment moves from individual with limited effectiveness to community where the question shifts from "Must we help?" to "What must we do to help?" In humble compassion we share the pain of suffering; we feel both individual powerlessness and the power of collaborating with the Risen Lord. Sufferers break the bonds of isolation in being within the Body of Christ. All are invited to suffer with Christ; Calvary extends to space and time. Now the cross is a crucifix on which they or we are nailed with Jesus.
This Easter Cross casts a mysterious radiance on the arena of suffering. Easter Christians embrace a crucifix with co-sufferers:
* an offering back to God as an act of love and sacrifice;
* in agony, realizing suffering is not isolated but joins Jesus in the garden of suffering;
* as solitary witnesses refuting a world that sees no value in what they endure, but is of high quality when joined with Jesus;
* in carrying our respective crosses with dignity even amid the falls on the journey;
* in feeling power ebbing from bodies, and realizing that all is in the hands of the Lord; and
* as Easter people embracing the joy of eternal life ahead.
Sufferers are empowered in the risen Lord to bring healing to the troubled world and personal suffering take on a new dimension. Rather than living a poorer quality of life, in the paradox of the cross the victim achieves the highest calling -- to be like Christ:
1. They follow Jesus who is poor. Jesus humbles himself, is born in a stable/cave, has humble parentage, is presented in the Temple by a gift of turtle doves, becomes a refugee, lives in remote Galilee, engages in a humble occupation, chooses working folk for disciples, and treats the lowly with compassion. He is condemned, suffers, dies in the most ignominious of circumstances, and then on the third day rises to new life.
2. They focus on the most needy, the Anawim of God. The poor are the simple ones, the meek and lowly, the apt subjects of the beatitudes for "theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Because they are overlooked by the worldly, the poor need Divine favor with greater urgency. They are the Earth's majority, the 80% who reside in less developed nations and even in developed ones. Food security is the first necessity; the affluent have access to health service providers and the poor do not; they must endure unsafe drinking water, foul air, littered landscape, and hazardous wastes sites.
3. They are called to be agents of change. Seeing the poor as objects of charity is perverse and a subtle affluent exercise of superiority over others. Rather, the poor who side with the Lord have a spiritual empowerment making them candidates to be agents of change -- that's Good News. The poor are hardened to reality by experiencing harsh day-to-day deprivation of resources; and as believers recognize their continued dependence on the Almighty to transform their lowliness into spiritual empowerment; they do not lose heart or become bitter; they get insight into a divine sense of humor.
4. They can't continue to rely on the affluent. Earthhealers do not expect Sugar Daddies. In the past, those holding positions in major developed country environmental organizations are often from the white elite. Wealthier folks have limitations, for they fail to recognize the deep sense of helplessness experienced by the poor, or their own inherent powerlessness. Affluent peoples' monopoly of leadership roles keeps the ecological movement from being richly diverse and forestalls potential environmental participation by all; the poor must take what is rightly theirs.
5. The poor are freer to criticize themselves. Scarcity sharpens the senses; the hungry and homeless experience the need for basics of life -- a certain purification through proper focusing that brings greater clarity. This focusing touches on the honesty so characteristic of Gandhi whose answer to India's bondage being accepted by the poor -- "The English have not taken India, we have given it to them."
6. Healers of Earth focus on poor Earth. Our option for the poor is best implemented when we extend Jesus' sense of compassion to all peoples --and to Earth herself. We are called to solidarity, and that is to focus on the least among our brothers and sisters. And who really are least? In the spirit of St. Francis, we extend the field of most needy beyond poor people to include our brothers and sisters -- threatened and endangered plants and animals. Our option is to attend to poor people and poor Earth. Thus we become more Christlike, and our radical compassion penetrates into the entire creation. Our fundamental election is summed up as a preferential option for ALL the poor.
People ask me whether I read their blogs with an expectation that their current conversations are being shared. When we hesitate, we resolve to include more people on our contact list, for these bloggers are pleading for further communication. I have over time restricted social contact for lack of time. Is that proper, for it is an admission of not having time to listen?
Just how much do we value social communication, whether by phone or letter or personal conversation -- or interaction on the Internet through emerging social contact networks? I do have a contact on Facebook but the web manager filters contacts; and there is this Website as well as our monthly YouTube videos with associated comments as well. My cell phone is in the auto for emergencies only. I prefer emails, letters and land phones.
Honestly, I dislike seeing people constantly chattering on cell phones while driving, or in restaurants, or sitting beside me in public places. Chatterers can be unwanted noise-makers; they can infringe on our silent space, a zone extending to some indefinite distance. However, the need to be connected is one of the great benefits of social contacts -- and many take advantage of it. Yes, having a cell phone for use only in real emergencies is most helpful, for calling 911 can save lives including our own.
Quite a few people need to be in contact with others, more than we imagine at first. Some are simply terrified in silent space like being afraid of the dark; others have to satisfy their loneliness here and now. Some twelve hours of media information per day is not sufficient; for them something more meaningful is sought to break the curse of their own isolation. Today, many of the shut-ins and elderly miss the benefits of village get-togethers, post-church-service chats, and the backyard and front porch conversations among neighbors. As the world becomes smaller, neighborhoods change in character, but the need for social contact remains. Humans resemble other animals who like to congregate among their own; maybe we are meant to provide togetherness.
In previous times, when publishing was limited to a few of the more fortunate and well-placed intellectual and vocal elite, many found economic and technical barriers to circulating their own ideas. Current social contact networks now allow for circulation of ideas, whether from those who think thoroughly and yet are marginalized, or from those who do not communicate freely but still have good things to say. A democratization of ideas allows for germination and corrective measures that enhance the creative juices in a free-flowing conversation. This is different from gossip and meaningless chatter, but worth encouraging as part of social interaction.
Prayer: Lord, help us be discerning enough to spread the Good News through proper occasions, situations and opportunities.
April showers lead to flooding of Kentucky creek. (*photo
April 26, 2020 Finding Companions on the Road to Emmaus
The disciples recognized the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35)
The Emmaus episode is an eye-opener for the disciples. The fellow traveler joins in their walk, speaks to them about the meaning of the Scriptures, accepts their invitation to eat with them, and shows them who he is in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus is that fellow traveler on our journey of faith, and we are called to listen to him, to invite him in, and to ask him t join us at table. His recognition comes in eating together at his sacred table. Are we open and comfortable enough to walk with him -- and with all who identify with him through their own suffering? Are we willing to listen to their stories and find their own Good News? Are we sensitive to those wishing to break bread and share with us? Our journey of faith is not just a "Jesus and me" or a "Jesus and a few of us" story. We need to go out to all who want to be invited in and ask them to come and share with us.
Inviting all into our home is a physical impossibility, but our hospitality has a ripple effect that can go out to the world:
* We need to recognize the God within, a renewed enthusiasm for the awesome tasks before us. The consolations are here if we are willing to look and see. Much depends on our willingness to leave ourselves and go out to others, a willingness to share our faith with the faithless and disheartened.
* At a time when foreign assistance is being axed in our national budget, the wealthy continue to take their ungodly profits. We need to ask whether we recognize Jesus in suffering humanity and are willing to share our resources with them, and to share in their struggles for justice as neighbor to neighbor.
* Are we willing to share our journey of faith with others, telling them of the moments of joy and consolation that we have received? If we open ourselves to sharing with others, we then encourage them to share more deeply with us -- a meaningful conversation. Our growth in faith is a continual process of coming to the Liturgy of the Word and then, in Eucharistic gratitude, to find Jesus, and to be impelled to go out and tell others.
* Easter people recognize victory and hope that are being realized, a faith that something marvelous that was promised is starting to happen, and a charitable impulse to share with others here and now. The Emmaus episode is a transition -- a risen Lord extending to disciples a mandate to share in a global journey of faith with Jesus spiritually present. All elements, recognized word, gratitude, and movement forward must work in tandem. Prayer: Lord, teach us to recognize you and your word in our midst and to extend the Emmaus journey to an entire planet.
Springtime construction of a raised bed garden. (*photo
April 27, 2020 Promoting Raised-Bed Gardening
While I have practiced raised-bed gardening for several decades I have neglected to do more than mention it in passing; I have never devoted an entire reflection to this much favored practice. What became evident in 2018 (in the wettest year on record) was that those who practiced traditional gardening by tilling areas were plagued with waterlogged conditions. That is not the case with raised beds, provided the surrounding paths do not allow for water pooling, but are reasonably drained. In fact, my raised beds provided the best yields that year for 13 veggie varieties including beets, tomatoes and lettuce; the raised beds continued to yield successful crops through last year with moderate to heavy moisture as well. The secret is obvious; raised beds drain easily and do not get waterlogged in unusually wet seasons.
The beds need to be initially prepared with some effort, but not each succeeding year -- provided no one steps or walks on them. The surface of a typical 4 by 16 foot bed can be either double-dug or loosened about ten inches. Bed lengths can vary but widths should be such as to be reached from either side path. After initial ground breaking, about 5-6 inches of the surrounding paths are dug and soil distributed to the beds. These beds are surrounded by treated pine timbers, either new or those recycled from spent flowerbeds. Only a slight stirring of ground is needed for each succeeding year of planting. This approach means there is some labor needed in the initial preparation, but the time investment pays off with each succeeding planting.
I do not hesitate to plant flowers (marigolds or zinnias) near the edge where the paths can be overhung for a period of time with foliage; it takes special care in walking through, but with proper planning the economy of space makes the raised beds highly productive and beautiful. Often I get two and sometimes three crops each growing year, for one must maximize growth in the relatively small beds. Use of stakes, fencing and cages for beans, peas, tomatoes and cucumbers are a routine application and thus make use of vertical as well as horizontal growing. One needs to plan ahead and start a second crop with enough room while the first one is still being harvested (an example is planting tomatoes in areas where spring onions or broccoli are coming to maturity).
Raised-beds are generally small and so types of crops that need much space such as corn or pumpkins should be grown elsewhere. However, where vines can extend into surrounding lawn or unused space, the hills can be planted in the raised-beds. The compact beds render ideal winter use by covering with Remay or other fiber coverings (I have mustard, kale, collards and other greens right up to spring planting). Those of us who have less energy due to aging should champion the raised-bed, for it is easier on the back for cultivating and harvesting and takes less energy.
Prayer: Lord, help us continue gardening as long as possible using labor-saving techniques.
April 28, 2020 Showing Compassion for Our Wounded Earth
In an atmosphere of Compassion during this Easter season we focus on our fellow suffering human beings. However, to what realms does our compassion reach? If our love extends to all creation, so must our compassion; we are to be compassionate and to co-suffer with all who are wounded in any way. The heart of this season's renewal is that of healing what is wounded; our Earth suffers from the misdeeds of human beings. Those who deny that climate change is humanly-caused minimize the effects of these misdeeds, and do a great disservice at this time. We take resources beyond our due; we fail to clean up our messes; we allow perpetrators of misdeeds to continue their dirty work, even though a democratic society has power to call them to question.
Is being compassionate for Earth and all creatures any different from that of compassion for fellow human beings? When oil spills occur in Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico we find generous people volunteering to wash off seagulls and pelicans, even though only a few will survive the stress of the oil covering. However, something meaningful is occurring on the part of the people who seek to help. They manifest a sense of compassion for animals -- that is shown by many to pets and strays. Compassion reaches to flora and fauna. I remember my mother accidentally disturbing a nest of young birds while clipping her rose trellis, and saying (without knowing I overheard her), "You poor little things." It impressed me in all my callous youth, when I hardly thought animals were of much value. However, compassion was being expressed and being taught -- and needs to be publicly expressed today. Some primitive peoples ask pardon from the animals they harvest for food; others speak to their animal companions as though human.
People show compassion to plants, though these less sensate creatures have less ability to respond. Sometimes when we water a thirsty garden, we can almost hear the plants begging for a drink -- or at least our imaginations are triggered on seeing the wilted condition of the drooping leaves. Certainly the plants are stressed, even though they do not "suffer" in a technical sense. In this manner of being part of creation to the degree that we feel the stress on a forest or eroded landscape, we enter into a sense of extended compassion for the wounded or needy party.
We are exercising compassion to and with our wounded Earth and hear the crucified Jesus say, "See what they have done to my wounded Earth!" He dies for those who have done the misdeeds; all the more, he dies for all the victims. Our mission as Christians is to spread the Good News -- and part of that News is that joy in this world must be mixed with compassion. Calvary and Easter become a coupled event. We need to heal our Earth, but we can only do so if we have a prior sense of "Earth pain" -- something Jesus endures on the cross. We can likewise endure this when suffering in compassion with our fragile Earth.
Prayer: Lord, teach us compassion for all creatures.
April 29, 2020Demonstrating the Existence of God through Love
My dear people, let us love one another since love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)
At Easter time we reflect on our loving God who gives us the grace of eternal life. We pray to God so that we might be able to love others --and God gives us a glimpse of the divine love that overwhelms the world. Why speak about this, except that so many seek rational explanations for all things -- and, being confronted by so-called atheists, this makes us seek ways to speak to them about God. However, our speech does not have to be formal discourse; if the other party is deeply philosophical, perhaps rational proofs are beneficial. Our focus must be to where people actually are -- and many have informal, love-hate struggles in their journey of faith.
The letter by John quoted above is quite significant in our day-to-day discussions of God's presence to ordinary people. John tells us that those "know" God who love, and those do not "know" God who fail to love. Interesting! This means that love is the key to our spiritual wisdom when it comes to articulating our relationship to God. Some folks are not good articulators, for they lack a special gift of words. However, does this mean that they cannot speak about God's existence? Hardly! Love is at the heart of all we are and do; if one loves, then what is expressed is that love that includes compassion for others who suffer in some way. Through suffering with another we show love, and express it in a way that the suffering person understands -- heart to heart.
While not disparaging rational proofs for the existence of God, we still are left with the fact that such proofs may be somewhat sterile for the loving and compassionate servers of the Lord. A failure to express in words may be far more than compensated by a loving service that speaks louder than words. What this loving service does is extend the love of our hearts to others, and through loving others we show that Love is a person. To the degree that we love others, we are faithful and we are godly. Why godly? Because God IS love.
Thank God we have occasions to connect with atheists, for they make us look for shared beliefs. We have much in common with loving people, for they are on the road to coming closer to God. Some people come to God through rational understanding and discourse; however, they still do not know God unless they love. We cannot talk about God to a person who hates others. It is impossible. If they love, then their love is eternal and can never to be erased; we affirm that they are on the road to knowing God.
Prayer: Lord, help us to bring others to you, not in the straightjacket of formal rational discourse, but through the far more liberating act of loving from the depth of our hearts.
April 30, 2020 Accepting the Challenge of Creative Writing
I have a friend who I try to prod to start up writing again, since a book he wrote three decades ago showed great talent. But how can I encourage him to pick up the pen and put down his thoughts so others can interact with him? Isn't springtime as good as any to start writing, especially when taking time off or vacationing? Actually, any time can be a writing season, if we refrain from our artificial busyness; the practice of average Americans who watch thirty-five hours of TV a week does not allow true free time to write. Giving some time without an agenda could allow our creative juices to swell up. Think about this challenge! It is always more fulfilling to share with others through a social network, so that creativity can be encouraged through feedback.
None of us are experts on a wide variety of subjects, nor are we expected to be. Nor are we perhaps top experts in any field -- but that should not deter us. Our friends are always looking for something more in life, and we may be the ones who can help them. Experts may be good at some things, but lack the ability to communicate to this person at this time. We have unique talents, and writing can be the perfect opportunity to make contact. Our writings can become the instrument of spreading Good News within the human family, especially when we use the available Internet. We grow together through a dynamic interrelationship involving healing and being healed, learning and teaching. Furthermore, in healing our Earth, our Earth heals us. Our writings ought to become a record of our journey in the healing process.
Writers must be faithful to themselves; let the writing spring up naturally devoid of pretention. We cannot preach a grand sermon to ourselves, nor expect to reach a full depth of effectiveness with all readers. We cannot possibly settle all controversies local or distant. We create the draft copies of what will be finished over time through interchange with others and through deepening individual reflection. Fresh subjects can be introduced, but they await ongoing reflection, especially in such turbulent times as these. We cannot possibly write all we want to do at one sitting, nor ought we to try. One issue is enough for the moment, but it awaits ongoing probing and further adjustments.
Should our writing draw from local or global issues? Much depends on our immediate inspiration. We need not be restricted in our outlook, whether a more "catholic" view, or a personally-related occasion or situation. The challenge is always to do both, and to recall that Sacred Scriptures, interesting biographies, great novels, and superior poetry often contain both local personal and broader aspects. We seek to be clear, to avoid condescension, and to be inviting. Let's regard anything that we write as an act of profound sharing. Thank God that we still have breath and the ability to write down our reflections; the time is right.
Prayer: Lord, instruct us in what to say, so that we can learn to pray while writing, and encourage others to do the same.