The month of March tells us that change is in the air, and is open to allow us to welcome spring. Even amid lingering harsh weather we are drawn to housecleaning and early garden work. Grass sprouts all around; wild garlic spears abound; dandelions, daffodils, and jonquils blaze forth; willows come to life; returning and awakening wildlife sound their mating calls; serviceberry blooms; spring is near and Lent is the season for preparation through exploring our interior ecology and getting right with others. Current questions arise that deal with our multitude of rights and duties (food, water, privacy, mobility, etc.); Lent is the favorable time to explore these concerns.
So early in arrival in woods
with your magnificent white flowers
and poisonous blood-red rooted sap
becoming good face paint for many.
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Ought we to start Lent as the favorable moment for self renewal? This is a proper time to confront our false security, our sense of privilege, and our misplaced priorities. We all too often clothe ourselves in materialism and act like the comfort will be overlooked by the Lord. We are tempted to believe that we have the situation under control.
Jesus undergoes the test immediately after his baptism by John the Baptist when his ministry becomes public. During this series of tests in the desert Jesus is like us in every way but sin. While Mark's account of the temptations is brief, both Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13) speak of three incidents though in a different sequence. Unlike our first parents, the Israelites, and each of us at different times, Jesus resisted these temptations. These tests dealt with his public ministry when he would announce liberation of captives "with the power of the Spirit within him."
Are we tempted like Jesus? A major temptation is that material things and military hardware can give us security. "Not by bread alone" is the quote from Deuteronomy which Jesus uses in response to the test. Instead of spiritual values we substitute the falseness of expensive military bases, tanks, drone planes, and aircraft carriers. However, the more we seek to depend on these military means to safeguard us, the less secure we are as a people. Worldly goods entice us to "need" more such goods; however, spiritual security calls us to solidarity with the world's poor, and in doing so helps us to overcome the craving for material things, both as individuals and as a nation.
Positioned on the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus endures the temptation to do something dramatic, to have a spectacular entry into public life through the flair for attention and drama, and to be an instant hero. We dream of soaring among others like a figure skater who floats about effortlessly, and we dream of remaining privileged. We are enticed to the world of fiction and forget that obedience to God's will is an ever-deepening mystery. On the high mountain of affluence we fail to see that we cannot defer to a later time the growing economic indebtedness facing America. Nor can we individually ignore the material security blankets which we inwardly seek to preserve. In failing to face reality we are tempted by a false power to do whatever we wish; and this is food for disaster.
Let's consider our temptation to place our security in material things such as military hardware. We consider our country as number one and thus worthy of certain privileges; we pretend we can defer payment of what is given us here and now to future generations through indebtedness. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden we are tempted to see ourselves as almighty gods. It is our time to wake up to realities and flee such temptations.
Prayer: Lord, deliver us from temptation and from all evil.
March 2, 2020 Interior Ecology: A Personal Frontier
The word "ecology" refers in it most radical sense to good housekeeping whether referring to the domestic scene or to our place of work or to our individual person. Too often we think of ecology as a remote academic subject with legitimacy but not pertaining to us at the present time. However, we should not omit the world of personal ecology. Rather, let's look into ourselves during this Lent and consider some total housecleaning. We look inwardly into the frontier of our own emotional life and discover that Jesus is a good model of balanced interior ecology.
Do we have an ecological model? Jesus shows the balance of deep emotions that sometimes seem counter to each other. First there is his mercy and compassion for overlooked people -- and again when he wept over Jerusalem. At the same time, Jesus manifests a public and holy anger that underlies a prophetic stance (when denouncing the Pharisees or driving the moneychangers from the Temple). Jesus has the rare ability to balance seemingly conflicting emotions and is able to express each in its proper turn. He is thus the perfect model of ecology and ecological balance -- even more so than St. Francis whose compassion for animals and other aspects of creation is legendary.
How do we handle our emotions, especially if we are quite emotional people? Differences in human practice must be considered in greater detail in our personal prayer. We may be moved deeply by the actual damage around us or by the ongoing actions of polluters. The challenge is always before us as we tinker with our emotions and the need for some environmental advocacy. We are tempted to strike out and strive to do something meaningful. The act may be like punching holes in the wallboard, which relieves our pent-up anger, but demands that we patch up the holes. We are not doing good by exposing ourselves to recrimination for excesses taken, and so we learn to control but not lose our righteous anger -- for how else can the world be a better place?
How can we be merciful and at the same time directly confront the wrongdoing against ourselves? Historically, many heroic people from prisoners of conscience to people living ordinary lives have been successful. However, the merciful person is challenged to retain a sustained anger against wrongdoing to others. This is difficult and yet Christlike. It is not proper to forsake righteous anger and retreat to silence and accepting the status quo. Social justice requires us to be public, and this means a commitment to a position that is often unpopular and even risky. At this point we may realize the price that must be paid and this elicits still more emotions, all of which have to be controlled and utilized as necessary. It is hard to be merciful in the long-term; it is doubly hard to sustain righteous anger and mercy in equilibrium over that long period.
Prayer: Lord help us to balance our righteous anger and godly mercy and to use them both at proper times and places.
March 3, 2020Listing Components of an Interior Ecology
We need to balance our anger and mercy, our confrontation and compassion -- and more. We have to develop a broad-based approach so that we give everything its due attention. The trouble is that our duties seem never to end, for the more we do, the more people expect us to do. In order to avoid burnout and thus withdrawal from all activism, we must pace ourselves and look at all aspects of our interior ecological practice, knowing what they are in order to avoid pitfalls and discover ways of improvement:
*Unrealized goals: Not everything we seek now is attainable even in our lifetime. We must balance long-term goals (a New Heaven and a New Earth), which are beyond our mortal life span and stretch into eternal life, with short-term goals. The latter are hopefully reached in mortal life's ever-shortening time span.
*Physical balance: We need to eat well, refrain from tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and continue our physical exercises on a regular basis; without good physical health we cannot be balanced people. Quite often we could sink into a condition where we deny what is really happening. Advice from a friend may be what it takes to awaken us to the needs we have -- including sufficient rest and removal of stressful conditions.
*Energy balance: As we age, our energy levels decline. We begin to experience the flagging of our physical resources. This may demand more rest time in between activities. It also means we will say "no" to additional activities (not some additional travel today) and yet not regret that we are human -- and not the Almighty.
*Mental balance: We start to settle for better access to existing but not retained facts (through, catalogs, memos, etc.), rather than to attempt to remember things that we recalled a few years ago. Two sets of keys and other sets of items strategically placed help reduce the stress resulting from misplacement and loss. Exercises to retain a good and healthy memory exist and are encouraged.
* Economic balance: Living within our means once we have a steady means of living is worth practicing. All too often people fail to see bad economics as failure in interior ecology.
* Political balance: In some ways this is the most challenging balancing act, for we may regard compromise as wimpy; however, to hold on too tightly may prove unsuccessful.
*Social balance and tolerance: When we act in public, we run the risk of people stepping on our toes. We must always engage in civility even when it hurts, and this requires a "tough skin" approach to reality. As we mature, we see unexpected unpleasant events with equanimity, and even laugh at ourselves in the process.
* Spiritual balance: A person who is caught in material allurements is hardly able to maintain an interior ecology. Prayer life gives us a spiritual balance. We need to see our weaknesses and our need for God's forgiveness and love.
Prayer: Lord, it is good that we have an interior ecology so that we can be better suited to help heal our wounded Earth.
Carolina wren (Thryothorus
ludovicianus) and tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
share a nourishing treat.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
March 4, 2020Enriching Our Interior Ecology
We walk on a tightrope of life, and it takes extra expertise not to slip and fall. Learning the balancing act often involves our loss and regaining of balance through introspective considerations as well as by receiving spiritual direction from others. In fact, a balancing act is rarely done alone, for we are social beings and grow through social giving and receiving. Some suggestions for improving our interior ecology include:
Reflect on goals -- We need the spiritual assurance that our lofty goals are more than we can attain alone; we are but sowers while others may reap the harvest. Our work is never the last word, and that is both satisfying and sometimes humbling.
Ours is a call to heal and save our threatened Earth and to do this using our civic duties as democratic citizens. Gauge in energyconservation -- Maturation allows us to come to our senses and know our waxing and waning and see all, even our awareness of limitations, as gifts from our generous Creator. A spirit of thankfulness is cultivated through daily prayer; we see the condition of our world and resolve to help do something. Maintain physical health -- This focal point has been treated in everything from regular exercise to eating good and wholesome foods. Nothing new need be said except to remain faithful to adequate and satisfying physical exercises so that we are healthy enough to act as responsible citizens. Exercise the mind -- Even if facts are retained, some effort could be made to read widely, discuss pertinent issues, and do more than merely listen and observe. Rather engage in mental exercises in an ongoing manner and hold serious conversations with others so as to stay sharp. Be practical in economics -- Live simply even if this demands downsizing; stay out of debt if possible; use credit cards sparingly if at all, and live within a modest means so that any economic crisis may be avoided or handed properly. Engage in politics -- Those who advise against talking politics in polite society fail to realize that, when civility is practiced, political discussion is exercising our citizenship.
We need not be partisan, but we must be political. Live a socially active life -- The Good Book tells us how to live, and to do so with the deepest respect for all our neighbors near and far. Regard interactions as acts of mercy and charity.
Do some sort of service for others every day in order to stay socially committed. Engage in spiritual exercises -- This involves daily prayer and meditation as well as a brief reflection at the end of the day as to how things went in our lives -- and thanksgiving to God for allowing us to live another day. Many fortify spiritual growth through the call to the prayer and sacramental life in a very special way both on Sunday and throughout the week.
Prayer: Lord we know that re-establishing a global ecological balance depends on the balanced interior ecologies of earth healers. Help us to spread this Good News through being and doing.
Some designate one day this week as World Day of Prayer, but should not every day be so designated. We are reminded by the Lord to pray always. We do not have days called "Day of Eating" or "Day of Drinking." Eating and drinking are essentials for life -- and so is praying. We are not to turn on and turn off periods of life when it comes to praying -- even when we are convinced that some folks are better at this sacred communication than others. We honor them by requesting their prayers and by asking others to help us pray. And we should thank them when they pray for us.
Why instant moments of silence? I always have difficulty when people gather and prepare for their meeting with a time of silence in order to enter into a relationship with God. Perhaps this is a salutary and worthwhile practice, but I find it disconcerting, for I find God present to us at all times whether in silence or when we are very active. God is in our midst, so why turn as though in search of someone out there in the shadows? Is this a recognition that we are somehow out of communication and must tune in to God?
What lies behind a day of prayer? I suspect that those who promote a special "day of prayer" have good reasons in mind since so many are forgetful and negligent in their prayer lives. However, we have to be careful in the way this is presented for it has a streak of self-rightness about it -- and we can fall into this so easily. Many do not pray but ought to. How do we encourage these non-prayers to see the need for doing so each day? Is there a way of life that we are called to follow filled with prayer? The acknowledgement of prayer involves our respecting the prayer life of others and recognizing their efforts as praiseworthy.
What is the benefit of such a day? Maybe this day has value in the privacy of our introspection more so than in the public domain to which it is intended to apply. This is not a time to convert others to our way of praying, but we should reflect on how we pray to make it more attentive to being communication with God on a daily basis. If we pray more attentively, others may be uplifted to improve their own prayer life. I once had to participate in a National Day of Prayer at the Frankfort state capital and recall that my prayers were not well received because the words lacked the more patriotic language that others had used in their turn.
Should we pray in our own way? We are people with familiar ways of speaking to others. Okay, then distill some of this in relations with the Lord. My way of praying is not yours, nor yours mine; that is because the Lord made each of us unique. Sure, we can reform formal prayer in company of others, but why not ask the Lord's help spontaneously through the day in our own way? Perhaps that is the Spirit speaking within us.
Prayer: Lord, help us to pray always, and not just on special days of the year. Help us to encourage others to pray always.
Experiences of Deliverance
Developing an eco-spirituality is our focus in 2020. This involves reflection on our relation to God and to our physical environment -- an incarnate act. With such reflection we can become more effective earthhealers seeking to curb climate change at both the local and global level. For us in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, March announces that Earth is ready to burst out and bring forth new life. This deliverance is celebrated liturgically through the current season of Lent and the Incarnation Feast.
Hope springs anew with swelling buds and early flowers. Birds are returning, darting about, and singing with greater gusto; they bid us to observe and listen. The very first greens sprinkled with wild garlic give us the taste of the season. We need to make a special effort to smell the forsythia, daffodils, and the serviceberry for their fragrances are faint. We spade the cool soil seeking spring's first warmth, and we feel the sharp winds of early March giving way over the month to gentle April breezes. Thus, this season of self-denial is a time to focus, to join heavenly aspirations with earthly experience; we strive to achieve with God's help a divine and human harmony.
Christ as perfect model comes among us, walks with us, and is the Word spoken in our midst; before our eyes he tastes the fullness of human acceptance and rejection, presents an aroma of Divine grace, and touches us in our hearts through the gift of love and compassion. We sense his perfect ecological balance and deep within believers is a desire to imitate him. God becomes one of us, entering our midst as a simple infant, is obedient to Mary and Joseph, heals, teaches, and suffers and dies for us. We are truly challenged by Jesus, who invites us to come ever closer. This challenge involves knowing our limitations, sensing the uniqueness of our surrounding, and being in tune with the seasons.
Observe carefree birds (Matthew 6:26‑27a) singing a tune without having secured tonight's meal -- like millionaires without a care in the world. If we didn't have tonight's meal bought, paid for, stored, and prepared in some fashion, we would be quite upset. However, even birds in long distance flight sing cheerfully, and then rest a little to gain energy to move on. From these creatures we can learn valuable lessons as Jesus indicates to us. We, who pride ourselves on being "free," are all too often susceptible to concerns and cares that truly restrict our own God‑given freedom. We fetter ourselves in worry, and wonder what tomorrow will bring. We, who should trust in God who makes us free people, often restrict our own freedom through lack of faith and false hopes. We look at the birds; they tell us something about handling life's persistent problems; we seek to grow in trust.
Sounds of running rivers and creeks are at times soothing and yet we quickly respect those unmanageable creatures in times of flood. Waterways have their quiet moments for wading, fishing or swimming. Then comes the muddy swirling tide, and all humans and wildlife scramble to stay clear of the high waters. "We'll be there if the creeks don't rise" refers to travel during unexpected and dangerous floods -- and often March can be that flood period. Seek the high ground. Respect what is possible and avoid super-human and self-centered heroic dreams; we seek to be realistic.
The gentle fragrance of blooming flowers ((Song of Songs 4:10b) allow us to smell and delight in springtime. The roots of the noble dandelion ("lion's teeth") are deep and strong and can be dried to make a nutritious coffee-like beverage. The humble dandelion flower is the source of a yellow wine, which has its unique aroma and taste. This so-called weed with its slight floral odor holds preeminence by early arrival; it's a friend (and not a pest) for its leaf, flower and root delight us and prove less labor-intensive than cultivated greens. Early flowers remind us of the Christ's simplicity; we seek to be ever more simple.
The taste of spring-dug horseradish reminds us that the Chosen People's Passover menu (Exodus 12:8) recalls their bitter taste of oppression in Egypt. To become like the perfect model, Jesus, takes a certain amount of strength and perseverance. What comes down from Heaven is majestic; what comes up from Earth is all that we are -- and there is a nobility to that also. The union of Heaven and Earth triggers our profound reflection, but herein resides a basic Mystery: God incarnate. Through our work we can hasten and seek a New Heaven and New Earth.
The touch of fresh garden soil makes us aware of the upcoming growing season. We balance our heavenly call from on high with the earthly humility of our lowly origins. For we are both dust and bound for eternal glory -- and thus we incorporate the two. To touch the earth is a sacramental sign of our redemption; we are here for a purpose and need to discover it. When the snow melts and the land starts to warm up, our minds turn to gardening and we go outdoors to soak in full sunlight and inhale fresh air. It is great to touch that soil and get it in our fingers, on the palms of our hands, and right up to our elbows; rich soil, earthworm‑filled dirt, granular humus; we discover a microcosmos below our feet. When we are truly connected to our Earth, we feel an electric current coursing through our bodies. We seek deeper reflection.
On Ash Wednesday we heard "from dust and into dust" and recall that Earth herself becomes our source of humility, of simple living, of knowing who we are, where we come from, how we are rooted, and where we will ultimately rest. To be closer to and know our Earth is to know ourselves, for we are strangely attached to and defined by this planet. More ironic, our rootedness is mixed with our wanderlust, for we still are not fully at home; we have no lasting city here. Can we reconcile these seemingly contradictory movements within ourselves? During March let us look to that perfect model Jesus, find out who he is, and see how he handles those moments of being both mobile in his humanity and still rooted in eternal divinity. Let's seek a balance.
Late winter snow on hardy hellebore, Lenten rose. (*photo
March 6, 2020 Championing Hidden Freedoms of the Elderly
How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young and slender. William James
Old age includes its lessening of energy levels; it creeps up upon all, especially those pretending to stay young. The announcement is pronounced through increasing aches and pains and decreased mobility; it enters our worries about tightening economics and budget restrictions. Becoming an elder and growing in "elderhood" does not come easily, for many blessings of independence fade through loss of mobility. However, all is not darkness, for there are freedoms with aging. Yes, this is a challenging exercise, even for those who can no longer drive or of impaired mobility and now use wheelchair, walker or hiking stick.
What about freedom from extending one's life span? Recall how many times we read or hear of practices (smoking, drinking, eating fatty foods, etc.) that cut one's life span. This becomes a nagging feeling each time we tinker with what others regard as health dangers. When one exceeds normal age (now 78 years for Americans), he or she witnesses expanded life span by living another day. Each year beyond the average 78 years, I contribute one-fifth of a second to the average life span of the American male. Great! Younger folks can shorten life spans, but I can only add to that average span after 78. Note: this does not mean we are free to take up bad habits, though I have heard of people beginning to smoke in their eighties because fellow senior citizens do.
What about freedom to focus on what is important? Elders with faith have one major destination before them -- eternal life. Amazingly, many younger people, even after youthful ambitions fade in middle age, find little to await them if their faith is not strong. Often, these non-seniors are not nearly as realistic, and so try to fill the void of goals with inane practices or mere entertainments that do not enhance their eternal future. Elders have a deeper sense of what lies ahead, and this focuses reality more quickly even when their minds slip and their memory declines.
How about freedom to speak without jeopardizing one's status? All too often those with certain office positions or jobs will not want to be considered out of harmony with a boss or a peer group; so they find it preferable to remain silent even when the Spirit prompts them to speak. However, elders do not feel obliged to ensure a rank or position of honor when speaking in a prophetic manner. What is wrong with saying the truth or confronting a dangerous situation? "I am too old to remain silent."
How about freedom to pray and reflect? Many excuse themselves as too busy, but elders can overcome this excuse, and relax in the presence of Divine Grace. Continue reflecting and praying to find further degrees of freedom with each passing year.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see the blessings of every age.
A burst of color on late winter forest floor. (*photo
March 7, 2020Facing Hypocrisy in All Its Forms
All who hear my words and put them into practice are like the wise who build their houses on rock. (Matthew 7:21-27)
We become aware of the possibility of "eco-hypocrisy," by those professing to be "green," but really are somewhat lax about their environmental practices (e.g., burning up fuel in an expensive vehicle to deliver recyclables to a distant center). Examples include traders being enriched in "cap and trade" schemes, bumper sticker holders who waste fuel, some conference-going air travelers, homesteaders or tourists who damage pristine areas through bad house sitings or camping, food faddists with expensive tastes, and dwellers in spacious housing. For the most part, many of us have excuses and feel immune from various simple lifestyle categories meant to refrain from wasting resources.
Do imperfect performances scare us? In order to be true healers we must examine our own practices and reexamine them ever so often. The sphere of hypocrisy in daily matters such as resource use touches us all either individually or in community -- and so settling on good simple lifestyle practices gives each of us an incentive to distance ourselves from hypocrisy. One problem is that others will see our practices and give them an interpretation, when underneath we know we have much additional corrections to do. The marvelous works that we do are not ours but God's work, and so we are simply doing our duty. The success is not ours but God's; however, we can be fooled by well-wishers to think we are the sole agents of effective change.
Do we think of ourselves as reapers? Love of neighbor through service is the best remedy for any temptation to hypocrisy. Here deeds that we dream of doing take on the earthly "gray" of not being perfectly performed, or doing harm through misuse. Partial success occurs with our building, maintaining, cooking, cleaning and so forth. Earthhealing can even have its brand of hypocrisy. We can limit ourselves to lesser activities and even elevate their importance. We can be weighed down by reality -- lack of resources, cooperation, sickness, or a multitude of excuses. Here in the midst of limitations we lack the honesty to admit that our works are imperfect.
Are we willing to be sowers and not reapers? In order to establish a socially just world, we are called to be foundation builders, not the ones who see the total edifice to completion. We declare that social justice is needed by ALL people not just a few. In saying so in areas of work, health and education we are talking about immense outlays of global resources not now readily available. It is enough that we show that a Green New Deal is possible and convince others to be supporters of a new renewable energy economy.
Prayer: Lord, preserve us from any form of hypocrisy by allowing us to be satisfied in being mere sowers, not reapers.
March 8, 2020 Transfiguration as Goal, Calling, and Blessing
And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. (Matthew 17:2)
The transfiguration of Christ is a foreshadowing of our entry into the glory of the anticipated New Heaven and New Earth. Just as addressing temptation makes us aware of current limitations and imperfections, so the Transfiguration prepares us for great things to come. At first, we join in the paralysis of Peter, James, and John present at such an event. Eternal life is at a distance and yet we await the rays to shine through this glorious occasion.
In this year of St. Matthew's Gospel, we discover that the Transfiguration event is at the very heart of his Gospel. All leads up to and all flows from this event -- for Jesus is Lord of history and Messiah. At the Transfiguration we see in that streak of light an eternal mystery beginning to unfold, a truly luminous mystery. We stand beside Peter, James, and John and speak in "imaginative" prayer. We spend the time at prayer feeling the wind at the mountain, sensing the physical surroundings, hearing the voices from the cloudy mists and, along with the three apostles, seeing the brightness of the transfigured Jesus. His eyes meet ours as we observe the scene. We are transfixed and wonder what we can do at such a moment.
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design. (II Timothy 1:9). God's plan and mysterious will are what we seek. We discover an emerging glory in an eternity into which we are called, and an ongoing process in which we have a part to contribute. It is not that we make ourselves better for receiving gifts, but the immense generosity of God works through us and fills us in the midst of our unworthiness. Sincere gratitude becomes the mainstay of our being, all the while aware that ours is a limited role in the divine plan.
All the communities of the Earth shall find blessing in you. (Genesis 12:3) The blessing that is God's gift to us is to radiate out from us, transforming us into the divine image. We are filled with gratitude and with enthusiasm -- the God within. We are called to respond with blessings given, making what we do a double blessing. The Transfiguration calls us to truly be and, in seeing that we are what we are, to discover that we perform great things as directed by the Spirit. Being Christian, transforms us; we seek to risk doing public actions, not denying problems, excusing ourselves, or seeking to escape from responsibilities. We are a holy people. This openness to being part of the Transfiguration allows the gift of God to work on those with whom we meet. Like Peter, we wish to make a permanent monument to this calling, but we too discover that events ahead for us are evolving, not static.
Prayer: Lord, send us where you will. Help us to hear and listen to your call and to be willing to be fit instruments in your divine plan.
March 9, 2020 Discussing Spirituality and Political Action
Many Americans including habitual churchgoers are not engaged in politics in any manner. In quite a number of cases they regard this as a dirty practice, something that involves forbidden swamplands, commercial payoffs, personal greed and even sin; they pride themselves in a refusal to engage in political parties, involvement in current legislative action and even voting. They use the example of Amish who do not participate in government as the best religious practice, failing to see that government for military security and maintenance of roads is needed for ordinary progress.
Become an active citizen. At a minimal level participate in the democratic process by coming to know candidates and voting for them at election time. It may happen, especially at the local level, that others have a better knowledge of the various candidates, so we call on their advice. Voting then becomes more than an individual duty and involves the community; don't omit voting for lack of complete information - get the information. At a deeper level speak up for good candidates, monitor the voting records of elected officials, petition for deserving agenda items, and write letters in support of specific favored issues.
Become political rather than partisan. Political action deals with specific issues; being partisan is loyalty to a party without regard to whether the policy is good or not. We are committed in Pope Francis' admonition to be "political;" he does not say be partisan. I may hold myself to be a member of a political party, not because it is right, but because my efforts at all levels of government are to help make it right. The truth is that major differences exist between me and ALL American political parties. I differ with one party of pro-choicers on abortion; I differ with an opposing party on failure to challenge inequality through tax and spending policies; neither party is perfect and I can work either within or confrontationally outside of one or other party.
Become perhaps a political party activist? There are degrees of being political and, if one's energy is sufficient, it is not wrong to be actively involved in politics. Just don't allow others to dictate how you are to act or what you are to think. Be open and willing to think carefully and make your position known. Citizenship requires knowing the right thing and supporting it.
Become a public servant. One may choose to be a candidate for public office or a strong supporter of people who ought to be; encourage those with articulate style, pleasing personality or favorable positions to run for public office. It may be a relative or friend. A citizen may be moved even with mixed motivations to take part in political life or devoting one's life to public service from younger years. Starting early allows one to gain experience and make contacts that will be valuable in later political influence. Take your calling seriously and prayerfully.
Prayer: Lord, help us see politics as a needed part of life.
Every person on this Earth has a right to essential food -- and this applies especially to the one billion people who go to bed hungry tonight. The terror of hunger exists, an abomination in an age of plenty and with an affluent tradition of wasting immense amounts of food (enough to feed the world's hungry).
Is this more than a food distribution issue? Is it not one of producing food and distributing where needed? Is it food prices that the poor cannot afford? What about the immense amounts of grain now being converted to biofuels to run wasteful vehicles?
Is there hope in sight? Africa is a continent that missed the Green Revolution of the last half of the twentieth century that brought sufficient grain and other food to Asia and Latin America. More than half the world's unused arable land is in Africa; only five percent of the continent's arable land is irrigated; much depleted land is in need of fertilizers; many African counties lack access roads to bring produce to market; hybrid seeds so common in other parts of the world account for a smaller portion of grain grown on that continent; some have estimated that half of the harvested grain is lost to pests, moisture or other causes. Feeding a hungry world is all the more challenge when some emerging nations are converting their own arable land away from grain crops into roadways, industrial development and high specialty food items for export to wealthier countries.
What about organizations addressing the hunger issue? Feed the Future is an American governmental program involving the Departments of Agriculture, State, and Treasury and the National Security Council. The program aims to help the world's poorest farmers to grow food for their families and has sought about one billion dollars a year. The Global Agricultural and Food Security Program (GAFSP) takes a chance on projects that commercial investors pass over. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others for helping small farmers. One Acre Fund provides improved seeds and fertilizers for Kenyan farmers who struggle to feed their families.
What about neo-colonialism? While agencies are rising to the challenge, one can observe that nations anticipating future food shortages, (e.g. China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia), are seeking control of large expanses of Africa -- a neo-colonial movement that is lucrative for hard-pressed or opportunistic African governments and leaders. This is considered foresighted on the parts of world economies with capital enough to expand. However, with proper administration of development funds, Africa could prove most promising in the coming decades in eliminating hunger and even providing surpluses for Asian food demands. Much depends on the impact of climate change on fragile portions of that continent.
Prayer: Lord, stir us to help alleviate world hunger and to support organizations that work for such goals.
Propagating roses from cuttings, a meaningful
March 11, 2020 Declaring the Right to Potable Water
Water is essential to life and so an adequate supply is necessary for growing produce and for human sustenance. Although four-fifths of the planet's surface is covered by water, much of this is saline and unsuitable for human consumption. In fact, potable water is scarce and often inaccessible where large concentrations of people reside. Drinking water must be protected because these supplies are capable of harboring disease organisms. Often, water purification is a difficult task for individuals and thus the need for governmental agencies at the local and broader levels to ensure free or low-cost potable water.
Is there adequate clean water for drinking and cooking purposes? Fragile water supplies can become undrinkable. Potable water is not always accessible to those who live in areas where water is utilized for luxury purposes or wasted. With growing demand for potable water, those with essential needs find access increasingly difficult. The former free drinking water at common village wells or streams is now giving way to expensive bottled water that is obtained from dispensing machines owned by private profit-making organizations. Clean running water is no longer regarded as a common property; shores or riparian rights have been claimed as property by the wealthy; water rights have been allocated to individuals or corporations, and these can control the drinking water of millions in urban areas.
Does increased human activity in agriculture and industry present inevitable threats to water quality? Water quality deterioration occurs today as a persistent pattern among industrializing and emerging nations. Dilution is NOT the solution to pollution as people discover through practical experience. Water quality is a fragile resource demanding protection. Horror stories about polluted water abound: in the 1960s the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire; India's sacred Ganges is becoming a sewer, downstream from a host of untreated sewage sources; some of China's major rivers are now laced with heavy pollutants; until recently in Appalachia "straight pipes" leading directly into the creeks dump sewage into waterways.
Where do other water quality concerns arise? With climate change, drought is becoming a major issue in places like our western states; this condition is leading to melting away of Asian glaciers that are essential for watering India's major rivers. Heavy irrigation competes with urban water needs. Rivers are drying up before they reach the ocean (e.g., the Indus, the Colorado, the Yellow, and the Rio Grande); the Jordan is a brackish streamlet before it reaches the Dead Sea. Some American cities such as San Antonio have water problems; this city, which draws most of its water from the Edwards Aquifer, is experiencing a shrinkage of the water table with urban expansions. Recreational motor boats pollute waterways and livestock contaminate farmland.
Prayer: Lord, help us ensure water for all essential needs.
Sharing space in the canopy. Pine
grove in Red River Gorge, KY. (*photo
March 12, 2020 Affirming Clean AirIs Essential for All
Is our right to fresh air an inalienable right? Since air is needed by all breathing creatures, no one has a right to endanger others by contaminating it as has been the case since the industrial revolution. With increasing numbers of motor vehicles we wonder if a return is possible as we await large numbers of electric cars charged by wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. Until then there will be continued thousands of shortened lives, especially in urban congested environments of emerging nations. Industrial air pollutants from particulates to nitrogen and sulfur oxides have been major air contaminants, but it demands good governmental regulations. Victims of polluted air suffer with asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory diseases.
Are industrial environments receiving proper protection? Much depends on where one is located by air pollution varies vastly in various parts of the world. The escape of certain industries from well-regulated advanced industrial environments to lower-income and less environmentally concerned lands has made the success story of global cleanup a mixed bag. Merely taking inherently dirty industrial processing plants from nations requiring anti-pollution devices merely shifts air pollution victims to a poorer land.
How quickly can we change from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources? China, India, and other emerging nations are becoming aware of the costs of fueling their economies by cheap coal with resulting pollution that affects human health. Surging numbers of middle-class consumers are buying petroleum-fueled vehicles, which add ozone, carbon monoxide and other major contaminants to the already polluted air. Emission control devices have reduced pollution considerably, but delaying strict energy efficiency standards has exacerbated problems. Electric vehicles are coming and await being charged by renewable energy sources. Acid rain, resulting from air laden with sulfur and nitrogen oxides, corrodes structures, contaminates rain water, harms vegetation, and causes respiratory damage to humans and animals. Excessive CO2 triggers climate change which is a global threat.
Is domestic fuel use resulting in indoor air pollution? The contamination of air through domestic cooking in inefficient stoves using wood, dung, or other forms of cheap biomass is a global problem. Inefficient devices are used by a billion; they generate smoke that causes respiratory and eye problems for cooks and other residents, especially the very young and very old. Good ventilation and exhaust systems are often lacking. The WHO has reported from one to two million premature deaths (half of them children) occur each year due to the use of these defective devices resulting in increased incidence of cataracts, pneumonia and even tuberculosis. Efficient stoves and solar cookers have promising possibilities for millions of homes.
Prayer: Lord, help us be aware of need of fresh air for all.
Reflections on the Coming of the Lord
We are bound to Earth both through common origins and relationships, and have a divinely guided eternal destiny. An evolving Earth over billions of years has been prepared for this immense event. Thus we strive to reflect on the coming of Jesus Christ in our midst, a perfect ecological model: Eternal Word, Incarnate Babe and Obedient Son, Healer, Teacher, and Liberator.
Observing the First Signs of Deliverance. With reverence and reluctance we enter the sanctuary of the Incarnation mystery. To "incarnate" means to be endowed with flesh; "The Word was made flesh, he lived among us" (John 1:14); Mary conceives and bears a son who is the divine Word, a person with a union of a wholly divine nature and a wholly human nature. Development of the concept occurred through the Church councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), and later ones as well. After millennia of prayerful waiting, a faithful remnant received the Messiah, the Christ. Karl Rahner calls this "the domain of God's self-communication." Christ is "the first-born of all creation (Colossians 1:15); He was with God in the beginning (John 1:2). Gustavo Gutierrez says "the history of salvation is at the heart of human history, and that the salvific action of God underlies human existence." The promised Messiah comes to save the sinful human race; the Word is perfect gift to sinful humankind.
Christ's coming occurred 2000 years ago in the last of the ages, a very short span in the total geologic age of the universe. Gutierrez argues from Old Testament texts that Isaiah and elsewhere refer simultaneously to two events: creation and liberation from Egypt, thus one salvific act. Creation and liberation are found in Jesus "through whom all things are made" and through him all things are to be freed. The Coming occurs during the Pax Romana, not in powerful Rome or even Jerusalem, but in a cave in Bethlehem to modest visitors from an obscure hill town in Galilee. Mary is chosen and prepared, preserved pure and transparent of all creatures; her spouse Joseph is faithful and loyal to his family. Angels, shepherds, stable and livestock: could such a Messianic coming have been dreamed by us, or is it truly divine? In turn, we must do more than observe; through healing, we extend his presence on Earth. (Titus 2:11-13)
We "incarnate" Christ (by becoming an embodiment of the Incarnate Mystery) in our own lives. We make Christ present through our actions; we offer the opportunity for Heaven and Earth to meet through our eco-spirituality. March is perfect month for this meeting, this wedding of Heaven and Earth. Anytime we become immersed in earthly affairs in a godly manner, we participate more fully in the Incarnate Mystery; distance has been greatly reduced when we accept the mystery not just as an article of faith, but as alive and with us. Heaven and Earth kiss and the hypostatic union emerges in a slight glimmer through its cloud of sacred mystery.
Incarnation Event: A Word is Spoken.Send victory like a dew, you heavens, and let the clouds rain it down. Let the earth open for salvation to spring up. Let deliverance, too bud forth, which I, YHWH, shall create. (Isaiah 45:8)
God reaches down ever so gently; Earth, personified in Mary, springs up with a "yes," and thus deliverance has finally come. From Mary's human womb "buds forth" a savior. This imagery is the opposite of what some painters depict: Mary silently saying "yes" after observing the Annunciation event. Rather, hers is a joyful and enthusiastic response to the gentle whisper of God from above. Our Earth through Mary says "yes" to eternal spoken Word. The Messiah's coming was not a Hollywood sensation, for humble people are involved (Luke 1:52). Mary is the prime collaborator in the great mystery of redemption, "let what you have said be done to me" (Luke 1:38). She is Theodokos -- bearer of God: full of grace, New Eve, foremost model of all women, prime receiver of Good News; and her affirmation is a truly free choice. Her joyful prayer, recited in the Church's evening prayer, is one of the most revolutionary responses in history (See The Little Blue Book on our website); "hungry filled with good things and rich sent away empty” (Luke 1:53); “all generations will call her blessed, for God has done great things for her.” A cosmic communion is a profound revolution.
The eternal Word is now spoken in time, and thus Earth herself is blessed; we listen from a distance of 2,000 years and yet hear the Word resonate. We stand in awe like shepherds at the stable adoring the new-born king; Word Incarnate is our Eucharist. The patron of ecology, St. Francis, initiated the crib (Crèche) as a teaching tool par excellence for all of us from small children to wise elders, an observational point for viewing the Nativity with simple images speaking louder than complex verbiage. This quite momentous event proclaims a divine simplicity: "Hosanna in the highest," and we join them with the adoration of a child.
Part of the Luke and Matthew infancy narratives seek an answer to who the Messiah is. Joseph Fitzmyer says that there is a historic nucleus to those parallel stories: the reign of Herod, the virgin Mary, Joseph being of the House of David, angelic announcements, Jesus as Son of David, the Holy Spirit, Joseph not being involved, the name "Jesus" as Savior, the birth after Mary and Joseph came together, the birth place in Bethlehem, and the childhood in Nazareth (Luke 2:40). For our comments on the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple see Daily Reflections (Dec. 30, 2017). For Finding of Christ in the Temple see (Dec. 27, 2015).
Abraham Lincoln summed up the history of his own youth as "I was a poor boy." Jesus could say amen as a carpenter's son. Jesus learns like all youth; as St. Luke says, he grew in age and wisdom; in Luke's sister volume "Acts of the Apostles" the Church likewise grows in age and wisdom. Incarnate Word is a model of our Earthly venture. We bear Christ, not by gestation, but in proclaiming the Good News. Yes, Christ grew in age and wisdom; so should all Earthhealers. This deserves further reflection next week.
Halberdleaf yellow violet, Viola hastata growing in dry pine woods. Wolfe Co., KY. (*photo
March 13, 2020 Questioning Issues Arising over Rights
Well, now is the favorable time; this is the day of salvation.
(II Cor. 6:2)
Why speak of vague "rights" when we are concerned about the global threat of climate change? Answer: There is a close connection. If oceans rise, the first major portion of affected dwellings will be lower income people living in areas more easily flooded. If we speak of potable water scarcity, it strikes poor folks first. Increased natural extreme weather affects those who are less mobile and lack means of escaping dangerous conditions. The fact is that in the coming years the inability to hold climate change within acceptable limits will result in drought and changes in weather that would result in declines in food yields among lower income people in Asia and Africa. Their right to essentials takes precedence over use of lands for luxury purposes and special crops.
Is current inequality in wealth a rights issue? Due to the anticipated difficulties emerging from climate change, it will be necessary to raise funding to handle the situation. Current practices that allow one percent of the richest to harvest half of the profits and income simply cannot continue. New requirements in curbing the inequality of income and property retention are so necessary at this time, and changes must be made in a non-violent manner. Governments are required to become major players in redistributing resources through fair taxes to benefit all.
Do we help establish justice as concerned citizens? It becomes a basic duty to protect others whose rights are infringed upon. If a country does not permit its citizens to exercise their free worship of religion, this is not just an issue of co-religionists but of all people, for this suppression is human injustice. When some have superabundance in material things even if in other countries, it is our duty as global citizens to speak up and confront those with responsibility. All of us suffer when some are unjustly treated, for the social network is frayed by such actions. Through Internet and rapid communications we now know that our neighborhood is an entire world. The establishment of justice is certainly a local and national issue, but it is also a global one as well.
Do new rights emerge over time? Certainly rights to essentials (food, water, air) are inalienable, but do new ones arise in the journey of human progress? Just as our misdeeds damage the entire human neighborhood, so do our good deeds build up social structural relationships. A pursuit of happiness on the part of all means that with health, education and communication new opportunities arise and ought to be shared regardless of boundaries. Special privileges to a few is not part of the democratic process. With advances in these areas opportunities must be sought to make better health improvements at the disposal of all not just in this country but also in a worldwide one.
Prayer: Lord, help us to champion the rights for all.
Remnants of summer, waiting for spring (a dried, lone teasel). (*photo
March 14, 2020Working for a Livelihood
Work is our human activity that gives us our livelihood, our expression of creativity, and our privilege to serve others. Since the time of our mortal life is short, work is our rare opportunity to live productively and prepare ourselves for eternal life. Through work, we unite ourselves in society with those who enter into God's ongoing creative activity.
Does everyone have a right to work? If work helps to make us who we are as we strive to fulfill our mission in life, all of us deserve the opportunity to work. Our citizenship both here on Earth and beyond involves the right to both a livelihood and to become a full person. We know that with time in a rapidly changing economy the unemployed become the unemployable. During hard times with limited opportunities those with longer unemployment periods are discriminated against when competing with a limited pool of workers. Thus begins a spiral downward of competing workers who regard employers as hiring those who will work for the least while doing the most. The unemployed challenge a system of labor pools.
Is the government the employer of last resort? Unemployment for those desiring to work is an abomination and should never be tolerated, for it denies someone a livelihood. At least elemental fairness means we must harken back to the Works Progress (later Projects) Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, at which time eight million got jobs to help support them and their families. No one doubts that today such meaningful jobs could be created in construction of our badly corroded infrastructure or the multitude of services needed by the youth, elderly, ill, illiterate and disabled. The work is there; the people are willing; only the actual resources are lacking. Tax the rich and use the newly acquired governmental funds and create the jobs.
Does enforced work lack an expression of free will and is it thus an inhuman condition? It took the human race millennia to determine that slavery and forced labor conditions ought to be banned. Unfortunately, such conditions still exists in this world and must be discovered and exposed.
Should all be enabled to do what work they like? In a perfect world, that should be the case. However, this is an imperfect world and sometimes we must do tasks we dislike. Private enterprise does not deliver quality work to all, especially since much make-work of the past is now performed by mechanical means in a more technical society. However, service work opportunities abound and eager hands coupled with trainable minds and willing hearts could do a host of tasks for others, e.g., care-giving, teaching, assisting those disabled, repairing the environment, growing adequate food, and constructing proper roads, airports, seaports, lodging and sanitation systems for the people.
Prayer: Lord, teach us the dignity and privilege of working and help us to encourage others to think in this manner.
March 15, 2020 Confronting the Samaritan Woman at the Well
Give me some of that water so that I will never get thirsty. (John 4:15).
Christ, as living water, enlivens others at an individual, group, or larger community level. From the story in John's Gospel today we learn how Jesus confronts others in a merciful manner.
Confronting the individual. American secular culture dictates that all do their own "thing" without being challenged by others, for these are private matters. Jesus gives us a lead on what can be done even in such delicate circumstances as dealing with a person of a different culture in these realms of privacy. He does not avoid the road detour so often taken by Galileans to skirt the hostile Samaritan territory; he takes his disciples straight through Samaria; he stops at the well and speaks to a resident and a woman at that. But that is just the beginning. He tells her all about herself by a direct provocation, "Go and call your husband." Many Americans would like to soften the story, for that Scriptural interchange is not according to our cultural way of acting; it delves in off-limited private matters. Listen carefully. Jesus is gentle, earnest, and loving; he says she is right that she has no husband, for she has had five but the one she is with is not her husband. The woman's acknowledgment and receptivity is astounding.
Confronting the disciples. The continuation of the story within a story involves other confrontations as well. The disciples return and are speechless that Jesus would be conversing with a Samaritan woman, and they express this at least bodily. They urge Jesus to eat, but he confronts them because the work of spreading the word is at hand. Jesus is so consumed by the desire to go out to others that this involves confronting the hungry disciples with the call of the missions.
Confronting the broader community. All the while the Samaritan woman, as first Christian missionary, hastens back to spread Good News to her community. The woman's community hears from her with her new-found enthusiasm that she has been confronted by the long-awaited Messiah. The Good News is spoken, heard, and repeated by taking the word to others. She may have felt her unworthiness -- but everyone is imperfect in performing the noble tasks at hand. Spreading Good News is evangelistic and it will include our sense of unworthiness; yet we must honestly speak while aware of our own limitations. The Spirit speaks through us as sowers, and others hear and may even regard their own efforts as greater than that of the sower. One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work. The Lord confronts the villagers as a body, and they hear with their own ears. Jesus goes to them and stays with them two days. Thus all, residents and disciples, are confronted by and respond to Jesus.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be willing to meet others and to confront them with Good News in your honest and kind manner.
Honeycomb features, common to the Corbin
March 16, 2020 Creating Opportunities for Proper Education
Today, many of us suffer from a glut of information, not a paucity of it. Others are retarded from reading and learning through lack of proper educational opportunities (qualified teachers, materials, facilities, transportation, etc.). Granted, some of our current information overload is due to our own failure to allocate our time properly; some daily information is only partly true, but it is selected and nuanced so that it gives casual readers a false impression; and certain information should remain private. Today on Freedom of Information Day many of our practices are worth reconsidering.
Does needed information lead to corrective judgments about possible harm or ill effects of certain consumer items? Consumers certainly have a right to know. The American Freedom of Information Act opened a store of material to those qualified to examine it and use the proper procedures to procure it. In the past decade WikiLeaks furnished vast stores of reports on military, diplomatic, and financial matters, some of which are matters for experts and some of which when revealed could be harmful to the original informants. Information in its basic form opens the person exposed to vulnerability that makes one ask, "Should all this be released to the general public?"
Should technical informationbe restricted to those who have the expertise to make correct judgments? Quite often technical information is subject to false interpretation because of an inability to assess it properly. One needs climate change information (e.g., ice melting rates, soot deposit on glaciers, ocean acidification rates) so that correct judgments can be made. Without knowledge of trends in climate we cannot ascertain the precise impact of human causative factors. Experienced people need info to make sound judgments; even ordinary citizens in a free society need proper facts in order to know for whom to vote.
How can non-public information be restricted? The imprudent give out their credit and banking information at will along with their hidden thoughts and foibles -- all for Internet public records that do not erase. Not all personal information ought to be shared -- and job seekers find this out the hard way. People tell others things in confidence on the public Internet, and it cannot stay private or restricted. The private records of people telling about a past that is far behind them does not allow them to live within a forgiving society. The Internet becomes a non-forgiving source of confidential information, and in this age in which public expression is so available, it can easily get into the wrong hands. The right to retain certain information is as important as the right to divulge it. One's life history is to be safeguarded as long as others are not hurt by its confidentiality.
Prayer: Lord help us to sort the important information from the trivia, to obtain proper interpretation, and to make ultimate wise decisions as to personal health, finances, and civic matters.
March 17, 2020 Promoting Affordable Housing and Home Care
St. Patrick's Day is a perfect time to consider the Irish practice of paying for home caregivers (even when close relatives) living in the home of the elderly or ill person. This practice allows for the dependent person to enjoy the comfort of home and not an institution, which would be more costly and less personal. Economics dictates giving a home life to the best degree possible. When professional nursing and physical therapy can be provided, this method can -- but not always -- surpass institutional circumstances. Much depends on the amenities of the home dwelling (restroom, bath, and cooking facilities, etc.).
Does support for caregivers provide a "bang for the buck?" When caregivers need help, caregiver's financial allotments could be subdivided for needed assistants. This extends economic benefits to helpful neighbors who assist with bed care, laundry, house cleaning, obtaining supplies, maintenance, and cooking. Such part-time jobs are of immense value in lower-wage communities and distribute income at the very low end of the pay scale.
Are there benefits for the ill person? Going beyond community economics we find that caring for the sick can be done better at home under normal circumstances. Attentive care is of a more immediate nature and less bother and, often though not always, with greater privacy and dispatch. In the case of hospice persons, the care given in familiar surroundings generally makes the person more comfortable at this difficult time of life. Often, the terminally ill crave surroundings where loved ones can cluster and support them in peaceful atmosphere; this may not always be possible.
Is denial of proper housing a traumatic experience? People need a place to live in peace and security. Denial of housing because of inability to afford high costs creates a condition of homelessness and all associated difficulties. The abandoned and those who are refugees are no exception; they need places to rest in peace. The assurance of a home adds to the quality of anyone's life, for the uncertainty associated with homelessness becomes quite traumatic. The fact that many homeless people have to be institutionalized is not an argument against focusing primarily on housing for all. Furthermore, some of the ill cannot be given the total care needed, and so the second best is an adequate health care facility, a substitute at best for individual homes.
Should governments provide affordable housing to those in need of access, safety, and protection from harm? Private housing may be more desirable, but the more essential needs must be met by the government in cases of homeless people and refugees. Where private homes are not available, public housing should exist for independent living, and institutions for those needing total care. The government is a means of last resort when private means fail.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see the value of home life and to attempt to extend it to all to the best degree possible.
On Nov. 18-19, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke at the 25th International Conference on Health Care. He stated that it is the moral responsibility of nations to guarantee access to health care for all citizens, regardless of social or economic status or their ability to pay. He went on to say that there are great inequalities in health throughout the world. In developed lands and especially through medical tourism (going outside a country for treatment and operations) one finds pharmacological, medical, and surgical consumerism. In underdeveloped land there is a lack of essential medications for the sick poor.
Should equal access to health care be available to all? When one observes globally victims without basic health protection on one extreme, and then notes those who have costly elective surgery on the other, something seems amiss -- and it is. A comprehensive global health care system for all could cost over one trillion dollars or more annually. However, that is far less than the cost of the global military budget -- and health is also a security measure. The potential for global coverage is emerging but is still a distance away. To say the world's economy could not support a global health care system is hogwash. Of course it could, if the economy were changed to support the common person.
Didn't the World Health Organization (WHO) set very ambitious Millennium Development Goals in 1990? In the first decade progress was made in areas of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Half the world population were at risk of malaria and treatments have been scaled up in recent years. Tuberculosis death rates declined from 1990 to 2006 from 28 per hundred thousand people to 25. The serious HIV epidemic found 2.7 million new cases reported in 2007 with two million deaths per year plus 33 million living with HIV infection. Still in 2016 there is an estimated 1 million deaths from HIV-related illnesses (120,000 of these children under 15 years). Leprosy saw a dramatic decline from 5.2 million cases in 1985 to 212,000 in 2008 and still lower now.
Is global health care showing progress? In a number of areas there has been progress even while not fast enough. WHO reports maternal death rates was slow to change but from early in the century going from 500,000 a year in Africa alone to a world total in 2015 of 303,000 with 64% of those in Africa. Child mortality dropped from 93 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 41 per 1,000 in 2016. Still each day in 2016 15,000 children under 5 die. Infectious diseases continue to decline as well. Progress depends on increased immunization coverage, use of insecticide-treated mosquito netting, use of oral rehydration therapies during episodes of diarrhea, and improved water and sanitation systems. Note that the first areas are relatively low-cost with respect to results.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to make medical care available to all; make us aware of health inequalities and start to do something about it on local, national, and global levels.
March 19, 2020 Defending Public Assembly and Worship
On the Feast ofSt. Joseph, the patron of the Church, it is good to review the right of people to assemble in public and to celebrate together by worshipping God as they see fit.
Should we advocate for the basic right to public assembly? Each year various rights organizations note current restrictions on various religious groups in different countries. Most often at the bottom of the list is North Korea. Also often on that part of the list is Saudi Arabia, which limits public worship to Moslem practices alone, and only permits private worship by individuals or small groups in homes. China places limits on religious groups under its controlled conditions and has been very oppressive of certain Christian groups and Moslems. A number of countries, especially from behind the old Iron Curtain, have sanctions against new religious groups having free access to the country.
Shouldn't everyone have a right to worship as he or she feels drawn? Public worship is always an aspect of religious practice that goes beyond the prayer life of individuals or families within the privacy of the home. For many believers, this public manifestation is an integral part of acknowledging a Supreme Being and the benefits from community public celebration. A communal expression of reverence enhances worship life and should not be denied individuals or groups provided the practice does not interfere in the free exercise of another's religion. Globally, in some cases the public practice is restricted to one group and accusations of false acts as that of blasphemy (e.g. in Pakistan and Iran) by the dominant religion's adherents can lead to drastic curtailment of freedom and even a threat to life or imprisonment.
Should we champion rights for all people? The United States was founded on a principle of the separation of church and state. This is the foundation for a variety of religious expressions. Even the colonies prior to the nation's full establishment had restrictions on various religious groups and on certain Christian groups; these were imposed by established churches. Even the constitutional guarantees of freedom of worship did not erase the barriers to Catholics and Jews by groups in various states.
Do biases exist against those considered foreign to the majority within communities? Today, with conflicts still raging in Syria and the Middle East acts of violence to religious groups occur; Christians in Iraq have seen their public places of worship bombed and people killed. Pity the poor soul who wants to become a Christian in Afghanistan; they have to be spirited out of the country in order to escape death. World history is replete with instances of trials for those seeking to worship God in public. Hopefully, the day will dawn soon when religion may be freely practiced any place on this Earth. Let's pray for that day.
Prayer: God, help us to defend the right to have public assembly, and especially the right to worship publicly.
Jesus as Healer, Teacher and Liberator
Let's continue in this Lenten season to discover the perfect ecologist, Jesus as healer, teacher and liberator. From his healing we learn to approach the condition of illness and are motivated to perfect Earthhealing. From his teaching we learn to respect all of God's creation and use resources properly; we must confront the growing inequality and restore justice to our Earth.
Jesus as healer. Healing is a sign of the Messianic age, the initiation of God's reign of love, justice, joy, peace, wholeness, and the conquest of evil powers at work on Earth. These initial acts of Jesus' healing point to the great moment of Calvary, when the entire world is healed through the blood of Christ. For this reason Christ comes into the world and focuses a sizeable portion of his ministry on healing as an act of making whole again, not a wonder-working opportunity. Jesus shows spiritual healing through forgiveness and compassion; he does not rejoice in the face of others' afflictions. Jesus accepts suffering to his own person while moved with compassion for the sufferings of others; he gives primacy to healing spiritual afflictions, and he sets up circumstances in which his consecrated ministers are empowered to effect spiritual healing through sacramental life.
Jesus sees each ill person as someone of special importance, not a statistic, not a handicap. "Be cured." "Arise." "Sin no more." "Your daughter is healed." Jesus shows God's power and mercy. When we accept God's will, whether (as Paul says) by living or by dying, we acknowledge and show our gratitude for the love given. Becoming whole is entering into the divine Mystery that is unfolding for us. Earthhealers believe in healing both physically and spiritually; such faith is empowered by God -- and sufferers know when caregivers believe. We fervently pray for total recovery, if that be God's will, for Earth cries out for wholeness. As Earthhealers we take our own Hippocratic Oath: we must do all in our power to bring healing to those within our care. Our intent is to make all whole again.
Jesus calls out with the voice of compassion, “Look what they have done to my Earth." Jesus teaches us to heal patiently, compassionately and lovingly. Although not possessing miraculous powers, we can participate fully in the miracle of life, and each time we bring wholeness even in some small way, we heal another -- and heal ourselves in the process. Our restorative work is a wonder though we do not glory in being wonderworkers. As individuals and as corporate groups we are invited to enter into God's creative work. We acknowledge that those ill have the unique opportunity to allow God's power to be revealed. Part of the wonder of healing is discovering, researching, developing, manufacturing, and dispensing medicines for those who suffer. The work of drug development is a continuation of Jesus' healing ministry and deserves our full support as citizens and our prayers as believers in making all whole again.
Jesus as Teacher. Jesus teaches the beatitudes as a guide in our mission to healing our troubled Earth. The challenge is to convert to simpler lifestyle and to change our hearts and minds. Each beatitude is a vision and promise of better times, especially for the lowly; a new reign is coming when the lowly will receive their blessings. These beatitudes relate to Jesus' own way of living and initiating the kingdom of God; they express both hope and promise of what is to come. The heart of Jesus' teachings is to be alert and ready for the Messianic Age now arriving, an age filled with possibilities. We are to live good and holy lives as we await his coming, for the present order gives way to the new; however, this process turns us from being mere observers to being partakers in the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus has the patience and endurance of a good teacher; his parables are very down-to-Earth, as he goes ahead of us giving us a blueprint for action. As teacher, he uses his parables as a cornerstone to offer advice for a variety of people in a host of different circumstances; parables touch everybody in different ways. God was patient with the ever complaining Jonah; Jesus teaches with the touch of divine mercy even when his closest disciples do not fully grasp his mission. In the Good Samaritan parable the basic message is that salvation is for all, even for "neighbors" who are despised and overlooked.
We can extend Christ's teaching methods to our Earth in the form of "environmental beatitudes:" Blessed is the wounded and denuded Earth that will flower into fruition this year. Blessed are the ones who sow and plant, they will find satisfaction in knowing there will soon be a happy harvest. Blessed are returning birds, they will find a safe habitat. Blessed are endangered species, they now have a protector. Blessed are those who seek to live simply, they risk being marginalized. Blessed are they who attack corporate structures, they will be persecuted.
We find in Jesus' approach a number of aspects worth imitating within the context of our culture and current situation: teach creatively; teach everyone in simple language; teach with patience, for some are slow to understand; teach the Good News through proclamation. To picture ourselves as exclusive teachers, and others as total learners is elitist. Our role is to communicate both as learners and as teachers.
Jesus as Liberator.The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favor (Luke 4: 18-19).
Jesus enters the synagogue of his home town of Nazareth and publicly defines his mission using the words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2); this text is "being fulfilled today." Jesus tells the hometowners plainly that no prophet is accepted in his own country. The crowd that first gives approval soon becomes enraged and turns on him, and attempts to kill him. This emerging hostility to Jesus' message grows the closer he gets to the seat of political and religious power -- Jerusalem. His herald, John the Baptist, is first imprisoned and then killed; scribes and Pharisees shadow him, ask questions, show discontent with his healing on the Sabbath, and try to trip him up about allegiance to Caesar.
Jesus' cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-25) is a high point in his active ministry. One commentary says, "Precisely why the business of the temple offended Jesus is not clear." Others are more aware of activism in this age and speak of the maddening commercialism of the Court of the Gentiles in the 30-acre Temple complex in Jerusalem. Another commentator proposes that Jesus opposes the carnival-like atmosphere, cheating, and commercial activity in a sacred place, for this is the house of God.
At the time Jews try to rid themselves of coins with Caesar's image, money-changing is fashionable. Zeal for his Father's house moves Jesus. All four gospels tell of this episode: John 2: 13-22 adds Zeal for your house will devour me, from Psalm 69:9; Jesus quotes Scripture in saying my house will be a house of prayer...(Luke 19, 45-46), for all the peoples (Isaiah 56:7) (Mark 11:15-18). Mark adds that Jesus says "but you have turned it into a robbers' den" taken from Jeremiah 7:11; (also in Matthew 21: 12-13). Cleansing of the Temple occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels at the time immediately before the Calvary event, and is followed by the plot to kill him. In John's Gospel, the episode comes very early, but his entire Gospel shows the struggle of light and darkness. The episode is quite pivotal, even though non-activists may see it as an embarrassment or puzzlement.
Driving out moneychangers involves several points: Jesus acts alone without immediate support of his disciples; he is driven by the Spirit to defend his Father's house; he acts with an authority that is divinely inspired; he stands for the poor who have had their commons desecrated by merchants; he exhibits righteous anger at what has been occurring; he remains balanced through it all. Lent is when we need to confront the unjust system and reestablish our spiritual equilibrium; we need to discipline ourselves through fasting for periods of time, abstaining from foods such as meat, and freely choose forms of Lenten mortification.
Furthermore, we realize that corporations exist at the pleasure of citizens; these institutions are incorporated by various states and are expected to be accountable: renewing incorporation, reporting earnings, withholding taxes, obtaining distinct identification, and obeying local regulations. Through financial influence they have acquired certain "rights" as though they were citizens -- though none are ever imprisoned. Their power results in influencing governmental legislation related to their own self-interest. The situation has gotten more out of hand through globalization and shifting of finances or production facilities from one nation to another with ease. In the spirit of Jesus as liberator we need to address this issue today.
Lord Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages "curing every disease and illness." At your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our pride, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace.
Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace. Amen.
Rue anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides, Woodford Co., KY. (*photo
March 20, 2020Providing Privacy and Silent Space
We all need time and space to be ourselves, to relax, and to find rest. Defending the private world of individuals who have rights is often difficult because rights being exercised by one can infringe on the rights of others. Complex questions can arise.
Is privacy so sacred that others are forbidden to interfere? "Mom, Jimmy is making a bomb in the basement." Jimmy is acting privately, but the result of his actions may be quite public and involve others in the building and beyond. Yes, private acts have their own limits and can have implications for the entire social network in which we live and move. We need our privacy; we need to share the commons together; and we need to balance both. A complementarity exists and a sound interior ecology must define the boundaries of rights.
In this age of Facebook and Twitter we ask where the private world ends and the public begins? "I hear that Jimmy is on drugs," says friend to friend on the Internet or in the privacy of person-to-person communication. Again, is this mere gossip or is this valuable information for someone to help take corrective action? What if poor Jimmy tries to go clean and Facebook and Twitter are unrelenting. Here the privacy of past life gives way to a publicly exposed individual in need of the space to start life over -- and yet the social media will not forget or forgive. Privacy has been infringed upon and dishonored. Jimmy can't leave all behind and migrate to the Appalachians or to Australia, as did past offenders.
Can people ever make a fresh start or does the past dog us? The hotel clerk demands, "What's your social security number?" Few realize that when issued back in the 1930s the number was only between the governmental agency and each holder. However, that wall of privacy came down long ago, and so have those concealing other personal information (credit cards, credit ratings, etc.). Controlling private information is challenging. Who ought to know and keep this matter confidential? Will sequestering information lead to others being hurt in some way? Concerns about retaining secrecy are valid in a world of rapid communication, and the temptation to cut and demean others. When privacy is invaded, it can be felt keenly and even lead to drastic personal consequences.
Is establishing or preserving silent space a privacy issue? Perhaps we all need silent private space even when some seem compulsive to be always connected with others. In this noisy and overly busy world, many people never get the precious moments when they can be alone and can relax and reflect. All in hospital or home, from night workers to students, need time for sacred silence when thoughts can be collected; they can see dangers ahead and the need for detours and a better route in life. Silence is all too often infringed upon by those who feel free to make noise.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to respect the rights of others and thus allow them their privacy, self-respect and silent space.
March 21, 2020 Spring Has Sprung: Being Right with the World
SPRING HAS SPRUNG
I heard the mockingbird again at daybreak, holding a varied tune of all that brings on spring. I suddenly realized that time's moved on and yet patterns stay put as sort of "winter cling."
That season's gone and another has slipped in unnoticed. Dandelion carpets are now yellow and green. The tree buds swell and four-legged mammals scurry about, Nature's hesitant resurrection all color and sheen.
While we have a mantra about hating winter -- and those frosts and flurries past due time that threaten apple blooms and early plantings and fail to let the mercury climb.
Nature comes again in fits and starts and we, too, have seasonal changes in hymn and song, but we become more willing to spring than cling to that worn expression -- "winter's clung too long." -AF
Should we who look for spring share a commons with others? Perhaps younger folks do not hate winter as much as I do, but with aging we are less able to tackle the snow and become more fearful of icy conditions and the possibly of a disastrous fall. The welcome spring is the season to affirm that we need to get outdoors more often, and the great outdoors is something we hold in common with others: the air we breathe; the water we drink; land for gardening; freedom to move about and to trade goods; outer space that we do little more than observe in awe at night; vast oceans and marine space; fragile parts of this planet requiring cooperative regulations; and wildlife and trees that abound.
Are the various commons solely individual concerns or something more? The movement out to others means that the protection and reclaiming of our commons is more than can be done by individual people acting alone. The commons requires people to work together as a body; to fail to do this is to neglect our Christian duty and the purpose in life. Those areas beyond our individual control such as outer space and the planet's air and water require larger and larger aggregates of concerned people. A global environmental regulatory system is utterly necessary and must be established within the next decade in order to keep our planet alive.
Prayer: Lord, help us to find quiet time in our lives to be satisfied with the wonder all around us and to be thankful for surviving the winter.
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, we come with a sense of joy, no matter what serious issue weighs upon us right now. We read in John's Gospel (Chapter Nine) the story of the man born blind. This passage of Scripture impressed me more than any other in my novitiate days. Why this one?
First, in this Gospel Jesus seeks various commitments of faith from ordinary people: Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind, and Mary, the sister of Lazarus. In this case of the blind man, Jesus heals the fortunate person, after asserting that the victim's blindness was not the fault of something he or his parents had done. Jesus heals by using the simple things of Earth -- namely, a paste of spittle and dust. Jesus calls the healed man to do something in return for the gift of sight, to wash in the pool of Siloam. Furthermore, there is a follow-up in which Jesus gives the healed man encouragement for the difficult life ahead.
Second, the honesty of the unnamed man with new sight. That honesty involves bravely standing up against all obstacles to declare his allegiance to Jesus the healer. The cured man lacks support from others, even fearful parents; he is courageous individual and speaks the plain truth to a hostile established system; he is now both physically and spiritually insightful, even though ostracized and abandoned by others; he affirms his faith in Jesus and thus is thrown out of the synagogue. This means being expelled from one of the tolerated religions of the powerful Roman Empire. In essence, as a follower of Jesus he becomes an outlaw, lion's bait for the Empire's spectators.
The third reason for my preference for this passage is that in following Jesus thoroughly we need to be radicalized; that is, come to the roots of what we are called to be and do. The cured man is a first example of an activist whose faith leads to his being marginalized, while others, even loved ones, fail to support him. The difficult calling -- to follow Christ -- impressed me then and now. It is the difficulty as expressed by Franz Zaggerstadder in refusing to fight in the Second World War, and that of Joan of Arc. In accepting the more radical approach, we join a community of faith that goes back two millennia, and on which embraces some brave souls in a variety of circumstances.
Last of all, our radical witnessing must be one of joy in being and doing what the Lord wants us to be and do. Our joy in mid-Lent's spring glory of new flowers and budding trees extends to all creatures. Peace of soul as expressed in this rejoicing is found in the man born blind, one who goes from not seeing to a person of faith willing to accept all consequences.
Prayer: Lord, help us to become deeply radicalized in our faith, and to be willing to do what it takes to change economic, social, and political systems so as to heal our wounded Earth.
Splash of green on early spring forest
floor. Mercer Co., KY. (*photo
March 23, 2020 Sponsoring Programs to Green the Landscape
In this month when we focus on our interior ecology we need to move beyond our individual issues and include the social aspects of conservation and reclamation. Precisely, we ought to focus on communal action dealing with abandoned land reclamation.
Isn't reclamation a national issue? Being right with land goes beyond our locality and includes a national component, for all suffer from abandoned land. Attention is given to the following: protecting land being presently damaged by exploitative practices or overpopulated wildlife; confronting culprits who damage land and hold them accountable. We need to attend to both protecting and reclaiming, protecting fragile land and reclaiming damaged land. This includes such conservation practices as reclaiming damage strip mined areas, removing trash and junk, halting erosion, initiating desalination procedures, and planting trees. Every citizen must come to see orderly land as a matter of civic duty.
What is an example of greening our land with others? A coalition of environmental and community groups in Pennsylvania has been addressing local environmental, watershed planning, restoration, and protection efforts through a multi-agency state- and partly-federally-funded program called Growing Greener. This program has spanned a period of this century and has raised funds to begin the process of reclaiming the stripped landscape. This highly successful program has become is the largest single investment of state funds in Pennsylvania's history for tackling environmental issues ranging from greener watershed protection and maintenance of state parks to coastal zone and abandoned mine clean up -- and continues in a modified manner through specific grants.
How has Growing Greener been funded? The Pennsylvania program has been funded through a $4/ton municipal waste disposal fee as well as resource extraction fees. The federal- and state-funded flood protection portions are matched up to 35% by local government funds. Strapped by heavier state financial commitments, this highly successful program has been modified after 2012 to include grants for specific projects especially targeted to watershed protection.
Can similar programs be extended to every state? Taken as a nation environmental programs in every state with similar problems could exceed $300 billion. This could be a major national investment opportunity with true "bang for the buck." U.S. national gas and oil extraction is now the highest ever and the U.S. this year is becoming a net petroleum exporter. Extraction fees could be used to fund statewide programs since they are closely related to curbing climate change while beautifying landscape for tourist potential.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to see that our land is a gift that some can abuse but all are called as democratic citizens to consider a civic duty to reclaim and protect.
Grape hyacinths (Muscari racemosum) in March. (*photo
March 24, 2020 Planting Trees as a Greening Practice
This planet's forests are the lungs of a living organism, and require being kept healthy. The value of forests is best realized through efforts to remedy deforestation through planting trees. Even in the best of circumstances some regard tree planting as hackneyed or perhaps child's play, since youth can contribute to planting projects. Yes, planting trees is a soft approach to deforestation, but there is a profound spiritual value in trying to do something positive in times of massive threats and destruction. Healing our wounded Earth forces us to come together and act collectively through both hard and soft activities in order to heal our wounded planet. Stop deforestation; start reforestation.
Who is in charge of tree planting? The planting can be undertaken at various levels of participation: family, neighborhood, parish, wider community, county, or state. The individual involvement by average citizens generally goes down with each increased size of the social aggregate, but organizational involvement needs to occur so the trees are planted properly and where needed most. However, the planting leader has a place in a social tree-planting event by supervising the following actions: selecting a specific site, clearing the area, digging the hole, planting the tree by spreading the roots and adding soil and any amendments, watering, firming the soil in place, and staking and protecting the sapling if necessary.
When ought we to plant, or does timing vary with location? March is a perfect time to prepare for our local arbor day, for inquiring as to what trees can be obtained free or at a bargain prices, for getting people to perform the tasks at hand, for securing tools, for finding the ideal sites for the planting, and for gathering crews that should include a mix of older and younger folks. Spade work is essential, and knowing whether to add lime or other materials as well as watering the planted trees are all ingredients to a successful story. In many places, deer population control may be essential and so the selection of tree variety could depend on the appetite of wildlife for certain types of young saplings. Community involvement requires advanced planning.
Must planted trees be actively maintained? Recent planted trees need care lest they wither in the hot summer when rains are not plentiful. Watering trees soon after planting is an exercise in tree care; another involves discovering where plantings could occur next year including tree harvested areas, abandoned land, vacant lots, road and building construction areas, and unreclaimed land from resource extraction operations. Besides planting, proper maintenance is a worthwhile greening practice that includes removal of exotic species, thinning tree to make room for selective tree growth, and removal of diseased trees.
Prayer: Lord, you are the tree of life. Help us to see that our living planet needs the green healthy skin of proper tree cover, and give us the energy to help bring this about.
March 25, 2020Curbing Climate Change: Being Right with Earth
On this feast of the Incarnation, we ought to realize that we have a saving role to play. Our Earth is always changing; in some ways this planet is being born, and we are the midwives. Ours becomes a constant concern that this birth proceed properly. Quite often Christians and all believers are asked to think about human life that needs enhancing and protecting. We must protect the human fetus in this delicate process -- AND we must also protect our nascent world that is in "one great act of giving birth" (Rom.8:22). Without a living planet we cannot sustain our mortal human lives and the global community. Today, we are aware of something our ancestors did not realize, namely, that through our material extravagance we can destroy our fragile Earth.
Yes, our ancestors knew unprotected land could erode, but what about a planet's vitality? Also today, politicizing activities can be directed to denial of climate change through human causation. Those quick to address one political party for failure to confront pro-life issues such as abortion must acknowledge that negligence crosses party lines. We must communicate with our legislators ASAP, and tell them that those of us who are pro-life demand that they give attention to the impending disaster facing our wounded planet by the growing disparity of wealth, by failure to promote truly fair taxes, and by a silence over the radical change of climate caused by excessive human use of resources.
We must be globally pro-life.
Can we citizens make a difference? Many legislators both at state and federal levels have a desire to do the right thing. Thus these who regard themselves as pro-life must realize the moral connection between protecting the fetus and protecting our fragile and easily wounded Earth. Future life on this planet demands a halt to the recklessness of the imprudent; these want to overlook the destructive effects of burning more -- not less -- fossil fuel with each succeeding year. These legislators make our state and national policies, and they can certainly make a difference. Likewise citizen pressure can make a difference in a democratic society through monitoring and communicating with legislators.
Should we be concerned about life in all its forms including planet life? It is precisely in the arena of environmental protection that the individual must understand that his or her social commitment enhances the entire web of life. To save our world requires collective action, the will of a civic community to say "no" to dirty fossil fuels and "yes" to renewable energy sources that even now receive less than incentives given to fossil fuels. A cleaner world means overcoming the deliberate effort of profit-making corporations to continue polluting. We can save our Earth if we work together -- and this is certainly pro-life.
Prayer: Help us Lord to become an incarnate people, those bent on bringing about a union of spiritual values and material demands.
Heaven and Earth meet as clouds clear
from the West. (*photo
March 26, 2020Preserving Our Wildlife Treasure
With the arrival of springtime we can turn our attention more to the great outdoors. The "rights" of animals to co-exist with us should be regarded as something that is connected with our responsibility to save and enhance this planet. We do not have to engage in an animal rights discussion; it is sufficient to concede that wildlife preservation is part of our human quality of life. Their existence enriches us and helps us know ourselves in creation's totality. God creates animals and all wildlife not just for us but with us. This coexistence is our treasure.
Must wildlife reservations be established? Wildlife exists for its own sake, and we who have the power to do good also have the ability to threaten and destroy; we are to discover, promote, protect, and give space for wildlife to flourish. We may never meet a tiger in the woods and yet their presence in the woods enriches us. Being "there" gives meaning to the "here" where we reside. In developing nations, wildlife reservations are luxuries, for poor inhabitants need protein; these poor folks obtain some of their essential food needs by harvesting wildlife, whether flora or fauna, that when immoderately pursued can result in endangered or extinguished wildlife. Wildlife is a commons demanding global support through maintenance of policed reservations.
Are wildlife forays outdated? To go and infringe on wildlife territory for our sporting gratification is a form of selfishness. On the other hand, to allow wildlife to thrive in their natural setting is a godly blessing. We need to protect wildlife habitats for their own sake. Let's challenge both deliberate hunting for sport's sake and an invasive eco-tourism that infringes on wildlife habitats. A good alternative is to sponsor professional camera crews to picture wildlife in the least disturbing manner, and then promote records that allow virtual visits through movie, TV and Internet -- not by individual physical wildlife forays.
Should wildlife hunting as sport be banned? Let's go a step farther and talk about hunting; let's be particularly interested in early "conservationists," wealthy enough to travel distances to hunt game for sport. The perception that the sporting affluent enhance tourism through trips, lodging, and food is overblown. Certainly some contact with wildlife is needed for protective measures, for areas of research, and for obtaining materials for virtual tourism projects, provided special care is taken not to disturb the fragile habitats. Such permitted activities can assist in hiring local people for wildlife preservation and policing.
Are international wildlife conservation programs necessary? If wildlife is a global commons and of value to all people, wildlife protection becomes a worldwide issue, and research by wealthier nations is needed. Wildlife conservation is welcome.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to see wildlife as a precious part of our creation and worthy of protection and enhancement.
Actions that Imitate Christ
Our actions must conform to those of the perfect ecologist, Jesus. The following are examples of Christlike activities:
1. Choose environmental activism. Through self-denial we seek to engage in environmental issues that touch the lives of the poor.
Local springtime environmental actions are quite numerous: trail maintenance, river cleanup, litter pickup, clearance of exotic invasive species, tree planting, forest and wildscape management, and on and on. Let’s characterize our steps with elements of March: freedom, respect, simplicity, endurance and rootedness.
Our choices of actions should be linked with personal experiences; selected issues will need additional hands. We must respect God-given resources and beg for divine assistance while aware of our own talents and limitations. We must be prepared to confront a hostile status quo while keeping a good sense of decency, charity, and openness. Green matters of all sorts can have imperfections and trade-offs worth considering. We must avoid pure emotionalism, check out authentic needs and accept patient endurance in coming to solutions. Last of all, we should give special emphasis to local problems worth tackling.
2. Welcome consolation.We crave the consoling touch of God's hand in our lives. We are not tough guys who can make it through life with nothing but a promise. We appreciate a good word, a pat on the back, a smile -- for all these are seasonings, which make the everyday life flavorful and livable -- and our merciful God undoubtedly will give these moments of encouragement. For Jesus, the Transfiguration is both consoling (a Lenten reflection) and glorious (on August 6th each year); it is recorded as pivotal in all three Synoptic Gospels as well as in St. Peter's Second Letter. Jesus takes three disciples up Mount Tabor, harking back to Moses’ assent to receive the Law on Mount Sinai. While standing in center stage, Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah, thus being above the greatest lawgiver and prophet. Jesus' face shines like the sun. Peter's reaction is to say -- "It is good for us to be here;" in today's culture we would say -- "Let's take a picture." (Today one can pray in the beautiful church of the Transfiguration).
What about transforming consolations for the environmental activist? Transfiguration is the vision of a better world, and occasionally we come to the hilltop, a vista from which we see ahead. No wonder Jesus' transfiguring occurred on beautiful Mount Tabor overlooking the lake and rolling hills of Galilee. We too need our moments of consolation -- and God provides them. Stop a moment and look at the awakening landscape; God gives us these moments and when they come we should glory in them -- a glory to be praised and enhanced, for suffering will come soon enough.
3. Charity versus Social Justice. In the words of Archbishop Helder Camara "If I feed the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist." How much direct charity and how much social justice, for both have their place? Jesus, as liberator, confronts an oppressive establishment; he also feeds the multitudes. Should we focus on direct food aid or on causes of hunger? The first is more praiseworthy and the second more radical. We see needy people and respond since our salvation is at stake; bellies need food now, today. At a deeper stage we ask: What if -- we see problems and in the long run can solve them with assistance from others? Jesus drives moneychangers from the Temple, confronts the power establishment, calls his earthly ruler a fox, prepares his disciples to undergo persecution, and accepts suffering and death willingly.
Eco-spirituality moves to ever deeper levels of involvement. At the first stage we must feed those who are starving and offer the homeless shelter. But Jesus both fed the hungry and challenged the system, so should we; we must lobby to fashion better regulations; we are willing to take direct action. Charity without justice is unrealistic; commitment to social justice issues alone without some empirical feedback through direct works of mercy often lacks human sensitivity. Complexity of issues, misunderstanding of opponents, and overwhelming stress may erode activists' stamina. By participating at both levels we invite the poor to participate; we both work for the poor and walk hand-in-hand in solidarity with them.
Summary. During Lent we look beyond God's glorious creation (January's eco-spirituality) and the desolation of February. In March we learn to incarnate Christ in our world -- both glorious and compassionate: we look down and see Earth; we look up and see the transfigured Jesus, a consoling grace. The reality keeps our feet steady, our vision focused, and our heart enthusiastic for being faithful to our calling. Lent teaches us to see the total picture; we are cautious and gaze in all directions before crossing into action. Christ, perfect ecologist, comes among his own, and his own do not receive him; amid rejection Jesus teaches us to be courageous. Let's feed the hungry and challenge the unjust system. We journey with Jesus to Jerusalem to suffer and die with him. We forsake a shallow compassion focusing only on individual sufferers, as though bandaging effects will treat causes. A deepening compassion embodies both mercy for victim and righteous anger at culprit. Compassion is balm that soothes and heals; it is also a laxative that starts deeper things moving.
We listen, hear the Word, and give it flesh with our personal experiences. Inspiration is divine; implementation is human; both in tandem make a Christlike activist. Inspiration needs to be enfleshed; flesh needs to be inspired; both must be simultaneously present in the same person, if we are to be like Jesus; we become Christ to the hungry and oppressed. Jesus is God-Man and the hyphen involved centuries of theological struggle; we apply past distinctions to current urgent activities. We are born into the Divine compassionate Family. We become Christlike individually and as members of Christ's Body -- human and godly. We walk with Jesus into April's palm-strewn Jerusalem streets.
Photo taken on a hike to check on
progress of a beaver dam. (*photo
March 27, 2020Maintaining Freedom of Press and Communications
The ongoing saga of WikiLeaks, and its revelations opens a major debate in our country and in the world as to what information is in the public interest. Certainly military dispatches, diplomatic cables, and bank records could be private, but they could easily be in the public interest also, especially when lives of many people depend on the suppression or revelation of their contents. I have become ambivalent about this form of communication and the dust of the controversy has not settled yet. Listening to reporters for the press and social media telling of self-censoring to omit persons at risk is not satisfying.
Can we support WikiLeaks and its ilk? My own shift from being at odds with such revelations, especially when hearing that bank records were forthcoming, yielded to more than curiosity; some important information may be revealed in the public interest including a President's tax returns. What is being hidden from public view when the citizen has a right to know? Prosecutors have the duty to go after wrongdoing in the greedy financial world. This right to know by citizens is so often infringed upon by the cloud of secrecy in business world where light could be helpful.
Is it the citizen's right to have a global free flow of information? When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2011 to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, his government would not allow him to leave prison, nor his wife to leave the country to collect the prize, nor his country to hear the Oslo ceremony or even news of his award. Any key word that brought an Internet user to that event was suppressed, showing the power of a communications network to be controlled by autocratic authorities.
Will cyber-attacks or simply their threats limit our freedom to communicate? A friend called me to say that her domain server notified her that her blog was under attack due to something political that she had posted. It may have been one of these Daily Reflections. Is this an example of threats that we all face for declaring ourselves for or against certain issues? Granted, the blog arena is more susceptible than informational networks to such attacks, but why should a hacker be allowed to trash or disrupt an assembly with differing views from that of the attacker?
Is control of the media outlets by wealthy owners a restriction on freedom? One can denounce repressive regimes and yet overlook media moguls who have the economic power to create a subtle propaganda machine that can repress information for forming public opinion. When major outlets are only open to specific views and people become increasingly passive, freedom is being subtly suppressed. Today the Internet's free access is threatened when some could be offered advantages and privileges for money. A vigilant society must become aware of such possible practices.
Prayer: Lord, allow us the freedom to express ourselves and the responsibility to say what needs to be expressed.
Our vast oceans are under threat, because oceans can be damaged by human activity. For almost five centuries mercury used in placer mining ended up in our oceans; recent observations involve large masses of floating plastic bags and junk on the surfaces of the seas. Extracting oil from the oceans can lead through mismanagement to spills and serious contamination. Climate change is causing ocean levels to rise and open coastal areas to severe damage during extreme weather events; fisheries are being depleted through exploitation; increased carbon dioxide is acidifying these bodies; oceans suffer from unregulated activity.
Ought there be effective policing of the oceans? The maritime commons has a rich store of natural treasures as, for instance, many colorful but quite fragile coral reefs. These reefs are often tourist destinations, but their vast expanse makes them a major challenge to police. Furthermore, rising ocean temperatures, acidity, and general water pollution are causing the coral to fade and coral formations to erode. Some coral is stolen or damaged by human misdeeds, but that amount is quite insignificant when compared to damages from global climate change. However, this recent phenomenon can be policed through global resolve.
Who owns the resources of the Oceans? Exploitation of ocean mineral and petroleum resources will most likely continue to occur. In part this is due to poor regulations by nations with shorelines and the lack of jurisdiction by UN agencies. Over-whaling occurs and is also a challenge to control, especially since some is done under the aegis of "scientific research." Currently overfishing, especially by the use of corporate factory ships with immense draglines, takes in many marine species indiscriminately, and injures or kills many of these in the process. Ocean fishers know that fish stocks are finite and that harvest can be controlled. Corporate mineral and resource extractors are poised to start massive extraction processes when the technologies are fine-tuned. Corporate interests, influenced the U.S.' refusal to sign the "Law of the Seas" in the early 1980s, have been able to keep UN-sponsored international rules from being effective.
Are there examples of ocean policing that are effective? Yes, where the determination to do this internationally is attempted positive results can occur. Piracy on the oceans is a case in point through international cooperative efforts. Piracy on the high seas is an ancient and yet also a modern problem, for it entices the utterly destitute (e.g., Somali people) to seek instant riches by holding up trading ships on traditional trade routes. Such piracy off the eastern African coast could not be handled by nearly non-existent local navies, so larger navies sent vessels to assist their own threatened maritime interests. Incidents of piracy there have be greatly reduced in the past decade.
Prayer: Lord, incite us to act to save our seas, a part of your creation's treasure that is entrusted to us.
A lone crocus blooms on the edge of
field readied for development. Grant Co., KY. (*photo
March 29, 2020Discovering Christ as the Resurrection and Life
I am the resurrection.... (John 11:25)
As we approach the passion and death of the Lord, we recall that Chapter Eleven of St. John's Gospel is often used in funeral homilies. Believers seek to discover Jesus as the center of new life, and then try to make ourselves imitators of him in order to serve our neighbor during our limited mortal life.
Christ, as resurrection, our guide, and our teacher:
the road map for our journey of faith;
the gate of heaven and access to God the Father;
the path to the Father (John 1:18; 12:45; 14:9);
the way of the cross;
the venture to save others;
the passage into the New Covenant;
the opening to future glory;
the compass of our intellectual pursuits;
the answer to our constant questioning;
the faithful witness to the Father;
the eternal Word made flesh;
the Good News proclaimed to all creation;
the personification "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23);
the pleasure of the Father;
the Suffering Servant;
the High Priest;
the Good News living with us;
the God within; and
the Bread of Life.
We as resurrection and healers to others:
witnesses to Jesus among us;
co-sufferers through compassion;
bearers of Good News;
members of the Body of Christ;
givers of encouragement to the discouraged;
enthusiastic bearers of the God within;
spiritual lights in a darkened world;
travelers on the journey of faith;
examples of joy and love;
opportunities to assist those in need;
friends of the marginalized and oppressed;
sharers in the divine family;
reclaimers of the commons;
living testimony to God's love for us;
ways to draw others to Christ;
providers of bread to the hungry; and
healers of our wounded Earth.
Prayer: Lord, as we approach the Calvary event, make us all the more willing to enlighten others and share with them in their sufferings. Make our service part of your resurrection event.
Learn your local wildflowers. Harbinger of spring (Erigenia
bulbosa), Mercer Co., KY. (*photo
March 30, 2020 Establishing Cultural and Historic Sites
We seek to be right with others who hold dear cultural differences -- treasures of special value are part of the ongoing commons of our human history. Our collective responsibility is to help establish and preserve these treasures for future generations. Thus we must broaden our perspective and knowledge of what other peoples consider as their cultural heritage. We must learn about them, listen, discuss, and defend a variety of cultural expressions -- the celebrations, foods, rituals, and practices of these our close and more distant neighbors.
Should our respect for religious shrines be limited to our own specific religious beliefs? This raises a question of access and protection of these religious sites that act as magnets that draw large numbers of pilgrims to specific locations and events. Often these sites and events involve beautiful settings and elaborate ceremonies that attract crowds. We need not necessarily participate or even visit the sites themselves, but still be concerned about the safety and protection of religious participants. Many popular sites ought to be declared global heritage areas with protection for safe travel and accommodations.
Are historic sites of local or greater concern? Historic sites may be so familiar to local groups with more essential concerns that they are allowed to be overlooked as to preserving efforts. When our respect extends to these, economic development pressures that infringe on battlefield areas, historic buildings or cultural grounds can be more easily challenged by the public. Commercial or greedy local interests often play down historic significance to birthplaces or residences of recognized personages (e.g., civic leaders, reformers, artists, or inventors). Highlighting local historic places enhances the tourist value and pride of local communities. Such sites include places of early settlements that were undertaken at great sacrifice on the part of colonists -- and these are worth public recognition.
Should cultivating culture be a global concern? The quality of our lives is enhanced by flourishing, diverse cultures -- for in diversity comes richness of human expression. The basic mission of UNESCO is to contribute to sustainable human development in a culture of peace underpinned by tolerance, democracy and human rights, through programmes and projects in UNESCO's fields of competence: education, the natural and social sciences, culture and communication and information.
Should we support retaining threatened languages? An added concern is that of minority languages that are threatened by native abandonment for a more predominant commercial tongue. Our cultural respect ought to extend to keeping languages flourishing even when we realize that dialects may die through broader social media use.
Prayer: Lord, help us to extend respect for broader cultural values and to encourage others to cooperate in these efforts.
March 31, 2020 Ensuring Mobility: Being Right with Migrants
You must not molest or oppress the stranger, for you were once foreigners yourselves in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)
Isn't part of being human to learn to crawl, walk, run, visit, migrate? Mobility is part of our restless nature -- fleeing from dangers, learning about our cultural roots, searching for work opportunities, and enhancing our quality of life through movement. Much affects those who move and those who are the hosts of the immigrant, tourist, pilgrim, and refugee. Travel means, destinations, and basics of those moving all add up to challenging circumstances. Yes, we're free but --
Is flight by a refugee from danger a valid reason for moving? The obvious "yes" may beg the deeper question, namely, how can conditions in the place of origin be changed so that the refugee can remain or return after a temporary stay abroad. Those who suffer within their own lands such a Central America may have valid reasons to flee, and since we are all strangers and guests, we have a duty to be hospitable and welcome them.
Are learning and cultural fulfillment a valid reason for human movement? Few question when someone with money comes to tour a place and to spend money here in order to enjoy a new cultural experience. This movement by tourists or by pilgrims calls for hospitality -- and all benefit by the moving experiences.
Are work opportunities valid reasons for migration? This is a more difficult issue than tourism. All things considered, it seems far better that work opportunities be met at the land of origin; thus less disruption to families and community are involved and all can enjoy established community life. Work opportunities could be brought to workers rather than workers move elsewhere, but history goes on. Barbarians crossed the Rhine into the Roman Empire; eager Latinos cross the Rio Grande; Chinese farmers migrate to eastern industrial cities -- all part of a grand movement of people to something more promising. A host of challenges includes decent lodging, work permits, fair pay, and health benefits to newcomers. Some welcome migrants because they are willing to work; others build questionable barriers to stop their movement.
Is a better quality of life a valid reason for movement? Many of our ancestors came to America even with homeland work opportunities; they were looking for something better and so felt justified in coming and settling in our fair land. Being socially just extends to welcoming and helping settle migrants. Immigrants have willing hands and open hearts; so ought residents to have the same. Our immigrating ancestors expected as much. The struggle to get the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) legislation approved is part of an ongoing socially just concern.
Prayer: Lord, help us who were and are strangers and guests to welcome others to our land and community.