Caring for All Creation

imagesBack a few weeks ago, we decided to pray outside for our weekday mass honoring the words of Pope Francis’ new encyclical Ladatio Si.  It was lovely but I also noticed one thing:

It was hot.

In the last five years or so, I have found it difficult to be outside because the heat is often too much for me.  Now hear me carefully, I love to be outside.  But I’m finding it more and more difficult because the temperature is much higher and the humidity much more unbearable.

If this is global warming, I’m not playing this game.   And anyone who denies that we play a part in this each and every day, is simply kidding themselves.

I’m honored that the Pope has written such an amazing call to action for the global community.  Hear that! The Pope is challenging all people, not just Catholic people, to care more diligently for the earth.

Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development. Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”

So what is that to all of us mean?  It means that we have a responsibility for the earth. And in celebrating stewardship we are called to love the earth as St Francis did and as Pope Francis does. Smartly, Pope Francis links this global crisis additionally to a care for the poor.  How many live in poor environmental conditions because of our unwillingness to reduce our dependence on the comforts of our developed world?  How many places have no drinking water or minimally no clean drinking water?

Today I will call myself to consider the environment more intentionally and make changes in my own life that will be good for both me and the world.  I’m trying to eat less meat, recycle as much as possible and reduce my driving as much as I can.  I’m sure they’ll be more to do–but for now this is a good start.

So let us pray for all those who are living in less than adequate conditions and face the world each day a little poorer because of our consumption. Let us pray for more sustainable solutions so that all might live a bit more freely in peace and security.

Sandy in Long Island

I just returned from Long Island where 8 of us from St Joe’s took some time to help people effected by Superstorm Sandy. We were hosted by Fr. Ted Brown, the director of Campus Ministry at LIU Post and a LaSallette priest (His nameplate on his desk just reads Ted Brown, Friend) and he and his colleague Jeanette, arranged our projects and provided our housing and a few meals making this an affordable and awesome trip.

We headed out to Long Beach where the sand on the beach is now piled high. Know those snow piles you see in winter. They have sand like that. See for yourself.


We helped a great guy named Bryan who has been putting his own needs far behind the needs of the community. He opened his realty office to be used as a donation headquarters. “Basically anything you can get at a CVS!” he said to us. At the same time he arranges volunteers to go help residents who have lots of damage to their homes.

He sent us to rip out flooring and sub flooring in two different homes and then Jeannette, LIU’s community service coordinator suggested that we help him get his business back on its feet as well. Bryan’s office was also damaged by the tons of water that flowed ashore, but Bryan was too busy helping everyone else to take care of this. So we ripped out his walls and insulation and got two rooms ready for rehab. Here I am crowbarring out his drywall.


Val, one of my favorite students, had an insightful remark during reflection about the experience. “Outside these homes look fine, even beautiful. But inside! They’re ruined! Do we look carefully enough at the needs of others, because they might look OK, but on the inside, they may be in need of help.” Here we see Christine ripping out rotted floor boards from a home.


That young lady will be a great occupational therapist!

So pray for the people in these areas, who are still recovering. They need our prayers and now that the CNN cameras have gone away, many feel isolated and alone and quite a bit desperate.

As we get back to our lives, let us remember to look more deeply at the needs of others and know that what we see may not tell the whole story.

Will Bishops Lose Their Tax Exempt Status for Pushing for Romney?

From the Religion News Service:

A public watchdog group is charging the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with openly politicking on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and it wants the Internal Revenue Service to explore revoking the hierarchy’s tax-exempt status.

“In completely unqualified terms, the IRS should immediately tell the Conference of Catholic Bishops that the conduct of its members is beyond the pale,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

“If the Catholic bishops would like to continue receiving the tremendous tax benefits on which they rely, they should follow U.S. law and stay out of American politics,” Sloan added in a statement last Friday (Nov. 2) announcing the complaint.

Sloan argued that last-minute appeals by numerous bishops had crossed the line into electioneering. She named several prelates, including Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., a fierce critic of President Barack Obama, who ordered his priests to read a letter at all Masses on Sunday that sharply criticized Democratic policies and warned that Catholics who voted for those policies would endanger their eternal salvation.

A few thoughts here:

The first is that the USCCB doesn’t endorse a particular candidate as a body. Individual bishops who represent a particular diocese are another matter. One stated that Catholics voting for the President would put their soul in jeopardy. Others put pressure on Catholics to vote against the President for his stances on abortion, gay marriage and the HHS mandate (or the issue of religious freedom). Meanwhile on the other side, many black protestant churches openly touted the President and are far more apt to make such statements. Billy Graham openly plugged his preference for Governor Romney and one small non denominational church posted “Vote for the Mormon, not for the Muslim.” Interesting that this last one is both partisan and incorrect.

The question, as regards this particular situation, places individual Bishops and/or clerics in the crosshairs and it looks like someone will be holding them to greater accountability.

It seems to me that Bishops and other clerics need a media expert who can be a bit more covert about their intentions. For example, one should name an issue, not a candidate. One should call on the fallacies of BOTH candidates if they name one over the other. The USCCB often touts that they don’t endorse any candidate and perhaps that mandates all bishops to use the same language.

Lastly, I have two final points. One is that the hatred for the President from the right wing holds no bounds both within and outside of the church. That needs to change within the church or we will face having to work with the government from the cheap seats. Governing is choosing, governing is compromise–by design. We are not going to win every time in our efforts with the executive branch or with the other two branches of our government. Abortion will not be illegal overnight and health care packages may indeed not be mindful of our positions on contraception. But that merely puts the ball in our court to decide what we might do, despite those obstacles and more importantly, how we might do that peacefully.

The second and final point is that we play into the hands of the militant secularists when we endorse a candidate by name. We have a great responsibility to keep issues that we are concerned about in front of all the candidates, but in doing so, we cannot afford to trade an endorsement of a particular candidate in exchange for their aligning with our moral values. No, we need be more vigilant than that, because campaign promises are fickle and often unrealized. Our role in government is advisory and the body of Christ votes of their own God-given free will. And most often they vote for their candidate despite the ranting of those who think they know the state of our souls, or the assumption that they vote to endorse an immoral act. The militant secularists, those who wish to sideline religion altogether from public life are indeed winning. And they do so, because just a few people are downright dumb.

What role should the church play in politics? A huge one. The church, that is all the people of God, should be lobbying our own leaders to take a firmer role in assisting those who caring for the poor. We should become peace negotiators, like former President Carter, and be able to play that role publicly and with firm resolve for ending war. Imagine Cardinal Dolan negotiating peace at the United Nations! We should build homes for pregnant teens down the block from the abortion clinics so women think twice about making that decision and then we should support them with the full weight of our wallets. We should care for our environment and fight for the rights of immigrants. But we should do it all without regard for particular individuals and political parties.

In fact, we should do it on our own. We should do it to the point where all Governments call us and ask our advice and offer us some help because we set the standard of excellence in these situations despite the obstacles that are put in our way. We should do it because God calls us to it.

And we should do it so that they will know that we are Christians. How will they know? Because they will see us working with great love.

And not with partisan hatred.

The Global Math

If there’s one article that we all should read it’s this one in Rolling Stone on Global Warming.

I’ll cut to the chase as I read it. Our little individual cutbacks in energy use isn’t exactly the issue. The problem is more about the big fossil-fuel companies that are producing at a rate that is causing carbon dioxide to poison the planet.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both.

What a surprise. The problem is greed. Oh and wait, it’s also because these companies get one big break that nobody else gets: they can dump as much CO2 as they want.

Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue.

If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a strong signal to use less fossil fuel – every time they stopped at the pump, they’d be reminded that you don’t need a semimilitary vehicle to go to the grocery store. The economic playing field would now be a level one for nonpolluting energy sources. And you could do it all without bankrupting citizens – a so-called “fee-and-dividend” scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon. By switching to cleaner energy sources, most people would actually come out ahead.

It’s time to lobby congress and take these matters into our hands as citizens. Our President continues to say we should drill and his opponent does as well. This should be the biggest issue of the campaign and yet, nobody’s on the opposite side of either of these guys. I intend to try to stop purchasing from any of the fossil fuel companies and move to more sustainable green energy in whatever way I can. I’m moving towards a more vegetarian diet as well–more for health reasons but also because we have to stop feeding the greed.

What does the Catholic Church say about this?

The tenet of prudence takes central stage here:

“Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” —Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, December 2007

The Coalition accepts overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. There is nearly unanimous agreement that human actions are creating a warming planet. As stewards of all Creation, we must identify wise, careful actions that will reverse this climate change and avoid its potentially dangerous impact on all life-especially human life.

State and local Catholic leaders can play a central role in bringing together scientists, theologians, business and labor leaders, government officials, human service providers and other stakeholders to shape a wise and careful approach consistent with our principles. With such leadership, the Catholic community will answer God’s call to be faithful stewards.

Check out some more from the Catholic Climate Covenant and then do what I did: Take the St. Francis Pledge.

We are one body in Christ, called to protect the earth from greed and toxicity. May we stand together and bring an end to all that could cause harm to the Earth.

Flurries from Heaven

Today we have the first sign of snow in Western New York as we start our December. It made me recall an article I wrote for BustedHalo® many moons ago.

I remember building a snowman in my backyard with my older sister when I was about 5 years old. It was there that snow became the great equalizer. While she piled together the bottom third of our snowman, I took the opportunity to plot my big moment of revenge for all the times I was too little to be noticed.

I packed together a small mound of snow in my tiny five-year-old fingers and slowly approached the victim prowler-like, slowly and deliberately. With her back turned away, in the perfect kneeling position, she was now exactly my height—and busily packing the snow. I quickly arrived at the glorious summit of Mt. Kathy and (WHOMPF) smushed the snowball right in her face, a direct hit! A blow for the munchkins! I screamed a five-year-old high-pitched squeal as the snow dripped down her glasses onto her cheeks. Even the defeated older sister seemed proud of her little brother, as she smiled at my delight. Of course, that didn’t stop her from pummeling the crap out of me in the moments that followed. Regardless, it was my finest childhood hour.

Now as an adult, snow is more of a pain. I hate cleaning off my car (we don’t have a garage) in the winter months. And I thank God that out neighborhood has a snow removal service. While it’s been a rumor that Buffalo gets a lot of snow, I didn’t find it to be horrible in my rookie year. We’ll see what the second year holds for us.

But mostly, I think snow is God’s reminder to us to slow down and more importantly to not take ourselves too seriously. We need to frolic once in awhile and I know I need to simply take a day off and curl up with a nice warm puppy once in awhile.

Snow too, leads us to engage more with God and community:

… snow is a prayerful moment. It’s a time when we open our homes for folks to come in out of the cold and share in the fires of our love. Everything stops, dies in a sense, to a newness of white, a purity of design, where the small are no greater than the tall, when the child in all of us revels in a mother’s love. The snow allows neighbors to meet, pitching in to dig out each other’s cars. It is God’s reminder to us that as the world grows, we all need to put on a new self, quiet our hearts, and provide each other with warmth when the harsh cold chaps our skin, dampens our spirit, or slows us down.

So let us pray today for snow…or if you can’t bring yourself to pray for that, then pray for the time we need to just be still, to watch the whiteness fall from the sky and to praise God for the simple moments of a winter’s peace.

Sunshine in Buffalo?

It’s a question I get from my downstater friends and others around the country often: How’s the weather? Are you buried under snow?

And while the winds of fall bluster leaves around the neighborhood here in Buffalo, there are glimmers of summer trying desperately to hang around. Check these out:

Sunset from my driveway:

Sunrise on the morning walk with my dog:

And then a left turn just one block away turned into this glistening moment:

It often makes me feel small, God’s wonder of weather. The sun shining and the leaves falling and the clouds threatening. Scientific explanations can tell us why they all happen, but little can be said about the awe inspiring feelings that are beholden to each one of us when we are caught in a moment of grandeur like this.

I start and end each of my days with the sun. Some days I cannot see the sun and I humbly remember that I am not in control. Other days I respond with much gratitude for the picturesque. And even more days I respond with longing to see God in the gloomy and the grandiose.

And so today, I wait for God to come again…

And show me the joy in creation.

Seeing St. Francis

Quite often we see statues of St. Francis in the garden, a seemingly tranquil figurine, surrounded by nature and other animals. As the patron of ecology and animal lovers it indeed seems a very appropriate place for St Francis to be, no?

But how often to we relegate Francis to the garden? This was a man who was in fact, quite a rabble rouser. He was someone that we might even be afraid of because of his craziness? I mean what would you think of someone who strips nude in front of his father in the public square? Francis was no quiet dove.

But then again, perhaps there’s even more to tranquility than meets the eye.

Francis was someone who couldn’t live any other way once his eyes were opened to the plight of the poor. His choosing of a life of poverty was a radical choice to be sure, but it was also a choice for tranquility in his heart. If he chose any other way of life, Francis would have lived a life of anxiety, unable to sleep at night, uncomfortable with his role in all of creation.

Dare I say, he would have been out of harmony with his nature.

I think perhaps even the animals sensed this inner peace from this man who was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t need anything else from anyone. All he needed was to give love to others and presumably to love all of creation including brother sun and sister moon and brother dog and sister cat. Animals often can sense someone who is that confident and will become submissive to that person as a pack leader and they in turn give them comfort as well. I know when I feel even a little bit off, Haze, my dog can sense that and it gets him uncomfortable as well. Things are simply not in harmony and it throws the whole balance of our lives off.

Do we ever feel “out of harmony” with ourselves? Do we ever make a choice that goes against our own “inner tranquility?” Do the animals run from us because they sense our fear? Do we ever dare to be naked before God with all of our own convictions?

Or do we choose to hide in the garden ashamed?

It seems our failures are indeed as old as the hills. And because of that we need Francis, who teaches us how to live in harmony with ourselves and in turn, with all of nature.

Francis’ prayer also lets us know that being in peaceful harmony with creation did not come easy for him and therefore we all need to pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Now go hug an animal that blesses us with their companionship, or head to the zoo, or simply enjoy the environment on which you live today and know that you are connected to it all–in harmony with all of God’s creation.