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Deacon-structing Marriage: Part 1

A groom and bride hold hands on their wedding day. Catholic marriages in the United States are at their lowest point since 1965. (CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks) See CATHOLIC-MARRIAGE March 19, 2015.

So here we go….

I’ve been sitting here pondering on the SCOTUS decision of last week, legalising same-sex marriage in all of the U.S. and all I keept thinking of was “But, what is marriage?” Who decides what marriage is? Why is marriage of any concern to the state? Who designed marriage in the first place?

As I was thinking, reading and praying about this, I found a series of articles that I wrote 5 years ago. Do you remember Miss California, Carrie Prejean? She, a professed Christian, was put on the spot by Beauty Pageant Judge, Perez Hilton and asked if she thought that same-sex marriage should be legalised in every State.

This led me to ask the very simple question, “What is marriage?” I asked for your input and I’d like to pick up where I left off.

So, this is what we’re going to do. Read “What if I was Miss California” and read my following blog entry, What is Marriage and send in your comments.

I am interested in how you would define Marriage. What are the main ingredients for a marriage? Love? Sex? Gender? The ability to procreate? Faithfulness? What do you think? What is your experience.

Send your comments in via Facebook or Yahoo (by writing a comment here below) or email me your comments to pedro@saltandlighttv.org. I hope to be able to publish some of your comments.

You have a week. Starting next week, we will begin deacon-structing marriage and you’ll know, not only what I think and what the Church teaches, but also why.

Off to the races.

(CNS file photo/Jon L. Hendricks)

pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing life

This is a reflection for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B. The readings are Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15 and Mark 5:21-43.

God did not make death. That’s what I kept thinking last Saturday. You see, I was in Poland and last Saturday I had the chance to spend the day at Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps. All I kept thinking was, “God did not make death.” But there was a lot of death at Auschwitz.

Between 1940 and 1945, some 1.2 million men, women and children were brought to the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. Of these, 90% were killed and of those who were killed, about 90% were Jews. People would be brought to Auschwitz in box cars (for cattle). When they arrived, they would be forced off the trains and separated by gender: men to one side and women to the other. Then they would be separated again: those who were deemed suitable for work and those not suitable for work. If you were found not suitable for work, you would be sent directly to the gas chamber. 75% of the people who arrived in Auschwitz never stayed there; they went straight from the train into the gas chamber. Among them, a Jewish woman converted to Catholicism by the name of Edith Stein and her sister Rosa. Edith Stein was a Carmelite Sister and is now known as St. Teresa Benedicta of Cross.

Of the 25% who were found suitable for work, the average stay was 3 months. The number one cause of death (besides gassing) was starvation. I don’t have to tell you the cruelty, horror and inhumanity that went on at Auschwitz and other camps. I don’t need to tell you all the horrible inhumanity and suffering that still goes on every day right here in our streets, but also in the Middle East because of ISIS and in Uganda because of Joseph Kony, and also in so many other places because of human cruelty.

Because of sin. God is not the author of death nor he delights in death.

There was a lot of death at Auschwitz, but God did not make death. That is why Jesus consistently fought against sickness and death. I used to think that it’s not possible that Jesus healed everyone he met. We only hear those stories in the Gospels, but Jesus didn’t heal everyone. I don’t think that anymore. We only hear stories of people being healed in the Gospels because Jesus healed everyone! Everyone who comes to Jesus and touches the hem of his garment or pleads to him for their sick child receives a healing. Everyone who meets Jesus is healed. But it’s not always easy to see the healing and not everyone gets healed physically. That’s because God in his wisdom and awesome majesty is working to get us to Heaven. This life is but a rest stop; we are but pilgrims on a journey. God is healing us so that we can have eternal life. We believe that death is a consequence of sin, but our Faith also teaches that death is a solution to sin – because once we die to this life and we are finally home with the Father, we will sin no more. That’s our faith.

But still, walking through Auschwitz last Saturday, it was hard not to question faith. Nazi extermination camps didn’t just kill 6 million Jews; they also killed some 7 million non-Jews, including almost two million Polish Catholics, some three million Soviet Prisoners of war; over 1 million Gipsies, 200,000 people with disabilities and thousands of people from other ethnic and religious minorities including thousands of Catholic priests and religious. What’s worse is that for many, places like Auschwitz killed God, because it killed faith. Walking through Auschwitz last Saturday, it was hard not to wonder where God was.

God did not make death. God is the God who takes on our suffering. Where was God at Auschwitz? He was on the train, herded like cattle. He was there holding the hand of a little girl as they were taken into the extermination chamber. Where was God? He was on the Cross. God did not make death. God is the God who takes our sickness and our death. He dies so that death can be no more. St. Paul tells us that death has no victory (1 Cor 15:55) and that the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:26). Well, the battle has been won. Death is no more. Jesus Christ has destroyed death. #LoveWins

God is not the author of death. God is the author of life. God is present in every moment of life. Where was God at Auschwitz? He was there in the small act of kindness; the encouraging smile; the strengthening word. He was there in that small piece of smuggled dried bread so that someone could eat. God was present in every heroic act of love, the least of which was the final act of St. Maximilian Kolbe who offered to take the place of a man, a stranger, condemned to death by starvation so he could have the opportunity to one day go home and be with his wife and children. St. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life and that man did survive to go home to be with his wife and children.

God is not the author of death. God is the author of life and we too are called to be authors of life. In everything we do and say, we must always give life. We go to Mass to receive the Author of Life in the Eucharist so we can go out there and give life to others. At the end of the day when you do your Examen, ask yourself two questions: “Who did I give life to today?” and “How did I give life today?” We are called to give life in everything we say and do; St. Paul tells the Corinthians that if they can, they should support the Church in Jerusalem (1 Cor 8). That’s a way to give life. Last week Pope Francis released an encyclical, Laudato Si, on the care of our common home; it’s about caring for creation. It’s about giving life. It’s not just about trees and whales or protecting lakes and the ozone layer, although that is important. Laudato Si is about respecting all creation.

This week’s episode of Creation is titled Respect. If our call to care for the environment begins with a sense of wonder (as we learned in Episode 1) and humans have a special place in the created world (as we learned in episode 2), what does it mean to “respect” creation? I’d like you to watch episode 3, but I will give you a hint: Respect means recognizing the inherent dignity of all creation. That means that when we respect, we give life. [Watch Creation: Respect, this Tuesday, June 30th at 8:30pm ET.)

Giving respect means giving life. It means defending and protecting all human life from conception to natural death. It means defending and protecting marriage and family. It means working for social justice and for the dignity of all workers; for the poor and those in the peripheries. We are called to work for life because God is the God of life.

God did not make death. Everything that comes from God is life. There is a song by Christian singer/songwriter Laura Story called Blessings. In it she sings:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home.

This is not our home because there is death in this life and we belong with God who did not make death. Our home is with God, the Author of Life.

Photo credit: The main gate at the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Michel Zacharz AKA Grippenn[1] – Own work.


We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

And all the while You hear each desperate plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It’s not our home

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise?

Deacon-structing Laudato Si (well, part of it)

Arbeit Macht Frei
Laudato Si is so complete and so radical that it will take years for us to unpack it fully. There is a lot there, but one of the themes that has most moved me (and this was not surprising) is encapsulated by this statement from the introduction: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickenss evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.” (LS 2)

For Pope Francis (and for the Catholic Church), there is no difference between the sins committed to the natural ecology and the sins committed to the human ecology. In chapter two, Laudato Si explains that the Creation narratives of Genesis teach that we are called to three fundamental relationships: The relationship between us and God; between us and other humans and the relationship between us and the rest of creation. All three are equal and interconnected (LS 66). When we harm one, we harm the other; when we elevate one, we elevate the other. We wonder why we are in such an ecological crisis? Well, we’re also in a human crisis.

There is a reason however, why today I am particularly thinking about the sins we commit against each other; against other human beings. You see, as I write this, I am in Poland and yesterday I spent the whole day at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Between 1940 and 1945, 1,300,000 people were sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau. Of these, 1,100,000 were Jews. 150,000 were Poles. 23,000 were Roma (Gypsies). 15,000 were Soviet Prisoners of War and 25,000 were of other ethnic groups. Of these, 1,100,000 died at Auschwitz/Birkenau. 90% of them were Jews. The people who arrived at the camp generally did not know what was awaiting them. They truly believed that things would get better. The first thing they saw at the entrance to Auschwitz was the sign over the gate: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” work sets you free. Many believed it. However, witness accounts say that the commandant would greet them saying: “This is a concentration camp- there is no way out other than through the chimney of the crematorium.”

I don’t think I need to go into the details of what these people sufferered. I don’t need to explain the horrors that went on inside these compounds. Having spent the day there, I can only wonder how humans can be so cruel – how we are capable of such inhummanity. The rest of creation does not have the capacity for evil. That alone is reserved for human beings.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis explains that according to the Bible, the three vital relationships have been broken. This rupture is sin. “The rupture between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations” (LS 6). He says that this is a far cry from what God originally intended and so “sin is manifested in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature” (LS 6). I don’t need to tell you that there is evil in the world and we don’t need to go to Auschwitz to figure it out; still, it’s easy to live our lives ignoring that “creation is groaning” (Rom 8).

According to the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, Poland, “behind the women’s camp in Birkenau the Nazis built gas chamber and crematorium II. Today only the ruins are visible because before leaving the camp the S.S. blew up the building. About 2,000 people would enter the gas chamber at once, to be suffocated by Cyclon B. They would be standing crushed against one another, holding hands in the cramp of death, so that the commandos had trouble to pull them apart.”

At the same time I learned the story of Zofia Pohorecka, who “at the age of 20 years was imprisoned in the camp in Birkenau. After the war she lived in Oswiecim and she often met up with young German people who were visiting. She spoke to them about her survival and said that it was due to the care her friends gave her when she was seriously ill even though they knew they were endangering their own lives. She testified that friendship, love, and tender care make you strong.”  One need only hear the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe to know that these acts were not uncommon at Auschwitz.

Despite the difficulty of walking through the barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I was reminded that in the midst of all the misery and human degradation one could also witness acts of goodness. This is always the case. But in the reality of the extermination camps, these acts were heroic. We must learn to never give consent to evil and sin. There is Polish Way of the Cross that says that “there is no place where we can be exempted from the obligation to oppose evil and help those who suffer.” Always. You don’t think that one person doing a small act can make a difference? Think again.

I was reminded of what my friend, Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich told me once. He said that God alone has the ability to begin; but He has given us the ability to begin again. We must never forget that. Laudato Si says that “God can also bring out good out of the evil we have done… the Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge” (LS 80). This is very apparent in nature; many of us have also witnessed it among humans. I guess that is the message of The Cross.

Laudato Si is not just about nature; we recognise the dignity of all creation and human beings have a unique place. We cannot profess a respect for the natural ecology if we do not accept the dignity of all human life. The two are one and the same.

St. Francis wrote the beautiful Canticle of Creation, which gives Pope Francis’ encyclical its name. But today, walking in the footsteps of the millions killed needlessly at Auschwitz I was reminded of another prayer by St. Francis:

“O Lord, make us instruments of your peace,
To sow love where there is hatred,
Forgiveness where there is injustice,
Truth where there is doubt,
Hope where there is despair,
Light where there is darkness,
Joy where there is sadness.
Grant that we 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 forgiving that we are forgiven,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

May this be our prayer always for all creation.

For all complete “deacon-struction” of Laudato Sii, tune in to my conversation with Sr. Damien Marie Savino, on the SLHour.

And don’t forget to tune in for the second episode of Creation, The Human Person, where we address the question of the unique place of human beings in Creation. It will premiere on Tuesday, June 23 at 8:30pm ET.

pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing integral ecology

The UST Creation gang
Very few of us would argue that we have to care for the environment, in fact Pope Francis has said that it is our moral duty to care for Creation (Morning Homily from Feb 9, 2015).

How does this notion square with the idea that Scripture tells us to dominate and subdue the earth? I think the response to that is found in a term that we’ve been hearing about much lately and that will be integral (no pun) to the Pope’s upcoming encyclical on ecology: Integral Ecology.

As you already know, for the last five years I have been working on Creation, our six-part series that looks at the Catholic teachings on the ecology. The approach that we’ve been taking is the “integral” approach. But defining the term is not all that easy (perhaps that’s why we need an encyclical).

As I write this, I am in Lubbock, Texas working on a story on water shortages for our series. I decided to ask my partner on this project, Sr. Damien Marie Savino, FSE, who not only is a Franciscan Sister, but also an environmental engineer and the Chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, how she would define “integral ecology”.

Sr. Savino began with the etymology: “Integral means “whole” or “pertaining to the whole” and the word “ecology” comes from the Greek “ecos” which means home (ecology means “study of the home”). Therefore, the term “Integral Ecology” means a truly “catholic” (universal) understanding of ecology (a holistic understanding of our home), which includes the human and the natural ecology.”

So integral ecology means the respect of both the human and the natural ecology. If we disrepect one, we disrespect the other. If you elevate one, you elevate the other.

Sr. Savino was clear to point out that “human ecology” includes the moral structure that is part of our life together as human beings. This means that there is a natural morality (a sense of right and wrong) that we have, which is an important part of our human ecology. So if practicing intergral ecology includes respecting the moral structure. At the same time, the “natural ecology” means respecting the laws that are in the created world, the “grammar of nature” (to quote Pope Benedict XVI), which are written there by the Creator.

Scripture tells us that God “saw that it was good” (see Genesis 1). Indeed Creation is good, but Integral Ecology means recognizing not just the instrumental good but the intrinsic goodness and beauty of all Creation. An apple is good because it is good to eat, but it is also good in itself. We are good because we are Creation.

In relation to humans, Sr. Savino said that “Integral Ecology” means that humans are integral to nature (so that counters the idea that humans are dominators, but not to deny that we have a special place as caretakers who are created in the image and likeness of God). Saying that humans are integral to nature means countering the commoditization of nature, the consumeristic and throwaway culture, utilitarian attitudes and the loss of the sense of the innate dignity of all life. It also calls us to counter the loss of the sense of awe and wonder and contemplation. Sr. Savino added, “when we are truly integral to the ecology we are protecting, we are stewarding and we are mediating creation into its full fertlity.”

This is why Pope Francis says that Integral Ecology is our Christian duty. On that Feb 9th, 2015 morning homily he said that, “a Christian that does not care for creation, that does not make it grow, is a Christian who doesn’t care about the work of God; that work born from the love of God for us. And this is the first answer to the first creation: to care for Creation, to make it grow.”

Being a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist, Sr. Savino was sure to end by using St. Francis as an example of a truly lived Integral Ecology. She said that his response of reverence, fraternity and praise of God through His creatures exemplifies Integral Ecology. I guess that’s what his Canticle of Creation reflects and perhaps why Pope Francis is naming his encyclical after this Canticle, Laudato Sii (Praised be).

Be sure to join us on Tuesday, June 16, for the premier of Creation with our first episode, Sense of Wonder. It will air on S+L TV at 8:30pm ET and will be available for viewing on demand all that week on our website.

And if you’re still trying to figure out what the Pope will be saying about ecology, why not take a cue from what he wrote about the environment in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium:

From Evangelii Gaudium:

215. There are other weak and defenceless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation. I am speaking of creation as a whole. We human beings are not only the beneficiaries but also the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.[177] Here I would make my own the touching and prophetic lament voiced some years ago by the bishops of the Philippines: “An incredible variety of insects lived in the forest and were busy with all kinds of tasks… Birds flew through the air, their bright plumes and varying calls adding color and song to the green of the forests… God intended this land for us, his special creatures, but not so that we might destroy it and turn it into a wasteland… After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they are carrying the life blood of the land into the sea… How can fish swim in sewers like the Pasig and so many more rivers which we have polluted? Who has turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?”[178]

216. Small yet strong in the love of God, like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples.

The footnote (177) refers to the Final Propositions of the Synod on the New Evangelization, to which the Apostolic Letter responds:

The Stewardship of creation also serves evangelization in many ways. It is a witness to our faith in the goodness of God’s creation. It demonstrates a sense of solidarity with all those who depend for their life and sustenance on the goods of creation. It shows inter-generational solidarity with those who come after us, and is a clear witness to the responsible and equitable use of the goods of the earth, our common home.

Photo: Some of our Creation team. From L. to R.: Wally Tello (cameraman), Fr. Dempsey Rosales (our Scripture Scholar), Dr. Jim Clarage (our Physicist), Sr. Damien Marie Savino (our co-writer and Catholic Environmental expert), Fr. Ted Baenziger (the orchid lover) and Deacon Pedro. Taken while we were all working on the urban garden on campus at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

pedro_edit_edit_editEvery week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Creation


A few events the last couple weeks have led me to today’s reflection. Primarily, the fact that the Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will be releasing his second Encyclical later this month and that the topic of this papal document is the ecology. Add to that, the incredible response the news has garnered from both people inside, as well as outside the Church. Indeed, I don’t think any encyclical ever has had so much buzz surrounding it.

Last week I had a conversation with philosopher, Michael Augros, author of Who Designed the Designer (tune in to my conversation with Michael on the SLHour next weekend). In the book, Michael argues that he can prove the existence of God. He then proceeds to make his philosophical argument. But what really stayed with me (and this is nothing new, but it’s always amazing how we can listen to something so many times and then one day it really strikes us) is the fact that he said that our quest to prove the existence of God begins not with big philosophical questions or plumbing deep into questions of matter, mathematics or physics (although we get to those in time), but rather with creation around us. All we have to do is look at the universe around us – the universe that we can know – in order to begin our journey. And because we can all know the universe around us, it is a journey anyone can undertake.

This same idea was shared to me by Dr. John Hittinger, another philosopher and professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston as we worked on our new upcoming series Creation. I believe John said to me that it was St. Thomas Aquinas who taught that we begin our scientific or natural quest for God by looking at the world around us. I guess this is the notion that is expressed so beautifully in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

Lastly, this week I heard a program on CBC Radio’s Ideas on scientific thought. Apparently, it was argued in the program, scientific thought was advanced by the likes of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke by the idea that anyone can know Truth. Truth is knowable by anyone, because anyone can experience the world around us and ask questions. We know that two plus two is four, because we can see that when we take two apples and put them next to another set of apples, there are now four. We can also know more complicated truths through more complex experiments that involve the same kind of simple intuition. Lastly we can know by our senses. This, John Locke argued is the most unreliable way since we can be easily misled by our senses.

All of this came together for me because for the last 5 years I have been working on the above-mentioned six-part documentary series, Creation that looks at what the Catholic Church has to say about ecology. Our first episode begins with looking at the world around us: the sense of wonder.

“What could a pope possibly have to say about ecology?” some have asked. “Leave science to the scientists” others have said. But the Holy Father is not writing a scientific document. This encyclical is not about climate change or about energy. This encyclical will more likely be about social justice and life issues than it will be directly about the science of global warming.

(To read more about the specifics of the upcoming encyclical, take a look at Michael Sean Winters’ The Rollout of the Encyclical on the Environment from the National Catholic Reporter and Fr. Thomas Rosica’s Waiting for Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment.)

How we relate to our environment is ultimately a moral issue. Questions of waste management, agriculture, water shortages and contamination are just as important as any other social justice or human rights issue. In fact, what the Church teaches about ecological issues is the same as her teachings about social justice, economics and human rights issues, issues of human dignity and solidarity and in particular our preferential option for the poor. This is what I will call (and I’m sure the Pope will too) “integral ecology”.

That has been my personal journey with Creation. We began by asking the question, “Why should we care for the environment?” By asking the right questions (we hope) and being honest with the answers, we arrived at what I believe is the right approach (the integral approach) to all ecological issues.

This approach doesn’t say that we should or shouldn’t minimise our waste (necessarily) or that we should or shouldn’t use less energy or stop fracking or even get rid of all landfill. It is the approach that lives in the tension of the natural and human ecology. It is the approach that tries to ask the deeper questions and arrive at the fundamentals. It is the approach that strives to arrive at the universal and objective Truth.

It is also the approach that says that, “God saw that it was good” (see Genesis 1); that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) and that all creation is groaning, waiting for redemption (see Romans 8:19-22); It is the approach that looks at the universe around us as creation and does not look at this created world from a functional point of view – but a sacramental point of view. It is the approach of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure; the approach of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory of Nyssa. It is the approach of Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is probably also going to be the approach of Pope Francis. That is the approach of the Catholic Church. It is the approach that requires simply the ability to look at the world around us with a sense of wonder.

Stay tuned for more on Creation as we await the coming of Pope Francis’ encyclical and the premiere of our first episode of Creation: Sense of Wonder, at 8:30pm ET on June 16, 2015.

For more thoughts on second-guessing what the Encyclical will be about, read Cardinal Peter Turkson’s Trócaire 2015 Lenten Lecture, given at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, in Maynooth, Ireland this past March.

PedroGM1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Holiness


The problem with holiness is that we don’t think it’s for us.

We believe that we are made for Heaven. We believe that God wants us to go to Heaven, but how many of us would say that we belong in Heaven? How many of us would say that we are going to Heaven? Sure, we don’t want to presume, but some would not even think that they will be in Heaven.

How many of you would say that you are holy? In fact, more likely, we are to say that “I am no saint!”

But we if we are created for Heaven, then we are created for holiness – for sainthood.

But it doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the Grace of God. Even St. Paul had to cooperate with that divine intervention he received. He had to accept it and he then had to nurture the seeds that were planted. He didn’t go from persecutor to saint overnight. In fact, I would argue that even after his conversion he had to have many smaller conversions – gradual conversions. Even after he had been on a mission for years, he probably still struggled with temptation and sin. (Ever wonder what the little spat with John Mark in Acts 13:13 that led to Paul’s separation from Barnabas in Acts 15:37 was? Paul was probably difficult to work with. He struggled.) We all do – yes, even Saints.

St. Paul tells the Romans that what “I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Rom 7:15). That sounds an awful lot like me most of the time. He also tells the Corinthians that he struggles with a “thorn in his flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). We may think that this is something nice and safe that Saints have, like blindness or the stigmata or visions of the devil. But what if St. Paul’s “thorn” was that he struggled with lust, insecurity, pride or anger? That sounds an awful lot like me.

Recently I was at a gathering and part of the activity was a sort of “examination” or Church trivia. We were randomly asked questions of our Faith: “How many Sacraments are there? Can you name the Sacraments? Can you name the Precepts of the Church? Can you name the seven Capital Sins? What are the Four Marks of the Church? What are the 10 Commandments? What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? How about the Fruists of the Holy Spirit? All the people who were present called themselves practicing Catholics, but most could not answer these simple questions.

How many of us could answer these questions? Do you know how many Books there in the Bible? How many Gospels? What are St. Paul’s Letters? Do you know your saints? Do  you know about St. Gianna Molla or Pier Giorgio Frassati? Do you know about Venerable Satoko Kitahara (Mary of Ant Town), Venerable Matt Talbot or Venerable Pierre Toussaint? Do you know who Louis and Zelie Martin are? Do you know who Archbishop Romero is and that he was beatified last week?

Or for the more advanced, could you name a couple Church Encyclicals? Can you name some Vatican II documents?

At another event (the day before, actually) I was asked what we could do to bring others into the Church. That’s a good question considering Jesus says in Matthew 28: 16-20 that we must “go and make disciples of all nations.” Pope Francis keeps reminding us to be “missionary disciples.” Good question. Let me get to my answer, but first…

Finally, today I met a parishioner at our local coffee shop.  He introduced me to his wife who said she had not been to Mass in a while. She explained that she had some issues with the Church. I listened to her – I tried to meet her where she is. I validated her and invited her to come to Mass when she was ready. I don’t know if that is the right approach, but I think this is what Pope Francis means when he speaks about “graduality” (more on that another time, if you are interested).

These three situations made me think greatly about how we get to Heaven.

Here’s what I thought: holiness attracts. Let’s work on our holiness. What does that mean? It means “work on getting to Heaven.” We have one goal – let’s get there.

How do we get there? We get there together; this is not a personal journey, but a journey as Church. Part of the journey is personal, but we don’t get to Heaven alone.

This is where we must stay connected to the Church. Sure you can have a personal relationship with Jesus by yourself. You may never need to go to Mass or be affiliated with any church – but it’s very hard. If you want to stay connected to Jesus, it’s much easier if we stay connected to His Body, the Church.

That means, learning about the Church. That means being able to know what the Precepts of the Church are. (BTW – anyone know?)

We must read Scripture. We must set time aside every day to pray. Pray every day at the same time, no matter what. Whether you feel like it or not, pray. Pray the Rosary, or listen to Praise and Worship music; go to Adoration or learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. No matter, as long as you pray. Heaven is about being united with God. It’s all about God. How can we be united with God if we don’t talk to Him? How can we be united to God in Heaven if we don’t nurture a relationship with Him now?

If you struggle with sin, pray. If you fall, and you will fall, pray, get up, pray, go to Confession and then pray some more. The next day when you fall again, pray some more and go to Confession again. If you never fall, go to Confession anyway. And pray.

Pray. No matter what, pray.

And of course, go to Mass. If the music is terrible and the homilies bad; go to Mass anyway. If you find it irreverent or too pious, go to Mass anyway. If you hate the organ music or miss the way things were when you were growing up, go to Mass anyway. If you don’t understand what the Church teaches about marriage or why women are not ordained, go to Mass anyway. Go to Mass. Receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Adore Him in the Eucharist.

And if you’re really serious about this, get a spiritual director. You don’t have to meet every week; sometimes once every 3 or 4 months is enough. If you are like me and you prefer your Spiritual Director to be a priest so he can also be your confessor, so be it. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. Either way, seek spiritual direction. We all need direction when we are looking for the right road to Heaven.

After one of those gatherings last week, someone said to me that they would have watched Archbishop Romero’s beatification had she known about it. It’s true that the Church  (and those of us in Church communications) can do a better job at communicating, but today, in this day and age, there is no excuse for not being connected to the Church. There are so many resources available to us. Go to the Catholic bookstore and get yourself a book by St. Francis de Sales or St. Catherine of Siena. Go read St. Therese’s Little Way. If you prefer something more contemporary, read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain. If you like reading, find something. If you like music, find music. There is so much out there that can help us connect with the Church. And did I mention prayer?

And then, as you “perfect” your journey, with joy and kindness, you will begin to share that Light with others. That’s how we will make disciples of all nations. That’s how we become missionary disciples. And that’s how we will get to Heaven, where we belong.

Write to me and tell me what you think.

Photo: Canonization of St. John Paul II – CNS/ Paul Haring

PedroGM1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:
pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing Heaven: Part 2


Last time ,we looked at what Scriptures tell us about Heaven. Perhaps we do know more about Heaven than we think.

Well, I guess, at least we know with certainty that we are going to die. So what happens when we die?

We believe that we will be judged for our actions during this life. But no one knows what that judgment will be like. I tend to lean more on God’s mercy than on God’s judgment and so I don’t think it’s going to be a condemnation. I think we are more likely to condemn ourselves. They do say that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell – people go there out of their own will.

So at the Judgment we either choose to go with God or not, and then get sent to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory.

The first Christians thought that the dead simply slept, awaiting Jesus’ return. Of course, they expected him to show up any day. In 1336, Pope Benedict XII defined as dogma that people faced an individual judgment and entered Heaven, Hell or Purgatory immediately after death.

So what is Purgatory? It is the final purification of a person who is on their way to Heaven. Only the truly pure and perfected in Grace can see God face to face. If we don’t achieve the perfection of charity on this earth, the mercy of God provides for us a place of final purification. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. Catholics pray for the dead and believe that their prayers can ease the process of purification.

If understanding Purgatory can help us understand Heaven, so can it also help understanding Hell:

To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from God forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from Communion with God and the blessed is called Hell. This is what I wrote earlier – we have to choose Hell; we condemn ourselves.

There is a beautiful Korean story where Heaven is a huge dinner party, but the chopsticks are six feet long, so the guests cannot feed themselves; they can only put food in someone else’s mouth. Hell is the same, except the guests are too caught up in their own pride and selfishness that they refuse to feed each other and wait in hunger forever.

Saints and Blesseds are the people whom we know with certainty are already in Heaven; they are already in that state of Union with God. I know that it must be amazing being with God all the time, but I have to be honest – it scares me a bit. I guess it scares me a bit to think of eternity. It’s because my little mortal and temporal mind can’t comprehend it. We may not be able to fully comprehend eternity as we are confined by time and space, but we can understand the concept of being with God; of being with God and all our loved ones, the Community of Saints and being able to love perfectly. That’s Heaven!

And I think we can try to do that right here on earth. It’s no use trying to figure out where Heaven is. Heaven is with God – and wherever that is – that’s where I want to be. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, what God has prepared for those who love him.” That’s Heaven.

Write to me and tell me what you think.

PedroGM1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes apart a particular topic, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching:pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm


Pope Francis sends letter for Romero beatification

Romero pilgrims
At 10:00 this morning, El Salvador time, in the Plaza del Divino Salvador del Mundo in San Salvador, the Mass of Beatification took place for Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, born on August 15, 1917 Ciudad Barrios (El Salvador) and martyred for “odium fidei” (hatred of the faith) on March 24, 1980 while celebrating Mass in a convent chapel in San Salvador. Below is the English translation of the Spanish letter sent by Pope Francis this morning to His Excellency José Luis Escobar Alas, Archbishop of San Salvador on the occasion of the beatification ceremony.

His Excellency José Luis Escobar Alas
Archbishop of San Salvador
President of the Episcopal Conference of El Salvador

Dear Brother:
The beatification of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, who was Pastor of that dear Archdiocese is a cause for great joy for the Salvadoran people and for those who rejoice by the example of the best children of the Church. Archbishop Romero, who built peace with the strength of love, gave witness to the faith with his life, given to the extreme.

The Lord never abandons his people in difficulties, and has always shown Himself solicitous with your needs. He sees oppression, He hears the cries of pain of His children, and comes to their aid to free them from oppression and bring them to a new land, fertile and spacious, that “flows with milk and honey” (cf. Ex 3, 7-8). Equally he chose Moses one day so that, in His name, he would guide His people, He continues to raise up pastors according to His heart, who feed their flocks with knowledge and prudence (cf Jer 3, 15).

In that beautiful Central American land, bathed by the Pacific Ocean, the Lord granted his Church a zealous Bishop who, loving God and serving the brothers and sisters, converted into an image of Christ the Good Shepherd. In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church. His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalized. And in the moment of his death, while he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with He who gave his life for his sheep.

On this feast day for the Salvadoran nation, and also for neighboring Latin American countries, we give thanks to God because he granted the martyred Bishop, the ability to see and hear the suffering of his people, and molded his heart so that, in His name, he could direct them and illuminate them, even making of his work a full exercise of Christian charity.

The voice of the newly Blessed continues to resonate today to remind us that the Church, a convocation of brothers surrounding their Lord, is the family of God, in which there should be no division. Faith in Jesus Christ, when understood well and its final consequences assumed, generates communities of that are builders of peace and solidarity. This is what the Church in El Salvador is called to today, in America and in the whole world: to be rich in mercy and to convert into the leaven of reconciliation for society.

Archbishop Romero invites us to sanity and reflection, to respect for life and harmony. It is necessary to renounce “the violence of the sword, of hate” and to live “the violence of love, that left Christ nailed to the Cross, that makes each one of us overcome selfishness and so that there be no more such cruel inequality between us.” He knew how to see and experienced in his own flesh “the selfishness that hides itself in those who do not wish to give up what is theirs for the benefit of others.” And, with the heart of a father, he would worry about the “poor majority”, asking the powerful to convert “weapons into sickles for work.”

May those who have Archbishop Romero as a friend of faith, those who invoke him as protector and intercessor, those who admire his image, find in him the strength and courage to build the Kingdom of God, to commit to a more equal and dignified social order.

It is a favorable moment for a true national reconciliation in front of the challenges we are facing today. The Pope participates in your hopes, and unites Himself to your prayers so that the seed of martyrdom may flourish and become entrenched in the true paths of the sons and daughters of that nation, which proudly hears the name of the divine Saviour of the World.

Dear brother, I ask of you a favor: that you pray and that you may pray for me, while I impart my Apostolic Blessing to all who united in various ways to celebrate the newly Blessed

Fraternally yours,

Vatican, 23 Mary, 2015

Photo credit: Pilgrim carries poster of Archbishop Romero day before beatification ceremony in San Salvador (CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters)

Deacon-structing Heaven

I was at the March for Life last Thursday, on the day that most places around the world celebrated the Feast of the Ascension. Here in Canada we celebrate it today, the Sunday after the 6th Sunday in Easter.
After the March, as I was reflecting about it, I started thinking about how the life in the womb can be described in relation to our life, as our life can be related to life after death. If our lives on earth are but a preparation for the Life to come; that is sort of what life in the womb is: a preparation for life after the womb.

It’s not a perfect analogy – but I was thinking about that because of the Ascension. I was thinking about the relationship of this life to the Life to come.

So, let me ask you this: What is your idea of Heaven? Is it an idyllic place? Is it always sunny? Is there a beach? Is there no traffic and no pollution? Are there birds singing? Is it quiet and peaceful? Is your family there?

I once read about a woman who hoped to see her late husband in Heaven. A friend however told her: “But you’ll be so happy looking at God you won’t even notice your husband.” This woman was voicing her hope of reunion but her friend was echoing the Church’s teaching that Heaven’s joy is focused on enjoying the “beatific vision,” seeing God face-to-face. I wonder who is right: The woman, her friend, or both of them.

We don’t have any details of life in Heaven. Nobody has ever come back to tell us what it’s like. But we do have some informed speculation. For one, Jesus spent a lot of time trying to explain to his disciples what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Think “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed” (Mt 13:31; Luke 13:19; or “a wedding banquet.” (Mt 22:2)

In the New Testament, Heaven is referred to as “the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3); “the Kingdom of the Father” (Mt. 13:43); “the House of the Father” (Jn 14:2); “Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:4); “glorious inheritance” (Eph. 1:18) and “eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15).

And we know that according to the Gospel of Luke, Heaven (or at least “Paradise”) is the Kingdom where Jesus went after his death on the cross. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, one of the criminals hanging on the cross beside him kept mocking him but the other criminal rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we are getting what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).

So, perhaps we do know more about Heaven than we think. Still, can we say we know exactly what Heaven is? The Church teaches that “The Christian who unites his own death to that of Jesus views it as a step towards him and an entrance into everlasting life (CCC#1020). It also teaches that those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ (CCC#1023).
Heaven is not a physical place. Heaven is a state of being one with God. When we learn about the Ascension of Jesus – while we can believe that Jesus really did physically ascend – we are not referring to a physical action. Heaven is not up in the skies somewhere. Ascension into Heaven is a coming into unity with God where we belong. St. Athanasius is known for saying that “God became man so that man might become god.” It sounds heretical and new age, but that is what we believe: That the temporal will become eternal; the physical will become spiritual and the human will become divine. That is Heaven. Heaven is “a living, personal relationship with the Holy Trinity. It is our meeting with the Father which takes place in the risen Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit.” It is the fulfillment of God’s desire to be one with each person as God is one with Himself in the Trinity (CCC#1023-29).

And Heaven includes all of Creation. All material Creation will not be “deleted” in Heaven; it will be “completed” in Heaven. We believe in the “resurrection of the body.” That means that in Heaven we will have bodies. That is what we see with Jesus being resurrected in a new body and also ascending to the Father in a physical body. After the resurrection Jesus ate and the disciples touched him. At the same time, the resurrected Jesus didn’t seem to be confined by time and space. So perhaps in Heaven we will be with our bodies, but it will be different. Here on earth we have a physical body, but in Heaven, we will have a spiritual body.

But no one knows what it means to have a spiritual body. Will we have emotions? Is Eric Clapton right to sing that there tears in Heaven? Are there calories in Heaven? Will I have hair in Heaven?

What we do know is that God intends for us to be in union with Him. That is why we are created. God is creating us to go to Heaven and be with Him.

What do you think? Write to me and share your thoughts.

And come back next week and we’ll look at other fun things like judgment, purgatory and hell.

PedroGM1Every week, Deacon Pedro takes apart a particular topic, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org @deaconpedrogm

Deacon-structing New Life: Waste Water


A few weeks ago I wrote about Waste Management and shared an important piece of information: In nature, there is no waste. We must remember this as we go about making choices that impact the waste we produce. When we think of waste, we think of garbage, that is, what goes to landfill and what goes to compost or recycling. But do you ever think about all the waste that gets flushed down the drain?

Every day each of us generates about 90 gallons (340 litres)  of waste-water. We use the largest amount, about 50 gallons (190 litres) to wash and clean clothes, dishes, ourselves and our homes. Flushing the toilet uses about another 25-30 gallons (about 100 litres) of water daily. Cooking and drinking water require another 2 – 10 gallons (between 8 and 39 litres) daily.

Recently, while working on production for our upcoming six-part series on the environment, Creation, we were in Northern California at the Arcata Waste Water Treatment Plant and Wildlife Sanctuary, where the city of Arcata operates an innovative sewer management system. It’s a very simple process: A series of oxidation ponds, treatment wetlands and enhancement marshes are used to filter sewage water. Did I say that in nature there is no waste? But this Water Treatment Plant in Arcata is also a wildlife sanctuary. Despite being effectively a sewer, the series of open-air lakes do not smell, and are a popular destination for birdwatching, cycling and jogging.

Before the waste water can enter the oxidation ponds, all solid waste, debris and other gritty materials have to be removed (more on this later). All solid waste is decomposed by bacteria. This happens in what are called “digesters”. They are “anaerobic digesters” because the bacteria decompose or digest the sludge without using oxygen. The bacteria in the digesters convert some of the ingredients in the sludge into methane gas, which can be harnessed as energy. Essentially this whole “digesting” process is composting. The solids (or sludge) are dried and mixed with lawn and brush clippings. This mixture is composted and used all over Arcata and in the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

The water that remains after all the solids are removed are then sent into oxidation ponds or lakes. In these ponds, other bacteria and microorganisms break down or digest any remaining waste in the sewage. Algae in the ponds provide oxygen for the bacteria. Once algae and bacteria die, they also become pollutants so they too have to be removed before the water goes out into the ocean.

 The water then moves from the oxidation ponds into the treatment marshes where the bulrush and cattails shade the water so algae can’t grow. These plants slow the flow of the waste-water allowing suspended pollutants to sink to the bottom of the marsh. These plants also provide habitat for bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that feed on and further breakdown pollutants in the waste-water.

Then the water moves on to the enhancement marshes where the waste-water is treated again by removing more suspended matter and other pollutants. The enhancement marshes also provide habitat for wildlife and beautiful scenery for visitors.

Just before the now-treated water is allowed to go out into the ocean, local law requires that it is treated with chlorine in order to kill pathogens, harmful bacteria and viruses. Sulfur Dioxide is used to remove the chlorine before the water goes out into Humbolt Bay – although we were told by David Couch who’s been working in waste water treatment in Arcata for many years, that the chlorine is not really necessary – that the marshes are able to do all the necessary cleaning.

As David Couch took us through the whole process I kept thinking what Jack Macy at SF Environment had told us; that there is no waste in nature. This is what God intended. I was reminded of what Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich told me once when explaining Hannukkah: “God is the only one who has the capacity to begin; but he has given us the capacity to begin again.” God intends for new life to begin again, and again, and again. Nature does this by design. We can treat all waste in water naturally and return to nature the water that we use. This is what God intended.


However, there are some items that cannot not be removed naturally. We have to be more mindful that these items do not end up in the water. Consider this: According to the U.S National Park Service, if you throw out a piece of paper towel out at sea, it will last about 2-4 weeks. An orange or banana peel will last 2-5 weeks. A newspaper, 6 weeks. A waxed milk carton, 3 months. Other items:

Plywood 1-3 years
Wool sock 1-5 years
Cigarette filter 1-50 years
Plastic Bag 10-20 years
Plastic film canister 20-30 years
Nylon Fabric 30-40 years
Leather 50 years
Tin can 50 years
Foamed plastic cup 50 years
Aluminum can 80-200 years
Disposable diapers 450 years
Plastic beverage bottles 450 years
Glass Bottle 1,000,000 years

And if we remember what we were told at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, this is not mentioning the damage that any of these items can cause when ingested by wildlife.

As we learn more and more about what the Church teaches about ecology we must remember that water is a universal right to all human beings (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate 27) and that we must care for all of Creation.

In the words of Pope Francis from his May 21, 2014 General Audience:

Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.

And in his Urbi et Orbi message for Easter, 2013, Pope Francis said:

…let us become agents of [God’s] mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

Peace to the whole world, torn apart by violence linked to drug trafficking and by the iniquitous exploitation of natural resources! Peace to this our Earth! May the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.

Indeed, let us all become responsible guardians of creation. Let’s begin by thinking about the water that we consume and that all creation needs for survival.

To learn more about what the Catholic Church says about the environment and water issues, stay tuned for our new six-part series Creation, coming to you at the end of 2015 and to learn more about the Arcata Marsh, visit the Friends of the Arcata Marsh.