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Inventing Peace

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Dr. Maria Voce, President of the Focolare Movement, gave the following talk ‘Inventing Peace’ at the High Level Thematic Debate on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Socities and Countering Violent Extremism at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 22, 2015 during the main plenary session.

I would like, first of all, to thank the United Nations Organization and the Alliance of Civilizations for having arranged this Debate and for having invited me to contribute to it, but more than that I wish to thank you for all that you have done and that you do on a daily basis, through diplomatic means, human resources and all the channels available to you, to foster a more fraternal, secure and peaceful world.

I have a story to tell.

In 1943, during the last terrible phase of the Second World War, a group of young women got together in the small city of Trent in northern Italy. While their city was being bombed, those young people, who were guided by a young teacher named Chiara Lubich, and urged on by a new understanding of the radical nature of Gospel love, decided to risk their lives to relieve the suffering of the poor. Theirs was a choice that many others had made before and will make in future (it is enough to think of the refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, or the slums surrounding some huge cities.) However, this choice has the power and the moral fiber to introduce into the destructive cycle of conflict a commitment to regenerate the fabric of society, by doing peace building action. “It was during the war and everything was crumbling” are words said whenever we start telling the story of those young women; but they decided to break the vicious circle of violence by responding with attitudes and actions which in the atmosphere of conflict might have seemed unrealistic or even irrelevant. However, they were not and they are not!

I am not telling you this as if it were a case study, or to point out exemplary dedication to a social cause, but rather to indicate that today too we are experiencing very serious political, institutional, economic and social breakdown, which requires equally deep seated responses, able to change the prevailing paradigm. It seems that conflict and violence prevail in many parts of the world, affecting innocent people, guilty only of being in disputed territory, or belonging to a particular ethnicity or adhering to a specific religion.

In the Focolare Movement, which I have the honor to represent, the encounter between cultures and religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Traditional Religions) is an ongoing and fruitful experience not confined to tolerance or the mere recognition of diversity. It goes beyond reconciliation, essential as that is, to create, so to speak, a new identity, one that is broader, more general and shared. It is an effective dialogue which brings together people of very different beliefs, including non religious beliefs. It spurs us to see what the real needs are and to respond together to the most difficult challenges in society, culture, economics and politics, as our commitment to a more united and socially inclusive world. This is happening in places which have been or are at present characterized by very serious crises, such as Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and the Philippines.

It is clear that our times do not require half measures. If violent extremism exists while accepting the need to defend oneself and especially those who are weak and persecuted our response must be similarly radical, but one that is structurally different, by which I mean “extremism in dialogue”! A dialogue which requires the highest level of engagement, which is risky, demanding, challenging and which aims to sever the roots of incomprehension, fear and bitterness.

Connected to this Institution is the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, which puts forward an alternative and constructive narrative for global interaction and seeks to emphasize what unites humankind in all its varied expressions rather than what might seem, at first sight, to divide it. So it is excellent to speak of an alliance of civilizations! Nonetheless, we might ask ourselves whether, nowadays, we could get closer to the roots of this new outlook and focus not only on an alliance of civilizations but on what might be called the “civilization of alliance”; a universal civilization which enables peoples to see themselves as part of a great happening, which is both varied and fascinating, that is humankind’s journey towards unity. A civilization which makes dialogue the pathway to recognizing each other as brothers and sisters, as free and equal.

Among the many organizations represented at the United Nations, allow me to mention New Humanity, a non governmental organization representing our Movement, which promotes and supports its projects and is in official partnership with UNESCO.

Here, in front of such a broad based and inclusive assembly, I cannot avoid the question that surfaces: shouldn’t the United Nations perhaps reconsider its own vocation, and reformulate its own fundamental mission? What does being a “United Nations” organization mean today, if not an institution which truly works towards unity among nations, while respecting their strong identities? It is certainly essential to actively maintain international security but, although security is vital, it is not necessarily the same thing as peace.

Conflicts within nations and international conflicts; the deep divisions we are aware of at world level, together with the great local and global injustices, in fact require a true conversion in the actions and choices made in the field of global governance, to put into practice the motto formulated by Chiara Lubich, and launched in this very place in 19971, “love your neighbor’s country as your own” so as to build up universal fraternity.

Lastly, we cannot give ground to those who attempt to describe current conflicts as “wars of religion.” War is by definition irreligion. Militarism, economic dominance and intolerance at all levels are causes of conflict, together with many other social and cultural factors among which religion is often only an unfortunate pretext. What we are witnessing in many areas of the world, from the Middle East to Africa, including the tragic deaths of hundreds of people fleeing wars who are shipwrecked in the Mediterranean, has very little to do with religion. From any point of view, in these cases we should not speak so much about wars of religion but more concretely, realistically and prosaically, about the religion of war.

What can we do then? After the attacks on 11th September 2001 and the military intervention in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), Chiara Lubich wrote, with hope and firm conviction: “Let’s not surrender! (…) There are many signs that a new awareness may finally emerge out of this serious international situation. Awareness of the need to work together for the common good, among more or less wealthy peoples, with more or less sophisticated weaponry, believers or not, but who have the courage to ‘invent peace’. The time for “holy wars” is over. War is never holy, it never has been. God does not want it. Only peace is truly holy because God himself is peace.”

Religions can make a significant contribution to this new awareness; being to be faithful to their foundational inspiration and to the Golden Rule they share. Religions want to be themselves and not a tool used by other powers, even for the noblest aims; or precepts studied so as to resolve conflicts or crises. They want to be a spiritual process which can be lived and becomes a community able to share and give meaning to the joys and sufferings of people today, channeling everything towards the realization of one universal human family.

Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Movies, Priests and Pope Francis – Still Popular

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Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

So many great articles have surfaced over the past few weeks that I don’t event know where to begin or how to group them so that there is some order to this week’s blog post! Nevertheless, below are some of the pieces that I’ve enjoyed.

Being a big movie fan and working in television, I found this article particularly interesting. Apparently, there’s a list complied by the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications back in 1995 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the film industry. Check out the Vatican’s top 45 list of great films.

Since we are on the topic of films, our friends at Aleteia published an article highlighting 12 Great Movie Priests in film in the past 4 years. It’s really great to see that the priesthood is being portrayed very positively in some big-budget Hollywood films. I hope it’s a trend that we’ll continue to see!

Speaking of the priest hood in big films, how about on the “small screen”? Imagine some of the funny things that a poor pastor has to put up with on a daily basis at his church!

Check out these Funny Church Moments video posted on the Crux:

Ok, on to a more serious note. I’m sure we all remember from our history class, the atrocities that were committed against the Armenians during the Armenian genocide in 1915-16 when the Ottoman government systematically exterminated Armenian, leaving 1.5 million dead. Apparently, old files have surfaced detailing how the Vatican tried to stop the genocide. It is indeed a very interesting read. The article about it can be read here.

Earlier this month, Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, published a long but interesting article in The New York Times on why a lot of evangelical Christians are ready to follow Pope Francis’ lead. He makes some compelling arguments as to why evangelicals should love the Pope. It’s definitely worth the read.

And since we are talking of interesting reads, do you remember the Screwtape letters written by C.S. Lewis? Here is an absolutely fantastic article, or letter if you so will, written in the same C.S Lewis fashion published in Catholic365. It seems that both Wormwood and Screwtape are still at it but this time in Connecticut.

Check it out here.

Finally now, here is a quiz that I thought you might like. Take it here: How well do you know the Eucharist? Being a catholic all my life I thought, this was an easy one. How wrong I was. Let’s see if you can beat my score of 2.

Well, that’s it for me this week folks. I’d love to hear you thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoyed these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Homily of Archbishop Blase J. Cupich Wake Service for Francis Cardinal George

Cupich Wake Service Cardinal George

Homily of Archbishop Blase J. Cupich
Wake Service for Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.,
with Priests and Seminarians of the Archdiocese of Chicago
Tuesday evening. April 21, 2015
Holy Name Cathedral

“Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words echo in the Church’s Liturgy of the Hours time and again throughout this Eastertide, as we prepare each day for nightfall. They are the words of the disciples who fled Jerusalem downcast and disappointed; the words of grieving disciples who suffered loss. They are words that remind us that the greatest works of God, the creation, the Cross and the Resurrection, are done in darkness. And they are words for us in this moment of mourning and prayer for our brother, Cardinal Francis George. They are welcomed words, for they force us to focus our attention on what is really taking place, what we are doing and also who we are as a Church and who we are as a presbyterate.

WHAT IS REALLY TAKING PLACE AND WHAT WE ARE DOING

What we claim is taking place and what we pray for is that Christ the Risen Lord, active in our midst, will bring our brother Francis to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that he may be filled with all the fullness of God.

We will hear in these days, as we have already, many well-deserved laudatory words about the Cardinal’s life and ministry. His scholarship and razor-sharp incisive mind, his leadership in this country and abroad, his tenacity and courage in the face of great suffering and disability all merit our great admiration and respect.

But, our Catholic tradition hesitates to let the past dominate these days of funeral liturgies. It considers such an approach short-sighted, so unequal to the totally other reality taking place. Our funerals are not celebrations of one’s life, a nostalgic return to past glories. Rather, they focus on the Risen Christ presently active in our midst, whose power at work in us is able to accomplish far more than we ask and far more that we can imagine.

This is what these days are about.

“Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

Cardinal George wake 1

These words also bring comfort to our grieving hearts, by reminding us that the consolation offered to us in these days is not limited to the warm support and friendship we offer each other, as important and meaningful as that is. But rather, our consolation comes in knowing that we participate and contribute to Christ’s redeeming work which we pray is taking place for the Cardinal. Like Paul, together we kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant in accord with the riches of his glory that the one who shepherded this local Church may now be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may fully dwell in him. That is the consolation we want to offer you, Margaret, and your entire family. We know your loss is great, and there is pain in the deep recesses of your hearts. Be consoled in knowing that, like us, you now are joining in the work of the redeeming Christ. And we offer a special word of consolation to our brother, Fr. Dan Flens. Dan, your steady, devoted and unconditional care for the Cardinal not only in these last days, but throughout the years of service as his secretary, inspire us now to follow your good example by offering our prayerful support for Cardinal George.  Repeatedly in his final days, the Cardinal told me and others that you made possible his ministry during his years of service here. Be consoled that now, with you, we continue that support as together we join in Christ’s redeeming work. Be consoled in knowing that like the Lord, we stay with you as evening draws near.

All of this helps us appreciate more deeply who we are as Church and also who we are as a presbyterate in the bond you shared with this good shepherd and which we continue to share with each other in ordained ministry. I want to speak for a moment about each of these aspects and how these days of prayer deepen our understanding of both.

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WHO WE ARE AS CHURCH

What we do in these days is at the heart of the Church’s life and mission. It is the kind of Church the Pauline community in Ephesus is challenged to be as we hear in tonight’s epistle. They are invited to be more than just a congregation in Asia Minor, and instead embrace being a world-wide Church, with Christ as the head, a Church that is God’s instrument for making the Divine plan of salvation fulfilled in Christ known throughout the universe. This vision of who we are is far beyond a church that is for its own sake, but is, rather, a Church that is the means for mission in the world.

This is the ancient vision of the Church, this is the vision of the Church which the Second Vatican Council reclaimed and proclaimed anew in Gaudium et Spes, and this is the Church  Francis Eugene George generously embraced and committed his life to in loving service.

He told us as much in his selection of his Episcopal motto: To Christ be glory in the Church. These are words from the Letter to the Ephesians, in the passage read tonight, but also the passage which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council chose to conclude Gaudium et Spes.

Now to Him who is able to accomplish all things in a measure far beyond what we ask or conceive, in keeping with the power that is at work in us—to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, down through all the ages of time without end. Amen. (Eph. 3:20-21).

This is the Church the Cardinal wanted us to be, and now it is up to us to carry on and fulfill that vision. It is a Church whose mission is to proclaim “the noble destiny of man and championing the Godlike seed which has been sown in him…Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.” GS 3

This is the ancient vision of the Church, proclaimed by the Council Fathers in Gaudium et Spes, embraced and lived out by the Cardinal and now entrusted to us.

Cardinal George Casket with bishops

WHO WE ARE AS A PRESBYTERATE

That vision is especially entrusted to us, joined together in a presbyterate. Two symbolic actions, one at the beginning and the other at the end of these days, speak to us about how we support each other in honoring that trust. This afternoon during the Rite of Reception, the vicars, our auxiliary bishops, all of whom were ordained by Cardinal George, placed the pall on his casket, a reminder of the day he was clothed in Christ through baptism. As brother priests we might tend to focus only on strengthening each other in our vocation to the priesthood, so that we can remain faithful in our service to the People of God. But, this ritual action reminds us of the important service we can offer in challenging and encouraging each other to be faithful in our baptismal call for our ministry to the People of God to be fruitful. I often recall the very arresting comment of the late Cardinal Seper as a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council: “Remember,” he urged during the debate on priesthood, “that our ordination does not annihilate our baptism.” We need to offer each other that very foundational support, reminding each other to bring the dignity of our baptism unstained to the day of our rebirth in the resurrection.

A second symbolic action comes at the end of these days. On Thursday, the most recently ordained will carry the Cardinal’s remains from this Cathedral and accompany him to his grave. So, too, we must carry each other, care for each other not as a group closed in on itself for mutual self-preservation, but as a witness to those we serve, so that they do the same for others. It is a call to accompany each other in moments of darkness, loss and death. In this way, we are faithful to the vision of the Church entrusted to us by our ancestors in the faith, by the Council and by the shepherd, Francis, whom we accompany to the Lord in these days. And, with the Year of Mercy before us, what we do together in these days in caring for the dead, anticipates all that the Holy Father urges us to do in taking up with fresh vigor the corporal works of mercy.

Earlier I expressed condolences to Margaret, the family and Fr. Flens. But in this last moment, I want you, my brother priests and our seminarians, to know that I grieve his loss with you. Your experience with him was much deeper and longer than mine, but I can tell you that during the last months of his life and my first months as archbishop, he was unfailingly supportive to me, impressing upon me at this moment how he must have been the same for you over these past 17 years. So together in our grieving, we pray, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.”

These words will keep us focused in these days and in the days ahead on what is really happening, what we are doing, who we are as Church, who we are as a presbyterate. They are words of disciples who seek comfort in a moment of painful loss, not only that they would not be left alone in their grief but in sensing that something greater than they could ever ask for or imagine is happening. They are words that remind us that the greatest works of God, the creation, the Cross and the Resurrection, are done in darkness. They are words we now make our own as we accompany our brother, Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., and pray:

Stay with him Lord.

Cardinal Francis George, OMI, prayed the following prayer every day.
You are invited to use this prayer as part of your own prayerful mediation.

O Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in your servants,
in the spirit of your holiness, in the fullness of your power,
in the reality of your virtues, in the perfection of your ways,
in the communion of your mysteries.
Have dominion over every adverse power,
in your own Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

Prayer by Fr. Jean Jacques Olier, S.S. (1608-1657)
From the Prayer Book of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Cardinal George & Archbishop Cupich

Archbishop Cupich’s Statement on the Passing of Cardinal George; S+L to air Funeral Mass

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Archbishop Blase J. Cupich’s Statement on the Passing of Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago April 17, 2015

A man of peace, tenacity and courage has been called home to the Lord. Our beloved Cardinal George passed away today at 10:45 a.m. at the Residence.

Cardinal George’s life’s journey began and ended in Chicago. He was a man of great courage who overcame many obstacles to become a priest. When he joined the priesthood he did not seek a comfortable position, instead he joined a missionary order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and served the people of God in challenging circumstances – in Africa, Asia and all around the world.

A proud Chicagoan, he became a leader of his order and again traveled far from home, not letting his physical limitations moderate his zeal for bringing the promise of Christ’s love where it was needed most. When he was ordained a bishop, he served faithfully, first in Yakima, where he learned Spanish to be closer to his people. He then served in Portland, where he asked the people to continue to teach him how to be a good bishop. In return, he promised to help them become good missionaries.

Cardinal George was a respected leader among the bishops of the United States. When, for example, the church struggled with the grave sin of clerical sexual abuse, he stood strong among his fellow bishops and insisted that zero tolerance was the only course consistent with our beliefs.

He served the Church universal as a Cardinal and offered his counsel and support to three Popes and their collaborators in the Roman congregations. In this way, he contributed to the governance of the Church worldwide.

Here in Chicago, the Cardinal visited every corner of the Archdiocese, talking with the faithful and bringing kindness to every interaction. He pursued an overfull schedule– always choosing the church over his own comfort and the people over his own needs. Most recently, we saw his bravery first hand as he faced the increasing challenges brought about by cancer.

Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more steadfast and a lot more loving. This is the surest way to honor his life and celebrate his return to the presence of God.

As we celebrate in these Easter days our new life in the Risen Lord, join me in offering comfort to Cardinal George’s family, especially his sister, Margaret, by assuring them of our prayers, thanking God for his life and years of dedication to the Archdiocese of Chicago. Let us pray that God will bring this good and faithful servant into the fullness of the kingdom.

May Cardinal George rest in peace.

This statement was originally published on the Archdioces of Chicago’s website

S+L will broadcast Cardinal Francis George’s funeral on Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 1 pm ET LIVE.

Photo: CNS/Antonio Perez, Reuters via Chicago Tribune

Jesus, the Beautiful and Noble Shepherd

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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B – April 26, 2015

In the Bible and in the ancient Near East, “shepherd” was a political title that stressed the obligation of kings to provide for their subjects. The title connoted total concern for and dedication to others. Tending flocks and herds is an important part of the Palestinian economy in biblical times. In the Old Testament, God is called the Shepherd of Israel who goes before the flock (Psalm 68:7), guides it (Psalm 23:3), leads it to food and water (Psalm 23:2), protects it (Psalm 23:4), and carries its young (Isaiah 40:11). Embedded in the living piety of believers, the metaphor brings out the fact that God shelters the entire people.

In Psalm 23, the author speaks of the Lord as his shepherd. The image of shepherd as host is also found in this beloved psalm. Shepherd and host are both images set against the background of the desert, where the protector of the sheep is also the protector of the desert traveler, offering hospitality and safety from enemies. The rod is a defensive weapon against wild animals, while the staff is a supportive instrument; they symbolize concern and loyalty.

The New Testament does not judge shepherds adversely. They know their sheep (John 10:3), seek lost sheep (Luke 15:4ff.), and hazard their lives for the flock (John 10:11-12). The shepherd is a figure for God himself (Luke 15:4ff.). The New Testament never calls God a shepherd, and only in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4ff.; Matthew 18:12ff.) does the comparison occur. Here God, like the rejoicing shepherd of the parable, takes joy in the forgiveness and restoration of the sinner. The choice of the image reflects vividly the contrast between Jesus’ love for sinners and the Pharisees’ contempt for them. It can be said that the Emmaus story in Luke’s Gospel (24:13-35) is a continuation of Jesus’ journey, his pursuit of wayward disciples which was already prefigured by the parable of the shepherd who went in search of lost sheep until he found them and returned them to the fold (15:3-7).

Confidence

On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, we encounter the Good Shepherd who is really the beautiful or noble shepherd [in the Greek text] who knows his flock intimately. Jesus knew shepherds and had much sympathy for their lot and he relied on one of his favorite metaphors to assure us that we can place our confidence in him. For those who heard Jesus claim this title for himself, it meant more than tenderness and compassion; there was the dramatic and startling degree of love so great that the shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his flock.

Unlike the hired hand, who works for pay, the good shepherd’s life is devoted to the sheep out of pure love. The sheep are far more than a responsibility to the good shepherd — who is also their owner. They are the object of the shepherd’s love and concern. Thus, the shepherd’s devotion to them is completely unselfish; the good shepherd is willing to die for the sheep rather than abandon them. To the hired hand, the sheep are merely a commodity, to be watched over only so they can provide wool and mutton.

The beauty of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, lies in the love with which he offers his life even unto death for each and every one of his sheep. In so doing, he establishes with each one a direct and personal relationship of intense love. Jesus’ beauty and nobility are revealed in his letting himself be loved by us. In Jesus we discover the Father and his Son who are shepherds who care for us, know us and even love us in our stubbornness, deafness and diffidence.

Sometimes, it seems that followers are expected to put the needs of the leader first. The people are the means to an end: the leader’s pleasure. Does it not often seem that shepherds are first, sheep last? The emphasis in today’s readings is on the sheep and their welfare. The shepherd is the means to ensure the end: the well-being of the flock. Sheep are first, shepherds last. John’s gospel portrays Jesus as the life-giving shepherd.

Vocations

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The readings are very fitting for as we beg the Lord of the harvest and of the Church to send more laborers into his vast vineyards. As a model of religious leadership, Jesus shows us that love can be the only motivation for ministry, especially for pastoral ministry. He also shows us that there must be no exclusiveness on the part of the religious leader. If there are sheep outside the fold (even sheep excluded by the fold itself), the good shepherd must go fetch them. And they must be brought in, so that there will be one flock under one shepherd. The motivation for inclusion is love, not social justice, not ethical fairness, not mere tolerance, and certainly not political correctness or impressive statistics. Only love can draw the circle that includes everyone.

Shepherds have power over sheep. As we contemplate Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we call to mind everyone over whom we exercise authority — children, elderly parents, our coworkers and colleagues, people who ask us for help throughout the week, people who depend on us for material and spiritual needs. Whatever title we bear, the rod and staff we carry must be symbols not of oppression but of dedication. Today’s readings invite us to ask for forgiveness for the times we have not responded to those for whom we care, and ask for the grace to be good shepherds. We fix our eyes anew on the Good Shepherd who knows that other sheep not of this fold are not lost sheep, but his sheep.

One final thought on shepherding. Anthropologists tell us that between the hunting and the farming stages of cultural development shepherds stood as people who existed in both worlds and tied them together. For that reason, shepherds appear in ancient myths and sagas as a symbol for the divine unity of opposites. What the ancient pagans hinted at, Christian faith has brought into a crisp reality with Jesus Christ as the great reconciler. He is the Good Shepherd, who has come into the center of every great conflict in order to establish beauty, unity and peace.

May it be ever so for each person who strives to be a good shepherd today, in the Church and in the world. As we enter those places of conflict and tribulation in our own times, may the Lord use us as his instruments to establish beauty, nobility, unity and peace.

[The readings for this Sunday are: Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; and John 10:11-18.]

A Necessary Detour

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With the highly anticipated Papal visit to the United States this fall creeping ever closer, word has come out of the Vatican of a possible detour on the pope’s flight home to Rome. The Holy See Press Office has confirmed that Pope Francis is considering a visit to Cuba to cap off his first visit to North America as Pontiff.

This is an enormous development that would add to an already historic trip for the Holy Father. Who better than a bridge-builder, a pastor, to help the healing process of a half-century of mistrust and division? Besides the obvious significance of a papal trip to Cuba, the specific timing and nature of the trip make it worth examining.

It is no secret that the Holy See and the pope in particular played a significant role in facilitating the talks that thawed relations between the United States and Cuba. Whether it be hosting secret negotiations or acting as intermediary, the governance of the Church played a critical role in bringing the Cold War adversaries to the negotiating table. It should then come as no surprise that Pope Francis has taken such a vested interest in the Communist island nation. That said he is not the only recent Pontiff to do so. Both Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made visits to the country during their respective pontificates, developing a dialogue and rapport that at one time would have been unthinkable.

Perhaps one of the most significant symbols of a Papal trip Cuba, is the actual flight itself. The embargo that has for decades isolated Cuba, has excluded the possibility of direct flights to the island from the United States. With the potential for a Philadelphia – Havana flight path for the Papal jet on the table, it is a visible sign of changing attitudes of the day. While the pope’s travel to sovereign countries is not constrained by American foreign policy, such a trip would have had divisive political ramifications just a decade ago.

Lastly, what perhaps tells of the seriousness of the pope’s desires to facilitate a trip to Cuba is that up until now, both the Vatican and Francis had for months made clear that the US visit would be restricted to Washington, New York and Philadelphia. There had long been speculation of other stops for the Holy Father, including California for the canonization of Blessed Junipero Serra, Marian Shrines in the mid-west or even a stop at the US- Mexico border, followed by a stop in Mexico City. This latest development puts aside the suggestion that it would be too much for the pope to extend his visit beyond a week. With the momentum and political willingness to open the doors between the United States and Cuba, it appears the Vatican is willing to pull out all the stops to get the job done.

Timing is critical variable in the world of politics. It is a luxury seldom enjoyed by those who govern or operate on the world stage. When an opportunity such as the one that has presented itself appears, it would be a grave error not to capitalize on and seize it. The timing is right, the conditions are ripe, and the time to take advantage and affect change in Cuba is now.

stefanStefan Slovak is the host and producer of Perspectives Daily, Salt + Light’s daily update show. 

His column focuses and expands on the stories outlined on our network, with a particular focus on international affairs and the relationship between Church and state.

A Lion of the American Church: Thoughts on the Passing of Cardinal George

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By Very Rev. Robert Barron

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry,Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, “Catholicism”  and “Catholicism:The New Evangelization.

Cardinal Francis George, who died last week at the age of 78, was obviously a man of enormous accomplishment and influence. He was a Cardinal of the Roman Church, a past president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archbishop of one of the largest and most complicated archdioceses in the world, and the intellectual leader of the American Church. A number of American bishops have told me that when Cardinal George spoke at the Bishops’ meetings, the entire room would fall silent and everyone would listen.

But to understand this great man, I think we have to go back in imagination to when he was a kid from St. Pascal’s parish on the Northwest side of Chicago, who liked to ride his bike and run around with his friends and who was an accomplished pianist and painter as well. At the age of thirteen, that young man was stricken with polio, a disease which nearly killed him and left him severely disabled. Running, bike riding, painting, and piano playing were forever behind him. I’m sure he was tempted to give up and withdraw into himself, but young Francis George, despite his handicap, pushed ahead with single-minded determination. The deepest longing of his heart was to become a priest, and this led him to apply to Quigley Seminary. Convinced that this boy with crutches and a brace couldn’t make the difficult commute every day or keep up with the demands of the school, the officials at Quigley turned him away. Undeterred, he applied to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a missionary congregation. Recognizing his enormous promise and inner strength, they took him in.

I bring us back to this moment of the Cardinal’s life, for it sheds light on two essential features of his personality. First, he was a man who never gave up. I had the privilege of living with Cardinal George for six years and thus I was able to see his life close-up. He had an absolutely punishing schedule, which had him going morning, noon, and night, practically every day of the week: administrative meetings, private conversations, banquets, liturgies, social functions, public speeches, etc. Never once, in all the years I lived with him, did I ever hear Cardinal George complain about what he was obliged to do. He simply went ahead, not grimly but with a sense of purpose. When he first spoke to the priests of the Archdiocese as our Archbishop, he said, “Never feel sorry for yourself!” That piece of advice came, you could tell, from the gut.

Second, his identity as an Oblate of Mary Immaculate deeply marked him as a man of mission. The OMI’s are a missionary congregation, whose work takes them all over the world, from Africa and Asia to Latin America, the Yukon, and Alaska—not to mention Texas and Belleville, Illinois. When he was a novice and young OMI seminarian in Belleville, Francis George heard the stories of missioners from the far reaches of the globe, and he imbibed their adventurous spirit. As the vicar general of his order, he undertook travels to six continents, dozens of countries, visiting with thousands of OMI evangelist priests. I was continually amazed at his detailed knowledge of the politics, culture, and history of almost any country or region you could name. It was born of lots of direct experience.

This missionary consciousness is precisely what informed the intellectual and pastoral project that was closest to his heart, namely, the evangelization of the contemporary culture. In this, he showed himself a disciple of his great mentor Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. What Cardinal George brought rather uniquely to the table in this regard was a particularly clear grasp of the philosophical underpinnings of the Western and especially American cultural matrix. Cardinal George often signaled his impatience with the term “counter-cultural” in regard to the Church’s attitude vis-à-vis the ambient culture. His concern is that this can suggest a simple animosity, whereas the successful evangelist must love the culture he is endeavoring to address. But he saw a deeper problem as well, namely, that, strictly speaking, it is impossible to be thoroughly counter-cultural, since such an attitude would set one, finally, against oneself. It would be a bit like a fish adamantly insisting that he swims athwart the ocean. Therefore, the one who would proclaim the Gospel in the contemporary American setting must appreciate that the American culture is sown liberally with semina verbi (seeds of the Word).

The first of these, in Cardinal George’s judgment, is the modern sense of freedom and its accompanying rights. Following the prompts of Immanuel Kant, modern political theorists have held that all human beings possess a dignity which dictates that they should never be treated merely as a means but always as an end. It is interesting to note that the young Karol Wojtyla, in his early work in philosophical ethics, put a great premium on this second form of the Kantian categorical imperative. What Cardinal George has helped us see is that, at its best, this modern stress is grounded in a fundamentally theological understanding of the human person as a creature of God. Were the human being construed simply as an accidental product of the evolutionary process, then he would not enjoy the irreducible dignity that is assumed by Kant. Indeed, Kant’s contemporary Thomas Jefferson rather clearly indicated that his understanding of human rights was conditioned by the Christian theological heritage when he specified that those rights are granted, not by the state, but by the Creator.

The Kantian-Jeffersonian philosophical anthropology must be distinguished, Cardinal George insisted, from Thomas Hobbes’ account. On the Hobbesian reading, rights are grounded, not so much in divine intentionality, but in the unavoidability of desire. Hobbes opined—and John Locke essentially followed him—that we have a right to those things that we cannot not desire. For Hobbes this meant the sustenance of biological life and the avoidance of violent death, whereas for Locke, it was somewhat broadened to mean life, liberty, and property. The problem is that Hobbes’s interpretation is thoroughly non-theological and his consequent understanding of the purpose of government is non-teleological, purely protective rather than directive. Government exists, not for the achievement of the common good, but for the mutual protection of the citizens. That the Hobbesian strain found its way into the American political imagination is clear from Jefferson’s refusal to characterize the nature of happiness, even as he insisted on the universal right to pursue it. In a word, therefore, the Church can and must affirm, at least in its basic form, the Kantian understanding of freedom and rights, even as it can and must stand against the purely secularist Hobbesian notion.

Cardinal George knew that the prime spokesperson for this deft act of affirmation and negation was Pope John Paul II, who emerged, in the late twentieth-century, as the most articulate and vociferous defender of human rights on the world stage. The Cardinal drew attention to a speech that the Pope made in Philadelphia in 1979. John Paul sang the praises of our Declaration of Independence, with its stress on God-given rights, but he filled in the theological background by referencing the Genesis account of our creation in the image and likeness of God. Pressing well past any sort of Hobbesian secularism and utilitarianism, the Pope insisted that Jefferson’s ideal should inspire Americans to build a society that is marked by its care for the weakest and most vulnerable, especially the aged and the unborn.

The second major feature of modernity that Cardinal George identified is an extreme valorization of the physical sciences, or in his own words, “the imposing of scientific method as the point of contact between human beings and the world and society into which they are born.” The founders of modernity appreciated the sciences not only for their descriptive and predictive powers, but also for their liberating potential. Bacon, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Kant, and many others, held that the mastery over nature provided by burgeoning physics, chemistry, medicine, etc. would free the human race from its age-old captivity to sickness and the strictures of time and space. But what this led to—and I see it practically every day in my evangelical work—was the development of a “scientism” which, as a matter of ideological conviction, excludes non-scientific or extra-scientific ways of knowing, including and especially religious ways. The scientistic attitude has also obscured the undeniably theological foundations for the scientific enterprise, namely the assumptions that the world is not God (and hence can be analyzed) and that the world is stamped, in every detail, by intelligibility. Both of these assumptions are predicated upon the doctrine of creation, which the founders of modern science took in, along with their astronomy, mathematics, and physics, at church-sponsored universities. In the measure that the sciences flow from and rest upon the properly theological presumptions that non-divine universe is well-ordered and intelligible, Catholic theology can involve itself in a very fruitful dialogue with them; but in the measure that scientism comes to hold sway, the Church must resist.

One of Cardinal George’s most memorable remarks is that liberal Catholicism is an exhausted project. It is important that we parse his words here carefully. By “liberal Catholicism” he means an approach to the Catholic faith that takes seriously the positive achievements of the modern culture. In this sense, Lacordaire, Lord Acton, Lamennais, von Dollinger, and Newman were all liberal Catholics—and their successors would include De Lubac, Rahner, Guardini, Ratzinger, and Congar. One of the permanent achievements of the liberal Catholic project, in Cardinal George’s judgment, is “restoring to the center of the Church’s consciousness the Gospel’s assertion that Christ has set us free, but also for the insight and analysis that enabled the Church herself to break free of the conservative social structures in which she had become imprisoned.” In the 1950’s Hans Urs von Balthasar called, in a similar vein, for a “razing of the bastions,” behind which the church had been crouching, in order to let out the life that she had preserved. And this is very much in line with Vatican II’s limited accommodation to modernity in service of the evangelical mission. Liberal Catholicism also took into account the second great achievement of modernity, stressing that certain doctrinal formulations and Biblical interpretations had to be reassessed in light of the findings of modern science. One thinks in this context of the vociferous interventions, made by a number of bishops on the Council floor at Vatican II, concerning certain naïvely literalistic readings of the Old Testament.

All of this assimilation of the best of the modern represents the permanent achievement of Catholic liberalism, and this is why Cardinal George never argued that liberalism is simply a failed or useless project. He said it was anexhausted project, parasitical on a substance that no longer exists. What are the signs of exhaustion? The Cardinal explains that the liberal project has gone off the rails inasmuch as it “seems to interpret the Council as a mandate to change whatever in the Church clashes with modern society,” as though, in the words of the notorious slogan from the 1960’s, “the world sets the agenda for the Church.” If the Church only provides vaguely religious motivation for the mission and work of the secular society, then the Church has lost its soul, devolving into a cheerleader for modernity. The other principal sign of the exhaustion of the liberal project is its hyper-stress on freedom as self-assertion and self-definition. In Cardinal George’s words: “the cultural fault line lies in a willingness to sacrifice even the Gospel truth in order to safeguard personal freedom construed as choice.” We might suggest that another shadow side of Catholic liberalism is a tendency to accept the scientific vision of reality as so normative that the properly supernatural is called into question. We see this both in a reduction of religion to ethics and the building of the kingdom on earth, as well as in extreme forms of historical critical biblical interpretation that rule out the supernatural as a matter of principle.

What is too often overlooked—especially in liberal circles—is that Cardinal George was just as impatient with certain forms of conservative Catholicism. Correctly perceiving that authentic Catholicism clashes with key elements of modern culture, some conservatives instinctively reached back to earlier cultural instantiations of Catholicism and absolutized them. They failed thereby to realize that robust Catholicism is, in Cardinal George’s words, “radical in its critique of any society,” be it second-century Rome, eighteenth-century France, or the America of the 1950’s. What he proposed, finally, was neither liberal nor conservative Catholicism, but “simply Catholicism,” by which he meant the faith in its fullness, mediated through the successors of the Apostles.

At the heart of this Catholicism in full is relationality. Cardinal George has often pointed out that Catholic ontology is inescapably relational, since it is grounded in the Creator God who is, himself, a communion of subsistent relations. More to it, the Creator, making the universe, ex nihilo, does not stand over and against his creatures in a standard “being-to-being” rapport; rather, his creative act here and now constitutes the to-be of creatures, so that every finite thing is a relation to God. Aquinas expressed this when he said that creation is “a kind of relation to the Creator, with freshness of being.”  This metaphysics of relationality stands in sharp distinction to the typically modern and nominalist ontology of individual things, which gave rise to the Hobbesian and Lockean political philosophy sketched above, whereby social relations are not natural but rather artificial and contractual. Since grace rests upon and elevates nature, we should not be surprised that the Church is marked by an even more radical relationality. Through the power of Christ, who is the Incarnation of the subsistent relation of the Trinity, creation is given the opportunity of participating in the divine life. This participation, made possible through grace, is far more intense than the relationship that ordinarily obtains between God and creatures and among creatures themselves, and Catholic ecclesiology expresses that intensity through a whole set of images: bride, body, mother, temple, etc.

In Cardinal George’s striking language: “the Church is aware of herself as vital, and so calls herself a body. The Church is aware of herself as personal, and so calls herself a bride who surrenders to Christ. The Church is aware of herself as a subject, as an active, abiding presence that mediates a believer’s experience, and so calls herself mother. The Church is aware of herself as integrated, and so describes herself as a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Notice please the words being used here: vital, personal, present, surrendering, mother, integrated. They all speak of participation, interconnection, relationship, what Cardinal George calls esse per (being through). This is the living organism of the Church which relates in a complex way to the culture, assimilating and elevating what it can and resisting what it must. This is simply Catholicism.

Cardinal George was a spiritual father to me. In his determination, his pastoral devotion, his deep intelligence, his kindness of heart, he mediated the Holy Spirit. For this I will always be personally grateful to him. I believe that the entire Church, too, owes him a debt of gratitude for reminding us who we are and what our mission is.

Please join us in prayer:

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January 16, 1937 – April 17, 

Prayer for Francis Cardinal George

O God of consolation,
our hearts are heavy
as we acknowledge our great sense of loss.

We look to you for comfort and solace
at the passing of your servant, Francis George.
Welcome him into the warmth of your embrace
and renew in us the consolation and hope of eternal life with you.

Even in times of doubt,
we know that your care reaches
into the depths of our hearts.
May the legacy of Cardinal George continue to inspire us
to be a holy people of love and compassion.

We ask this in the name of the One who came
to destroy sin and death,
your merciful Son, Jesus Christ,
who is Lord for ever and ever.

Amen.

May the Memory of Rabbi Elio Toaff be a Blessing for Us

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The Jewish community around the world mourms the death of Rabbi Elio Toaff who died today (April 19) in Rome at the age of 99. He would have turned 100 on April 30 of this year. Born in Livorno on April 30, 1915, Toaff is universally regarded as one of the highest authorities of the spiritual and moral Jewish Italy after World War II. In 1947 he served as a rabbi in Venice and in 1951 he became the Chief Rabbi of Rome holding that position until 2002.

Rabbi Toaff was also loved by Christians and Catholics for the critical role he played in Jewish-Christian relations during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. It was Rabbi Toaff, then chief of Rome’s great synagogue, who welcomed the Pope to his synagogue on April 14, 1986. This one-mile trip across the Tiber River to Great Synagogue of Rome was believed to be the first time since Peter that a pope had entered the Rome synagogue, and symbolically it marked a watershed in Catholic-Jewish relations. Christianity has an organic relationship to Judaism that it does not have to any other faith.

I remember the day vividly. As John Paul II arrived on the steps of the imposing Victorian synagogue overlooking the Tiber River, he was embraced by Chief Rabbi Toaff. The Pope returned the embrace and then entered the synagogue to a thundering ovation from a congregation of 1,000 people, many of them descendants of Jews who had been forced to live apart from other Romans.

”The Jews are beloved of God, who has called them with an irrevocable calling,” John Paul said, speaking in Italian and, briefly, in Hebrew. ”The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic’ to us, but in a certain way is ‘intrinsic’ to our own religion,” he said elsewhere in his address. ”With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

“The heart opens itself,” Rabbi Toaff declared in the gathered assembly, ”to the hope that the misfortunes of the past will be replaced by fruitful dialogue.”

JP II Rabbi Toaff Synagogue 1986

For the Jewish people, a traditional Jewish expression of sympathy at the death of loved ones is “Zikhrono li-verakhah” (May his memory be for a blessing). The lives of St. John Paul II and Rabbi Elio Toaff are blessings for the Catholic and Jewish communities, and for the unique relationship between them. As the years pass, may their memories also be a blessing, a model, a point of embarkation and an inspiration, that another generation of Catholics and Jews will commit themselves to pursuing with energy, commitment, respect and faith the dialogue which was so close to the hearts of Pope John Paul II and Rabbi Elio Toaff.

Upon John Paul II’s death in April 2005, Rabbi Gerald Zelizer, of Neve Shalom Synagogue in New Jersey, offered one of the most touching and hopeful evaluations of John Paul’s legacy in terms of Catholic-Jewish dialogue:

“When Michelangelo was on his deathbed, his students at his bedside wailed: ‘Michelangelo, how will Rome ever get along without you?’ To which, it is reported, Michelangelo faintly waved his hand to the window, with its vision of his sculptures and architecture, and whispered, ‘Rome will never be without me.’ Surely, John Paul would not be so boastful. But because he has reshaped the Catholic Church during his long tenure, we Jews, “the elder brother,” are hopeful in declaring, “We Jews shall never be without you.”

(“Respect for faith’s ‘elder brother’,” USA Today (April 5, 2005)

Tonight we say those words about Rabbi Toaff: “Zikhrono li-verakhah” (May his memory be for a blessing). We Catholics shall never be without you, remembering with affection and gratitude your embrace and deep desire for reconciliation and understanding with us.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte’s Funeral Mass

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The death of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte (1936-2015), Archbishop-emeritus of Montreal, fills our hearts with sadness at the loss of a good shepherd, a great friend and long-time supporter of Salt + Light. At the same time, his entrance into eternal life during the Easter octave is cause for rejoicing. I would like to think that the first to welcome him home was one of heaven’s gatekeepers, St. André Bessette, CSC, of Montreal. I am sure that Brother André then introduced the Cardinal to St. Joseph, then to the many saints and blesseds of Montreal and Quebec. Together they brought Jean-Claude to the Lord whom he served with much love and devotion as priest, bishop, archbishop and cardinal.

Below you can watch in its entirety the funeral Mass for Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte that took place on Friday, April 17, 2015.

Deacon-structing New Life: Waste Management

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On Easter Sunday I wrote that it’s not hard to find physical signs of new life and resurrection everywhere we look. In fact, I would say that one of the arguments for life after death and even for the divine life is the fact that there are physical signs everywhere. Whether it’s a seed that dies in order to bear fruit, winter melting into spring or people overcoming challenges in order to do great good, resurrection is all around us. In fact, I am reminded of new life, once a week, when I take my recycling and composting bins out to the curb.

Recently, as part of our Creation series pre-production, I was corresponding with Robert Reed, Public Relations Manager at San Francisco’s Recology. Almost immediately I received a response from Fr. Bob Reed at Catholic TV  in Boston. Fr. Bob wrote, “Nice to hear from you Deacon Pedro, but I think this email was intended for someone else.” I responded right away to apologize: “Fr. Bob, what a nice opportunity to hear from you. Did you know that you have a “brother” with the same name that works in waste management in San Francisco?” Fr. Bob responded: “What a coincidence! I am in waste management too – the spiritual kind.” And so began my journey into the world of waste management.

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In California we went to The San Francisco Department of the Environment or SF Environment. They are the municipal department dedicated to creating policies and programs that promote social equity, protect human health, and lead the way toward a sustainable future. They have green building, toxics reduction and clean transportation programs, programs to do with climate change, energy, urban agriculture and environmental justice, as well as a zero waste program.

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It was the Zero Waste program that we were interested in. Jack Macy, who is in charge of the program told me that the goal is zero waste by 2020, which means that nothing goes to landfills or incinerators; everything is either composted or recycled. If you can’t compost or recycle it, you can’t purchase it.

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Part of the waste problem is that we don’t see it. When you arrive at SF Environment, the first thing you see is an 8 ft pile of clothing. The caption reads, “Every 7 minutes San Franciscans thrown 560 pounds of textiles into landfill – the equivalent of this 8-foot tower or textiles.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2012, Americans generated about 251 million tons of waste. Of this material, only 87 million tons was either recycled or composted. That’s only 34.5%. That means that, on average, Americans recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.38 (2kgs) pounds per person per day. According to Environment Canada, the average Canadian produces 1.8 kilograms (4lbs.) of waste per day!

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Today in San Francisco, they are able to compost or recycle 90% of people’s waste. That means that mostly everything, construction debris, rubber, metals, batteries, empty paint containers, textiles, shoes, electronics, light bulbs, furniture and household appliances can be recycled, and food scraps, organic waste, soiled paper products, and yard waste can be composted.

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Robert Reed (from Recology, not the priest) took us to one of their Recycling Facilities. The plant at Pier 96 receives paper, cardboard, plastics and glass. Robert explained how recycling saves resources like water. By recycling glass, we achieve 50% in water savings. By recycling paper, we help paper mills reduce their water use by up to 60%. Recycling also reduces energy use. Recycling newsprint, for example, results in an almost 40% reduction in total energy demand. Recycled aluminum provides a 94% reduction in energy use compared with making aluminum from virgin ore. Recycling also keeps materials out of landfills and incinerators. Recycling also avoids pollution. More importantly, recycling means that industries reduce their need to extract more timber, crude oil and ores. By reducing extraction from natural resources we help protect natural habitats and biodiversity. This also helps reduce pollution.

Lastly, as we saw at the Pier 96 plant, recycling creates 10 times more jobs than landfilling or incineration.

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Robert Reed then took us to a compost facility. This used to be a landfill. Basically, when waste goes into a landfill, it is sealed so that toxic substances cannot leak into the soil. Because there is no oxygen, the waste does not biodegrade. If you have the choice of throwing out organic waste or paper into the garbage or in your green bin – consider that what goes in the garbage, if it ends up in a landfill, will not biodegrade. Sr. Damien-Marie Savino, fse, who is a doctor in environmental engineering and chair of the Environmental Science and Studies department at the University of St. Thomas – Houston (and who is working closely with us on Creation), remembers her early days as a student, doing research at a landfill in Puerto Rico. She says that when they uncovered the waste, it was like a time capsule. She was able to find newspapers from the 1920s that had not decomposed. She was able to read them!

On top of that, when organic waste is compressed into a landfill without oxygen, methane gas is produced. Robert Reed told us that more carbon pollution results from this methane gas than from the carbon produced by vehicles on the road. Landfills are not a good idea. Jack Macy at SF Environment commented that in nature there is no waste; everything is used. Robert Reed would agree. This is what composting does; what God intended.

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Compost improves soil health and protects topsoil from erosion. Compost promotes healthy microbial activity in soil, providing micronutrients to plant roots, and discouraging soil diseases. Composting returns nutrients to farms so they can grow healthy fruits and vegetables. As opposed to landfills which are producing methane gas, compost sequesters carbon deep in the soil. This means that carbon that is produced by fossil fuel emissions can be recaptured into the soil (where it belongs). Lastly, compost is a great alternative to chemical fertilizers and a more healthy way to grow food.  Composting is a very good idea.

Which led me back to Robert Reed, the priest. One of the things I’ve learned from Sr. Savino is that the soil is an analogy for the soul: When the soul is far from God, we see the effects in the soil, in the land. You can see this consistently in the story of the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It is not a coincidence that God is described as a Gardener or that man was created in a garden – or that man was created out of dirt.

I don’t mean, however, that if celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is spiritual waste management, that we should be recycling or composting our “waste”. Rather, what happens at Reconciliation, as with all the Sacraments is a transformation. God takes what we have – and sometimes that is “waste” – and transforms it. He takes our sinfulness and transforms it. We lay our difficulties, our challenges, all our doubts, fears and insecurities – those things that can often lead us to sin – and lay them at the foot of the Cross. Christ takes them and transforms them. That’s recycling and composting: taking what God has given us, that we have changed and misused, that we have damaged, and giving it back to Him so He can restore it.

That’s exactly what happens in many of the Resurrection stories. Whether it’s Jesus pushing his way into the locked upper room, either according to John or to Luke, to find the disciples huddled in fear, or whether it’s Jesus joining two distraught disciples on their walk to Emmaus, or speaking Mary Magdalene’s name at the garden (another garden), or calling to them from the beach as when they had gone back to fishing, Jesus always brings us peace. That’s why the first thing he says to the disciples is “shalom”. He forgives them by giving them peace. Then he stays with them and by his presence and by simple mundane things like eating with them, he transforms them, “opening up their minds” so they can understand the Scriptures.

Jesus does the same for us. Always. We in turn, must also always give life to others and to all creation. Maybe it starts with a simple mundane act like taking your green bin or recycling to the curb.

Want to find out more about what the Church has to say about recycling and composting? Keep your ears and eyes open for our new six-part series Creation, coming to you at the end of the year.

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