Category Archives: Justice and Peace

18 September: The world is a joyful mystery, Creation Season XIX; Laudato Si’ III.

In this section Pope Francis looks to Saint Francis of Assisi as an example to follow.

I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast.

He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wisdom 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

Of course, the temptation is never far away to see the world as a problem to be solved. It is perhaps then that we need to stop thinking and start singing! We must refuse to turn the world about us into an object to be used and controlled for short term gain. Creatures are our sisters and brothers.

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16 September, Laudato Si’ II, Creation XVII: we look for a change of humanity.

Monkey orchid, Kent.

After discussing statements on the environment and the misuse of Creation by popes over the last fifty years, Pope Francis continues by saying how scientists and other thinkers have contributed to church thinking.

7. Other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

Bartholomew and Francis are close to Blake’s vision:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

But Blake is not sentimentalising. He goes on to catalogue some sins against Creation, specifically cruelty against animals. If we saw a Heaven in a Wild Flower we would accept the world as a sacrament of communion, and not act in this way:

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions.
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State. 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.

Lord open our eyes!

psalm_121_1_2

And here is the link to Sister Johanna’s final reflection on the Psalms:

I am never alone when praying the psalms, and this is not just because I pray them in the liturgy and in community.  Many people pray the psalms privately, and they, too, are not alone.  This is because the psalms, you might say, “refashion” the heart of the person praying. 

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15 September, Laudato Si’ I: our Sister cries out. Season of Creation XVI.

As we approach the Feast of Saint Francis on 4 October, we have been looking at aspects of Creation and our part in it as co-workers with God, the mistakes the human family have made, and that you and I continue to make. We read C.S. Lewis telling us that we have to go beyond warm-feeling nature religion and engage in serious theology if we want to have the right idea about God. So let’s get serious and read what Pope Francis says about the crisis in our corner of creation, the corner we have responsibility for. Here is the opening.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Romans 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Genesis 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Note that the Pope uses the language of the Bible, which also inspired the poet Walter Savage Landor’s verse ‘content to sink into her lap when life is spent.’ The realisation of our earthliness is a first step to caring for our sister as God intended from the beginning of humanity.

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflections on the Psalms; click here.

I’d like to say a few words about singing the psalms.  From my personal perspective as an ex-ballet dancer, music is highly important to me, and I am so grateful that this long tradition of singing prayer exists. 

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13 September: Leaves, Creation XV.

 Leaf after leaf drops off, flower after flower, 
Some in the chill, some in the warmer hour: 
Alike they flourish and alike they fall, 
And Earth who nourished them receives them all. 
Should we, her wiser sons, be less content 
To sink into her lap when life is spent?

                                               Walter Savage Landor.

Landor was born in 1775, the year that Johnson sailed and preached on death. Landor’s take is rather different, but does not quite address Johnson’s point. Why, rather, should we be content simply to sink into earth’s lap? Is our existence then ultimately meaningless, vanity? Is there any point in repairing some of the damage that’s been done to our Mother Earth?

Christ intervened to restore meaning to human life, to answer such questions as these. He lived and died a perfect life but still cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The stoical acceptance Landor espouses here is another matter altogether and ultimately nihilist. True wisdom is more than intellectual; there is wisdom in love, in care for others, in care for creation: we have reason not to be content to sink into Mother Earth’s lap when we consider how much of our life has done her harm.

You are invited to click on this link and so continue reflecting on the Psalms with Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey:

When we pray things like “O God whom I praise, do not be silent, for the mouths of deceit and wickedness are opened against me” (108:1), or “When I think I have lost my foothold, your mercy Lord, holds me up” (93:18), or “I am beset with evils…” (39:13) and so on, the “I” in any given psalm can become our “I” when we’re praying, no matter what our mood might be at that particular time.

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11 September: Vague religion versus Theology, Season of Creation XIII.

Times were hard in 1944. A religion that could not attempt some sort of explanation of the war that was still ongoing was no use to CS Lewis. In this extract he makes clear why. Much as Pope Francis did with Laudato Si’. There are good Christian reasons for studying the ways we are invited to prepare for the future without burning carbon, it’s not an add-on, it’s part of our share in creation, and it’s serious hard work.

A vague religion – all about feeling God in nature and so on – is so attractive. It’s all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you won’t get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you won’t get to eternal life by just feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. And you won’t be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

In other words, Theology is practical … if you don’t listen to theology, that won’t mean you have no ideas about God. It’ll mean that you’ll have a lot of wrong ones.

C.S. Lewis, Beyond Personality, Geoffrey Bles, 1944.

Thomas Merton felt that more listening to Scripture was also part of the picture. He congratulated Ernesto Cardenal on his translation of the Psalms into Spanish, at a time when the Divine Office was recited in Latin: ‘These are the versions we should really be chanting in choir. How few monks think of the real meaning of the Psalms. If priests knew what they are reciting every day.’

Thomas Merton & Ernesto Cardenal, From the Monastery to the World, Berkeley, Counterpoint, 2017

Here is the link to Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Psalms

What is it like to use the psalms for prayer every day and many times a day?  By God’s grace, my experience of praying the psalms daily now stretches over nearly four decades.  I shall try to say a little about what I have learned during this time.

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10 September, Season of Creation XII: Enter his gates with thanksgiving.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. 
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; 
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: 
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; 
and his truth endureth to all generations.
Ps 100

The psalms give us some of the most difficult prayers – Sister Johanna wrote about how to pray these vengeful psalms a while ago: her series begins here. This might be a good time to reread her wise words, so we will provide a link to each post every day for a week.

Sister also looks at the more benign Psalms, thanking God for creation; here is one of them. Short and sweet, easy enough to get by heart, especially in the hymnal version, ‘All People that on earth do dwell’.

If you cannot get to a Harvest Festival Thanksgiving this month, sit down to some local food – fruit or local bread, say – and thank God for the food he provides.

And think of those going without.

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8 September, Season of Creation X: This means you!

Level crossing without barrier or gate ahead

Canterbury had a railway link to London before 1850, engineered along the Stour Valley from Ashford, a relatively flat line which needed few road bridges, over or under. However, there are a number of level crossings, two of them in central Canterbury, capable of holding up road traffic for minutes at a time in queues 100m and more long.

Sad to say, most cars and motor vehicles (but not the local buses) have their engines left on at this time, wasting the drivers’ money in fuel burning uselessly. That we might say is their problem, but it’s everyone’s problem when the air on St Dunstan’s Street is so often polluted above safe levels; it’s everyone’s problem when greenhouse gases are unnecessarily emitted into the atmosphere to add to global warming.

Please think about switching off your engine when traffic grinds to a halt at a crossing or other hold up.

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1 September, Season of Creation II: The gift to be simple I? Not for me!

‘Plain living and high thinking’ are not popular ideals.  Most people prefer to live in luxury, and to think with the majority.

If we run a series of posts for the season of Creation which starts today, it could easily become a bad-tempered, five week long rant. So let’s at least approach the season light-heartedly, with a wise word from Oscar, a reminder of what we are up against in our own selves.

Oscar Wilde from “A Critic in Pall Mall”

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29 August: On the seventh day.

Today we share a passage from Saint Augustine of Hippo’s City of God, 11.8. It is Saint Augustine’s feast day, and it is holiday time, so when better to ask,

What we are to understand of God’s resting on the seventh day, after the six days’ work?

Augustine’s answer to this question may surprise us, coming from a man of the 4th and 5th Centuries. God does not need to rest from toil, as we humans do, for he created all things by his Word – he spake and it was done. So God’s rest is the rest he created for us – and other parts of his creation – and it is part of his plan of creation, even before the Fall. As Augustine says in The Confessions:

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

When it is said that God rested on the seventh day from all His works, and hallowed it, we are not to conceive of it in a childish fashion, as if work were a toil to God, who “spake and it was done,”—spake by the spiritual and eternal, not audible and transitory word. But God’s rest signifies the rest of those who rest in God, as the joy of a house means the joy of those in the house who rejoice, though not the house, but something else, causes the joy.

How much more intelligible is such phraseology, then, if the house itself, by its own beauty, makes the inhabitants joyful! For in this case we not only call it joyful by that figure of speech in which the thing containing is used for the thing contained (as when we say, “The theatres applaud,” “The meadows low,” meaning that the men in the one applaud, and the oxen in the other low), but also by that figure in which the cause is spoken of as if it were the effect, as when a letter is said to be joyful, because it makes its readers so. Most appropriately, therefore, the sacred narrative states that God rested, meaning thereby that those rest who are in Him, and whom He makes to rest.

And this the prophetic narrative promises also to the men to whom it speaks, and for whom it was written, that they themselves, after those good works which God does in and by them, if they have managed by faith to get near to God in this life, shall enjoy in Him eternal rest. This was prefigured to the ancient people of God by the rest enjoined in their sabbath law.

But rest is not idleness: it comes after ‘those good works which God does in and by them’. As we read recently, Thomas Traherne reminds us that, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed.’

Let’s pray for the grace to get on with our task in life, and to observe a Sabbath for our soul’s sake, however and whenever circumstances allow.

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22 August, Going Viral XC: How sisters are helping around the world.

The secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit many countries hard in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Catholic Relief Services provides food and cash aid. (Courtesy of Catholic Relief Services/Justin Makangara)

The secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit many countries hard, including worsening hunger in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Catholic Relief Services provides food and cash assistance to hard-hit families. (Courtesy of Catholic Relief Services/Justin Makangara)

This article from The Global Sisters’ Report

describes how sisters of many congregations are responding to the challenges thrown up by Covid-19 and its variants, and how precautions against the disease can make daily life much more difficult.

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