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Franciscan Blessing Alive in Colombian Mission Work

January 21, 2016

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May God bless you with DISCOMFORT
at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships,
that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy ANGER
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
That you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with TEARS
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection,
starvation and war, that you may reach out your hand to
comfort them, turning their pain to joy.

May God bless you with enough FOOLISHNESS
to believe that you can make a difference in this world,
doing what others claim cannot be done.

CASFA and Cristo Rey students at dispensary praying before serving elderly Photo by Shelly Gill Murray

CASFA and Cristo Rey students at dispensary praying before serving elderly. Photo by Shelly Gill Murray

An unlikely partner resides a hemisphere away where mountains hover over a city in a bowl of ten million people, Bogota Colombia is intimately connected to Minnesota.  Fifty years ago Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Lourdes from Rochester, Minnesota opened a convent in Bogota.  They then started an all-girls school called Colegio Santa Francisca Romana or “PACHAS” now considered one of the top ten schools in Bogota.  Thirty years ago, they added a second school, Colegio Anexo San Francisco de Asis or “CASFA,” for children with limited resources.  CASFA students walk up and down the mountain to school every day.  They work to learn professional skills and go to school six days a week.

This vibrant community remains linked to Minnesota, both by its roots in Rochester and its friend Grace Strangis, the founder of Pathways to Children.  Grace, one of 12 siblings from rural Minnesota has two Franciscan sisters.  She founded Pathways to Children to support schools in Colombia, Ethiopia and India.  She provides trips for students who share her passion for mission work.  Unlike other mission programs, however, Grace recognizes those who give most abundantly are found in unlikely places…

The students at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Minneapolis are also part of a unique program where students attend school four days a week and work the fifth.  In exchange for tuition payments, students train for the professional world working in a variety of industries.  95% graduate from high school and nearly all enter college.  However, the resume of these students does not begin to tell their story.

Last month, Pathways to Children brought 16 students from Cristo Rey across the Americas to learn about the culture of Colombia from CASFA students.   These students were chosen from 80 applicants.  When asked why they thought they were chosen, one said they may not know until the future. What is clear is they felt “chosen” not because they wrote a better essay or gave a better interview or had better grades or any other thing really-just Chosen. For some of them, it is probably the first time in their lives.  As he got on the bus to go to the airport, one student handed his phone to a parent because “This is a trip of a lifetime and I don’t want to miss a minute of it!”

Stepping off the bus onto the grounds of CASFA, the Cristo Rey students noticed a giant magnolia tree that somehow survived the surrounding sea of concrete.  Its single beautiful white bloom signified the positive outlook of the school community.  The older students and certainly the younger ones, likely don’t know the purpose of the plastic sheeting on the classroom windows to prevent injury from shattering glass caused by car bomb attacks in the 80’s.   More like a reunion than an introduction, the CASFA and Cristo Rey students became fast friends despite being from different schools, two countries, and four cultures: Colombian, American, Ecuadorian and Mexican.  Their connectedness allowed them to pass over the first-meeting awkwardness and dig into the work.  And they all gave as if they would never run out.

Early Thanksgiving morning the students headed up the mountain to build a playground out of old tires, paint, scraps of wood and rusty equipment. The work was heavy, hard and hot.  In five hours they transformed a gravel lot into a fenced brightly painted park with its own decorated Christmas tree!  Another day, students discussed political messages in music from both countries and took a CASFA student guided tour through Calle 26 known as the “street of murals” artists created to explain the peace process in the country’s 55-year civil war.  Then they went back to work in the southern suburb of Soacha.  This mining town grew from 200,000 to one million in the last seven years and it shows in the dusty streets surrounding the barrio’s single remaining tree.  The students’ task was to paint an after school haven for kids whose only fresh water comes by truck once a month and whose school recess was discontinued because drugs were being thrown over the playground fence to entice them to trade.

After several hours of work, one of the women in the community arrived with a huge pot of soup ladled with a hand-carved wooden “cuchara” the size of a dinner plate.  She planned to serve 50, but the steamy chicken and plantain broth aroma enticed those living nearby and the line grew.  The woman did not stop ladling bowls until 150 people were fed.  This modern “loaves and fishes” story serves as an apt metaphor for the students’ deep giving wells.  They might not know why they were chosen for the trip, but later recalling this memory, perhaps they will say it was the hand of God on the ladle and sense a deeper meaning in their presence in this place.

Some wonder why those who have less often give more than those with more to give.  How do CASFA teenagers walk up and down a mountain twice a day beginning at 6 am, work and attend class until 7 pm six days a week, have anything left to give?  The nightly check in with Cristo Rey students took on a theme of humble wonderment at the hospitality, acceptance and love they felt in Bogota.  Perhaps the answer lies in the Cristo Rey students’ capacity to receive the grace being offered.  Therein lies the definition of CHOSEN.

Shelly Gill Murray has visited Colombia many times over the last 18 years and dedicates significant time to mission work, including work with Pathways To Children.

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A 60-second case for Vikings hope

January 11, 2016

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The way the Minnesota vs. Seattle playoff game ended yesterday brought some surprisingly “religious” reactions from both Vikings and Seahawks players alike. One Seahawk bowed his face to the earth out of gratitude, while one Viking gazed at the heavens with agony and confusion in his eyes. Amazing how a playoff game as crazy as this one can evoke such spiritual energy in people.

The way we Vikings lost, so close, seconds away from a playoff win, surely must have had a reinforcing effect on our recurring memory of football failure which prompts musings such as, “Why can’t Minnesota Vikings eat soup? Because every time they get close to a bowl, they choke.” Yet the players responded to the resurgence of this nightmare with superstition and religiosity.

Will football failure, low football-self-esteem, and repeated treading upon the toes of our “Minnesota-niceness” bother us to the point that we Minnesotans begin to plead with the Lord for vindication?

I would like to suggest that to actually pray for a Superbowl win is not a ridiculous prayer, and is a prayer, if answered, that could both rekindle the faith of Minnesota in God and boost our confidence in the goodness of our identity as a little culture of orderly courtesy in traffic, smiles and greetings to passersby, proud customer service, and strong lifelong friendships.

Don’t just abandon ship and become a Packers fan because you can’t take repeated failure. Failure is purifying. Be proud of who we are. Be confident, and PRAY for a Superbowl win! Be not ashamed to do so, and God may vindicate us, with our help, and maybe a few more good draft picks. Skol Vikings!

Chris Vance, 21, is a seminarian from St. Joseph, West St. Paul, studying at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul.

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Prayer of the Eastside Catholic

December 15, 2015

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In the heartland of America, the mighty Mississippi runs deep

Upon her banks, pioneers and immigrants harnessed the falls of St. Anthony,

Turning water into electricity and wheat into flour.

With work came faith, with flowing water came finest wine

With bread came the Eucharist.

 

Sons of German farmers shaped stone and glass into St. Boniface

Proud Poles built the mighty church of the Holy Crossing

“The” Strong Slavs remembered St. Cyril and dedicated him a church

Descendants of French Voyageurs honored Our Lady at Lourdes

Daughters of Ukraine baked pierogis and shaped the beautiful St. Constantine

The fruits of Lebanon turned cedar wood into St. Maron’s.

 

Today, French African immigrants and hardworking Hispanics join the great

Grandsons of Bavaria and Granddaughters of Italy in a new generation’s

Chorus to praise an ancient Church.

And, at our Lady of Mount Carmel, God’s special children,

Our deaf brothers and sisters,

Honor God not with their tongues but with their hands.

 

Work combined with faith, duty to God and America,

Loyalty to church and family

These values built the Eastside of Minneapolis.

 

May the Eastside of Minneapolis always remember the Lord who made the Mississippi River run

May the Eastside of Minneapolis always honor the Lord who made the mouths of many nations

Worship together one God and join together in the great feast of the Eucharist.

May the Eastside of Mississippi always welcome the stranger with Christ,

And respect the worker who seeks a better life with dignity.

Cain Pence is a native of the eastside of Minneapolis. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and is a member of St. Boniface in northeast Minneapolis. Pence is a salesman and has travelled extensively throughout all 50 states. The place he loves the most is the eastside of Minneapolis. He wrote this short prayer to honor the Catholic immigrant spirit found alive and well there.

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Prepare the Way, Be a Witness

December 4, 2015

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By Crystal Crocker

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  Luke 3:4-6

Returning from work exhausted, I plopped down on the sofa and clicked on the evening news. The drone of sad and shocking stories gave a sinking feeling of a world that is lost. Lost in a wilderness without God. Darkness seemed to envelop everything and everyone in it. I reached for the remote to change the channel but stopped just as I heard someone say, “I became a Catholic.”

The woman, a nationally known political analyst, beamed as she reported receiving the sacraments and entered the Catholic Church. Enthusiasm oozed as she radiated light that transcended the television screen. I was stunned that in our politically correct world, a national news show would allow one of their analysts to share their new Catholic faith on live television. Most shocking was that she was a former atheist who first became an Evangelical and then on October 10th of this year became a Catholic. The sacramental image of baptismal water being poured on her head flashed on the screen as proof! She ended by giving thanks to the priest who had given spiritual guidance through her journey.

And just like that. A light shot through all of the world’s darkness.

On this day, the second Sunday of Advent, we hear in the gospel of a light shooting through the darkness. We hear it from John the Baptist who cried out to a brood of vipers.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Like John, we are called to be a light and proclaim the love of Jesus Christ to all those we meet. It is our baptismal responsibility and mission as Catholics. But how are we to do that when the world may feel like a brood of vipers? How can we be a witness in a politically correct world that seeks to push us out of the public square and confine us to the pew?

The answer can be found in the example of St. John the Baptist, who showed sacrificial love, true humility and faith.

  • Love Jesus and I mean really love him! John loved Jesus so much that he told all of his friends to leave him and follow Jesus. He even sacrificed himself while proclaiming the truth to the very end. Only the love of Jesus Christ has the power to change hearts and heal the soul. This is the most important gift a witness can share, the love of Jesus to others. We cannot give what we do not have ourselves . . . and so love Jesus with all of your heart, mind and soul. Be with him everyday as you would be with an intimate friend. Love him so much that His light can’t help but shine through you to another . . . and then love them too!
  • Practice true humility. John said he was not even worthy to carry Jesus’s sandals which was the job of the lowest servant. A true witness guards against self-love and seeks a humble heart. Make an examination. Are you content in being second, living a simple life in the background? Or do you seek to advance yourself in family, work or Church through acknowledgements and fame? A true witness does not preach, teach or save anyone out of pride and acknowledgement. They keep Jesus as the focus and    point to Him as the Hero, while always remaining a humble vessel of His love.
  • Live with faith. John proclaimed that Jesus would come. He had great faith that he was doing what God called him to do and he never wavered. Even after he knew Jesus had come and baptized Him, he did not stop what he was doing but continued to point to Jesus. A witness continues to live with faith as light in a dark world. The greatest faith is to be a witness and never know what your work might have done, trusting that God is doing the real work with His grace.

Do not be afraid to take the opportunity to speak the truth about Jesus to anyone. You never know what God will do! Some day you may hear someone say, “I became a Catholic,” . . . just like Kirsten Powers, political analyst and former atheist now Catholic.

Read more on the second Sunday of advent (December 6) at the WINE blog, From the Vine.


 

References about Kirsten Powers becoming a Catholic:

Pope Francis’ Latest Convert: Kirsten Powers

Kirsten Powers’ Twitter announcement

Catholic Preaching

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The Jewish-Christian relationship, 50 years after ‘Nostra Aetate’

December 3, 2015

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Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple, St. Paul, gave the following remarks Dec. 2 at a banquet at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council.

If you stand in front of Notre Dame in Paris and gaze up, you will see below the famous gargoyles and among the many sculptures, two particular figures in prominence, one on the left and one on the right of the main entrance to the cathedral. Synagoga and Ecclesia.

Synagoga representing the Jews is a female figure that is bent, with a broken staff symbolic of a broken covenant. In contrast is Ecclesia, also a female figure, representing Christianity that is upright and triumphant.

I mention this because when I first saw Notre Dame as a kid in 1982 it was in a context of harmony between Catholics and Jews. I never saw those sculptures as anything but history. That is the remarkable legacy of “Nostra Aetate” and the paradigm shift it ushered in for the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and Catholics to Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus and eventually to all interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Adam Spilker

Rabbi Adam Spilker

In the Jerusalem Talmud we are taught, “Upon three things the world rests: upon justice, upon truth, upon peace. And the three are one, for when justice is done, truth prevails, and peace is established.” In a world sorely in need of all three, it is important to celebrate an area where justice to the Jewish people was done and truth and peace became possible between Catholics and Jews.

No institution is an island and immune to changing times. When an institution as immense as the Catholic Church makes any change, it is done with considerable thought and prayer. Without addressing its many dimensions and manifold perceptions, I stand here tonight to praise the Catholic Church for a decision in 1965 that ushered in a remarkable new era for the Jewish people. For Jews used to taunts of being called “Christ-killers,” the power of this Vatican statement was breathtaking.

In many ways, 1965 captured decades of growing relations. In St. Paul, contributions for the beautiful cathedral that graces our skyline and is now over 100 years old, came from many people outside of the Catholic community including Jews. This parallels the funding of my own congregation, Mount Zion’s third building on Holly and Avon Streets finished in 1903 that came from across Minnesota from Catholic, Protestant and Jew alike. St. Paul with its more Catholic milieu than Minneapolis was in general more accepting of the Jewish community.

Protestant Christian churches did take their cue from the Catholic Church but it took longer. My congregation has a dialogue with a Lutheran Church, Gloria Dei, which is part of the ELCA. The ELCA did not come up with a parallel statement on clarifying history about Jesus’ death and the relationship with the Jewish people until 1994.

I remember celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” when I was given the opportunity to teach a partial credit “Jewish-Christian Relations” class at Duke University with my friend Ted Smith who became a Presbyterian minister. As students we were given the ability to design a class to be taught to our peers. When we decided to put together the class, it was at a high point for Christian-Jewish relations in America. There were biennial national conferences attended by hundreds of scholars, clergy and laity which I had the fortune of attending in South Carolina, Oklahoma and Connecticut. Today the interfaith landscape is more diverse and complex but thankfully still strong in some parts of the country including here. One teaching from that class I will never forget from Roman Catholic priest Raimondo Pannikar who says that we will never fully know whether the messiah has come or not, that is we will never fully reconcile theological differences. In the meantime, let’s roll up our sleeves and work for justice and peace in our community together.

Religious pluralism should never be taken for granted. Just listen to what some are saying about our brother and sister Muslims in America and around the world. We have a common covenant through Noah that has never been abrogated and we need to honor God by seeing everyone first and foremost as in the image of that God. Interfaith work takes commitment, persistence and trust. And it is essential in our world sorely in need of religious voices of tolerance and peace.

I am grateful for the efforts of the Archdiocese through Father Erich Rutten whom I have had the pleasure of working with over many years now and the partnership that the Minnesota Rabbinical Association has in the JCRC under the wise leadership of Steve Hunegs.

The Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Relations recently hosted a two day conference at the University of St. Thomas to commemorate this 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate.” There I learned from Professor Mary Boys (Union Theological Seminary, New York) about a recently made sculpture that captures the change in Church doctrine. It is in Philadelphia made for the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” Synagoga and Ecclesia are situated side by side, both triumphant, Synagoga with a Torah scroll, Ecccesia with a book of the Word, their equal covenants honored. Pope Francis blessed this sculpture during his recent visit. This is the vision of a world redeemed, ancient faiths in partnership. May our understanding across faiths continue to grow in our own community and may God grant us strength to sustain a world of justice, truth, and peace.

Rabbi Spilker has served Mount Zion Temple for the past 18 years. Mount Zion is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Upper Midwest, founded in 1856, and is situated in its third location on Summit Avenue. Rabbi Spilker works with his wife, Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker, the congregation’s first invested cantor, and Rabbi Esther Adler and Cantor Jennifer Strauss-Klein.

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Pope Francis, St. Junipero Serra and the New Evangelization

September 29, 2015

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An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

An image of St. Junipero Serra is displayed as Franciscans celebrate his canonization with a Mass of thanksgiving at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington Sept. 24. CNS

William Wordsworth in his poem “The Virgin” called Mary, the Mother of God “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” By the grace of God the Blessed Virgin Mary was our wounded humanity’s lone exception to St. Paul’s statement that, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Regardless, God’s mercy endures for all of us sinners who strive daily to preach the Gospel with our lives.

God’s great and tender mercy is the message of the Gospel Pope Francis is emphasizing as the bridge between truth and love. Like a marriage, the Christian life is not one of perfection this side of heaven, but in being open and honest to living the truth – as God has revealed and as the Church has taught – in love, with the mercy of God that consummates or unites the two as one.

This is precisely why Pope Francis chose to canonize Father Junipero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan missionary whom he declared to be a holy man and great evangelizer of the American West within, at times, an unjust system of Colonialism. After all, our baptismal call to Christian holiness or becoming a saint has never been about perfection or impeccability, but instead striving each day, however imperfectly, to grow in Christian virtue by choosing God’s will over our own in loving God and our neighbor as our self.

When meeting with the Native Peoples in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to California in 1987, Pope St. John Paul II acknowledged that there were serious negative and unintended effects of Colonialism: abuse by Spanish soldiers against Native women, diseases Europeans brought over which many Natives had little immunity toward and died, and forms of evangelization which were much more aggressive than the Church would consider proper today. But, not Father Serra, whose great good John Paul II said was in bringing the Gospel message to the Peoples of the Americas.

For example, in seeking to protect his Native converts, Father Junipero Serra (at age 60) took two years to travel from Carmel-Monterey, California, to Mexico City and back, to obtain from Viceroy Bucareli the first “bill of rights” for the Native Peoples – a 32 point representation.

Thus, on September 23, 2015, outside the eastern lawn as the afternoon sun was beginning to descend toward the western sky high above the grand dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Patroness of the United States), God’s mercy was displayed in our Nation’s capital amidst the great excitement of Pope Francis’ first visit to our beloved country when the Vicar of Christ celebrated the first-ever Mass of Canonization on U.S. soil, by officially declaring once and for all that Fr. Junipero Serra, OFM, STD – “Apostle of California” – was a saint.

No matter what happens in the future: whether a majority of California’s political environment succeeds in removing Father Serra’s statue from the “Hall of Nations” in Washington, D.C., or whether so-called academics rewrite California history to their own bias, nothing can change the fact that Father Serra has been declared a saint – something that Serra Clubs around the world and many Catholics, including Native American Catholics, already knew.

In fact, it was a Native American Catholic from California (Andy Galvin), a descendant of the Ohlone Tribe (to whom Father Serra ministered) and current curator of Mission San Francisco (Mission Dolores), who — proudly wearing his native eagle feather shawl —joyfully processed up to Pope Francis carrying the ornate Caravaca cross reliquary containing a first-class relic (piece of bone) of our Church’s newest saint – Junipero Serra – during the canonization ritual of the Mass.

In canonizing Father Serra on his pilgrimage to the U.S. for the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis made clear that even though the Church as Christ’s Body is made up of sinners, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. In doing so, his Holiness affirms that Catholics can truly look to St. Junipero Serra in the spirit of Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) as a humble servant and witness for the New Evangelization teaching us to “always go forward and never turn back!”

St. Junipero Serra – Pray for us!

Father Allan Paul Eilen is pastor of St. Patrick in Oak Grove. This essay originally appeared in the parish’s bulletin.

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Pope’s concern is much deeper than most environmentalists’

September 24, 2015

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

U.S. President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk together at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington Sept. 23. CNS

People assume President Obama and Pope Francis share similar concern over environmental issues, but I think an important difference motivates these two world leaders.

The president advocates for tougher green laws because he wants a cleaner world. Like most environmentalists, he wants cleaner water, cleaner air and cleaner soil to drink, breathe and cultivate. Pope Francis wants those things too, but he really wants much more. He wants us to grow closer to God.

While Pope Francis is worried about the environment, he is much more worried about our souls. The Pope isn’t worried about climate change because of what it will do to our land and oceans, but because of what it says about our relationship with God.

Pope Francis explains in Laudato Si’ that all things are connected. He explains there is a relationship between humans and nature; if we don’t know how to treat each other, then we won’t know how to treat nature.

The fix to our current deplorable situation, Pope Francis writes, isn’t so much the adoption of renewable fuels as it is about placing God at the center of our being. Although you would never know it from reading the media accounts, the majority of Laudato Si’ is advice for getting our relationship right with God.

When the pope laments the polluted environment, it is because he recognizes it as a symptom of a culture that has seriously damaged its relationship with God. And while the symptom is alarming enough, the Pope’s real concern isn’t the symptom; it’s the cause.

If we can restore that relationship, we will find the environmental issues less pressing. If we can get ourselves right with God, it will follow that our relationships with each other, and with nature, will improve.

Thomas Bengtson is a local small business owner and writer. You can contact Bengtson by visiting his website.

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Knocking us out of our comfort zones

July 8, 2015

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Pope Francis is shown praying at an Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fall soldiers of World War I in Fogliano di Redipuglia, northern Italy, Sept. 13, 2014. The pope in his encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," released June 18, said all cr eation is singing God's praise but people are silencing it. CNS

Pope Francis is shown praying at an Austro-Hungarian cemetery for fall soldiers of World War I in Fogliano di Redipuglia, northern Italy, Sept. 13, 2014. The pope in his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” released June 18, said all cr eation is singing God’s praise but people are silencing it. CNS

Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “Laudato Si'” is addressed to all people who share our common home, the earth. Not that it will be well received by all people. Specifically mentioned in many passages, religious conservatives may well wonder why the Pope of all people, has made so free as to weigh in on Climate Change, Economics, the Free Market, and Private Property. Those on the “left” will find the Pope’s linking the degradation of our earth, and her rights, with the degradation of the unborn and the elderly, and their rights little more than a political bait and switch, gaining an international audience and ear on the subject of eco-conversion, and finding the Pope quoting Pope Benedict and other Popes as often as he brings forth something of his own, as for example in section 217 when he calls for an interior conversion as an answer for solving our eco-crisis. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” (Benedict XVI, Homily for the Solemn Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry, April 24, 2005)

Indeed one could call this encyclical co-authored. So many other bishops from around the world and past Popes are cited, John Paul II and Benedict the XVI especially, it truly represents the mind of the church, past and present, and often reads as a tutorial on the traditional longstanding Thomistic understanding of the common good, and private property. But old teachings applied to fresh new situations can yield much insight, and especially self-discovery.

Promoting Dialogue and Mutual Responsibility

The purpose of the encyclical is to promote dialogue between men of all faiths and political persuasions about how best to care for the earth, and for each other in the safeguarding of the earth’s precious resources. It is evident that the Pope’s eyes are on the poor, whose livelihoods are most at risk in the exploitation of the resources in the developing world, and in the gearing of economies to big businesses, which not only box the smaller producers out of the market, but create infrastructure and products with profit in mind, and not the long view of the well being of local economies, watersheds, and communities. It is a personal note to each citizen of the earth: a call to “Dare to turn what is happening to our world into our own personal suffering.” (Section 19) It is something that many on the left have been doing for a while, but the Pope calls even them to a deeper ecological consciousness and friendship, as he links our maltreatment of the earth to our maltreatment of human beings, the deterioration of nature with the deterioration of our culture.

It is a simple and almost fatherly reminder to become students of Nature. It is the cyclical order and pattern in nature herself that provides the whys and wherefores for recycling and composting and re-using. As more and more of the world’s population is becoming city-dwelling, it is often easy to forget the closed circle of fertility that occurs in natural ecosystems, as the Pope reminds us of in section 22, plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.” The industrial system does not emulate this model, found in nature. The Pope is suggesting we stop buying into the “modern myth” which presupposes unlimited material growth as undeniably good for us all, and which gives the industrial system a pass in the name of that myth, despite the waste and injustices, which such a system incurs in its process. He is asking us to question this system, and to use our modern talents and ingenuity to devise new means of production that place the long term good of both the earth and its inhabitants at their core, rather than profit. “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption.” (Section 23)

The Problem of Over-Consumption

Specifically the Pope draws attention to several issues in which human over consumption has contributed to. Among them: water pollution and waste, Climate Change, extinction of various species, loss of marine and forest ecosystems of the world, and also mental pollution (brought on by the modern “technocracy”.)

Speaking to people of Christian faiths, he explores Genesis to show that God’s gift of reason, which sets man apart from His other creations, is not to encourage domination on the part of human beings, but rather stewardship. God’s words to Adam and Eve in the garden, charging them to “till and keep” creation, refer not to domineering exploitation, but to working it and keeping/protecting it. “(The creation accounts in Genesis) suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” (Section 66) The Pope points to sin as that which causes the ruptures in these three relationships, both inward and outwardly.

In Section 95 the Pope quotes the New Zealand Bishops who suggest that the over consumption of the developed world is a sin against the 5th commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” It’s a sobering thought. One that is backed up by big guns, the likes of Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis quotes him in section 206, when he urges us to vote with our food dollars for a more eco-friendly world: “Purchasing is always a moral-and not simply economic-act.” (Caritas in Veritate 2006)

Reminding us of our universal solidarity with all men and creatures on this planet, the Pope has some important reminders about private property: “If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. “ Section 95 And “The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” (Section 93). This may prove to be something of a shocker to many politically conservative Christians. Which brings us to perhaps the crux of this encyclical and why it’s proving to be so pesky to so many. This letter suggests that there is really no distinction and separation between what we do financially and what we do morally, that our consumption is a civic act, not a private one. It suggests that our Religious beliefs and our environmental actions are interconnected more that we might care to think, that the action of buying mass-produced Chinese goods in a big box store which underpays it’s workers, and contributes to massive amounts of material waste, flooding lives with goods that are not needed, and often discarded after a few uses, that this may not indeed be the action of a Christian.

Any time the church seeks to infiltrate the part of our lives spent outside of the pews, it gets pesky. Things get uncomfortable. At rock bottom, we like our lives to be neatly separated into Tupperware containers, faith and worship over here, shopping over there, what goes on in our bedrooms in this box, and what we eat over in this other one. In his encyclical the Pope is reminding us of the interconnectedness of things. Our relationship with the earth is connected to our relationship with our fellow human beings, and vice versa. What we believe in church affects where we should shop, and what we should buy. It is not simply a matter of looking into the companies that produce the goods we buy, we ought to ask ourselves how we can better pursue a path of simplicity, and in this, we can be inspired by people of other faiths and political persuasions, who have chosen to invest in time to contemplate and renewable energy sources, and lifestyles which involve less consumption as a whole.

Technocracy and the “Modern Myth”

One of the most interesting critiques of the encyclical is the one of modern technology. The Pope points out that over-mechinization has not only unemployed a great deal of humanity, it has also furthered our ability to dominate nature while at the same time separating us farther from it. “Technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.” (Section 107) He points to the fruits of the Technocracy as bitter indeed. Already they are clearly seen: “ environmental degradation, anxiety, loss of the purpose of life, and of community living.”(Section 110) The fragmented knowledge imparted in this modern technocracy that we live in, often leaves us with no clear sense of the whole, nor any means with which to answer deeper questions of philosophy and ethics, which underpin the whole of our existence on earth. Life in a technocracy also lends itself to a frenetic pace, we are constantly “connected” electronically, and consequently never really in one place wholly, for any amount of time, a fraction of ourselves somewhere else via text, or twitter, or any of the other social media outlets. #Half There Anywhere. In response to the technocracy the Pope advocates a big SLOW DOWN, a recovering “of the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” (Section 114) He reminds us to reacquaint ourselves with reality, and its limits. Limits, which our over-consumption and our use of technology in the pursuit of our wants have obscured.

 

The free market is profit driven, and is governed by wants rather than needs. This is why, the Pope points out, it is insufficient to leave to the “invisible hands” of the free-market the job of governing the economy and solving the eco-crises we find ourselves in today.

The Dignity of Work

One of the ways  to self govern our impulse toward over consumption is developing a vivifying understanding of work. If more people choose to do more for themselves, and not rely on the expensive and elaborate system of distribution of goods and food that we find ourselves in in the developed world, there would be less of a burden placed on local economies, many of which, (in developing nations), export commodity crops to their detriment. “We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” (Section 128)

Global Eco-Initiatives and Oversight

Some global goals that the pope sets are:

  1. Sustainable and Diverse agriculture
  2. Renewable Energy
  3. Efficient Use of Energy
  4. Better use of Marine and Forest Resources of the World
  5. Universal Access to Drinking water. (Section 164)

Regarding Energy:

  1. Favoring Production with maximum energy efficiency
  2. Diminishing the Use of Raw Materials
  3. Removing from the market products which are less energy efficient or more polluting
  4. Improving transport systems
  5. Encouraging construction and repair of buildings aimed at reducing energy consumption and pollution. (Section 180)

He makes it very clear that there needs to be global authority (with the claws and teeth necessary to enforce the laws) to hold nations and states and businesses accountable with regard to eco-abuse. The responsibility is Universal, but the developed world, being as it has helped itself to more of a piece of the global resource pie, has a responsibility to contribute more to these efforts at accountability.

Personal Responsibility and New Paths of Simplicity

While making it very clear that the actions of concerned individuals will not be enough to stave off further ecological disaster, and coming class and resource wars, he does encourage us to follow the example of St. Therese of Lisiuex, performing little acts with great love, in solidarity with our fellow man and with the earth we co-inhabit. Using less energy, avoiding plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, recycling, composting, using public transportation or carpooling whenever we can, planting trees, turning out lights when not using them, all these things “reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. They benefit society, often unbeknownst to us for they call forth a goodness which albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.” (Sections 211, 212)

In the end, Pope Francis reminds us that “though capable of the worst, (we) are also capable of rising above (ourselves), choosing again what is good and making a new start…I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours.” 

It is hoped, that in following paths of greater simplicity we will be freed up to respond to the poverty our heedless actions have caused in our neighbors, our planet, and in our own hearts. Listening to and deeply considering the words of Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’” will help carve out a space in us internally, and in our lives externally, which love will fill.

Chiara Dowell farms with her husband, Shane, at Little Flower Farm near Skandia and worships at St. Peter in Forest Lake, and St. Mary and St. Michael in Stillwater. 

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A convert faces the confessional

July 6, 2015

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Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Penitents wait in line to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at Sts. Philip and James Church in St. James, N.Y., March 25, 2013. Sts. Philip and James and all other parishes in the Dioceses of Rockville Centre, N.Y, and Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Archdiocese of New York participate annually in Reconciliation Monday, which falls during Holy Week and offers the opportunity for confession from midafternoon into the evening. CNS

Most converts shrink from the idea of confessing their sins to a priest. Most Catholics, too, I suspect. Who doesn’t shrink from the confessional? A French philosopher once said it would do us all good to go about proclaiming our vices and weaknesses in the same loud voice we use to brag about our accomplishments and our virtues.

Well, here was my opportunity.

I was an odd convert. It was for confession that I had become a Catholic, among other attractions. I knew that the Protestant way was too easy. For me, at least, it was too easy to imagine a God who was not watching me too closely when I sinned or listening too closely when I asked for forgiveness. So, I had the double disadvantage of taking my sins more lightly than I should and not ever being quite sure I had been forgiven.

I was drawn to the idea of confession ever since I read the autobiography of the great psychologist Carl Jung, in which he admits that all he really did for people was to listen to them tell their story. When I thought about that, I realized that we have all experienced the power of someone else’s presence. Think of the times you were quietly depressed, all by yourself, and maybe not even really aware of how sad you were feeling until someone came over to you and asked you how you were doing, and you burst into tears. The presence of a sympathetic human being brings emotions to the surface, and in telling our story our inarticulate, half-understood thoughts and feelings become understandable to us because we are forced to utter them in words.

I knew that Jung was right and that the Catholic practice of confession must be keeping a lot of Catholics off psychiatrists’ couches. The Catholic way offered the sinner accountability, a palpable rite of forgiveness and the healing that comes of utterance.

When the time came for my first confession, I who had longed for the confessional found myself balking in terror. It wasn’t easy, at the age of 60, even to face a lifetime of one’s sins, let alone telling them aloud to a priest. With furious embarrassment I imagined holding up everyone else in line while I took forever to unburden myself, then emerging from the confessional, all eyes on this big sinner who took more than her share of time.

So it was with great relief that I learned I could make an appointment to see a priest in his office. I was more than willing to abandon my romantic image of myself as a mantilla-shrouded penitent kneeling in the cool anonymity of the confessional at dusk. The thought of that anonymity had been comforting, but in my mind, it hadn’t ever been sufficient. Disguise my voice? Go to a different parish to confess, where I am unknown? Best just to face the priest, look him in the eye, and face the humbling reality of my sinful nature.

So I found myself one afternoon sitting before a priest, Kleenex in hand, sobbing my way through my misspent life, while a pair of quiet, gentle, nonjudgmental eyes gazed at me in sympathy.

All of it? Am I truly forgiven for all of it?

There was someone in the room with me to say, yes — all of it. It’s God’s free gift. And, by the way, here’s your penance.

Penance! I had forgotten about that. And I learned about making amends, which would show God and my fellow creatures that I meant business, that I believed however falteringly in the possibility of Christ’s command to “go, and sin no more.”

It wasn’t long before I understood that for continuity I needed a single confessor. I needed someone who would come to know me, know my persistent failures, help me with my struggles, cluck sympathetically, “Yes, that again.” But most importantly, I confess (it becomes a habit), I couldn’t imagine broadcasting my sins among all of our priests. The idea of every resident priest knowing a portion of my depravity was more than I could bear. How this thought exposed and embarrassed my vanity!

I chose a confessor and came to meet with him for reconciliation every month or two. After the first few euphoric visits I began to feel discouraged. I heard myself confessing the same old sins over and over. What was the matter with me? Wasn’t I serious about reforming?

My confessor counseled patience and self-forgiveness. I thought he was being too easy on me. That was the whole thing about this Catholic God. He was too loving! He was a pushover for a penitent tear or two. But over the months, in wrestling with my resurgent demons, I gained insight. The battle lines were mostly drawn, and I was forced to recognize the true power of the old, ingrained habits I was struggling against. I took the measure of my enemy and it soon became apparent I needed to fight harder, and smarter.

It was also discouraging to discover I was more sinful than I thought. In preparation for reconciliation, I used various guides to the examination of conscience, and I discovered the looming reality of sins of omission. Here was a bottomless pit of potential sin. How ever could I do all the things love and conscience told me to do?

Yet, in a small way I began to do some of the things I was now aware I had been neglecting. Sometimes, truly, seeing is doing, and struggle is subverted. I learned that freedom from sin is not just a matter of avoiding doing wrong. It is also filling our lives with right actions.

There have been great benefits to my regular appointments with my dark side. Confession is the mark of my commitment to fearless self-searching, to conscious effort to become the person I want to be and to seeking spiritual guidance in this process of self-transformation.

And it works.

As in any struggle to change, it’s easy to feel I’m not getting anywhere until one day I notice that the view from my window is different, and it’s because I’m standing in a new place.

Each time I go to reconciliation, I am reminded that I have God’s unfailing forgiveness and support, the Church’s unfailing support, and the support of one wonderful holy person whose eyes are love. Once I even blurted out in the midst of my confession, “I can’t believe there’s a person whose job it is to do this — that alone is enough to make me believe in God!”

I have become more forgiving of myself because of confession. After all, I have a priest commanding me in the name of God to forgive myself! This is a sacrament of repeated forgiveness, of palpable, embodied forgiveness. I find myself again and again in the presence of this God who is just love, and whose love is truly unconditional. It makes me want to ease up on myself — and others, too.

I am returned again and again to my community. I am reminded that I am not alone in my troubles, and that my sins do not harm me alone, that reparations are in order, that I am important to the community and my good works are needed. I leave with a lightness of spirit, a feeling of having been released, filled with hope for the future and a sense of my place in the great and interconnected human brotherhood. (I also feel this way when I leave the dentist.)

I’m not much better at resisting sin, but temptation seems to come around less often, probably because I’m much better at throwing myself into the path of grace. As a convert, I am dazzled by the profusion of channels of grace in the Catholic Church. Channels and rivulets and cascades and waterfalls of grace! Of these, reconciliation is a wide river I drink from, an anchor point, a regular return to God embedded in my routine life, and it is one of the greatest gifts of the Catholic tradition. It is God inviting me to turn back toward him again and again, over and over, until one day I never turn my face away at all.

A few centuries again, when every self-respecting Protestant middle-class family had servants, it was well known among these families that if you wanted an honest, hard-working servant, you hired a Catholic.

And people knew why, too: Catholics had to face the confessional.

Virginia Chase Sanderson is a retired college instructor of literature and writing who lives in Minneapolis. The essay is based on a talk she gave at St. Stephen in Anoka.

 

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Hope amid upheaval

July 2, 2015

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The Cathedral of St. Paul, cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

The Cathedral of St. Paul, cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

I woke up the morning of June 15, and in typical morning fashion I scrolled my newsfeed. The first story I came across was the news that both Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché had resigned. I then read the comments that followed. Some were of those who had been advocating (and hoping) for resignation, and others were from those who felt they were mourning the loss of their shepherds.

I then began to examine my own conscience.

“What opinion do I have of this situation? What opinion should I have? I work in the trenches of the Church daily. My co-workers, our parishioners, the teens I serve — they will be talking, and Michelle, you need to be ready. You need an opinion — and a good, well-articulated one! What will you say if you someone asks you if it was right that they resigned?”

Neitzke

Michelle Neitzke

After some self reflection, I realized I didn’t have all the answers I wanted. I want to believe that truth will have its reign, that justice will be made known and that mercy will follow. I want to trust the decision of the bishops who resigned and that they were cooperating with their consciences. I want to trust that the Holy Spirit will appoint the right bishop to serve our archdiocese.

As of yet, those were the only conclusions I could come to. I resolved that this situation was, in a way, beyond me. I want answers just as much as the next person, but as of now, I still remain a spectator.

The questions that became pertinent to me were: How do I minister to the faithful who may be confused or hurt? How do I as a faithful daughter of the church, speak hope and truth to a local church that is bruised and hurting? How do I show them that I have trust and faith in the Church, the hierarchy, and the office of the episcopate, but yet at the same time realize the humanity and frailty of those who are appointed?

How do I show them that the church is constant, strong and as history shows, capable of enduring a storm? How do I tell of a God, who is full of mercy and who weeps with those who weep, a God whose heart beats with love and that bleeds with compassion for his children?

And yet, I know the world is watching, and local Church is asking:

Will the archdiocese recover?

Where do I place blame?

Can the Church withstand this?

In times turmoil, angst and scandal it is easy to look to the outside for answers and consolation. The answers do not come from the outside, but from the inside, and not even within those who hold offices in the Church, but in the Church herself, and how she prevails against the cursory and transient epochs of her time here on earth.

I believe that there is hope amidst upheaval and that the Church will endure.

The church can withstand this — but not because of the actions of man, but by the power of Christ and what is promised to us. The Church is not merely an institution — who is certainly subject to the struggle and sins of her human members — but a body of believers, who groan and travail until our final sanctification.

She exists now, and there at the same time.

She is in time, but rooted eternity,

is immanent, yet transcendent.

Suffering, while at the same time gloriously triumphant.

A shelter for its members, but is not contained by her walls.

She is ever ancient, and ever new.

And until the end of time, she will remain so.

And she will prevail.

I have promised and I will do it, says the Lord.

I really do believe this. I realize to many the beliefs I hold and the life I live is one of wonder. I have spent six years studying theology. I’m in my 20s and I have chosen to work for the Catholic Church, and so far, I have dedicated my career to it.

Many people unabashedly ask me, “Why would you work for that Church? The Church that can’t stay out of the headlines, and has many times been wounded by its own members?”

My answer to them is the same as it is to those who are angry, hurt and confused by the current events in our archdiocese.

The Church is a human body, but also a mystical body — mystical because its head is the one who is Glory Himself. Our Church is a pilgrim, susceptible to the failings of its members but never defeated by them. Imperfect now, but perfect then, and continually holding on to the promise of restoration and renewal. Christ will not abandon his church and the Holy Spirit will not be quenched. Renewal and sanctification are not far off possibilities but obtainable realities.

Hope is not mere sentimentality but a virtue, which certainly requires humility and trust. Hope demands that we trust not in ourselves, but in the power of God. Hope is not weak, but rooted in an expectant faith. Hope believes that God will deliver what he has promised. We hope in the glory to come, but are also aware that this glory can be present here and now, just as the sun  peeks rays of its light, God will show his glory through cloudy and dim circumstances. He will make things new.

My prayers are with the Church, and those who are confused, suffering, hurt and lost.

My hope is in Christ.

Michelle Neitzke is the director of senior high faith formation at All Saints in Lakeville.

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