Saturday, October 17, 2020

A CREATION CENTERED SPIRITUALITY: I NEED HELP

 

    

                      

 

A turn toward a creation-centered and respect for all human life in our Christian spirituality is not something that is new. This has been the result of a century and a quarter of Catholic social teaching which has defined the position of the Christian believer to the earth and human life. 

 

Our commitment to God is not a ‘sacristy faith’ that is lived out in the safety of the church building and its structures. Catholics have a very strong sense of responsibility towards the world and we live out our faith on the highways and the byways of life. We have not always been successful in living our commitment to Christ through our lifestyle. There will always be a few individuals who refuse to deal with the storms and the upsets that happen through the history of a single individual. There are many difficult moments to contend with as we move through life. For the Christian, this must always be done in conjunction with God. 

 

For the past sixty years scientists have been warning earth’s citizens that the behavior of human beings is leading to the warming of the climate and destruction of the water and soil resources of the earth. If we humans change nothing we are heading for the collapse of the earth’s systems. The warming of the earth is happening slowly. Many people want to dismiss the danger. “There is nothing happening now, so why get excited.”

 

It has taken humanity two hundred and fifty years to move into the industrial revolution. It will take at least a hundred years to move into a life-sustaining type of life. Humans can save the planet earth. It is within our power to make all the necessary changes to our life style and our social values.

 

In 2015, when Pope Francis issued the encyclical, ‘Laudato si,” he brought the full weight of our faith convictions to saving the only home we have, our Mother Earth. He made no advances in the doctrines we believe in but he laid the challenge before all people of good will to care for the only home we have. He gave the traditional teachings of the Church much great impetus. We are challenged!

 

Spirituality and/or religious faith have incredible power to energize people to work towards social justice and a change in the life stye of our society. It can give energy to move individuals and entire communities to work towards  achieving social justice. We need to be reminded that two hundred years ago it was the people of the Church who spearheaded and brought about the end to slavery in the British Empire. 

 

The first group of people that should stand up to our responsibility to work towards a sustainable earth should be Christians. They are committed to our God who loves and cares for every part of the earth, even the smallest bacteria in the soil. If this is their God, what must the behavior of the believer be towards the earth? And a sustainable future?

 

This is where I need help. What are the prayers and spiritual practices that will connect me to the earth and to help creation thrive? What are the teachings that we must embrace to love and respect the earth?

 

What does my faith offer me to be a responsible earth citizen in 2020?



Sunday, October 11, 2020

DO GOODNESS FOR ITS OWN SAKE


                           

This week while reading Pope Francis’ new encyclical (Fratelli Tutti  #139) one suggestion caught my attention: Do good. The only reason to do good is the goodness itself.

 

From time to time in our spiritual lives we need that small provocation to do good. Too much of our actions always demand a consequence, if not a reward than at least a recognition of the good we have done. 

 

Do good but not in the sight of others. Do good and hope that no one ever recognizes the good you have done. Do good so that only God will see the good you have done.

 

There is a mid-seventies man, John, who takes his long time co-worker , Nick, for coffee every morning. Nick is mid-way to advanced dementia. He no longer makes any conversation but he still enjoys getting out for coffee with others (he does not recognize the old time friends around the table). 

 

There is Helen and Justina, our two grandmothers whose driving we are all nervous bout, who make it a point twice a week to visit the elderly shut-ins in their Saskatchewan town. Even though they have known each other for decades they want to make sure that no one is forgotten and left to slowly deteriorate on the sidelines. 

 

There is Alice who is always available to sit with the dying in the palliative care ward. Today when families are so small they appreciate Alice, who is not a nurse, spending time with the dying loved one while they try to catch some much needed sleep. 

 

We have Catherine who calls up her grade four teacher and invites her to go out for coffee. Now Ms. Helen would never ask anyone to take her to the grocery store or a medical appointment. On the way to Tim Horton’s Catherine makes mention: “I have to stop and pick up a few things at the grocery store. Is there anything you need to pick up?” Even though this is now their little game, it still provides assistance to Ms. Helen who would never ask for help otherwise.

 

No one needs to go searching for the good they can do towards others. They only have to open their eyes. What we are dealing with here is our firm belief in the power of goodness itself. An act of goodness is done simply for its own importance and contribution towards the lives of others. Goodness does not have to explain itself. If someone would ask you, ‘why are you doing that?’, you only give them that look that says they should already understand the motivation and say, ‘because!’

 

Doing good that only God will see is always an opportunity. This is a graced moment to lift the spirits of another, even if they are totally unaware of this act of goodness.

 

Would it not be wonderful if everyone who claims to believe in God would begin their day, “Lord, let me do good today because I will never pass this way again.”

Sunday, October 4, 2020

FRIDAY: PROTESTING IN THE STREETS

                          

 

Now that school is back in almost every country it is time to renew the protests that a young Swedish activist, Greta Thunburg, has asked that Friday be a day of protest and concern for the future of the earth. 

 

It is very good to see so many young people hit the streets to speak to political leaders and their own citizens of our need to work towards a sustainable future.

 

But it is not sufficient to raise our voices and demand change from our government leaders.  We need to ask each of these protestors what they are doing in their own personal lives to give the earth a sustainable future. Is your witness (your concerns) authentic or are you just passing the buck, demanding that someone else (i.e., the government) do something about the impending destruction of the earth’s environment?

 

This is where the wisdom of the Indian prophet, Mahatma  Gandi (d. 1949), challenges us in a most helpful way. He challenged every human being (and especially his fellow citizens who were protesting the English domination of life and the economy of India): “Be the change you want the world to become.”

 

Before you demand that others change their ways, you change!

 

To all the protesters on the streets this past Friday we must say, ‘What are you doing to contribute to a sustainable life on planet earth?’ Never hit the streets in protest if you are not already moving into a lifestyle that consumes less of the earth’s resources.

 

The first way we can make a contribution to the sustainability of the earth is to cut down on our consumption (i.e., reduce). What if every one of the protestors took a good look at the amount of clothes handing in their closets (i.e., unused for most of the year)? How many extra pair of jeans does each person have that are not being worn? 

 

What about all the electronic equipment, new gadgets, recreational items that are very seldom used? And then like so many of our unworn clothes, we discard them.

 

Consider what a difference it would make if everyone cut their consumption by ten percent? Twenty give percent? Would these protestors on the streets actually feel any deprivation if they just cut down their consumption? Would anyone in the First World (to top twenty percent of the world’s earth) suffer any inconvenience?

 

If you want the world to move into a sustainable mode of living, begin now! Every protestor on the street can make a significant difference to the future of the world.

 

Now, we must move into our churches and worship centers. What kind of leadership are we being given to care for the earth? Move into a more sustainable form of living? How is our parish community helping us to care for the only home we have, the earth?

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 27, 2020

CHURCH IS JUST LIKE FAMILY


One of the difficult things to teach in the parish community is to show how family life is what we find in our parish communities.

 

Now, everyone in a regular family knows that there are relatives that are cooperative and enjoyable to be with. And then, there are others who are more difficult but we would rather describe these hard-to-deal-with relatives as people that are an “acquired taste.”

 

In every family clan there are wonderful people, difficult people and one or two with whom you are always on guard when in their presence. But they are all family! Wise people learn how to deal with the more difficult and crusty members of our clan.

 

The Church (local parish community) is no different. We are composed of all types of personalities, histories, ethnic background and some very different levels of toleration with other people.

 

There are wounds, misunderstandings and plenty of unforgiveness. We are so human – and at times, so sinful toward each other.

 

This is why the command of Jesus to love one another means that we try to build bridges of understanding, respect and acceptance of the members that are different from ourselves. At the same time as we are trying to build bridges, these “different” members are probably trying to understand and respect you!

 

When we accept that the parish community is such a human family with so many imperfections, and not a community of perfect human beings, we can tolerate the misunderstandings and hard feelings. But like any healthy family we do not leave it there. We are trying to build new bridges towards those who are hurt, alienated or feeling pushed to the edges of he parish. 

 

Our life in the parish is being challenged by the reality of God. There are people in our parish that you may never invite into your house, but the reality is God loves and wants those people. We have to struggle with the deep love of God for the lost, forgotten and the unwanted. God is so beyond us, and always, so challenging!

 

We are also challenged to try to see in others their honest and best efforts to live authentic lives. They may be a long way from perfection but they are trying their very best. You and I may have struggles with their efforts, which we judge to be inferior, but God sees the heart. God sees that they are doing the best they can!

 

It is always a mistake for one parishioner to walk away or quit the church because they cannot accept the ‘inferior’ person. In a healthy family we do not quit because some are difficult, we learn to cope and to accept. In the parish community we learn to accept and grow in the love of God for that one difficult person or family.

 

Take some time to inform God of the good and the difficult that you experience in your parish community. And then allow God to inform you how and why he loves these people so much!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

WHEN THERE IS NO RITUAL TO LIFE

 

WHEN THERE IS NO RITUAL TO LIFE         

 

 

Whenever you have two or more humans together you need some clear understanding of how we are to interact and find meaning together. We do this through rituals which are understood and accepted practices that make it possible for us to not just be together but move us into interaction, conversation and fun together.

 

As a child on the farm we would hear our Grandfather say to Grandma, “Put on the kettle,” which meant, we are going to have coffee together and some very good conversation. Most often the rituals are so much a part of our daily interactions that we move into the ritual action by habit and comfort. 

 

All parts of our lives must have rituals. It is how we make sense out of our lives and our daily actions. 

 

In the culture in which we live people are so disjointed from a faith community and a community of meaning that when they are confronted with the death of their loved one they do not know where to turn to make sense out of this tragedy (losing a loved one is always tragic). Often, they do the minimal or they do nothing.

 

Often in the obituaries you will see that the deceased has made it clear that there will be no funeral. We know from long experience that no one should ever do that! Your friends and family need to have space to share their stories, memories and pain. Grieving cannot be done alone. You need to share the loss of the loved one with supportive friends and family members.

 

At this point, be aware that a funeral or a leave-taking celebration can take many forms. It need not be religious to be meaningful. A family may say, ‘Our Father was never religious and would not care too much if there was any prayer. We are going to have a barbeque for family and friends and share stories of his life.’ This would also be a healthy leave-taking moment in the life of this particular family.

 

If there is no final leave-taking celebration (ritual space) there is such a feeling of emptiness. Does your life have so little meaning that we cannot mark your passing with meaning, memories and song?  

 

As we minister to grieving families it is important that we take them where they are.  People need help to understand that there are rituals that will help them move through death, grieving and burial. These rituals (even if understood in a very limited fashion) will help you walk through this time of suffering and grief.

 

An absolute must with every family is to sit down and share what our Christian rituals mean and how they can be helpful. It may be as limited as a simple graveside service. Even is this is a small effort  this often proves to be very meaningful to the family. 

Some years ago, we had a thirtyish year old only son who had to look after his Mother’s funeral. He did not know what to do. We sat down and worked through the Scripture readings and the prayers. From being confused he left her funeral with her ashes that he knew must be sprinkled on the Pacific Ocean because his Mother has such a fondness for the water. From confusion he was able to move into a meaningful leave-taking of his Mother.

 

We took the time to bring him into the Christian rituals. He left to return to the West Coast but he left with meaning in his Mother’s death. The ritual did work!

 

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

I WILL DO IT MY WAY

 

        

 

One of the most helpful moments of learning in my years of ministry was the situation of a young mother who wanted to get her baby “done.”

 

I explained to her that her understanding of what it means to be baptized was not the true one. She just looked at me and flatly stated: “I will make it what I want to make it!”

 

Briefly put: I will make religion what I want it to be, and on my own terms!

 

She came from a long list of traditional born Catholics, but has not been raised in the Church. What she had were the left overs of a fear ridden understanding of baptism that ‘if anything happens to your baby it will go to limbo” and you will always be a bad mother because you did not get baptism done.

 

Whenever this happens you have one clear action: one action with two meanings. Both parties involved here are doing very different things: the priest as the carrier of the official teaching, and the parents who want to get this done for their child because it is a duty, or a fear of punishment or to get grandparents off my back. 

 

In one of our baptismal preparation classes the time was given to questions. One sincere question arose, “What does baptism have to do with the Church?”

 

The lesson learnt from the above exchange is to listen to what people are actually doing. Even though they are inside the local parish church does not mean that they are in harmony with the teaching of the Church and the prayers. This is very evident when it comes to the baptism of infants and sacraments for children. Parents (often under pressure from grandparents) just want to get this done. That’s all!

 

People may have a very deficient knowledge and participation of the Christian faith. They may wear a religious label but in actual fact be functional unbelievers. They may want the sacraments for their children but have almost a zero awareness of the life and person of Jesus Christ.

 

The ministry within our parish communities are on the right track when they try to educate and develop  participation in the life of the faith community. They are teaching correctly that the sacrament is not limited to the parish church, but the sacraments are made real in the life of faith lived by the people. The sacraments lead to a commitment in faith.  Only if the people live them are the sacraments real.

 

The Christian faith is never what one individual chooses it to be, but rather it is the accepted teaching of our Catholic faith lived and integrated into the lives of individuals and faith communities. The young woman in the above story may never accept what is the authentic meaning of being baptized but that does not lessen our responsibility to teach  her of the truth. 

 

Our Christian faith is always located in the way in which we live our lives motivated by the very spirit of Jesus Christ.  Religion is not what I make of it, but rather what religion makes of me!

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

TELLING THE TRUTH MATTERS

                     


 

 

One of the deep crying needs of the year 2020 is to tell the truth.

 

All human beings can only function when people tell the truth. Try to imagine what life would be like if your cancer doctor did not tell you the truth? What happens if the mechanic in your local garage did not tell you the truth? 

 

Life in our families, in our schools and society would collapse if we did not tell the truth. 

 

But we live in a season where society has become so divided from one another (polarized) that it is no longer relevant to even to tell the truth. It is all about winning! ‘My side is suffering and neglected and we want to win. The truth and the facts are irrelevant.’

 

The past four years have made brought the pain of not telling the truth to the surface. With the election of Donald Trump in the USA we are shocked that so many people do not even flinch a muscle when he lies. We are out to defeat the other side; the truth be damned! 

 

When the people at the grassroots are not demanding that they truth be told, we must ask where are we headed as a society? Are we sliding into a society where it is winner take all? Will the powerful dominate?

 

Will we just take for granted that whatever we cannot accept we splash with ‘fake news’ and consign it to the dustbin of irrelevancy?

 

Reflect on the importance of telling the truth. What if the person who does your income tax does not tell you the truth about your yearly income? What if your family doctor denies the prognosis that he or she told you on your last visit? What if you doubt the unpleasant details your relatives tell you about the family? Where do you go when people do not tell you the truth?

 

The truth is not always easy to accept. There are many skeletons in everyone’s family history. The history of our Canadian society remembers that there were many injustices inflicted on our First Nations peoples, the head tax on Chinese workers and on women in society. The truth of our history often makes us weep in sorrow at the evil and harm that was done to others.

 

When you try to live with the truth be prepared to have the undertow of your bad history flow to the surface and create a storm of problems. The truth is not always pleasant or welcomed!

 

In this season when our fellow citizens can ignore the lies that our political leaders throw out to the media and the entire citizenship, we need all the more to insist on telling the truth. 

 

As individuals we have strong power. We demand of ourselves that we always tell the truth and we rightfully demand of our leaders that they speak the truth. Truth telling is not an option but like breathing, we cannot get through the day without doing a lot of it!

A CREATION CENTERED SPIRITUALITY: I NEED HELP

                                A turn toward a creation-centered and respect for all human life in our Christian spirituality is not someth...