Catholic Environmentalism

28 May 08 | Posted in Animals, Social Justice, U.S. Catholic

Mark Stoll, a history professor at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas, argues that Catholics have not been prominent environmentalists in the past because their religious worldview encouraged a sense of sacredness among a community of people rather than with nature.

In a paper entitled The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Environmentalism, Stoll writes, “Religiously-minded Catholics dedicated themselves in service to the Church, or to the poor, or to the unconverted – to society, in other words…and by and large left nature writing to Protestants, alone in the woods with their God.” While Catholics have always appreciated the natural world, their passion for ecology has usually been an afterthought to their commitment to social concerns.

But, as Stoll points out, ecology is becoming a social concern. In his statement for the World Day of Peace in 1990, Pope John Paul II said, “the ecological crisis is a moral issue (that) has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone.” In response, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued Renewing the Earth, in which they insist that “the ecological problem is intimately connected to justice for the poor.”

“How,” they ask, “may we apply our social teaching, with its emphasis on the life and dignity of the human person, to the challenge of protecting the earth, our common home?”america-cover.jpg

St. Kevin

25 May 08 | Posted in Animals, Saints

I took this photo of St. Kevin at Our Lady of Knock Shrine in Ireland when I visited in early April 2008. Somehow, the setting of just-budding trees was perfect for the saint who was reputed to stand still until a nest of birds had hatched in his hand.dsc00304.JPG

Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s great poet, wrote a poem about it – St. Kevin and the Blackbird:

   “Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked

    Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked

    Into the network of eternal life

    Is moved to pity; now he must hold his hand

    Like a branch out in the rain and sun for weeks

    Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.”

St. Kevin has a lot of animal stories attached to his legend: the boar that came to him for protection against hunters; healing the pet goose of the King of Glendalough; the otter that brought him a salmon for dinner every night; and having a doe and then a she-wolf wet nurse Faelan, the infant son of King Colman of the Faelain. The king blamed evil spirits for the deaths of his other children, but the one entrusted to the saint and the animals grew up healthy and strong.

The great connection of ancient Irish saints to nature, their wondrous relationships with the earth and its creatures and the miracles they inspire, is part of Celtic Christianity. It is also a part of their time, when people lived close to the land and relied on it for sustenance and spirituality.

By the same token, today’s saints and blessed individuals generally seem to be cityfolk primarily interested in politics. Their lack of connection by grace or inspiration with animals and the natural world is indicative of just how much connection to creation Catholicism has lost.

The works and life of Br. Thomas Merton, Sr. Dorothy Strang and the strong commitment by Pope Benedict to environmental protection are hopeful signs for Catholic environmentalists to take heart we may be experiencing a renaissance in creation-centered spirituality.

John O’Donohue

22 May 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Global Catholic, Lifestyle

John O’Donohue was an Irish poet, author, and Catholic scholar who lived in the solitude of a cottage in the west of Ireland and spoke Gaelic as his daily language. His acclaimed writings reveal an original thinker rooted in a blend of Irish heritage, German philosophy, Celtic Christianity, and an intimate relationship with the ancient, wild and luminous landscape of his home.johnodonohueweb.jpg

O’Donohue is the author of several books, including international bestsellers Anam Cara (Soul Friend) and Eternal Echoes, as well as two collections of poetry, Conamara Blues and Echoes of Memory.  He also wrote a series of monogaphs: Stone as the Tabernacle of Memory; Fire as Home at the Hearth of the Spirit; Air as the Breath of God; and Water as the Tears of the Earth.

“Celtic sensibility and the Celtic imagination looked on nature not as ‘stuff’ or ‘location’ or ‘matter,'” said O’Donohue, “but nature was the theatre of a variety and diversity of divine presences. One of the great cankers and severances of western tradition has been dualism, which separated mind from body, self from spirit, person from God and nature from the whole lot! The Celts, in some strange way, managed to preclude that kind of fissure/opening which would lead to dualism, and were able to think in a unitive consciousness and think of all these things together.”

His poem Beannacht (“Blessing”) is a beautiful prayer.

Expo Zaragoza 2008

21 May 08 | Posted in Vatican

The Holy See will participate in an international expo on “Water and Sustainable Development.” Expo Zaragoza 2008 will be held June 14-September 14, 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain. The Vatican pavillion will offer reflections on the divine and human dimensions of water.logo_expo.gif

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, emphasized that “clean water and safe sanitation are acknowledged as essential elements in the lives of every human being.”

Faith Outdoors

14 May 08 | Posted in Green Man

While researching a news article on The Catholic Spirit, I came across this wonderful blog about “enjoying the outdoors from a Catholic perspective.” 

Faith Outdoors is written by Dave Hrbacek, “a lifelong Catholic who has enjoyed the outdoors since I was a toddler.”  Dave writes about a variety of outdoor activities including hunting, fishing, hiking and outdoor photography.

As a person who also enjoys all those activities, I know there is a tremendous spiritual connection between ourselves and the land, and ourselves and other creatures, especially when we hunt. There is a spiritual bond between hunter and animal–a respect, an appreciation and even a tenderness and mourning at its death. There is certainly a connection kneeling next to a being that has given up its life for you, and whose flesh will sustain and feed you; in comparison with picking through packages at a supermarket, where the animals were slaughtered with no thought to them at all, except production efficiencies.

His blog brought to mind St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters. Hubert (656-727 AD) was a rich nobleman, heir to the powerful Duchy of Aquitaine.

His favorite sport was hunting, and he pursued it obsessively. According to legend, Hubert wouldn’t skip chasing stags for Lent. He even went hunting on Good Friday. Big mistake.

On that holy day, as Hubert and his hounds cornered a giant stag, he raised his spear to slay the beast when it turned around to face him. A huge crucifix appeared between the stag’s antlers, and the animal spoke to him: “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord and lead a holy life, you shall quickly go down to Hell.”saint-hubert.jpg

Hubert’s wife died not long afterwards, and Hubert eventually renounced his title and wealth and entered a monastery. He became a bishop famed for his courage, his excellent preaching and generosity to the poor.

While St. Hubert isn’t “one of the biggies” as a priest described him, I think he’s a good role model for today’s excessive energy users. Let’s pray for grace from a former pleasure-seeker who was shocked into awareness of the spirituality of the outdoors and our need to honor it.