Conscience, Candidates and Discipleship in 2020 Elections

7 March 20 | Posted in Events, Social Justice, Spirituality, U.S. Catholic

In a February 6, 2020 speech at the University of San Diego, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said “the drive to label a single issue preeminent” in the 2020 election “distorts the call to authentic discipleship in voting rather than advancing it.” Bishop McElroy called both abortion and the environment “core life issues in Catholic teaching.”

“Against the backdrop of these two monumental threats to human life, how can one evaluate the competing claims that either abortion or climate change should be uniquely preeminent in Catholic social teaching regarding the formation of Americans as citizens and believers? Four points should be considered. —There is no mandate in universal Catholic social teaching that gives a categorical priority to either of these issues as uniquely determinative of the common good. —The death toll from abortion is more immediate, but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity. —Both abortion and the environment are core life issues in Catholic teaching. —The designation of either of these issues as the preeminent question in Catholic social teaching at this time in the United States will inevitably be hijacked by partisan forces to propose that Catholics have an overriding duty to vote for candidates that espouse that position.”

Sins Against Nature and Creation

In February 2019 Pope Francis told moral theologians that it was rare, in the sacrament of reconciliation, to hear someone confess to an act of violence against nature and creation. “We do not yet have an awareness of this sin.  It is your task to do this.”

Conservation and the Catholic Imagination

“Conservation and the Catholic Imagination” was published by the Center for Humans and Nature in 2010.  It was written by Marybeth Lorbiecki, director of Interfaith Oceans, an effort dedicated to awakening religious people to the need to restore and protect the world’s oceans.  She is also the author of numerous books, including Following St. Francis: John Paul II’s Call for Ecological Action. 

Lorbiecki articulates an ethic that can not only help the environment, but also inspire and renew a new generation of Catholics.

“…. when the service-oriented imagination of Catholics has become engaged in a good cause, an enormous amount of work has gotten done—consider the creation of Catholic hospitals, hospices, schools for the poor, orphanages, and medical clinics that populate communities around the globe. So imagine the tipping point if even a small portion of this populace as a group could get publicly, physically, and passionately engaged in conservation works and activism.” 

“Now more than ever, this Catholic imagination is needed, not only to renew the world through activism, but for its own survival—for the inspiration to renew the Church itself. It needs a groundswell of new directions, new energies, and new ways to show meaningful, inspiring servant leadership in the world. Catholics are an untapped alternative energy source, and they need to be invited to the conservation table to participate not just as humans and fellow planetary citizens—as many are already involved for these reasons—but also specifically as Catholics. Presently, ecological teachings have been perceived as sideline issues rather than as core to whom Catholics are and dream themselves to be.”

Read the entire article here.  I thought it was the best article I have ever read on Catholics and the environment.

 

A Steadily Declining Bird Population

4 October 19 | Posted in Animals, Garden, Spirituality, Stewardship

I have kept a backyard bird log for over a decade.  I note species, habits and any special occurrence—like hawk kills, mating pairs, the first bird of spring, sightings of rare birds like orioles. In the last few years I have seen less birds, different species and changes in feeding habits.

I was surprised to read an article on declining bird populations in the September 19, 2019 edition of the Wall Street Journal.  “Bird Populations Plummet in North America” the headline reads.  The Journal isn’t given to hysterical climate change stories, but the writer reported an alarming story.

Anecdotes from bird watchers and guesses among scientists led researchers to guess bird populations had declined; but the loss was much greater than originally speculated.  Ornithologists from Cornell University reported that North America’s overall bird population had dropped 29% since 1970, with about three billion fewer birds now than nearly 50 years ago. Their study was published in the September edition of Science magazine.

Researchers attribute the decline in grassland birds to the broader impact of climate change, deforestation and shifts in agricultural practices. Habitat loss and the use of pesticides also had an impact on their decline.  Grassland birds, which include species like finches and sparrows, saw its overall population fall 53%.  The decline in this group in particular surprised researchers, since these birds are known for their adaptability to human landscapes.

I keep my lawn chemical-free to protect bees, water, and “helpful” insects like spiders, ladybugs and praying mantis from indiscriminate spraying.  However, birds live in a wider area than my yard and many have not returned.  Personally, I have no doubt that the decline in these birds is due to the impact of all the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides homeowners and farmers pour on their land every year.

Have you noticed any changes in bird population or behavior in your yard, local park or farm?

Check out Chipperbirds guide to the world’s most beautiful birds.

Sabbath for the Environment: Stop, Disconnect, Rest

21 September 19 | Posted in Bible, Spirituality

Exodus, Chapter 20 – “Remember the Sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God! You shall not do any work, either you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” 

When I was growing up, The Lord’s Day was easier to observe.  We went to church, had Sunday dinner together, and most of the stores were closed. The week’s activities didn’t stop, but they slowed down.  By the time I reached college in 1970, many of the blue laws banning liquor sales had lifted, more stores and restaurants were open, and families had more cars.  Life started to speed up.

Over the next decades, the pace of life quickened. Weekends often became a period of intense activity. I used the time to catch up on email, home projects, volunteer work, socializing and travel, to the point that I was often relieved to get back to work on Monday. Fierce competition in the marketplace taught me to practice a ruthless time management—make every minute count to catch up on work or move a project forward. Letting available time go without doing anything “productive” was inefficient, even lazy.  Immediate access via mobile devices and social media brought its own set of demands and obligations.

With the advent of email, the web, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and online shopping, life has sped up to the point that there isn’t any break from work or social activity. This level of frenetic activity finally becomes soul-numbing.  There is no escaping it except to stop, unplug and disconnect.

After many years of being afraid to take the step, I decided to observe The Lord’s Day. It’s hard to stop even though I want to change. It’s scary for me to let the day unfold without planned activities. How will being in the present moment affect my focus? How will my relationship with myself and with God change?

What would happen, if several million other Christians made the same decision to observe The Lord’s Day?  If we stopped driving, buying, and turned off our computers on Sunday?  What effect would that have on energy consumption?  Would it be a Sabbath for the environment?

Like Lent, the Sabbath offers the opportunity to move towards renewing and deepening our faith rather than just “giving up” some treats or behaviors as a way of observance.  Fr. James Kurzynski, a blogger at Sacred Space Astronomy and a priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin offers a valuable suggestion:

“As I have been prayerfully considering how best to keep holy the Sabbath, I’m feeling moved to use my day off as an opportunity to explore my love of music and astronomy. As I shared with you in previous posts, I had a wonderful vacation in Phoenix, Arizona after the Faith and Astronomy Workshop. After hiking up Superstition Mountain and recording music in a beautiful bowl-shaped canyon, I am now inspired to relive this experience as part of my Sabbath rest. To do this, I want to combine my love for the outdoors, music and astronomy into a creative endeavor to help feed me spiritually.”

Before committing to observe the Sabbath, I thought a lot about its meaning and impact. It can change how I live my life and use my time, not only on Sunday but throughout the week. That idea fills me with some anxiety, but I’m willing to make that change.

Here is how I plan to observe The Lord’s Day:

  • Participate at Mass
  • Spend time outdoors
  • Read
  • Write in my journals and blogs
  • Reflect on my use of food, water and natural resources

What I will suspend for the day:

  • -Email & Facebook
  • Shopping
  • Household chores and errands
  • Wearing a watch
  • My daily “To Do” list

Additional Reading:

And God Saw that it was Good – Pope Francis

Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home – Pope Francis. (Chapter Six, Ecological Education and Spirituality, VI. Sacramental Signs and the Celebration of Rest. 237.

Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy – Pope John Paul II

U.S. Catholic – 7 Ways to Refresh Your Sabbath – Jessie Bazan

The Sabbath as a Basis for an Environmental Theological Ethic  – Michael Wood

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time – Judith Shulevitz

And On The Seventh Day: Astronomy and Sabbath Rest – Fr. James Kurzynski