Sometime ago I went on a retreat, the topic of which was the situation of the environment. The retreat speaker stated that present environmental issues are a spiritual problem and we meet a spiritual problem with a spiritual solution. Pope Francis is stating the same fact in his recent encyclical “Laudato Si'” or “Praise be”.
He writes that our relationship with the world is distorted when we see God’s creation solely to be used by humanity. He reminds us that we are part of the creation of God just as much as the forests, the waterways, the animals and the plants. God asks us to be the stewards or the caretakers, not just the users.
If we were to look at creation as a member of our family, our perspective changes and we relate to creation differently. When we hurt or abuse creation for our own means, we hurt ourselves and the generations to come. These are harsh words and we are not used to hearing about this topic from the Holy Father. And yet, the concept is not something new. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict spoke about our care of the planet and how as humans we were not caring for creation as mindful stewards.
Pope Francis offers various ways in which we can help the environment. Among them, he encourages us to live more simply, to be more mindful of how we process our waste and to pray. It is in changing our relationship with creation and our role in it that we can envision a better world for the generations to come.
If you want to read some commentaries or followups to the encyclical, they are below:
I will be taking break for the summer, but I do look forward to writing to you again in September. Have a blessed summer!
The United Nations defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group”. My own personal encounters with refugees include people who have suffered the loss of their homes, their dignity and in many cases, a way of life. The trauma they experience will often affect them for the rest of their lives, often spilling into the next generations.
Refugees are members of our human family. As in any family, when one member is in pain, the whole family hurts and is called to assist that family member. The same stands true for refugees. Our country of Canada is blessed with many resources and we are asked to share those resources with refugees from all over the world.
Who are the refugees of today? Some are victims of wars, such as those in the Middle East or in parts of Africa. Some are refugees fleeing situations of famine in their country, others are political refugees who flee due threats to themselves or their families. In essence, refugees do not leave their country by choice, but for the protection of themselves and their families.
Pope Francis has been particularly sensitive to the plight of refugees. His first visit outside the Vatican after being named Pope was to visit the refugee camps of Lampedusa. He continuously reminds us as Catholics of our responibility to be our brother’s keeper and to not only help refugees but also try to eradicate the causes that create refugees.
June 20 is the United Nations International refugee day. We can assist refugees, either by learning more about them, giving assistance or trying to influence our government to more action to prevent the systems that create refugees. As Christians we pray for those who are less fortunate. The Jesuit Refugee Service has some suggestions for prayer and action.
Heartfelt thoughts…kindhearted….billboards written with “I ♥ New York”….. bumper stickers with “I ♥ Dachshunds”…..Valentines Day cards with hearts….. Lovers exchanging notes with poetic words, messages of love and hearts to express their mutual love…. heart of the matter. What does “heart” mean to you?
“Heart” carries with it a very special meaning. It expresses love, but not just any love, a love that is deep, central, coming from the very core of whoever is expressing that love. Without love, it is difficult to survive.
In the month of June, the Catholic church celebrates the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus invites us to open our own hearts to the love that Jesus offers us from the depth of his heart, the core of his being. One of the closest images that I can imagine is the love that a mother has for her newborn child, so intense, so new, so fresh. I witnessed that love again more recently when my youngest daughter gave birth to her first child a little more than a month ago. As I watched her nurse her baby and I could not help but notice the love in her eyes for her newborn son.
Jesus’ love is so much greater. Recently, I heard a speaker say that “we were tattooed in love to the heart of God”. This love is offered to us freely, we do not even need to ask for it. Pope Francis in his own homily on the feast of the Sacred Heart states “It is more difficult to let God love us, than to love Him!” He encourages us to open our hearts to God and allow ourselves to be loved. Allowing God’s love and tenderness to enter our hearts is the best way to respond to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
From one of the articles that is linked below, a Jesuit priest recounts how he had recently shown some images of the Sacred Heart to a catechism class. He asked “Why do you think Jesus’s heart is shown on the outside of his body?” One girl answered: “Because he loves us so much that he can’t keep it in!”
The truth often comes from the mouths of babes.
One of my favorite events of the liturgical year is the feast of Corpus Christi. The belief in the real presence of Jesus in the bread and wine is central to the Catholic faith and distinguishes us from most of the other Chritian denominations. On the feast of Corpus Christi, Catholics celebrate that faith. Jesus really gives of Himself to the faithful.
The evening of Corpus Christi in Montreal begins with a celebration of the Eucharist at Notre Dame Basilica. Notre Dame is a beautiful church in the heart of what was once the centre of the city of Montreal. The carvings, paintings and statues bring us back to an era when artisans would honor God by using their artistic talents to build a church.
As the Eucharistic celebration finishes, the host is placed in a golden receptacle called a monstrance and is then carried out into the streets with the faithful following. The procession that follows is one of joy and peace. People of all walks of life gather here, young, old, strong and less strong supported by others. Everyone walks with a candle, lighting up the dark streets like a stars in the sky. They pray, sing and walk in solidarity of their faith. Each time I participate I am uplifted as I walk with the crowd. It is difficult to describe the sense of communion that I feel, but something in my heart is touched in a very deep way.
I am reminded of how community supports my faith. Our culture today often supports the axiom of being “spiritual but not religious”. Yet, I know in my heart that through community or religion, my spiritual life is strengthened. Yes, sometimes I am even challenged by my community, but that only makes me stronger.
This coming Thursday, June 7th, I will walk again with my fellow pilgrims of faith. Why not come along? The details are here. Let me know what it was like for you?
Finding time to be quiet with ourselves and God seems to become more and more difficult for us these days. Everywhere we go, there is pressure to be listening to something either outside or on our own electronic devices. Silence is very much at a premium and yet we find more and more ways to chase that silence away.
When I go on silent retreats and speak to people about their experience, many of them say that what they most appreciated was the silence. The silence gave them time to think and to pray. Some people come to those retreats to sort out problems, reflect on their lives or to heal from various emotional wounds. Taking the time to live in a weekend of silence gives their spirit a time away to grow.
We cannot always take a weekend to find some silent time. When I was a young mother, that was an impossibility. So how can we carve out moments of quiet time in our day to find time to be quiet or to pray? For many this longing for stillness and quiet is difficult to satiate. And yet, quiet time with God is not just for monks and nuns in a cloister, it is for everyone.
One suggestion given to me a few years ago was to find “mini dips” of silence. This might be the time we are driving in the car alone and we turn off the radio, or if we travel on public transport, to close our eyes, turn off the our iphones and just be still. For others, it may mean waking up a few minutes earlier than everyone else and being still with God. Others take a walk outside for a few moments to be alone and reflect.
In Psalm 46:11, we read “Be still and know that I am God”. God reveals himself in a very profound way through silence.
How do you find time for silence? What works best for you?
Last week was Mental Health Awareness week in Canada. Stastistics show that one in six Canadians will suffer at one point in their life with mental health issues. We lead very stressful lives and many of our more traditional institutions such as family and church that gave us support are under fire.
The question that many people ask is, “Do religious people have fewer mental health problems?” The jury is not out on this question, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that connection to a religious community creates a stable place for families and individuals when they go through periods of stress in their lives.
A community of believers come together not just to pray together, but become connected to one another and begin to care for one another. This cannot help but be beneficial when one goes through difficult times such as a loss of job, moments of illness and in times of grief. In my own parish community I have seen where people who have been seriously ill or have lost a spouse have been supported either with a compassionate presence or emotional support. For those who may fall into a situational depression, this support can help them to come out of the depression and find new meaning in life.
Religion also helps people to find a sense of the sacred in our world. Discovering God in our life can help to see beyond the immediate difficulties and see the bigger picture. Faith in a God who loves and cares for us brings hope. Hope carries us through difficulties.
But no one is immune to mental illness, even the most faithful believers. Even some saints struggled with mental illness. When it strikes, the consequesnces can be devestating for the individuals and their families. They need our loving care.
Have you witnessed support from others in times of difficulty? Or experienced it yourself? Did your religious experience help you in any way?
As Mother’s Day approaches, we see the flower shops stocking up on bouquets and greeting card shops reminding us to remember our mothers. Many Christian faith traditions honor Mary as our mother. When I reflect on her role as our mother, I cannot help to think of all the different names that Mary has been given. The many faces of Mary give us an opportunity to discover and relate to her in our own special way. Below are some of the ways that have come down throughout the centuries.
Mary the Mother of God: We remember Mary as the person who brought Jesus into the world, raised him up from a child to adulthood. Her story is one of faithfulness to God.
Theotokos (Christ-bearer): We meet Mary as the scriptures speak of her, the Mother of Jesus who carried him in her womb and gave birth to him. Her courage inspires us to trust that God will be there for us, even in difficult situations.
Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help: This tradition speaks to us of how Mary listens to our prayers of need and is perpetually present to help and support us.
Our Lady of Guadaloupe: In Latin American countries, Mary emerges as an advocate for the poor when she appears to a native Mexican man and performs miracles in his life.
Our Lady of Fatima: Mary appeared to three young teenagers in Fatima, Portugal and gave them a secret to be revealed to the world.
Mary Help of Christians:This feast of Mary is especially pertinent today for those Christians facing persecution for their faith.
Mary Untier of Knots: Mary is portrayed as a person who helps us to untie the knots of our lives and our relationships.
Mary for Today: Can the face of Mary change the way we act? When difficult situations happen, What would Mary do?
Whatever our need Mary can be of support to us. This Mother’s Day, why not honor Mary and discover a particular facet of who she is?
Pope Francis celebrated his second anniversary as leader of the Catholic Church a few months ago. Since that time, he has shaken the world with his challenging and insightful wisdom. The media have more than once used his quotes and expressions to reveal to us the person of Pope Francis. One blogger has made a list of 75 of his most important quotes . They range from his concepts of God, to how we as Christians should better express our faith. I have made my own favorite list below, in no special order. There is something in here for everyone.
“Watch out against the terrorism of gossip”
“To change the world we must be good to those who cannot repay us”
“Being a Christian is not just about following the commandments: it is about letting Christ take possession of our lives and transform them”
“We cannot sleep peacefully while babies are dying of hunger and the elderly are without medical assistance”
“Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven”
“The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness”
“God’s forgiveness is stronger than any sin”
“Our prayer cannot be reduced to an hour on Sundays. It is important to have a daily relationship with the Lord”
“Practicing charity is the best way to evangelize”
“Are you angry with someone? Pray for that person. That is what Christian love is.”
“Jesus is more than a friend. He is a teacher of truth and life who shows us the way that leads to happiness”
“However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew”
Do any of these twelve quotes hold your attention? What do they say to you about God or about your belief in God?
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, a day when scripture tells us that crowds of people welcomed Jesus like a hero as he rode into the city of Jerusalem mounted on a donkey. Pope Francis’s message for Palm Sunday helps us to understand the meaning of this event and prepares us for the rest of Holy Week.
Holy Thursday follows with Jesus celebrating his last Passover meal with his close friends. We remember this Passover meal as the institution of the Eucharist when Jesus asks his friends to remember him in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine. But there is one more significant gesture that he performs that night, the washing of his disciples feet. The washing of another’s feet was a task done only by slaves. Jesus hopes to show his disciples that it is only in washing the feet of others that we show love, the true gift of service to each other. That message is so hard to understand, that Peter initially refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet, only to relent after Jesus insists.
Good Friday recounts the events around the death of Jesus on the cross. The church celebration on this day is sombre and subdued. We enter into the suffering of Jesus as he walks with his cross to the hill of Calvary. Our minds and hearts are focused on his death and the people who accompany him through this difficult journey. Jesus shows us that even in times of suffering, we can be instruments of love. He consoles the women of Jerusalem, he forgives those who have participated in his fate and he experiences thoughts of abandonment from his father.
Holy Saturday, the day after the crucifixion is a day of mourning and reflection. We, like Jesus, enter a sort of tomb to really experience what has happened in the past few days. We are encouraged to stay in this liminal space, stay in the suffering and death of Jesus. But the story is not ended.
The Easter experience completes Holy Week. The sufferings of Jesus can only make sense when we allow our own difficulties and sufferings lead us to the Resurrection. We need to live out all of the events of Holy Week, so that the Easter of our lives can be fully appreciated.