Laudato Si 223: The Liberation of Sobriety

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

223. Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full. In reality, those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have.

I remember working amo0ng college students, and how so many of them found it difficult to launch into life: what if this is the wrong major, the wrong school, the wrong person to marry, the wrong career? Sometimes the wrong faith. The more integrated young people I knew took time with Pope Francis’ suggestions that follow:

They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing, learning familiarity with the simplest things and how to enjoy them. So they are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer.

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Aborted Assignment

Rocco whispered this news on his Twitter feed, and I’m perched between disappointment and acceptance on reading it.

(Archbishop John) Nienstedt quietly arrived in Michigan Jan. 6 to help St. Philip pastor Rev. John Fleckenstein, who has been ill, an arrangement made between the two of them, long-time friends.

The Diocese of Kalamazoo had OKed Nienstedt’s work here, saying it had received documentation from his superiors that he was a priest in good standing and had no pending allegations against him.

Media attention to Nienstedt’s new location from mainstrean and Catholic media was swift and far-reaching.

The article cites Fr Fleckenstein describing his parish’s reaction as an “uproar.” Was that surprising? There is no documentation for poor administration in the Church. Among clergy, only sexual behavior. It doesn’t seem adequate that we can rely on paperwork to the exclusion of the virtue of discernment.

On the other hand, the archbishop’s fault was not with his sexual behavior, but with his administrative ability. It seems clear nobody would trust him to serve as a pastor. But that role is not quite congruent to being a priest. Where do bishops and clergy who have shuffled predators serve? In monasteries? Chanceries? Who gets to supervise them? Abbots? Lay persons? I’m not convinced that all misbehaving clergy, including bishops, should be shut out of ministry. But what is acceptable to communities who are still in pain over betrayal?


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Laudato Si 222: Joy and Peace

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Numbered sections 222 through 227 examine two vital qualities.

222. Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle, one capable of deep enjoyment free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment.

That constant flood does not leave many of us awash in fine feelings, but rather cultivates a sense of loss, of something missing. how can it not do so? If we are always on the prowl for the latest gadget, the latest trend, the new movie or entertainment, then over the horizon is always something more that will satisfy. And if we need it, we are left wanting in the present moment, no matter how much joy, real or imagined, we experience in the now.

To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. This implies avoiding the dynamic of dominion and the mere accumulation of pleasures.

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Meaning Behind the Holy Thursday Mandatum

footwashingLiam asks a great question of me:

So….would you prefer not to bother with the ritual at all? It would be play-acting regardless of the number of people who do it, right?

I’m going to take the long way around to answer this.

Church tradition has endorsed seven “S”acraments. And what are these? Not just membership rituals or meals or depictions of sacrifices or a legal ritual. Sacraments, as I was taught, and as I read in the Scriptures and have experienced in the liturgy, are encounters with Jesus Christ.

Luke 24:13-35, for example, makes clear the very real encounter with the Lord in the Breaking of the Bread. I can experience this whether or not I receive Communion. The watching of others receive Communion may be inspiring, but the point of the sacrament is not to observe the procession. The baptized believer is invited to enter this procession. I believe the action constitutes a pilgrimage. Or least the opportunity to make a pilgrimage. We can see it as moving from pew to minister and back to pew. We can see it as a short journey from home to pew to minister to pew to home. Or something greater, from baptism to Eucharist (and finally Viaticum) before a return to home. However one views the experience of Real Encounter, it is an action that every believer must eventually make, a path each one of us must walk.

Washing feet, one of the mandates of the Lord (and not the only one, to be sure) has never been judged to be a sacrament. If that omission is part of God’s design, it is inscrutable to me. Does it get short shrift because it is only mentioned in one gospel and not three plus Paul? Biblically, that puts it at about the same level of institution as anointing of the sick. At least. And some might urge that if the Lord commanded/mandated it, we should be doing it.

Over the years, I have observed loved ones, friends, and even strangers washing one another’s feet. I have heard testimony from hearts moved by the experience–a genuine encounter with the Lord and his call to humble service.

If a community is prepared to receive the proclamation of John 13:1-15 and to hear the mandate clearly, if they are prepared to wash one another’s feet and live out that aspect of discipleship, then I think communal foot washing makes as much as sense as a “s”acrament, a “r”eal encounter with Christ, as receiving the Eucharist makes sense as a “S”acrament, a “R”eal encounter.

I am sure that watching a select group will be moving to some. Baptism is moving to watch. But baptized believers renew their commitment each time the Church celebrates baptism of adults, infants, or anyone aged in between.

I am sure not every believer is ready to bare a foot and submit to a washing in public. But we have a lot of time.

As for simply watching, how would witnesses of foot-washing be invited to renew their personal commitment to humble discipleship? Is singing the chant or mandatum enough? And is the washing presented in the sanctuary as if it were a stage? Or does the washing take place where the people are: in or among the pews?

I am not sure every parish is prepared to invite its body of people to engage the ritual in a way that goes beyond watching on a stage as if it were acting, rather than “actioning.”

What Pope Francis has done is to open the door on this a bit wider. I would hope it’s not only about a fractional representation of females. That’s really a very small part of the meaning behing the mandatum. The real question of every disciple is how we respond to the question, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” (John 13:12)

If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (13:14-15)

The Lord says we have been given a model. Washing one another’s feet opens a new path, I think. On this pilgrim path, we can be prepared to imitate the Lord. I think Holy Thursday washing potentially prepares people to “do” as the Lord has done. Can people make the connection between watching and doing? Undoubtedly some can and do. But what is the ritual expression that will most likely inspire? And getting to the answer to the question above, is there hope that a sacred ritual done poorly will move people somehow? I think there is. On the other hand, I think each of us Catholics can recall a celebration of Mass that perhaps we wish we had never attended. I would hope that parishes do Holy Thursday very, very well.

That is why I have advocated for years that the Holy Thursday Mandatum should be open to all, not just to be washed, but to wash. That is a disciple’s call. It is the call of a priest only in the sense that the priest is already one of the baptized, one of the Lord’s disciples.

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On Feet

As Liam reminded us this morning, one small step, and one big distraction removed. Nothing yet on the big “faithful” Catholic sites. It won’t change practice in a lot of parishes.
Hopefully we can disconnect from the practice of the limit of 12, a number not mentioned in the Roman Missal. And who washes, because it was a mandatum directed to all the disciples at the Last Supper, seemingly not just the apostles.

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Laudato Si 221: Faith Deepens Ecological Conversion

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Concluding “ecological conversion,” let’s read a summary of the earlier part of this document, and tie together some important ideas:

221. Various convictions of our faith, developed at the beginning of this Encyclical can help us to enrich the meaning of this conversion. These include the awareness that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light. Then too, there is the recognition that God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore. We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Lk 12:6). How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?

An appeal to Christians ends this section:

I ask all Christians to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied.

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Laudato Si 220: Gratitude, Connection, Responsibility

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. How can people bind together in community? What does conversion look like on that scale? Gratitude plays a big role.

220. This conversion calls for a number of attitudes which together foster a spirit of generous care, full of tenderness. First, it entails gratitude and gratuitousness, a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift, and that we are called quietly to imitate his generosity in self-sacrifice and good works: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing… and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:3-4).

Connection with others, people as well as creatures and the natural universe.

It also entails a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion. As believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings.

Do you think this is true? Christianity has been plagued by dualism that churns a distrust for identifying oneself as part of the natural world.

By developing our individual, God-given capacities, an ecological conversion can inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems and in offering ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable” (Rom 12:1). We do not understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith.

Superiority: too often we have the animal impulse of domination. Responsibility, not so much.

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