In OSV: Living Laudato Si

osvWhen it comes to the doctrine and theology of the Catholic Church, there’s always plenty to say and to learn about from academic, theoretical point of view. But what is both most beautiful and most challenging is always the living of it. That’s where “the rubber meets the road,” where the world is made better, where lives are changed and enriched, where grace and salvation is received and experienced.

So it was a joy to take on the task of preparing a set of articles for Our Sunday Visitor on the theme of “Living Laudato Si” — Laudato Si, of course, being Pope Francis’s recently released encyclical letter on our call to care for the created world. I chose to approach the task from four important directions:

  • What might it mean to live Laudato Si in one’s family life?
  • How about in the life of a typical American Catholic parish?
  • What does the encyclical offer to the spiritual lives of Catholics?
  • And finally, what is this concept of consumerism that is so prominent in the Pope’s teaching, and what does it mean to each of us?

These are questions addressed by the four articles that make up the “In Focus” section of the brand new issue of OSV.

And I’d also point out a couple of other important Laudato Si-related articles in the same issue. Be sure to check out Brian Fraga’s article “Is Clean Power Plan Compatible with Laudato Si?” and also Matthew Bunson’s “Pill’s Pitfalls Create Contraceptive Conundrum.” (Someone had fun creating that latter headline.)

You can find all these articles here — the link is to a .pdf that contains the entire new issue.

And as a side note, it’s good to see what amounts to coverage of OSV’s coverage of the encyclical from Mark Silk at Religion News Service this morning. “If you want to know how an encyclical like Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ works its way through the Catholic Church,” Silk writes, “take a look at the latest number of Our Sunday Visitor, the venerable weekly newspaper for the church’s American rank and file.”

I gotta say, it’s a great thrill to play a little part in helping Francis’s remarkable new encyclical “work its way through the Catholic Church.”

Mother Celestine of the United States

Back in 2013, Pope Francis formally recognized the heroic virtues of the U.S.-born woman, Celestine Bottego (thus officially making her a candidate for canonization). Known as Mother Celestine, she founded the order known as the Missionaries of Mary when she was 48 years old, rejecting the advice of her confessor that she was just too old for that sort of thing. This month marks the 35th anniversary of her death.

OSV has just published an article I’ve written on her. You can find that here. Here’s a snippet:

From the beginning, the Missionaries of Mary did not wear a religious habit, for the sake of simplicity and convenience in view of the difficult mission work that lay ahead. This was a significant innovation at the time, two decades before it became common in the wake of the reforms in religious life that followed the Second Vatican Council. In a 1954 letter to Father Spagnolo, Mother Celestine wrote, “I spoke with Bishop Fulton Sheen. He encouraged me and said that he was enthusiastic about the idea of our having a lay habit. He said we are the only congregation of this kind until now. He added, it was about time to change.”

Sister Rosetta recalls an early meeting that the Missionaries of Mary attended in the United States with members of other women’s religious orders. She said their absence of a habit drew curious looks from others sisters until finally one person said, “Do you know that this is a meeting of nuns?” “Yes, we are nuns, too,” came the reply, and it made for interesting conversation among those present.

Now recognized as “Venerable” by the Vatican, that puts her one step away from beatification.

In good company

Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB, who teaches liturgy, liturgical music, and Gregorian chant at St. John’s University School of Theology-Seminary in Collegeville, has posted the reading list for his Sacraments of Initiation course. Included on it is my book, The Eucharistic Prayer: A User’s Guide. I was excited to see it there, of course, and then exceedingly humbled when I saw all the other great stuff on the list. What remarkable company to be in!

Fr. Anthony’s list is here.

“They called him the electric eel”: St. Philip Neri

NeriI’ve loved St. Philip Neri for a long time. So when I noticed that his 500th birthday is approaching on July 22, I couldn’t resist the chance to prepare an article about him. Our Sunday Visitor has graciously published it. The article is now on their website, and it will appear in the July 12 print edition, too. The article opens:

They called him “the electric eel,” because just being around him often was enough to jolt your lazy conscience and make you want to live a better life, without ever feeling alienated or condemned. This year, the 500th anniversary of St. Philip Neri’s birth offers Christians a good opportunity to look again at his life and to be jolted anew by his inspiring witness.

Keep reading here.

Twitter, too!

Blogging has slowed here, as is clear. For an individual, relatively unknown writer, it tends to be not worth the significant time and effort it takes to provide consistent, quality posts. I had considered, for example, preparing a whole series of posts here on the new encyclical, but just thinking about the investment of time involved, compared to the number of people who would see them, was discouraging.

I’ll be here occasionally with updates and comments, but for more regular thoughts, follow me on Twitter. I’ve been having fun playing in those neighborhoods lately.

Laudato Si: “Everything is connected”

In a book on Catholic social teaching that I wrote some time ago, I included a whole chapter on care for the environment. In it, I pointed out that Pope Benedict was sometimes called the Green Pope, thanks to his frequent teaching and even practical action on the topic. But, I said, church teaching in this area was surely in its infancy and “[p]robably one day, not long from now, Pope Benedict’s greenness will appear pale compared to that of a successor, and Catholic social teaching on the environment will develop rapidly.”

Ironically, that book was published the same month that Pope Francis was elected (the manuscript having been completed, of course, nearly a year earlier). I can’t help noting that I even suggested in my book a title for the environmental encyclical that would one day come: Sollicitudo Dei Mundis, “Care for God’s World.” For what it’s worth, this is not too far from the subtitle of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s new encyclical on our responsibility to care for the environment.

Keeping up with the avalanche of commentary on the document — positive and negative, insightful and inane — would be nearly a full time job. This is a gratifying fact if the point of an encyclical is to make people aware of church teaching.

A good bit of the conversation has been about the Pope’s acceptance of the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and that it is caused in large part by human activity (that is to say, by that portion of humanity living in the West). Many “conservatives” have labored to point out that one needn’t accept this assertion as Gospel in order to be “a good Catholic,” and there can be no question that’s true.

But there’s more to the document than that, of course, and most of its contents – and certainly the heart of its contents – fall very much within the Pope’s job description.

If there is an overarching theme to the encyclical – a leitmotif, if you will – it is surely that all people are call to “a deep sense of communion with the rest of nature” (91). “Everything is related,” Francis writes, “and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also united us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river, and mother earth” (92). Again and again the Pope insists that “everything is connected.” It is an assertion that can be found no less than eleven times in the document.

This is a spiritual and moral assertion. It is also absolutely consistent with and nourished by modern science. Anyone who knows the work of American theologian Elizabeth Johnson could not but be reminded of it while reading Laudato Si.

“[W]e share with all other living creatures on our planet a common ancestry,” Johnson has written. “Bacteria, pine trees, blueberries, horses, the great gray whales – we are all genetic kin in the great community of life.” Since the first time reading it, I have been moved and awed by the fact that our blood (and the blood of the rest of earth’s animals) is red because of the iron it contains – iron that was produced billions of years ago in great galactic explosions and condensed in the crust of our planet as it formed and from which we emerged.

These are scientific facts, yes. But just like the scientific fact that an unborn fetus has a distinct, individual, and entirely human genetic make-up from her mother has moral implications, so do these facts and many more related to the nature of nature (of which we are a part) and what is currently happening to it (and therefore also to us). Francis has pointed this out to us in a document that is well worth our time and indeed our embrace.


Review: Charles Camosy’s Beyond the Abortion Wars

beyondOur Sunday Visitor has just published my review of Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation, by Charles Camosy. My take is generally positive, but not without serious criticism. A snippet:

Furthermore, Camosy says abortion law in the U.S. cannot be understood as “settled” (a legal term used to justify maintaining status quo). The 1992 Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey said states may restrict access to abortion as long as these restrictions do not pose an “undue burden” on the mother seeking one. This was a new standard, and one very different than a supposed right to “privacy,” as Roe v. Wade established in 1973.

Pro-life Catholics take note: Since Casey, social programs that make child-rearing less difficult for parents — especially poor women — also make it harder to call a proposed abortion restriction an “undue burden.” Any law that provides wider access for poor families to welfare, family and medical leave, and health insurance serves to erode the legal grounds for abortion. Arguably, the long list of recent significant state-level abortion restrictions succeeded thanks in part to such programs. The same programs will make future restrictions all the more reachable.

The full review is here.

(Incidentally, I reviewed Camosy’s previous book, For the Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action, on this blog, here.)