“They all 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.)

“Solidarity in times of sickness”

Beautiful words from Pope Francis at his general audience this morning about sickness, suffering, and family bonds:

Faced with sickness, difficulties can arise in the family as a result of human weakness. But in general illness strengthens family bonds. And I think of how important it is to educate children, starting from infancy, on the importance of solidarity in times of sickness. An education that shelters them from sensitivity to human sickness hardens the heart and anaesthetizes the young to the suffering of others, rendering them incapable of facing up to suffering and living the experience of limits.

The weakness and suffering of our most loved ones … can be … a school of life … and especially when illness is accompanied by prayer and the fraternal, affectionate closeness of families. The Christian community is well aware that the family, during the trials of sickness, must not be left alone. … This Christian closeness of family to family, is a true treasure for a parish: a treasure of wisdom, that helps families in difficult moments and enables them to understand the Kingdom of God more clearly than through words.

The lessons Murray offers, at Pray Tell

This morning, the Pray Tell blog has posted the conclusion to my John Courtney Murray book. Fr. Anthony, the blog’s moderator, introduces the post by noting that the text was “not written with the upcoming 2015 Synod of Bishops explicitly in mind, but it touches upon themes that apply remarkably well to the synod and the conversations now taking place in preparation for it.” About that, he is right.

He’s also right when he notes that it is not my intention to advocate any particular doctrinal (or, for that matter, pastoral) development by the upcoming synod. Indeed, I’m happy to acknowledge my uncertainty and ambivalence about the most controversial issues facing the synod. But Murray’s story certainly may be, as Fr. Anthony says, “helpful in thinking about Christian faithfulness in a rapidly-changing world.”

The Pray Tell post is here.

Romero, politics and all

With the Romero beatification happening this weekend, Our Sunday Visitor has kindly been pushing my set of articles, first published 2 months ago, via social media. You’ll find there a summary of Romero’s dramatic story, as well as sidebars on Rutilio Grande, the controversy surrounding the decision to recognize him as a martyr, and the political and social context in which the whole thing played out.

They’re all worth another look as we observe this rather historic moment. (John Allen, Jr., calls it “arguably the most important beatification of the early 21st century.”) But if I may, let me encourage you to scroll all the way to the sidebar called “Politics at play in Archbishop Romero’s Assassination.” It’s one of the more interesting aspects of the entire picture and essential to really getting what Romero was about.