Celebrating Earth Day 2016

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 22, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

earthEvery April 22 since 1970 we have celebrated Earth Day, a commemoration and day dedicated to activism on behalf of the environment. Founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, it arose in the wake of the peace and civil rights movements of the late 1960s and Nelson’s own dismay at the pollution caused by an oil spill along the coast of Santa Barbara, CA.

Since its founding, Earth Day has grown to be celebrated across the United States and abroad (although there are also other days internationally that likewise draw out attention to environmental issues and care for creation). Additionally, a nonprofit organization named Earth Day Network was formed to assist in the promotion and organization of this annual event. It has proposed specific, direct action each year, suggesting that people plant trees in honor of Earth Day 2016.

As people of faith, especially in this first Earth Day after the release of Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical letter Laudato Si, we should be particularly attentive to our call to act in solidarity with what the pope has called our Sister who “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (LS no. 2).

Our Christian faith challenges us to be aware of the injustice and sin we perpetuate and for which we are responsible in the harm we cause other-than-human creation by our deliberate actions, our complicity in structures of environmental degradation and climate change, and our sins of omission when we choose to ignore the plight that faces what Pope Francis calls “our common home.”

I encourage everybody to pray, to take action, and to be more aware of our inherent relationship with the rest of creation today.

In terms of prayer, consider reflecting on the prayer Pope Francis offers at the end of Laudato Si

In terms of action, there are many different ways to get involved. For example, tomorrow I’m participating in a road race that is raising money for the World Wildlife Foundation, which is an organization that works to prevent species extinction worldwide. There are also opportunities to engage in political action and gatherings of solidarity. Consider visiting the Catholic Climate Movement or the Franciscan Action Network, both of which are just two of the many Catholic organizations that promote justice and the integrity of creation. There are many, many events around the country and world — consider getting involved in a little or big way.

Finally, in terms of being more aware of our inherent relationship with all of creation, consider reading the Genesis accounts of creation in books 1 and 2 and reflecting on the way, especially in Genesis 2, that human beings are formed from and as part of the earth. We are literally ha-adamah, made “from the earth” or “earthlings.” The natural sciences only affirm this reality, showing that human beings are physically made of the same material as everything else in the cosmos.

As the Franciscan St. Bonaventure acclaimed, all of creation is a “vestige” (bears an imprint) of the Creator, reflecting the presence of God to us. May we open our eyes to see God in our world and recognize the Spirit that gives life to all creation!



The Third Story is Ours

Posted in Scripture with tags , , , , , , on April 20, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pH8Zs4cThroughout the Easter season we have been listening to daily readings from the Acts of the Apostles. These narratives come to us from what is essentially the second volume of a two-volume work by the author/redactor we call Luke. The Gospel according to Luke is the story of the Incarnation and who God is in Jesus Christ; the Acts of the Apostles is the story of the birth of the church and what happens after the resurrection; and there is a space created in our reading these two texts that leaves open a third story, which is the story of our experience of the risen Christ in the world and how we are to live as the church, that is the Body of Christ.

In other words, Luke-Acts is not just a two-part story (though it appears in the canonical scripture as a two-volume work). It is more like a triptych, a three-framed depiction in which Luke, Acts, and our story are presented.

What is laid forth in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus is mirrored in the second scene of the Acts of the Apostles, but that third panel remains unpainted. It is up to us to complete the story, to reveal the compassionate face of God in our respective lives, to preach the good news by word and action.

What will that third volume look like?

It depends on who were are and where we find ourselves. Like the Spirit that is sent to the disciples at Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit continues to move among us and within us in the world today. Just as the disciples were sent into disparate parts of their world to preach and heal according to their skills and abilities, so too we are sent likewise in our own times and places.

Photo: Stock

One Shepherd: Everyone Has a Call

Posted in Scripture with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

sheepThe Fourth Sunday of Easter is typically referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of the Gospel for the day in which Jesus is portrayed as the shepherd who knows his sheep and whose sheep know him (John 10:27-30). He calls, they answer.

Because the theme of a calling (vocare in Latin) is foregrounded in this brief Gospel, this is also called “World Day for Vocations.” Often enough this commemoration is directed at those called to the ministerial priesthood and consecrated religious life, which in itself is a good thing. These are certainly significant ways of being in the world and legitimate vocations. However, the ministerial priesthood and consecrated religious life are not the only vocations that exist in the church and world.

If we take a look at the Gospel from which we get the notion that grounds this weekend’s theme, we would do well to recognize that there is only one shepherd: Jesus. He is the one who calls and the one after whom we follow. Those he calls are all sheep, are all part of the flock that has received a particular vocation from the one who knows us. The Gospel is not an invitation to think about a multi-tiered, class-based structure of vocations — as if some vocations are better than others. Instead, it’s a reminder that regardless of our state in life, regardless of whether we are called to marriage or consecrated religious life or single life or whatever, we are all equal members of the flock, each sheep known personally by the shepherd.

Today’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday and World Day for Vocations should not devolve into a narrowly focused elevation of ministerial priesthood and consecrated religious life, as good as those states of being nevertheless are. Instead, today should be a communal celebration of the dignity and value of every person’s call from Christ to serve the church and world in manifold ways.

May we each take time today to reflect on what the voice of the Good Shepherd has spoken to us about who we are and how we are called to live. May this also be a time for all of us sheep to celebrate the different vocations we have each received!

Photo: Stock

Thomas Merton on Mercy and Compassion

Posted in Pope Francis, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

merton_painting_webThat Pope Francis named Thomas Merton as one of four key American figures in his important address to the US Congress last September was perhaps more fortuitous than many people realized at the time. Those familiar with Merton’s extensive written corpus know that he wrote about diverse topics and engaged many different thinkers over the course of his all-too-short life. Among the themes that recur in his writing is that of mercy, which puts him in obvious kinship with the current bishop of Rome. And his writings on the theme of mercy offer us a tremendous resource in spiritual and theological reflection during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Today, I’d like to share just one short reflection from Merton on mercy, though there are many, many selections from which to choose. This passage strikes me as timely given both the Year of Mercy and the Easter Season in which we find ourselves.

We can have the mercy of God whenever we want it, by being merciful to others: for it is God’s mercy that acts on them, through us, when He leads us to treat them as He is treating us. His mercy sanctifies our own poverty by the compassion that we feel for their poverty, as if it were our own. And this is a created reflection of His own divine compassion, in our own souls. Therefore, it destroys our sins, in the very act by which we overlook and forgive the sins of other men [and women].

Such compassion is not learned without suffering. It is not to be found in a complacent life, in which we platonically forgive the sins of others without any sense that we ourselves are involved in a world of sin. If we want to know God, we must learn to understand the weaknesses and sins and imperfections of other men [and women] as if they were our own. We must feel their poverty as Christ experienced our own (Merton, No Man is an Island, 211-212).

This passage calls out to us in a way that presciently anticipates Pope Francis’s own call for all Christians to move beyond the superficial, beyond what Merton describes as the platonic forgiveness we offer in thought and abstraction alone, to suffer with our fellow sisters and brothers in the world (compassion).

Like Francis of Assisi, whose own experience of God’s mercy led him to “show mercy” to the lepers, the poor, the outcast of his time, Merton and Pope Francis likewise exhort us to recognize the mercy of God that “we can have…whenever we want it.” And it is only in being merciful to others — a task that is so often painful and difficult to accomplish — that we can receive that which is already offered to us.

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust

Stop Looking for Miracles

Posted in Easter, Scripture with tags , , , on April 11, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

sea-beach-sunset-clouds-eveningnature-1024x1280Today’s Gospel from the sixth chapter of John (6:22-29) picks up not long after Jesus had fed the multitudes. Some of the crowds have returned to the site of this miracle meal seeking Jesus and looking for what wonderful thing he might do next. When they finally find Jesus, he admonishes them for their misplaced motivations in searching for him. They want more miracles like the meal. They want to be comfortable and entertained.

Jesus answered them and said,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me
not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

It can be tempting to seek miracles and the kind of comfort the people in the Gospel desired; to imagine a God whose purpose is to verify the existence of the Divine by acquiescing to our individual or collective demands. In an age that celebrates a limited sense of scientific rationalism, we demand signs — “evidence” — to confirm our beliefs. And when we slip into that sort of mentality, we can miss the ways in which the Spirit reveals God’s Self to us in the ordinariness of the everyday (and not necessarily in accord with our imagined definition of what a miracle looks like).

When the people demand signs in today’s Gospel, Jesus responds with a call to look at how God’s will is enacted in the world. We might paraphrase Jesus’s message in a popular idiom by saying: “You want proof? You want real signs of God? Examine your words and deeds to see how God is made present in the world through you and those around you.”

If we want assurance of the presence of God in our world, the seemingly extraordinary acts of divine intervention in nature should not be the focus of our attention. Real miracles, real signs, the affirmation of God’s Grace active in our world — these unfold in the little and big ways that people live the Gospel and do God’s will in lieu of their own self-interest.

Photo: Stock

Do Not Be Afraid: The Heart of Discipleship

Posted in Easter, Scripture with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Today’s Gospel of John’s account of the calming of the seas, which is well known to many Christians, reveals a core dimension of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

It’s curious that this pre-passion, pre-resurrection narrative makes its appearance in the liturgical season of Easter that continues for weeks to come. Why is it that the church has thought it wise to share this particular story at this point in our liturgical cycle?

I believe the answer rests in the profundity of the short and misleadingly simple message: “Do not be afraid.”

Here is the heart of Christian discipleship, though it may not seem so apparent to us at first.

In nearly all of Jesus’s post-resurrection and glorified appearances to the disciples, the Gospel accounts include a version of these words — don’t be afraid. The reason this is so important is that fear is the enemy of discipleship, it is that disposition and outlook that is the opposite of what it means to life the Gospel, the Good News.

To quote the fictional sage character from the Star Wars series, Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The final line’s closer affinity to Buddhism notwithstanding, Yoda’s line is well put in the Christian context. Fear is what leads to anger, hate, violence, greed and, indeed, suffering.

Fear prevents good people from doing the right thing, leads good people to care only for themselves, leads good people to harm others, leads to sin.

Jesus’s message to us after being raised from the dead is to not be afraid. But this is not a new message. This story of the calming of the seas highlights how Jesus had preached and taught this message throughout the entirety of his ministry.

May we listen to the words of the Christ and fear not, for the God of Jesus Christ is greater than death; greater than all our fears.

Photo: Stock (Ludolf Backhuysen, 1695)

New Video Series on “The Joy of Love”

Posted in Pope Francis, The Joy of Love with tags , , , , , , on April 8, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

TJOL_StillWith Pope Francis’s long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) now released, considering check out this new video series that explains the text with accessible and free videos. Like the Understanding Laudato Si video series, this series on the exhortation will include the regular release of videos aimed at helping ordinary people make sense of the teaching. To get the latest installments, be sure to subscribe to the YouTube channel: YouTube.com/DanHoranOFM


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