Friday, April 29, 2011

Taste of New Creation: Dispositional, Relational, and Communal

The stories of Christ's Post-Resurrection interactions with the disciples and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles gives plenty of insight into how the power of Christ's Resurrection and the promise of new life avails itself to us. To begin with, we see the effect that Christ's Resurrection has on the disciples disposition. Through their interactions with Jesus after his Resurrection (c.f., the Road to Emmaus story in Luke 24:13-35) the disciples come to an entirely new way of understanding the mystery of Jesus (as a suffering Messiah) and how that mystery applies to their own lives (as those who will likewise struggle and suffer for Christ). Another effect of Christ's Resurrection and taste of the New Creation is relational in nature. In John's account of the Resurrection (John 20:19-31), John has Jesus not only appearing to the disciples, but breathing into them the Holy Spirit. Unlike the other Gospel writers, John ties the Resurrection of Christ to the intimate presence of the Spirit being given to those who are related to Jesus. New creation now consists in a completely unparalleled bond to Jesus in and through the Spirit who is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of his Son. Finally, a taste of new creation is experienced through the new communal ties made possible by Jesus' Resurrection. Through Jesus' Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the first Christians in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, a community of worship and mutual support is formed in which no one is in need of anything (Acts 2:42-47).

Just as the earliest disciples "tasted" and experienced new creation, so can we. Through allowing the Lord's Words in scripture to take hold of our imaginations and settle deeply into our hearts, our dispositions change from being "reactive" to life's events to being "reflective" and deliberately interpreting all of life's circumstances through a "paschal" (meaning, Christ-like) frame of reference (for more on this, see Tuesday's blog reflection). We likewise experience new creation when we open ourselves to the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and our world. This can be as easy as talking a walk in nature and being drawn into the beauty and fragility of the web of life or it can be as challenging as making more deliberate decisions regarding what information we allow into our lives (following the proverb, "garbage in, garbage out"). Lastly, new creation cannot be experienced in all of it's robustness without an integral connection and commitment to community. This implies being led by the Spirit of the Resurrected Lord to some degree of involvement at all levels of community: socio, cultural, and political. It means taking a stand for the values of the Kingdom and working hard to sew them into the fabric of culture - not with the aim of making culture Christian but, rather, making it open to the Reign of God that is already among us but not fully so. The experience of new creation made possible by Christ's Resurrection is something that is indeed accessible to us, all we need do is allow ourselves to be more deeply and powerfully drawn into this ever-present though very subtle mystery. Pat, TOR

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Road to Emmaus: Pathway to Paschal Mystery

The Gospel from today's Daily Mass tells the story of two disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus after the Crucifixion and alleged Resurrection of the Lord (Luke 24:13-35). They are discussing the events that have recently unfolded when Jesus joins them in such a way that they are unable to recognize him. He joins in the discussion and asks what they are talking about. They seem incredulous that he isn't aware of what has transpired. They tell him about Jesus, their dashed hopes as a result of his crucifixion, and the Resurrection event reported by some women disciples. Jesus than turns the tables in dramatic fashion and remonstrates them with equally forceful credulity at the disciples hardness of heart in not understanding that the Messiah was destined to suffer and sacrifice. Jesus than interprets all the scriptural passages of the Hebrew Scriptures that refer to him in a way that begins correcting their flawed understanding.

The story of the journey to Emmaus is less historical than metaphorical. The "Road to Emmaus" is a portrait of the life of discipleship and how it is a matter of acquiring a new way of seeing and experiencing reality, and, ultimately, walking the pathway to Paschal Mystery. Initially the disciples are "reactive" to the circumstances of Jesus' crucifixion and Resurrection - meaning, they are reacting with the normal, knee-jerk and very human response of the "woe is me" emotions of confusion, fear, disorientation, and, even, sorrow, and perhaps a tinge of self-pity. What Jesus exhorts them to do is to exchange their "reactive" response for a reflective response. A reflective response is one that is grounded not only in objectively analyzing a situation but also making a free choice of how to interpret an event, and, for that matter, our lives. In so many words, Jesus is helping the disciples to not only understand the facts of scripture more accurately in regards to himself, but, more importantly, he is empowering them to choose hope and new life rather than surrender to despair and death.

I recently experienced a bit of a health set-back at a very inopportune time. Initially, I "reacted" to the news with a "woe-is-me" complex and for a time was yielding to fear, sorrow, and self-pity. I asked the question, "why THIS and why NOW?" Than, after being moved by what I believe was a genuine nudge of the Spirit, I transitioned into a mode of a more reflective understanding. In reflecting on this set-back, I realized that it is much better that I experience it precisely now rather than even two months from now or later. In a sense I chose to opt for hope and new life rather than to yield to despair. The main reason for moving from reactive to reflective understanding isn't so that we can be more positive, it's so that we can be more paschal. A positive attitude is something that more or less rides along the surface at best, and, at worst, can be a bit "polly-annish" because it fails to recognize or react appropriately to truly disturbing and distressing events. Sometimes lemons simply can't be made into lemonade - life doesn't always provide the water and sugar!! A paschal attitude, to the contrary, is about something much deeper: namely, the hope that the cards life deals us, even the ominous and threatening, can be an occasion for being drawn closer to God and to others as sources of love, support, and new life. Pat, TOR

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Prayer before the Crucifix Collage

Prayer before the Crucifix [1]
Iconic image collage(2011) by Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R.

Prayer before the Crucifix [2]
by St. Francis of Assisi

Most High,
glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
true faith,
certain hope,
and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

This work takes the perspective of St. Francis kneeling and praying before a crucifix in an abandoned church that has fallen into ruin.

“Seeking out solitary places, he [Francis] used to go to deserted and abandoned churches to pray at night. [3] […] One day when he went out to meditate in the fields, he walked near the church of San Damiano, which was threatening to collapse because of age. Impelled by the Spirit, he went inside to pray. Prostrate before an image of the Crucified, he was filled with no little consolation as he prayed. When tear-filled eyes were gazing at the Lord’s cross he heard in a marvelous way with his bodily ears a voice coming from that cross, telling him three times: “Francis, go, rebuild my house which, as you see, is all being destroyed!” [4] […] The voice from the Cross, which repeated three times the command concerning the rebuilding of the house of God, stands out as a prophetic sign. We recognize now that it is fulfilled in the three Orders established by him.” [5]

Visually, this work is inspired by several works of Salvador Dali, particularly Christ of St John of the Cross, Corpus Hypercubus, and The Ascension of Christ. I was interested in the play between vertical and horizontal perspectives in Christ of St John of the Cross; the detachment of the body, or corpus, of Christ from the cross in Corpus Hypercubus; and the suspension of the body of Christ in The Ascension of Christ.

  • Christ: The image of the crucified Christ is taken from a picture of the Celtic crucifix in the Founders Chapel of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. I took the picture kneeling before the crucifix to capture the vertical perspective of looking up at the crucified Christ. The body of Christ is washed in light; darker at the feet becoming brighter at the head.

    The image of the crucified Christ can be viewed from both a vertical and horizontal perspective. In relation to the wall and statues, the crucified Christ is viewed from a vertical perspective. This is the more literal and natural perspective. In relation to the Earth, sun, and nebula; the crucified Christ is viewed from a horizontal perspective. This is the metaphorical and supernatural perspective.

    In the traditional analogy for the natural and supernatural, horizontal represents the natural while vertical represents the supernatural. I do not intend to collapse the vertical into the horizontal or the immanent Trinity into the economic Trinity. [6] The inverting of the analogical vertical and horizontal perspectives symbolizes Francis’ insightful vision of the created world. The created order mirrors the Triune God. As the Most High God is perfect Trinity (diversity) and simple Unity (one), so too is God’s creation. [7] The created universe is diverse yet unified and ordered. [8]

    • Cross / lack of visible cross: As an image of the crucifix, one might ask, “Where is the cross?” After all, one of the widely used prayers among Franciscans is Francis’ prayer: “We adore You, Lord Jesus Christ, in all Your churches throughout the whole world and we bless You because by Your holy cross You have redeemed the world.” [9] I was tempted to title this work Prayer before the Crucified because of the explicit omission of a visible cross. And yet, there is the rub. The work omits a visible cross, but the cross of Christ is still present; it is etched into the hearts of the faithful. As Francis explained to Sultan Malik al-Kamil, “We possess the cross of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, and that cross we adore and surround with total devotion.” [10] So, the cross is present in the heart of Francis, who is in prayer before the crucified Christ, as well as the faithful observer of the work.

      • Wall: The ruined wall represents the wall of a one of the many abandoned and ruined churches that Francis visited and rebuilt during his life. “He [Francis] would spend the night alone praying in abandoned churches and in deserted places where, with the protection of divine grace, he overcame his soul’s many fears and anxieties” [11]

        • Statues of Mary and John: The statues of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the Apostle, contribute to the crucifixion scene since they were present at the foot of the cross.

          • Earth: The Earth represents both the literal Earth and the created universe as a whole. The original sin of Adam and Eve wounded the created order, both humanity and the rest of creation. Therefore, Christ’s salvation and restoration heals all creation; both humanity and the rest of creation. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ recreates all things. “And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’” (Rev 21:5). [12] “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:19-21). Thus, the image of the crucified Christ is suspended over the image of the Earth.

            The sunlight reflecting off of the surface of the Earth symbolizes creation mirroring God. In addition, the sun’s reflection represents St. Clare’s theme of the mirror of contemplation. She instructs, “Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance and, through contemplation, transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead Itself, so that you may feel what friends feel in tasting the hidden sweetness that, from the beginning, God Himself has reserved for His lovers.” [13]

            • Sun / light: The sun/light represents God and the Beatific Vision. Jesus is placed in front of the light to represent that Jesus is the door to salvation. St. Bonaventure explains, “[One] cannot enter into himself to delight within himself in the Lord unless Christ be his mediator, who says: I am the door. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved; and he will go in and out and will find pastures. But we do not draw near to this door unless we believe in him, hope in him and love him. Therefore, if we wish to enter again into the enjoyment of Truth as into paradise, we must enter through faith in, hope in and love of Jesus Christ, the mediator between God and men, who is like the tree of life in the middle of paradise.” [14] Bonaventure’s insight is expressed in Francis’ Prayer before the Crucifix. In his prayer, Francis asks God for the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity/love. Francis has placed himself before the door the salvation, the crucified Christ, and humbly asks God for the gifts of faith, hope, and love, so that he may enter through the door into paradise.

              • Nebula: The nebula is an image of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293 or Caldwell 63). The image was copied and reduced several times to create a tunnel effect. The tunnel image reflects the analogy of the spiral for the spiritual life, contemplation, and greater union with God. At the far end of the tunnel is the light representing God and the Beatific Vision which is the ultimate goal of humanity. Through the door that is the crucified Christ, the soul is traveling, or spiraling, towards eternal union with the Triune God. The tunnel image also plays on the imagery of Jacob’s ladder with gradations/levels/steps moving from Earth to heaven. “And he [Jacob] dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place – and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” (Gen. 28:12; 16-17).

                • ------------------
                  [1] The Earth and space images are from NASA/courtesy of
                  [2] Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1 - The Saint. Eds. Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., J.A. Wayne Hellman, O.F.M. Conv., and William J. Short, O.F.M. (New York: New City Press, 1999), 40.
                  [3] St. Bonaventure, The Major Legend of Saint Francis, ch. 10, 3.
                  [4] St. Bonaventure, The Minor Legend of Saint Francis, ch. 1.5.
                  [5] Ibid., ch. 1.9.
                  [6] Karl Rahner explains, “The “economic” Trinity is the “immanent” Trinity and the “immanent” Trinity is the “economic” Trinity.” Karl Rahner, The Trinity, (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), 22. Or in other words, as Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap. explains, “With regards to revelation […] the manner in which the Trinity reveals himself in the economy is in keeping with the manner it is in itself.” Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., Does God Suffer?, (University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), 142.
                  [7] “Most High, Who live and rule in perfect Trinity and simple Unity, and are glorified God almighty, forever and ever.” St. Francis of Assisi, A Letter to the Entire Order, 52.
                  [8] Weinandy explains, “We clearly perceive now the awesome truth that because creatures, especially human persons, are in the act of creation related to the persons of the Trinity as they are in their own subsistent relations, and so are related to each person of the Trinity in a specific and proper manner, they are assumed in the very mystery of the Trinity itself. Thus, the act of creation mirrors, though imperfectly, the processions within the Trinity.” Does God Suffer?, 142.
                  [9] St. Francis of Assisi, The Testament, 5.
                  [10] A Book of Exemplary Stories, 98.
                  [11] Thomas of Celano, The Life of Saint Francis, 71.
                  [12] All scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation unless otherwise noted.
                  [13] St. Clare of Assisi, The Third Letter to Agnes of Prague.
                  [14] St. Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, ch. 4, 2.

                  Thursday, April 21, 2011

                  "Wholly Thursday": Wholly Receiving and Wholly Giving

                  Following the theme of the last two blog entries concerning a slight twist on "Holy Week" as "Wholly Week" (the week in which we remember how Christ gave himself "wholly" to us), what might be gained from approaching Holy Thursday as "Wholly Thursday?" Holy Thursday is traditionally celebrated as the Institution of the Lord's Supper and commemorates the last, Passover style meal that Jesus had with his disciples. One focus of the meal is Jesus' "ritualizing" his impending and total self-offering to God and humanity for the life of the world. The other aspect is the call of Jesus for his disciples to follow his example by offering themselves in this self-same way. Jesus "ritualizes" his gift of self through the symbols of bread and wine. The bread he breaks and the wine he pours at the meal symbolize how, throughout his three year ministry, he has shared and poured himself out unhesitatingly for the well-being of others. Now, at the end of his life, and with the ominous clouds of crucifixion on the horizon, Jesus doesn't hide away in a corner but "he love his own in the world and he loves them to the end." (John 13:1). The Last Supper is the "swan song", "pinnacle", and "crescendo" of the deep meaning behind all of Jesus' actions on behalf of others. It is the summation (summary) and con-summation (fulfillment) of all that he has done and all that he is about. What the Last Supper symbolizes, summarizes, and fulfills is Jesus wholly giving himself for the life of others and for the life of the world.

                  In a sense, therefore, "Wholly Thursday" is about "wholly receiving" the gift of Christ as the One who alone can penetrate the depths of the ambiguity and complexity of our lives and world to bring light, purpose, hope, healing, transformation, and, in a word, redemption. How can we be assured of this? Because, time and time again, Jesus did this for others during his ministry and, when the going got tough (meaning his life was on the line), he didn't turn tail and run but dug in even deeper in his resolve to be gift for others - even when it meant forfeiting his own life. The Last Supper, in a very real sense, was Jesus' "digging in" - not to defend his own life but to "defend" (meaning, "redeem") the life of others for generations to come. However, as much as Holy Thursday is about Jesus' wholly giving himself, it is also about our "wholly receiving" this gift and "wholly giving" it to others.

                  This comes across clearly in the way in which the Gospel of John depicts the Last Supper (John 13:1-15). These passages of John relate the dramatic actions of Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples and than instructing them to do likewise. This gesture would have been completely "over the top" for Jesus' disciples. Rabbi's and revered masters simply did not bend so low in a mode of condescending service. Peter even objects to this action, apparently appalled by his Master's gesture. Yet Jesus insists that if Peter is to be in communion with him, he must open himself and wholly receive this new, saving way of being and relating to God. What, precisely is this new way of being and relating? It consists of the continual process of opening ourselves wholly to receiving the way in which God desires to serve and save us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This way of serving, saving, or "gracing" us, has little to do with outward favors granted by God (material blessings, etc...) and is about allowing God to "condescend" and bend so low as to reach, touch, wash, and heal the parts of us that are most smelly, messy, insecure, fragile, broken, forsaken, and alienated. Yet, this is just one part of the challenge of Wholly Thursday. The other aspect of entering into a true and saving relationship with God means being willing to "wholly give" the gift that we've received. In other words, we must also be willing to condescend and serve by reaching, touching, washing, and healing those parts of others and our world that are smelly, messy, insecure, fragile, broken, forsaken, and alienated. For, Jesus himself says at the end of this Gospel, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
 You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
 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.” Pat, TOR

                  Wednesday, April 20, 2011

                  "Wholly Week": Wholly Impenetrable Mystery of Christ, Life, and Our Very Selves

                  In Monday's blog reflection I proposed that Christian's shift the focus during Holy Week from viewing Christ's passion and death as primarily an offering for sin and exploring it as a "bridge" to a deepened, healing, and transformative communion with the Trinity of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, I proposed that Christian's view this week as "Wholly Week": the week in which we remember how Christ gave himself "wholly" for us that we might never be alone in all the experiences that constitute human life: especially experiences of struggle, suffering, tragedy, rejection, abandonment, and, even death. The reason for this shift of focus is quite straightforward: it forms a robust basis for a life-long love relationship with God.

                  When God gives himself "Wholly" to us in Christ and Holy Spirit, this means that God pours out for our pleasure, delight, contemplation, adoration, and intellectual, spiritual, and soulful stimulation the full, impenetrable mystery of Christ and, by extension, the full mystery of life and human life. A large part of what makes God, life, and, human life so exciting and adventurous is the impenetrable mystery inherent in it! By "impenetrable mystery" I very definitely do not mean that God, life, and human life cannot be fathomed or understood at all. Rather, I am referring to the inexhaustible depth of complexity and beauty that penetrates every nook, cranny, and corner of our world and lives. I was recently talking with a friend about the explosion of knowledge and technology in the last thirty to forty years. Both of us marveled at how these areas have been expanding so quickly. We came to the conclusion that the more humans delve into all that there is to know and all that can be created, the more rapidly and deeply will the vistas of science and technology unfold before us. In other words, there will likely be no end to the exponentially rapid expansion of our understanding and creativity! It truly boggles the mind and heart, doesn't it?

                  Bearing this in mind, let's consider the full, impenetrably mysterious plan of God in offering himself wholly in Christ. In yesterday's daily Mass Gospel from John, Jesus says to the disciples at the last supper after Judas has left them to betray him, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him." (John 13:31). If we measure what Jesus is saying through how we normally understand God's glory (meaning, God's truth, beauty, power, majesty, sovereignty, etc...) these words appear utterly absurd. How can God and Christ be glorified in and through betrayal, rejection, and eventually murder? What we've stumbled upon here is the wholly impenetrable mystery of Christ, life, and our very selves. Perhaps what is being said by Jesus is something akin to what Paul says in another part of scripture, namely, that "power is made perfect in weakness." Perhaps what is going on here is God bending so low in embracing the depths, ambiguity, and even tragedy of life that NONE OF IT, no matter how dark, dank, stinky, crappy, hazy, or crazy is outside of God's capacity to turn it into the very basis for the experience of God's Glory and the power of Christ's Resurrection. Maybe, just maybe, God is turning the "rules of life" inside out and making the basis for true life the willingness to sink into the mire of our lives and world and risk ourselves in the self same way that Jesus did. How mysteriously contrary this is to the conventional approach to life as consisting of security, wealth, prosperity, and a sense of ease and comfortability. Maybe our celebration of "Wholly Week" consists in accepting this impenetrable mystery of Christ, life, and our very selves as the bridge to experiencing God's Glory and true newness of life. Pat, TOR

                  Monday, April 18, 2011

                  Holy Week 2011

                  The Way We Treat Ourselves:
                  A reflection on the anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.

                  by Bro. Jeffrey Wilson, T.O.R.

                  originally appeared on Franciscan Action Network:


                  April 20, 2011 marks the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the “largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history, an acute human and environmental tragedy.”[i] Having been born and raised on the Florida Gulf Coast, I was especially troubled by the disaster. After a year’s time, $3.5 billion of the $20 billion compensation fund has been spent to restore the ecology and livelihoods of those impacted by the spill.[ii] The sugar-white beaches of the Gulf Coast are still in the process of being cleaned of the black oil and tar, now with large sand-sifting tractors called Sand Sharks. Bird nesting season started on March 1st, complicating the process and raising concerns for their health.[iii] Nearly all of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico have been reopened to commercial fishing.[iv] Coastal towns and cities hope to rebuild their economies with the return of tourists this spring and summer.[v] In February, the U.S. government approved the first deep water oil drilling permit since the spill. However, the ultimate environmental consequences of the spill may not be known for some time to come. Most of the oil slick disappeared from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010, but in March 2011, a study found that “huge quantities of oil […] now taint the Gulf of Mexico's seafloor” in what is described as an “invertebrate graveyard.”[vi] Also, just in the months of January and February alone, the infant mortality rate of the dolphins living off the shores of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana is already 10 times the yearly average.[vii] Although the direct cause is still unknown, this is a very disturbing development.

                  Despite the overall ecological impact of the oil spill, it is very important to remember that eleven people lost their lives from the explosion and their families and loved ones will carry their loss for the rest of their lives. What is most tragic is that the loss of human life and negative impact on the Gulf ecology appears to be the result of sheer negligence and mismanagement on the part of BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and federal industry regulators.[viii] There is mounting evidence that the companies involved put short term profits over the safety and lives of workers and of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.[ix]

                  The worst thing that we can do is not learn from this experience; and learn especially that there is an interconnected relationship between humanity and the natural environment. Concerning this relationship, Pope Benedict XVI explains, “The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa.”[x] This relationship is clearly evident in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The same negligent, short sighted, and dare I say it, greedy acts of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton hurt both people and the natural environment.

                  However, the basic problems that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster are not just isolated to a few companies or a specific industry. They can be seen in our culture and society as a whole. Over the past century, war and genocide have become more and more prevalent and destructive.[xi] The brutality we show towards one another is reflected in our brutality against the natural environment as we destroy forests, level mountaintops, drain estuaries, and erase barrier sand reefs in our quest for modern progress.[xii] In the short-sightedness of our “buy now, pay later” culture, we exchange moderation and sustainability for luxury, extravagance, and excess while we spend money that we do not have and increase our personal debt. This consumption mindset translates into the use and hoarding of the world’s natural resources without regard for our own future, let alone the needs of future generations. Our culture values ease of use and disposability. We throw away an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles each day.[xiii] Likewise, we view human life as disposable and throw-away: the U.S. aborts over 800,000 babies and disposes of an estimated 8,000 human embryos each year.[xiv]

                  Clearly, something needs to change. Pope Benedict XVI explains, “What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments. Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society.”[xv]

                  It is the Franciscan mission to cure the wounded, to bind up the broken, and to recall the erring.[xvi] Accordingly, we are called to minister to the wounded victims of this disaster, rebuild the broken human and natural ecologies, and recall the erring from their destructive mindsets and actions. What is needed today, as individuals, a nation, and a human family, is a conversion of heart, mind, and action that recognizes that the way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. St. Francis of Assisi had the unique insight of this relationship and manifested it in his words and deeds. Let us follow his example. To walk in the footsteps of Francis, who is the alter Christus, the other Christ, is to conform oneself completely into the likeness of Jesus Christ, He who is the image of the invisible God; to see the world through the eyes of Jesus; and to love the world as Jesus does, for all things were created through him and for him and in him all things hold together.[xvii]

                  Francis showed charity and concern for both humans and creatures.[xviii] He called all creatures by the name of brother and sister and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to all creation: people, animals, and plants.[xix] This is a virtue that Francis came to develop over time. After all, metanoia, the conversion of heart, is an ongoing, lifelong process. The fruits of Francis’ conversion of heart and mind are manifested in his actions.

                  One great symbol of Francis’ profound conversion is his embrace and kiss of the leper. As Francis explains in his Testament, “What had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”[xx] Consequently, Francis’ embrace of the leper is the same embrace that Francis gave to the wolf of Gubbio. His gift of alms to the leper is the same gift of charity that he gave to animals in need.[xxi] His kiss of the leper’s wounds is the same kiss of praise that he gave God through his creatures. And Francis’ reconciling of the wolf and the townspeople of Gubbio is the same labor of reconciliation that Francis worked between the mayor and Bishop of Assisi. Clearly, Francis understood the relationship between humanity and the natural environment.

                  The one year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster falls on the Wednesday of Holy Week. I find the opening verses from the day’s first reading very appropriate, “The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back” (Is 50:4-5). As we end our Lenten journey, let us be mindful of our transgressions against our brothers and sisters, both human and creature. As we remember the Passion of our Lord, let us commit ourselves to the ongoing conversion of our hearts and minds. And as we enter into the Easter Season, may we be renewed in the power of Jesus’ resurrection as we work to cure the wounded, to bind up the broken, and to recall the erring.

                  I would like to close my reflection with a prayer for the eleven workers who died on the Deepwater Horizon, April 20, 2010, and for the consolation of their families and loved ones.

                  Almighty and Good God, our faith in the resurrection of Jesus comforts us as we mourn the death of Jason Anderson, Aaron Dale Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Karl Dale Kleppinger, Jr., Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto, and Adam Weise. May this passage be a reminder to us of our own mortality. Let it be a source of hope for us as we look forward to the day when we will be united with you and all your holy ones in the joy of eternal life. We ask this through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. [xxii]


                  [i] National Commission of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling – Report to the President. (January 2011): 173. Hereafter DW.

                  [ii] John Roberts, “Oil Spill Victims Say Future Recovery of Gulf is Connected to Compensation Fund,” Fox News, March 2, 2011,

                  [iii] Associated Press, “Florida Senate Passes Oil Spill Recovery Measure,” Pensacola News Journal, March 16, 2011,

                  [iv] Approximately 1,041 square miles, or 0.4% of the Gulf of Mexico Federal Waters, surrounding the BP Deepwater Horizon spill site remain closed to fishing as of March 31, 2011. NOAA Fisheries Service,

                  [v] In fact, the Pensacola News Journal reports, “Hotel revenues in Escambia County soared 30 percent in February, boding well for the spring and summer tourist season.” Staff writer, “Hotel revenue soars in Escambia,” Pensacola News Journal, March 18, 2011,

                  [vi] NOAA reported that of the estimated 5.4 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, only 27% remained with 49% having evaporated and biodegraded, 15% having been contained, 5% burned off, and 3% skimmed. NOAA, “Deepwater Horizon MC252 Gulf Incident Oil Budget,” August 2, 2010, Raloff, Janet, “Gulf Floor Tainted by Oily Deposits,” Science News, 179, no. 6 (March 12, 2011): 17.

                  [vii] Jonsson, Patrik, “Baby dolphin die-off in Gulf: Cold water, not oil spill, the culprit?” The Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2011,

                  [viii] The National Commission’s report to the President concludes, “The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening. But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure – a failure of management. Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout” (DW, 90). “[…] What we nonetheless do know is considerable and significant: (1) each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a well blowout; (2) the cumulative risk that resulted from these decisions and actions was both unreasonably large and avoidable; and (3) the risk of a catastrophic blowout was ultimately realized on April 20 and several of the mistakes were contributing causes of the blowout” (115). “[…] The company does not have consistent and reliable risk-management processes–and thus has been unable to meet its professed commitment to safety. BP’s safety lapses have been chronic” (218).

                  [ix] As reported by the National Commission, “Decision-making processes at Macondo did not adequately ensure that personnel fully considered the risks created by time- and money-saving decisions. Whether purposeful or not, many of the decisions that BP, Halliburton, and Transocean made that increased the risk of the Macondo blowout clearly saved those companies significant time (and money). There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing a less-costly or less-time-consuming alternative–as long as it is proven to be equally safe. The problem is that, at least in regard to BP’s Macondo team, there appears to have been no formal system for ensuring that alternative procedures were in fact equally safe” (DW, 125).

                  [x] Pope Benedict XVI. Caritas in Veritate – Charity in Truth, 51. Italics are preserved from the original document while bold is added for emphasis.

                  [xi] Genocide has plagued our world for the past century with the Armenian genocide (1915-1923), Jewish holocaust, or Shoah, (1941-1945), Roma and Sinti holocaust (1941-1945), Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin (1971-1979), Cambodia (1975-1979), “Red Terror” in Ethiopia (1977-1978), repression of indigenous peoples in Guatemala (1981-1983), anfal campaign against the Kurds in Northern Iraq (1988-1991), Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), Rwanda (1994), Democratic Republic of Congo (1998-2007), and Darfur in Sudan (1998-2007). McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism,

                  [xii] Pope Benedict XVI remarks, “How many natural resources are squandered by wars! Peace in and among peoples would also provide greater protection of nature.” Caritas in Veritate – Charity in Truth, 51.

                  [xiii] Pat Franklin reports, “Health-conscious Americans are consuming water from disposable plastic bottles at a rate of more than 70 million bottles each day. […] More than 60 million plastic bottles end up in landfills and incinerators every day – a total of about 22 billion last year.” Pat Franklin, “Down the Drain – Plastic water bottles should no longer be a wasted resource,” Waste Management World (May-June 2006): 62-5.

                  [xiv] The CDC reports, “A total of 827,609 abortions were reported to CDC for 2007 […]; the abortion rate was 16.0 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15--44 years, and the abortion ratio was 231 abortions per 1,000 live births.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Abortion Surveillance – United States, 2007,” MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 60, no. 1 (February 25, 2011): 1.

                  It is difficult to determine exactly how many human embryos are disposed of each year. A report issued by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology in 2003 reports that a total of 396,526 embryos are in storage in the United States as of April 11, 2002 with 8,840 embryos “awaiting destruction per patient request.” It is assumed that these embryo storage and destruction rates are consistent with 2010-2011 rates. David I. Hoffman, Gail L. Zellman, and C. Christine Fair, “Cryopreserved embryos in the United States and their availability for research,” Fertility and Sterility, 79, no. 5 (May 2003): 1066.

                  [xv] Caritas in Veritate – Charity in Truth, 51.

                  [xvi] “He [Francis] used to tell them: ‘As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that you have greater peace in your hearts, thus no one will be provoked to anger or scandal because of you. Let everyone be drawn to peace and kindness through your peace and gentleness. For we have been called to do this: to cure the wounded, to bind up the broken, and to recall the erring. Many who seem to us members of the devil will yet be disciples of Christ.’ ” Legend of the Three Companions, 58.

                  [xvii] Col 1:15-17

                  [xviii] “The holy man overflowed with the spirit of charity, bearing within himself a deep sense of concern not only toward other humans in need but also toward mute, brute animals: reptiles, birds, and all other creatures whether sensate or not.” Thomas of Celano, The Life of St. Francis, 77.

                  [xix] Ibid, 81.

                  [xx] St. Francis of Assisi, The Testament, 3.

                  [xxi] Illustrating an example of Francis’ charity to animals, Thomas of Celano writes, “In the winter he had honey or the best wine put out for the bees so that they would not perish from the cold.” The Life of St. Francis, 80.

                  [xxii] The prayer is taken from the Common for the Dead in Franciscan Morning and Evening Praise: 1276.

                  "Wholly Week"

                  Would there be a difference in our lives and spirituality if the Christian tradition slightly changed it's focus concerning the meaning of Holy Week? Traditionally speaking, Holy Week commemorates the final days of the Lord's life and it's redemptive import for our lives. Perhaps the greatest stress and emphasis is placed on Good Friday, when Jesus is arrested, charged, scourged, condemned, and crucified. The tendency to focus so much importance on Good Friday has resulted in a perhaps one-sided focus on Holy Week as the commemoration of Jesus' self-offering for our sins. However, what if Holy Week was less about an offering for atonement of sin and more an offering so that we might come into a newness of life marked by unparalleled healing and transformative closeness with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit?

                  In today's Gospel reading from John, Jesus states something of monumental importance that could easily be overlooked or glossed over. In response to the betrayer Judas Iscariot's objection about why Jesus allowed the anointing of his body with costly perfume instead of selling it and giving the money to the poor, Jesus says, "you always have the poor with you but you do not always have me." (John 12:8) We can focus so much attention on Jesus' redeeming us from sin that we forget that Jesus' offering was also, and, perhaps, primarily, about us having him, God, and the Holy Spirit. Holy Week is really the week in which Jesus gives himself "wholly" to us by entering into every experience that can be constitutive of human life, to include the abysmal depths of rejection, abuse, torture, abandonment, betrayal, and, if that weren't enough, even being unjustly condemned and murdered.

                  If we were to shift our focus just a tad and approach Holy Week more as "Wholly Week" (the week in which Jesus gives himself "wholly" to us), we would perhaps come more into the awareness of how it can form the basis and bridge for a vital, healing, and transformative bond, relationship, and communion with the God who will never leave us, no matter how far we sink into the mire and ambiguity of all that makes us fully, tragically, and gloriously human. Pat, TOR

                  Thursday, April 7, 2011

                  Assimilating the Light of Christ

                  In today's Gospel from daily Mass, Jesus gives a long speech in defense of his ministry to the religious leaders who have called him to account (John 5:31-37). An interesting part of his diatribe refers to the ministry of John the Baptist and how the religious leaders, "for a while...were content to rejoice in his light." However, we know how John the Baptist ended up - namely, with his head on a platter! What accounts for the fact that the light of John, and Jesus for that matter, became attenuated to those who initially rejoiced in it? Why did John's head end up on a platter and Jesus' body hung from a cross? In today's first reading (Exodus 32:7-14) we have a similar dynamic going on between God and the Israelites in the Sinai desert. God has just led the Israelites out of Egypt by a very impressive "pillar of fire" and, after initially rejoicing in this light, they have already begun falling away from God by worshipping idols! What gives? How is it that such an impressive sign of light and fiery concern of God for his people could become attenuated by the Israelites in such quick fashion?

                  You may have noticed that I highlighted the word "attenuated" twice in the above paragraph. The word means to "reduce the force, effect, or value of" something or someone ( The impressiveness of the light of John the Baptist, Jesus, and even God's fiery pillar was eventually "reduced in force, effect, or value", or, attenuated over time by the fact that it wasn't assimilated into the lives of those who witnessed it. In other words, the outward signs and symbols that God gave in the fiery pillar, John the Baptist, and, above all, Christ must be internalized if it is to illuminate, motivate, and animate our lives for the long haul. To give an example of how the light of Christ can be ritually and practically assimilated, let's consider the Easter Vigil celebration on Holy Saturday. The celebration begins in the darkness, with candles being lit from the Easter Candle and distributed to all who are gathered. The refrain that echoes throughout the Church is, "receive the light of Christ." Than a series of readings are read from the Old Testament which recount the great themes of salvation history. Finally, a New Testament reading is read and than, as the great crescendo, the Gospel account of Jesus' Resurrection. The theme of light and newness of life pervades. To assimilate the light of Christ through this ritual means finding and taking our place in the saving stories that we hear on this sacred night, and, above all, allowing ourselves to be drawn into the saving embrace of Christ. Of course, this is not something that is done once and for all. In order for the saving mysteries of scripture and Christ to become our light and life, we must continually strive to assimilate their meaning for our daily lives. Pat, TOR

                  Sunday, April 3, 2011

                  Entering the "Waters of Siloam" as the Means to Encountering the Beauty of Life and Christ

                  Unlike the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Gospel of John is highly symbolic and metaphorical. The reason is that it represents a "faith vantage point" of Jesus and the Christ "event" thirty or forty years more mature than these three Gospels. Therefore, the Gospel reads not only like a narrative but also has the characteristics of a very refined theological and spiritual treatise of who Jesus is and what the life of faith entails. Today's Gospel story of the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41) is a story rich in symbolic and metaphorical meaning. It is much less a story about an historical event than it is a parable of encounter with the Christ and the progressive deepening of the life of faith.

                  When Jesus encounters the man born blind, he makes a salve of spittle and dirt, smears them gently over the man's eyes, and than instructs him to go and wash at the "pool of Siloam." Siloam means, "sent" and has the connotation not of being sent to a pool to wash but being "sent" to give witness to God and Christ through the Holy Spirit. The word is intimately connected to the word "disciple" which also means "to be sent." The man is not so much being sent to wash as he is being sent on a journey: a journey of a progressively deep faith encounter with Jesus the Christ. How does this faith encounter unfold and deepen? To begin with, after the man washes and regains his sight, he admits that Jesus healed him when asked by curious bystanders and the religious authorities (they want to know because this miracle took place on the Sabbath, and it is expressly forbidden to do any such work on this day). The religious authorities than call him to the carpet in order to examine the man with the hope of having something to indict Jesus with. When the man is pressed to give an account of who he thinks Jesus is, he responds "a prophet." Than, when the authorities ridicule and threaten him and push his back up against a wall, he suddenly goes into a very profound and powerful mode of witnessing to Jesus and defending him. At this the authorities cast him out of the community - he once again finds himself at the margins, the very same place that Jesus encountered him to begin with. However, this time, Jesus approaches him and helps the man to finally see him fully as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The man's journey of faith has come to a sort of "full-circle" consummation.

                  This story is less about a person (the man born blind) as it is a highly symbolic and metaphorical story of "personification." What's being "personified" is the journey of faith and encountering the true beauty and magnificence of life and Christ. The journey begins with the Lord reaching into our lives to intimately touch and heal. This than leads to being sent to "enter the waters of Siloam" or, the waters of a life of faith. The life of faith implies embracing the sum total of all that makes for a truly human life. It means sinking to the depths of human neediness, weakness, brokenness, sinfulness, capacity for goodness, glory
                  and relatedness with God, other, and self. To "enter the waters of Siloam" is a metaphor of embracing all of the above in a spirit of faith, hope, and love. At times, it means "being called to account" by others and by life to give witness to what we truly value and strive for. If we are "disciples" or, those who are "sent", this means that when "push comes to shove", we bear witness through word and deed that God, Christ, and Holy Spirit are Lord alone and the one we love above all. This of course, means we may very well be pushed to the margins. In other words, when we make a decision to live life at depth, to open ourselves to the true beauty of life, and to live lives of honesty, integrity, vulnerability, and openness, we will be misunderstood and perhaps even rejected; at times this might be by those who were nearest to us. However, in the face of such difficulty and even suffering, we live in the hope of knowing that the more deeply we enter the "waters of Siloam" the more we will encounter the beauty of life and the power of the Risen Lord.

                  In his book, "Beauty", John O' Donohue speaks along similar lines of how we encounter the depth of true beauty (meaning also, Christ) that comes through making deliberate and difficult decisions for a life of depth, a life of being drawn into the "Waters of Siloam": "The experience of beauty has for the most part a particular force. It envelops and overcomes us. Yet there are times when beauty reveals itself slowly. There are times when beauty is shy and hesitates until it can trust the worthiness of the beholder. Human culture seems to build its temples of meaning in the wrong places, in the garish marketplaces of transient fashion and public image. Beauty tends to avoid the siren call of the obvious. Away from the blatant center, it prefers the neglected margin. Beyond the traffic of voyeuristic seeing, beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place, or object. The hidden heart of beauty offers itself only when it is approached in a rhythm worthy of its trust and showing." Pat, TOR