“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (2)” – Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
This past weekend in the United States we celebrated Earth Day. Earth Day was founded in 1970 as a call to action to bring greater awareness to environmental issues. It continues to serve as a reminder to us of our place on the earth and our responsibilities as its current inhabitants.
The Catholic Church has taken a strong stance on the importance of preserving our planet and has highlighted the necessity of caring for creation as one of the tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. A document of the USCCB teaches that: “To ensure the survival of a healthy planet, then, we must not only establish a sustainable economy but must also labor for justice both within and among nations. We must seek a society where economic life and environmental commitment work together to protect and to enhance life on this planet.”
Pope Francis has also taken steps to highlight the necessity of caring for our environment. In 2015, he released his papal encyclical on the environment entitled Laudato Si’ – On Care for our Common Home. In this encyclical, he points out our moral obligation as Catholics and as humans to care for our environment.
But what can we do as people of faith to preserve the earth? What steps can we take in our daily lives to protect the world God gave us?
Go outside. Experience the beauty of the earth by taking some time to be in nature. Go for a walk in your neighborhood and look at the diversity of the flowers and trees. Spend some time in prayerful contemplation near water, in the mountains, or in your own backyard.
Read Laudato Si’. Pope Francis’s encyclical highlights the ways we are required as Catholics to work to save and protect the environment. He puts into words the importance, particularly at this point in history, of caring for the earth. He highlights specific problems that threaten the environment and offers suggestions for action. The Catholic Apostolate Center has a resource page on Laudato Si’ that includes a general overview of the encyclical, as well as other helpful links, news articles, and documents supporting or explaining Catholic teaching on caring for our environment.
Pray with the Psalms. In particular, I invite you to pray with Psalms 8, 22, 24, 50, 65, and 84. Adding these words of Scripture to our regular prayer will help to inspire a greater desire to do more to preserve our environment.
Turn off your lights and water when you are not using them. Do these and other small actions in your daily life to minimize your carbon footprint.
Learn about St. Francis of Assisi. When he was elected pope in 2013, then-Jorge Bergoglio took the name of Francis because he was inspired by the life and example of St. Francis of Assisi. When writing Laudato Si’, he again took great inspiration from St. Francis: “Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (11)
August 27th marks the feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Monica spent seventeen years praying for the conversion of her son, whose reputation for hedonism and religious skepticism preceded him. St. Monica is said to have wept for her son Augustine every night. Her devotion to him is an example of what it means to love unconditionally, even when it hurts. As a new mother, I have spent many hours reflecting on the mystery of unconditional love and have recorded some of my thoughts below. Let us turn to St. Monica when our hearts are weak and we need help loving as God calls us to love. St. Monica, pray for us.
“This is my body, which will be given for you” (Luke 22:19).
Christ’s words at the Last Supper never fully resonated with me until I became a mother. From the moment of her conception, I gave up my body to my daughter. Baby books, friends, and other women warned me of the physical tolls of pregnancy--the aches and pains, the nausea, the swollen feet, the labor--but I was unprepared for the physical sacrifices afterward. My body is not my own. It is at service to a squirmy, snorty, sweaty being who doesn’t even realize how needy she is. And yet, this physical sacrifice is good and necessary. It has helped me to remember that God wants all of us. Not just our souls and intellects, but our bodies too.
I am an intellectual person by nature and often use my love of study to learn about God. But learning about God and knowing God are not the same thing. Just like reading about how to ride a bike and actually climbing up on the seat are not the same. It is easy for me to pick up another historical commentary on the gospels and feel like I am improving my relationship with God. It’s hard to deny myself a second cup of coffee. It’s hard to place my phone in another room and walk away. It’s hard to lower myself onto my knees to pray, or even to sustain prayer for longer than a minute. These bodily actions are hard because they require sacrifice. And yet, I suspect the sacrifices I make for God are more important to him than whether I know if Jesus was born in cave or a wooden stable.
Motherhood, too, is a bodily commitment and one that can be difficult to embrace with joy. I sacrifice my body in a small way every time I stop what I am doing to nurse my baby, or to get down on my knees and engage her in yet another game of “rub the belly, rub the belly”. Yet, as I commit to these physical tasks, I hope I also die to self a little more each day. With each physical act, with each twinge between the shoulder blades, I remind myself, that--in a much bigger way--this is what Jesus did for me on the cross.
Ironically, it actually was a book that helped me to understand the beauty of bodily sacrifice. No, it wasn’t the Bible, or Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia, it was The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. The gist of the story is that a tree continues to give and give to a boy throughout the boy's life to make him happy. First she gives him her apples so the boy can sell them for pocket money, then she gives him her branches so that he can build a house, then her trunk so that he can build a canoe. Eventually the tree is reduced to a stump and the boy hasn’t visited her in years. And yet the refrain after each gift is, “And the tree was happy.” By the end of the book, my husband found me lying on my back crying while my daughter kicked her feet unconcernedly next to me. Our conversation went as follows:
“I told you not to read that book!”
“It’s just so stupid! The boy is so ungrateful! The tree gave him everything and he never even said thank you. She literally let him cut down her trunk for him. It’s not fair.”
“Would you do that for Elizabeth?”
My answer was immediate. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s what it means to love unconditionally. And the craziest part is that my bodily sacrifices to Elizabeth don’t even compare to Christ’s sacrifice for me.
Truly, to be loved by Christ is a humbling thing.
Click here for more resources on Marriage and Family.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Bl. Pier Georgio Frassati. In reading about him, I also came across St. Kateri Tekawitha as another patron saint of World Youth Day (WYD). I quickly delved into her fascinating life. A woman who defied others to remain true to her beliefs, St. Kateri Tekakwitha has become known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.”
St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and a Christian Algonquin mother in what is now upstate New York, near Albany. While a young girl, Kateri contracted smallpox. Although she survived the disease, she was left with poor eyesight and scars on her face and eyes. Because of this, she was given the name "Tekakwitha," which in Mohawk means, "She bumps into things." When she was 8 years old, her foster family arranged for Kateri to be betrothed, as per Iroquois tradition. Kateri refused to marry, stating that she wanted to dedicate her life to God. At the age of 18, she started to learn more about the Christian faith through Jesuit missionary Father Jacques de Lamberville. Her uncle eventually gave her permission to become a Christian as long as she did not leave the village. Kateri began incorporating aboriginal concepts into her understanding of Christianity, such as the presence of God in nature.
At the age of 21, Kateri was baptized and received First Holy Communion on Christmas Day in 1677. After being rejected by her community for her conversion, she walked to the St. Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal, Canada, to join a community of Native American women who had also converted to Christianity. Kateri, who attributed her name to Catherine of Siena at the time of her baptism, died on April 17th, 1680. Tradition holds that her dying words were "Jesus, I love you” and that after her death, the scars on Kateri’s body began to heal—restoring the radiant appearance of her face. She was canonized on October 21st, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. She has been named the Protectress of Canada and patroness of the environment, environmentalists, Native Americans, and several diocese, to name a few.
As someone who is interested in Native American culture and the environment, I enjoyed learning about Kateri and her dedication to the natural world and her faith. I was also surprised to learn that she was the first Native American saint in the Catholic Church. It was interesting to learn about her dedication and devotion to her faith, even when it meant rejection from her community. Kateri bravely stayed firm to her belief in Christ when she was pressured to reject her faith in Christ and adhere to the traditional native beliefs. She knew that her faith in Jesus was not misplaced, so these demands only reaffirmed her beliefs.
Kateri blended her faith in Christ with a respect for nature. She maintained a deep devotion to nature and its beauty after her conversion. In his second encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis emphasized the imminent need of protecting the environment. I also invite you to imitate Kateri’s respect of nature. I have personally found this greater call of environmentalism to be reinvigorating. As the world’s young people prepare to gather in Poland for WYD, we realize in a special way that we are all on this planet together. We are called to see how our actions affect the world, and that we can work together for a stronger response to protect God’s great gift of creation. The air, water, trees, birds, plants, and other animals are not confined to national borders and neither should our approach to protecting the earth. Kateri inspires me to take action to protect the environment. If we each do our part by recycling, taking public transportation, and keeping vigilant about our energy consumption, then we have a greater chance of protecting our world. In addition, we are called to educate ourselves by reading more about environmental issues. I recommend starting with Laudato Si.
As we pass down our faith from generation to generation, so do we also pass down our responsibility towards this Earth. It can be hard to keep in mind that this is the same Earth that Jesus Christ walked on. Kateri, “Lily of the Mohawks,” combines this love of nature and Christ. It is my hope, as we approach WYD later this month, that we will also consider how we are protecting the environment. May we be inspired by this phenomenal saint.
To learn more about St. Kateri Tekakwitha, click here.
For more information on World Youth Day 2016, click here.
A few years ago, I was backpacking through the desert of northeastern New Mexico. On one particular day, we were going to climb the tallest mountain of our trek, Baldy Mountain, at an elevation of 12,441 feet. As we got higher, the climb became more difficult with thinning air and more challenging terrain. As we neared the summit, I ended up in front of the crew. Just as we reached the summit, our crew leader, Jordan, literally gave me the final push to the top. At that moment, we were on top of the world and gleaming with joy! While on the mountaintop, we could see for miles. As we reveled, I paused and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving. One couldn't help but be amazed at God's great creation. As we rested, having a quick snack and some water, we saw some storm clouds starting to roll in and were forced to descend quicker than anticipated. Eventually, we would finish our 110 mile trek—with Baldy Mountain being one of the greatest highlights.
Whenever I hear the story of the Transfiguration, my mind immediately goes to this time in the mountains. Because of this experience, I feel as though I have walked with Peter, John, and James. At the moment I reached summit, I caught a glimpse of the glory of God. I saw a small part of the transfiguring power of Jesus. I went from a hiker to a pilgrim in a matter of seconds. My trek now had a greater significance. It was no longer just a physical challenge, but one that would cause me to go on a religious quest in God's great creation. This is what I see in last Sunday's Gospel, which is a reminder of the splendor of Jesus. Usually by this point in Lent, I am more concerned about avoiding the things I have given up and less on Jesus. The Transfiguration is a reminder of why we enter the Lenten season: to see the face of Jesus. He helps us transfigure ourselves into being more loving, more merciful, and more perfect humans.
If we look at the beginning of Chapter 9 of Luke, Jesus gives his mission to the Apostles. He tells them to go out and proclaim the Good News. It is after the Transfiguration that he reveals more of his glory. We, too, have the same experience. These experiences come in a number of different ways. They are often brief personal moments that can happen anywhere. Personally, I often find them in interactions with individuals. It can be serving the poor, being with a friend during a difficult time, or smiling at a stranger in the grocery store. From the moment of our baptism, we are sent out into the world as apostles and then along the way we consistently experience his glory. This encounter can happen anywhere and at anytime.
I also appreciate Peter's role in this Gospel. Rather than being amazed at the splendor of Christ and the conversation between him, Elijah, and Moses, Peter suggests they pitch tents for the three. Doing so would completely defeat the purpose of the meeting. His transfiguration is an affirmation of his identity as the Messiah and is meant to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. I often find that I say something at the wrong place or time. That is exactly what Peter does here. He means well, but doesn't see what is in front of him: the glory that Jesus has revealed. In his humanity, Peter often does this, yet Jesus still loves him. Especially during the Year of Mercy, we need to be reminded that we, too, can be like Peter and that is okay. We often don't see the splendor in front of our eyes. But we know that we are loved by God, who is the Infinite Love. When we invite God to enter our hearts, we can see the spender of God. Like the patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, said "Seek God and you find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God in always and you will always find God."
As we go on this week, we should be looking in our own lives to see the transfiguring power of Christ. It may not be a major event, like last Sunday's Gospel, but in the small things. If we keep our hearts open this Lent we will find God anywhere.
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, click here.
As I looked from the trail, I saw a beautiful, soft mist that seemed to be gently kissing my face. There was a purple hue on the vast fields of heather ahead; while the surrounding foliage was the brightest green that I'd ever seen. There was a soft breeze that gently traveled through the glen and seemed to be the words of encouragement I needed to keep climbing; to keep pushing. In the distance there was a long loch that seemed to stretch for miles and miles. In the air if I stopped and listened, I swear that off in the distance a lone bagpiper was playing. In this moment, I finally gained appreciation for the country of my ancestors. I was in Scotland, climbing Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in the country. I was on a pilgrimage through land of my ancestors. My grandfather's family hails from the northern most island in the Orkney Islands called North Ronaldsay. The Tulloch's were proud members of Clan Ross, and were happy to wear the family tartan. I thought I had found paradise, and I didn't want to leave.
Many years later, I was walking down a cobblestone street and found another paradise. I could hear bells tolling and I could smell another phenomenal dish being served at a sidewalk restaurant. There was a clear, deep blue sky above, even on New Year's Day. It did not take very long to actually hear a musician playing a familiar country tune. I went from church to church walking with the saints. This was the city of Rome, in all its glory. As I wandered the streets with our pilgrimage group, eating gelato, I thought to myself that this place also was paradise and I didn't want to leave.
In a way that's what pilgrimages do. They transport us to a new location, both physically and spiritually. This Saturday is the feast of Saint James the Apostle. St. James was one of Jesus' first disciples, was present for the transfiguration, and it is believed that he was the first apostle to be martyred. After his death, his remains were transported to Spain and he was buried at Santiago de Compostela. This site has become one of the greatest pilgrimage locations in the world called El Camino, The Way of St. James. Pilgrims since the Middle Ages have been making the trek in northern Spain. It can take a pilgrim several months to complete, depending on which route they take, and the pilgrimage is becoming increasingly popular. In 1985, records show that approximately 700 pilgrims made the trek, but by 2010 there were nearly 273,000 pilgrims that set out to complete the Way of St. James. This popular pilgrimage was documented in the 2010 movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written by his son, Emilio Estevez.
Pilgrimages can be anywhere and can take any kind of form. We can travel to distant places, far from home, or we can visit somewhere close to home. Pilgrimages are meant for us to find ourselves and to deepen our relationship with God. When we walk with a friend, we chat and get to know them better, and the same is true when we walk with God. As we move forward in life, we are never done with our journey. When we rejoice, God is there rejoicing, and when we cry, God is there too, comforting us. Pilgrimages remind us of this. If we can seek God in all places then one does not have to be in the Scottish Highlands, in the streets of Rome, or on the Camino to be on pilgrimage. We can go anywhere and we will be on our way to find God.
Patrick Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
To learn more about Martin Sheen and his Catholic Identity, check out this webinar where Sr. Rose Pacette, FSP discusses the faith surrounding this actor and the stories that shaped his Catholic Faith:
Forever and beyond will beauty last upon the fabric of this path we are all on. Life is a journey and a time of change, but the love and beauty that emits from the experience of life will last, will remain, and will persevere. Everything that goes through this life journey we lead as creations of a One, True, Loving Lord adds to the over-abundant beauty that is this light for our feet. From the spectacular of fireworks to the humblest of daily chores, everything holds within it an essence of glory, a glory given by the graces of the awakenings of the Spirit in this life. Such essence of glory protrudes into the days and nights, into our sensual stimulators by one path and one path alone, beauty. Beauty in the form of simple things, grand things, petty things, and profound things. Each passing moment has beauty in it to be recognized. All things bright and beautiful stem directly from our Divine Creator. All beautiful things reflect the love and care of the beautiful Father, abounding in glory and radiant light for all to experience.
Beauty can be seen in everything and everyone, if only we have the courage and wisdom to look hard enough. Such avenues of beauty are the various art forms of life, for example, works of art, music, literature, friendships, emotion, or moments indescribable by words. Art forms are anything that leave an impression on us, for life itself is the grandest of art forms that pours forth in everything it is. It is hard for us all to see the beauty in suffering or in times of darkness, but that doesn't mean it isn’t there, in the wrinkles and the silver linings that radiate beauty in a different light than what we are used to. For life, beauty is there.
The Saints are good examples of the beautiful life, each one leading vastly different lives. Life is beautiful in each human experience, including the suffering and dark stuff. The Saints are good demonstrations of the beautiful human experience, including within it all sides of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast we celebrate today, is quite extraordinary and is a good example of the kind of beauty I am discussing here. Her life, besides her ardent Catholic faith, was normal for a girl in her Native American village. Her life was beautiful in her great faith, in her dealings with her family and those who did and could not understand her reasoning for believing that Christ Jesus was her Savior, and finally in her simple yet profound suffering and eventual martyrdom. She is the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Contemplate the Lily for a moment: the petals, the pollen, the beauty. So simple yet so complex, yet beautiful in its complexity. This is Saint Kateri. She is the lily, the beauty of a life lead in the faith of Christ.
Personally, I have had a special devotion to Saint Kateri ever since fourth grade. My teacher chose then Blessed Kateri to be the one we all prayed for in our daily prayer time. Growing off of that initial, prayerful experience with Kateri, when she was finally canonized, I studied her life and virtues in depth, reflecting and praying intentions through her intercession. For eyes to see the beauty of the world and of everything you experience, pray to Saint Kateri, and like a lily may she blossom in all of us the joy of the beautiful Savior, whose blood painted the most beautiful image of all, our salvation.
William Clemens is an Undergraduate Student of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Today, the largest pro-life movement in the world will occur as thousands march the National Mall in Washington, DC, peacefully and passionately for the sake and sanctity of human life. Every year, the March for Life occurs on the anniversary of the historic Roe v Wade decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Despite the sorrow that fills the memory of this day, we have been called, as a community of life, to stand with zeal (word choice) for everyone’s right to life, not just this day, but every day of our lives.
I have never participated in the March for Life before, but I am very excited to finally take part in some of the activities that are occurring this week in our nation’s capital. From hosting eager pilgrims coming from Texas to march, to pro-life talks and dinners, and the National Prayer Vigil for Life, it has been an inspiring week so far. The pro-life community is strong and vibrant and it is a joy to be a part of that spirit. However, as I’ve been reflecting on the meaning and beauty of this week, I am realizing the vital call that is bestowed upon us to witness the beauty of life every day of our lives. During this week and beyond, we must take the time to see the value in every life and how we can share that with others.
I want the world to know that the beauty of life is all around us: the young, the old, the rich, the poor, and those in-between. It is in those risking their own life for the sake of others. The beauty of life is all around the world in different races, cultures, and experiences. The beauty of life is in the day to day interactions of our community, at home, work, and school. The beauty of life is in experiencing nature. The beauty of life is in sharing our own lives with others. Most vividly, as Catholics we know that the beauty of life exists in the Church, as Jesus Christ who teaches us how to love perfectly: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To love perfectly is truly selfless. Those committed to a culture of life live as selfless witnesses, caring for the sanctity of each human soul through love. In our culture where instant pleasure and satisfaction are the façade for human happiness, we must teach others that there is authentic joy in protecting and standing for those who may not have a voice of their own.
So many have come before us and instructed us in Christ's example, in the way of life. Blessed Mother Teresa, who devoted herself to the Cross by serving Christ in the slums of India said, “Any country that accepts abortion is the poorest of the poor” and that, “Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. "Not only as Americans, but as faithful citizens of the kingdom of God, we are called to protect the preciousness of every life created by God.
These thoughts are my prayers, especially today, as we reflect on the Right to Life, particularly that America and our world will come to embrace a culture of life for all peoples, and I hope that you will live these prayers with me wherever you are marching. Whether you are in our nation’s capital today, at home, or at a march in spirit, know that your witness matters and is essential to stamping out a culture of death and living a culture of life. In order to bring life to the world, we must live in love. Let us ask God to bless this week that He may touch the hearts of many who need to hear his words of love and mercy, and that together we can increase the culture of life.
Alyce Anderson is a teacher in Washington D.C.