Probing Pope Francis’ Encyclical LAUDATO SI’ on Care for our Common Home – an Open Forum held June 30, 2015 at St. Gabriel’s Church
Dr. Dennis O’Hara and Fr. Steve Dunn, C.P. facilitated an Open Forum on Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si’ on June 30, 2015 at our parish. Close to three hundred people attended.
Many from different parishes and religious congregations all across Toronto joined us to celebrate the encyclical, to draw and to share insights from it. It was a Spirit-filled event.
We thank Paul Royes, one of our parishioners, for making the video available.
Some highlights from the encyclical:
“Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” [paras. 13, 14]
“ … we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” [para. 49]
“ … our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.” [para. 164]
“We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.” [para. 161]
People who heard Jesus’ startling invitation to eat his body and drink his blood were confused and shocked. Whoever heard of such a thing? His words smacked of cannibalism. We can’t blame them for saying,’ this is a hard saying and who can take it.’ Then we hear these words,’ and many of his disciples walked with him no more.’ Jesus knew this would happen. He knew from when choose his disciple those who would be faithful and those who would not. He knew some would stumble and fall and yet would get up and recommit themselves to him and he knew that one would betray him and die in despair.
As many of his disciples and listeners walked away wondering if Jesus had lost his mind he asks the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away’? Peter answers for all of them, ’Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to know that you are the holy one of God.’
I think Peter was saying Lord I don’t really know what you are talking about but I have faith in you and believe you have the words of everlasting life.
What is faith? An old definition said, ’faith is a gift of God by which we believe the things revealed by God to be true not because of any intrinsic evidence in the truth revealed but solely on the authority of God revealing.’ It is so cranial and it is based on authority. Watching ads on TV especially at News times we’re expected to see actors wearing white laboratory coats with stethoscopes around their necks as believable, they have authority and we’d best buy the product they’re pushing.
In the Middle Eastern world, in the time of Jesus and even today the words “faith”; “belief”; “fidelity”; and “faithfulness” describe the social glue that binds one person to another person. These are not acts of the mind so much as sentiments that spring from the heart which is the seat of thought in Middle Eastern psychology.
Peter’s words, Lord to whom shall we go tell of the glue that bound Peter and the others to Jesus. They didn’t understand Jesus but they trusted him. They knew he was someone special, the holy one of God. No one but one from God could say the things he said challenging them to a whole new vision of God, a God who calls them to a whole new understanding of God as Father and shepherd and lover. No one but one from God could do the things Jesus did as he cured the sick, made lepers whole and the blind to see. They were stuck with Jesus and he was stuck with them.
We may be uncomfortable with some Protestant God talk as Jesus being our personal Lord and Savior. We may find it to be too much touchy feely. But it speaks of that glue that sticks a believer to Jesus. That’s the kind of relationship we’re invited to have with Jesus. It’s the kind of glue St. Paul speaks of when he wrote, ‘I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me and the life I live, I live trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.’ Paul was stuck with Jesus as Jesus was stuck with Paul. They were inseparable.
‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’. Every time we receive Holy Communion the glue that binds us to Jesus in strengthened so that nothing can separate us from the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord, made visible in the crucified Christ.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for ourselves and for each other that we all be stuck with Jesus as he is stuck with us.
Our first reading tells us to lay aside immaturity and live. Lay aside an immaturity that tells us that happiness is found in superficial unattached relationships, fulfillment is found in the things we have, our possessions. Wisdom, a gift of God, invites us to eat the bread she has baked and drink her wine of insight an insight that offers us a deeper meaning of our lives and what life is all about. Wisdom offers us an insight into a deeper understanding of our faith and of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The men and women who listened to Jesus that day so long ago must have thought he’s lost his mind. Jesus told the people, ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son or Man and drink his blood you have no life in you – whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, they abide in me and I abide in them.
Eating someone’s flesh and drinking a person’s blood was abhorrent to these people. For them blood was the life source of a person and to tamper with that would be unthinkable. But Jesus will not take back away from his gracious invitation – this is my body, take and eat, this is my blood take and drink. Jesus will not water down his promise,’ whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.’
Yet how many times in a day do we feel unworthy of feasting on God because of choices we’ve made, habits we are unable to break or dark spirits we entertain? Yet here we can remember the words of Pope Francis, ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’ As I’ve said many times before, when Jesus gave us the Eucharist he gave to us as a gift but over time the church has made it a reward. Receiving Holy Communion is not a question of worthiness it is a question need.
Next Fall at the Synod on the Family a controversial issue will be whether or not divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Holy Communion. Put it another way, who should be welcomed and who should be turned away from receiving the life giving Body of Christ?
This is truly a deep pastoral question. I bite my tongue and turn the page when celebrating Mass in another parish and I am asked to make an announcement before communion; if you are not a Roman Catholic, if you do not attend Mass regularly, if you are in an invalid Mass you are invited to come for a blessing but you are not to receive Communion. I find this message a far cry from the gracious invitation of Jesus,’ come to me all you who find life burdensome and I will refresh you. I’m reminded of a solution a priest friend of mine came to when he worried about giving communion to people he knew hadn’t been to church for a long time or couples who came to receive whom he knew to be in irregular marriages. He said that it dawned on him that Jesus is old enough to take care of himself.
Jesus’ invitation to all of us here at this Mass and at every Mass is to take our seat at the banquet table with Jesus and feast on his life!
Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. Everyone one of you, in one way of another, has to work, sometimes at two jobs, to put bread on the table; you have to provide for your families. Jesus tells us to work for the food that endures forever. We don’t really have to work that such a bread, it is freely and generous given to us in this Eucharist and at every Eucharist. Just as God gave the manna, bread from heaven, to the complaining people he was sustaining in the desert, so Jesus gives us the new manna, his body and blood at this Mass and at every Mass.
Jesus Christ is the manna of God, the living bread come down from heaven. Jesus makes us this promise,’ whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
We all hunger after our own flesh pots. It’s natural. We always want more and more. The more have the more we want but none of the things we want can never replace a loving and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the nourishment of our lives.
There was a song out years ago and the words went,’ flowers, perfume candy but you, you never gave me you, you never gave the greatest gift of all, you never gave me you. So many relationships end because flowers, perfume and candy – all the goodies we think to be so important, can never replace the greatest gift the gift of ourselves to each other. So relationships and marriages end in bitterness and disappointments because we fail to give the greatest gift, ourselves.
We are what we eat; physically we become what we consume. Jesus gives himself totally to us in the Eucharist with the promise that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, as we do at this Eucharist, will live in him and he will live in us. The Christ living in us helps us live Christ-like lives. Christ helps us to be a loving and forgiving person. He helps us to avoid being judgemental people who judge the motives of others. He helps us be accepting men and women, open people who accept others as they are, who they are. Jesus, our bread of life, helps us to be forgiving people, people willing to let go of past hurts, past injustices. Christ who loved each one of us even unto his death on the cross, helps us be generous men and women who are willing to be there for friends and strangers who need our help. Finally it is good to remember that Jesus, our living bread come down from heaven, is the only one who can satisfy our deepest hunger, our hunger to know what our life means and how we are to live it. At this Mass we gratefully accept Chris’s gracious invitation – come, take and eat, take and drink.
At different times when I’ve preached on this gospel I was convinced that when Jesus preached or worked a miracle he always wanted to help those who listened to his teachings or witnessed his miracle to move beyond where they were in their lives and grow to a deeper appreciation of their relationship with God and a greater generosity toward their neighbour.
Preparing this sermon I read an article that told me I was totally wrong with such an interpretation. The multiplication of the loaves and fishes had nothing to do with how the physical needs, the hunger of this particular group of people were met on a certain afternoon in Galilee. The deep meaning of the event has everything to do with how Jesus, the Christ, crucified and risen is present to the church that is us. The focus is on who Jesus is and what he does for those who follow him. especially what he does for us at this very Eucharist.
We can just imagine how the news of what Jesus did spread through the country side. Those present when this happened were so impressed they wanted to come and take him by force and make him their king. Jesus would have none of it. It would be a blood thirsty crowd and mocking Roman soldiers who would declare him king not this admiring crowd of people.
To feed thousands with five barley loaves and two fish and have plenty left over was an astounding feat but as St. Augustine points out, God’s governing of the entire universe is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand men and women, yet we don’t marvel at that. People marvel, we marvel at the feeding of the five thousand not because this miracle is greater, but because it is out of the ordinary.’
When you stop to think of it, this is true.
Every day of life we are surrounded by miracles, the wonders of creation. Augustine goes on to say,’ God is not the kind of being that can be seen with the eyes, and small account is taken of the miracles by which he rules the entire universe and governs all creation because they recur so regularly. Scarcely anyone bothers to consider God’s marvelous, his amazing artistry in every tiny seed or in the countless galaxies that stretch beyond our sight. Isn’t this true, we take these marvel for granted.
People who hold cheap what they see every day are dumbfounded at the sight of extraordinary works even though they are no more wonderful than the others.
We take for granted the wonders of nature, the abundant life that is in the seas. We take for granted that earth is blanketed with so great a variety of trees and vegetation of every kind. We take for granted the awesome and majestic mountain ranges that are the spines of earth. We take for granted the abundant crops that feed us. We take for granted the innumerable variations of flora and fauna that blanket earth. We take for granted the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. We hold cheap what we see every day, the miracle, the beauty, the wonder and the abundance of God’s good creation and we are stunned by the story of the feeding of the five thousand and other miracles done by Jesus.
In his letter to all people of good will Pope Francis calls all people to consider how we are treating the miracles that surround us. He says, ‘If we approach nature and the environment without this sense of awe and wonder, in other words if we are more impressed with the feeding of the multitude than we are with the miracle of creation, if we no longer speak the language of kinship and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on our immediate needs. That’s where we are right now. We see the gifts of nature as ours, to be used as if they were limitless.
What we need to do is to develop a sense of kinship with the wonders of creation, the bounty of creation, the miracles of nature that surround us then we will come to take better care of the gifts of nature. But on the other hand, if we feel intimately united with all that exists and all the miracles of nature that surround us, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. We will have greater respect for Mother Earth and her miracles.
On Christ’s feeding the multitude we might listen to these words of Pope Francis;
Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. Consumerism has led us to become used to an excess and daily waste of food, to which, at times, we are no longer able to give a just value, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters. We should all remember, however, that the food we throw away is as if stolen from the table of the poor, the hungry! I encourage everyone to reflect on the problem of thrown away and wasted food to identify ways and means that, by seriously addressing this issue, are a vehicle of solidarity and sharing with the needy.
Maybe we can take another look at the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand and another look at the awesome miracle we see every day from sunrise to sunset.
Founded by St. Paul of the Cross, every Passionist takes a special vow to spend his or her energies in promoting remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus, the memory of the Cross, and reflection of the meaning of the Cross for the world.