Away on Missions

Just like Andy in the picture, Creatio Missions is ready to get its hands dirty again. I will be away on a mission to Brazil until late August, so sparse posts until then. For now, enjoy the last video from Onebillionstories on the last Peru missionary interview and a picture of how service can bring true joy. En-joy!

Religion and the Euro

Here is an interesting article from the BBC on the religious fault lines along which the Euro and European crisis are being debated. Some of this has been mentioned here, here and here. Below an excerpt:

Discussion among eurozone leaders about the future of their single currency has become an increasingly divisive affair. On the surface, religion has nothing to do with it – but could Protestant and Catholic leaders have deep-seated instincts that lead them to pull the eurozone in different directions, until it breaks?

Following the last European summit in Brussels there was much talk of defeat for Chancellor Merkel by what was described as a “new Latin Alliance” of Italy and Spain backed by France.

Many Germans protested that too much had been conceded by their government – and it might not be too far-fetched to see this as just the latest Protestant criticism of the Latin approach to matters monetary, which has deep roots in German culture, shaped by religious belief.

Churchgoing has been in decline in Germany as elsewhere as secularisation has spread, but religious ideas still shape the way Germans talk and think about money. The German word for debt – schuld – is the same as the word for “guilt” or “sin”.


Families that make an (environmental) difference

Below a text from Pope Benedict XVI delivered in Milan for the 7th World Meeting of Families. The core of his speech centered on holiness and family life, and the challenges for modern faithful families. But certainly, among the benefits of a united, holy and prayerful family was the improvement of the environment. Since every human person is born from communion into a family, dependent on others, families affect us all. The environmental impacts of how families live their lives on a daily basis can be immense. A utilitarian mentality on the other hand, that can guide family life, can bring among other things the degradation of the environment. Finally, the Pope also stressed the importance of the Sunday as the Lord’s day, which can be a day of “closeness to nature” – a great sign of the reciprocity spoken of in another address on the environment.

“In the Book of Genesis, God entrusts his creation to the human couple for them to guard it, cultivate it, and direct it according to his plan (cf. 1:27-28; 2:15). In this indication of Sacred Scripture we may recognize the task of man and woman to collaborate with God in the process of transforming the world through work, science and technology. Man and woman are also the image of God in this important work, which they are to carry out with the Creator’s own love. In modern economic theories, there is often a utilitarian concept of work, production and the market. Yet God’s plan, as well as experience, show that the one-sided logic of sheer utility and maximum profit are not conducive to harmonious development, to the good of the family or to building a just society, because it brings in its wake ferocious competition, strong inequalities, degradation of the environment, the race for consumer goods, family tensions. Indeed, the utilitarian mentality tends to take its toll on personal and family relationships, reducing them to a fragile convergence of individual interests and undermining the solidity of the social fabric.

One final point: man, as the image of God, is also called to rest and to celebrate. The account of creation concludes with these words: “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it” (Gen 2:2-3). For us Christians, the feast day is Sunday, the Lord’s day, the weekly Easter. It is the day of the Church, the assembly convened by the Lord around the table of the word and of the eucharistic Sacrifice, just as we are doing today, in order to feed on him, to enter into his love and to live by his love. It is the day of man and his values: conviviality, friendship, solidarity, culture, closeness to nature, play, sport. It is the day of the family, on which to experience together a sense of celebration, encounter, sharing, not least through taking part in Mass. Dear families, despite the relentless rhythms of the modern world, do not lose a sense of the Lord’s Day! It is like an oasis in which to pause, so as to taste the joy of encounter and to quench our thirst for God.

For the same event the Pope had a question and answer session with families from all over the world, touching on subjects such as technology, economy, commitment, hope and the  stresses of daily life. One beautiful response came to the question of fidelity and commitment to each other – an answer that can be applied to our environmental responsibility as well -it must mature into a new wine.

falling in love is a wonderful thing, but perhaps it does not always last for ever: it is a feeling which does not remain indefinitely. So it is clear that the progression from falling in love to engagement and then to marriage requires a number of decisions, interior experiences. As I said, this loving sentiment is a wonderful thing, but it has to be purified, it has to undergo a process of discernment, that is, reason and will have to come into it. Reason, sentiment and will have to come together. In the Rite of Marriage, the Church does not say: “Are you in love?” but “Do you wish?” “Have you decided?” In other words, falling in love has to become true love by involving the will and the reason in a deeper journey of purification which is the journey of engagement, such that the whole person, with all his or her faculties, with the discernment of reason and strength of will, says: “Yes, this is my life”. I often think of the wedding-feast of Cana. The first wine is very fine: this is falling in love. But it does not last until the end: a second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature. The definitive love that can truly become this “second wine” is more wonderful still, it is better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek. Here it is important that the “I” and the “you” are not alone, but that the parish community is also involved, the Church, the circle of friends. All this – the right degree of personal maturity, communion of life with others, with families who support one another – is very important, and only in this way, through this involvement of the community, friends, the Church, the faith, God himself, can a wine emerge that will last for ever. I wish you well!

“The Cross, the Book and the Plow”

These words are from Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter Pacis Nuntius” of 1964, where he proclaimed St. Benedict as the Patron of Europe. Among the great accomplishments of the monastic movement inspired by St. Benedict was an agricultural revolution moved by a deep spiritual renewal. Prayer and work went hand in hand, and human beings were integrated with their environment, living off their own production in communities of faith. Here Pope Paul VI words on the “plow” aspect:

It was principally he and his sons, who with the cross, the book and the plow, carried Christian progress to scattered peoples from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, from Ireland to the plains of Poland…

Lastly, it was with the plow, i.e., with the cultivation of the fields and with other similar initiatives, that he succeeded in transforming wastelands gone wild into fertile fields and gracious gardens; and by uniting prayer with manual labor, according to his famous motto “ora et labora”, he ennobled and elevated human work. Rightly, therefore, did Pius XII salute St. Benedict as the “father of Europe” (Cf. AAS loc. Mem.); for he inspired in the peoples of Europe that loving care of order and justice that forms the foundation of true society.

Key to this entire cultural revolution was the unity of Europe, forged by the plow, book and Cross. I have written on European unity here, here and here. On this aspect of unity Pope Benedict XVI spoke some words of the importance of music, and of symphony as a metaphor for world peace.

You can imagine how happy I am to receive an Orchestra such as this one, which was born from the conviction, more than that, from the experience that music unites persons, beyond any division; because music is harmony of differences, as happens every time that a concert begins with the “rite” of tuning. From the multiplicity of timbres of diverse instruments, a symphony can emerge. However, this does not happen magically or automatically! It is realized only thanks to the commitment of the Director  and of every individual musician. A patient, toilsome commitment that requires time and sacrifices, in an effort to listen to one another mutually, avoiding excessive prominence and fostering the best success of the whole.

While I express these thoughts, my mind turns to the great symphony of peace among peoples, which has never been altogether finished. My generation, as well as that of Maestro Barenboim’s parents, lived through the tragedy of World War II and the Shoa. And it is very significant that you, Maestro, after having reached the highest goals of a musician, wished to give life to a project such as the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra: a group in which Israeli, Palestinian and musicians of other Arab countries play together; persons of Jewish, Muslim and Christian religion.

listening to the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Also in this choice, in this approach we can see an interesting meaning for us. These two famous Symphonies express two aspects of life: drama and peace, man’s struggle against an adverse destiny and the cheering immersion in the bucolic environment.

Beethoven worked on these two works, in particular on their completion, almost contemporaneously. So much so that they were performed for the first time together – as this evening – in the memorable concert of December 22, 1808, at Vienna. The message I would like to draw today is this: To attain peace one must be committed, leaving violence and arms to one side, committed to personal and community conversion, with dialogue, with the patient search for possible understandings

Patron Saint of Rock Climbers

Here is some information of St. Bernard of Menton, patron Saint of Rock climbers. There are articles on spirituality and rock climbing here, here and here. I also love it how he has dogs around him, below a picture of my dog, Petrus, who could have been a good rescue dog, but is content chasing squirrels most of the time.

From the Martyrology:  At Novara, St. Bernard of Menton, confessor.  On Mount Jou in the Alps of Valais in Switzerland, he founded the famous monastery and hospice.  Pope Pius XI appointed him the heavenly patron not only of those who live in or travel across the Alps, but of all mountain climbers.

From Wikipedia: 
Since the most ancient times there has been a path across the Pennine Alps leading from the valley of Aosta to the Swiss canton of Valais. The traditional route of this pass is covered with perpetual snow from seven to eight feet deep, and drifts sometimes accumulate to the height of forty feet. Although the pass was extremely dangerous, especially in the springtime on account of avalanches, it was often used by French and German pilgrims on their way to Rome. For the convenience and protection of travelers St. Bernard founded a monastery  and hospice at the highest point of the pass, 8,000 feet above sea-level, in the year 962, whence the pass came to bear his name. A few years later he established another hospice on the Little St. Bernard Pass, a mountain saddle in the Graian Alps, 7,076 feet above sea-level. Both were placed in charge of Augustinian monks after pontifical approval had been obtained by Bernard during a visit to Rome.

In 1913 these hospices were renowned for the generous hospitality extended to all travelers over the Great and Little St. Bernard, so called in honor of the founder of these charitable institutions. At all seasons of the year, but especially during heavy snow-storms, the heroic monks accompanied by their well-trained dogs, the common herding dogs of the Valais (St Bernards are attested from the 17th century), went out in search of victims who might have succumbed to t

he severity of the weather. They offered food, clothing, and shelter to the unfortunate travelers and took care of the dead. They depended on gifts and collections for sustenance. At this time the order consisted of about forty members, the majority of whom lived at the hospice while some had charge of neighboring parishes.

The last act of St. Bernard’s life was the reconciliation of two noblemen whose strife threatened a fatal outcome. He was interred in the cloister of St. Lawrence. Although venerated from the 12th century in such places of northern Italy as Aosta, Novara and Brescia, he was not formally recognized as a saint until his canonization  by Innocent XI  in 1681. His feast is celebrated on 28 May. Pope Pius XI  confirmed Bernard as patron saint of the Alps in 1923. His image appears in the flag of some detachments of the Tyrolean Alpine Guard.

The Cardinal and the Atheist

Here is an excellent debate on TV between Cardinal Pell of Sydeny and renowned atheist Richard Dawkins. Inevitably much of the argument ends up on different views on creation and evolution and Cardinal Pell (who has approached environmental issues before) does a good job of defending the intelligence of the Catholic position and maintaining his composure.

Finally, speaking of composure there is a new booklet out by Cardinal Dolan “True Freedom”  accompanied by an article by John Allen Jr., which emphasizes the great composure and charisma with which Dolan engages the US media, public and Church in New York. In the concise ebook Dolan reaches out to a secular audience as well, tethering much of his appeal on natural law. This approach is very much in line with Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke to the US Bishops on this issue and emphasized this engagement with natural law. But we must also remember the Pope’s words to Habermas in their dialogue, where he explained how an underlying position tethered on evolutionism makes natural law blunt and ineffective.


Pope Benedict, Baptism and the Hunger Games

According to Pope Benedict XVI, the Hunger Games can be understood as a Baptismal journey. Well, that’s not entirely true, I do not know of the Pope mentioning the Hunger Games at any point and I would be surprised if he read the books or saw the movie but… there are some fascinating parallels between his most recent Lectio Divina teaching and the popular teen trilogy.

For those who don’t know much about the Hunger Games, read about it here and here. The author, Suzanne Collins, is openly Catholic though its hard to know how much it is a part of her life and narrative. But there are many interesting elements in the books that fit in with a Catholic world view and offer a platform to critically approach our modern world. Some of these are illustrated in Pope Benedict’s recent talk on Baptism which can be read in full here. 

The section of his teaching relevant to the Hunger Games begins when he reflects on the Sacrament of Baptism proper. He speaks about the materiality of Christianity (1), something mentioned before here and here. Then he moves on to the spiritual element of the word which opens the door to a critique of the World of satan and its characteristics  (2), so well depicted in the Hunger Games:

(1) Let us now take a look at the sacramental rite, so that we may understand even more precisely what Baptism is. This rite, like the rite of almost all the sacraments, is made up of two elements: matter — water — and the word. This is very important. Christianity is not something purely spiritual, something only subjective, emotional, of the will, of ideas; it is a cosmic reality. God is the Creator of all matter, matter enters Christianity, and it is only in this great context of matter and spirit together that we are Christians. It is therefore very important that matter be part of our faith, that the body be part of our faith; faith is not purely spiritual, but this is how God inserts us into the whole reality of the cosmos and transforms the cosmos, draws it to himself.Moreover with this material element — water — not only does a basic element of the cosmos enter, a fundamental matter created by God, but also the entire symbolism of religions, because in all religions water has something to say…

(2) The other element is the word. This word is presented in three elements: renunciations, promises and invocations… Let us begin with the first part: the renunciations. There are three and I shall take the second one first: “Do you reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?”. What is this glamour of evil?

In the early Church, and for centuries to come the words here were: “Dost thou … renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world?”, and we know today what was intended with these words: “the pomp of the devil”. Above all, the pomp of the devil meant the great bloody spectacles in which cruelty became amusement, in which killing men became something to be watched: a show, the life and death of a man. These bloody spectacles, this amusement of evil is the “pomp of the devil”, in which he appears with seeming beauty but in fact, with all his cruelty. However, beyond this immediate meaning of the phrase “pomp of the devil”, there was a wish to speak of a type of culture, a way of life, in which it is not truth but appearances that count; truth is not sought but effect, sensation. And, under the pretext of truth, men were actually destroyed, there was a desire to destroy and people wished to create themselves alone as victorious.

This renunciation was therefore very real: it was the rejection of a type of culture that is an anti-culture, against Christ and against God. The option was against a culture that, in St John’s Gospel is called “kosmos houtos”, “this world”. With “this world”, John and Jesus are not of course referring to God’s creation or to man as such, but to a certain creature that is dominant and imposes itself as if this were the world, and as if this were the way of life imposed.

The connection with the Hunger Games now becomes clear. The very title of the book makes reference to bloody spectacles that become amusement to a degenerate culture. Suzanne Collins attributes part of the inspiration to the novel to a moment when she was zapping  through TV channels that showed reality shows and war as a form of entertainment. The Hunger Games were born at this moment. This is the kind of world we are living in, full of the “pomp of the devil”. And this is the world to which the heroine, Katniss Everdeen reacts to with a violent zeal, a reaction proper to someone ‘baptized to the new life’. The condition of this world is unacceptable and should resisted and reacted against. Katniss says “no” to this wold of appearances and evil. She desires the truth.

I now leave each one of you to reflect on this “pomp of the devil” on this culture to which we say “no”. In fact, being baptized means, essentially, being emancipated, being freed from this culture. Today too we know a type of culture in which truth does not count; even if apparently people wish to have the whole truth appear, only the sensation counts, and the spirit of calumny and destruction. It is a culture that does not seek goodness, whose moralism is in reality a mask to confuse people, to create confusion and destruction. We say “no” to this culture, in which falsehood is presented in the guise of truth and information, against this culture that seeks only well-being and denies God. Moreover, from so many Psalms we are familiar with this opposition of a culture which seems untouchable by all the evils of the world, puts self above everyone, above God, whereas it is in fact a culture of evil, a dominion of evil.

Thus the decision of Baptism, of this part of the catechumenal journey which lasts throughout our life, is precisely this “no”, said and acted upon again and again every day, even with sacrifices that are the price of opposing the culture prevalent in many places, even though it is imposed as if it were the world, this world. It is not true. And there are also many people who really desire the truth.

Finally a word on the pessimism of the Hunger Games, perhaps a fall away from its apparently baptismal and Catholic storyline. The final book of the trilogy concludes with a strong pessimistic undertone, with doubts about whether living in this world (the world of Katniss) is really worth it. The hard earned freedom comes with a cost, filled with the scars of battle. The Pope has perhaps a different finale, which also touches on the fundamental question of freedom, but which is illuminated by the realism of hope which comes from the Truth. The issue is posed with a question by the Pope, about whether it is just to baptize a child:

“But can we impose on an infant the religion he should or not live? Shouldn’t we leave this decision to the child?”. These questions show that we no longer see the new life, the true life in the Christian faith but we see a choice among others, even a burden that should not be imposed on an individual without his or her consent. The reality is different. Life itself is given to us without our being able to choose whether or not we wish to live; no one is asked “do you want to be born or not?”. Life itself necessarily comes to us without our previous consent, it is thus given to us and we cannot decide in advance “‘yes’ or ‘no’, I want or I do not want to live”. And, in reality, the real question is: “Is it right to give life in this world without having received an assent — do you want to live or not? Can one really anticipate life, give life without the individual having had the possibility to decide?”.

I would say: it is possible and right only if, with life, we can also guarantee that life, with all the problems of the world, is good, that it is good to live, that there is a guarantee that this life be good, be protected by God and be a real gift. Only the anticipation of its meaning justifies the anticipation of life. And because of this Baptism as a guarantee of God’s goodness, as an anticipation of the meaning, of the “yes” of God who protects this life, also justifies the anticipation of life. Hence, the Baptism of children is not against freedom; it is truly necessary to give it in order to justify the gift of life — that would otherwise be questionable. Only the life that is in God’s hands, in Christ’s hands, immersed in the name of the Trinitarian God, is certainly a good that can be given without scruples. Thus we are grateful to God who has given us this gift, who has given us himself. And our challenge is to live this gift, to really live, in a post-baptismal journey, the renunciations of the “yes”, to live always in the great “yes” of God, and so to live well. Thank you.

No Pope Benedict, thank you.

Bee Hope

Since the St. Malo fire and my house burning down, one of the few things left was the bee hive. Unfortunately the bee’s did not survive the cold winter, but I haven’t given up yet. Now my hive is being cared for by my friend Laurent, and I can’t wait to see how it is doing. Laurent is working on a project for his sociology graduate study at CU Boulder on the bee hive colony collapse. I hope this hive is the outlier in his research.

Here are some pics, hopefully the next one’s are filled with honey. Thanks Laurent and Christine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Creatio Missions 2012

I have just recently returned from missions this summer in Peru. I will be able to post until the rest of this month, until the next mission in Brazil in August. There were 2 missions this summer:

1. CU Boulder Environmental Solidarity Trip. This trip consisted of 18 students from CU Boulder who worked in the shanty towns of Lima to build a park and a set of cement steps to reach newly built homes. A great summary is given in this video below by Patty and Meghan, two of the trips participants, who also share about their faith experience.

2. Catholic Mission to Ayaviri. This trip was a smaller, all men trip to a remote location on the Peruvian Altiplano. Pichacani describes a vast rural area with about 30-50 families, and we were based at the school which receives children who need to walk up to 3hr a day or even ride horses to arrive from home to their isolated homes. Our project consisted in catehcesis and faith formation for kids and adults, as well as assisting in installing irrigation systems and electricity to the school. Below some pics.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.