Creation’s place in the New Evangelization

Today concludes the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. This has been the theme in the Church’s heart for the past few weeks. I’d like to draw out the aspects relevant to creation and nature within this broader theme. To start, I’d like to begin with Pope Benedict’s thought on the New Evangelization expressed in his final homily:

This interpretation, that Bartimaeus was a man who had fallen from a condition of “great prosperity”, causes us to think.  It invites us to reflect on the fact that our lives contain precious riches that we can lose, and I am not speaking of material riches here.  From this perspective, Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized long ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives.  These people have therefore lost a precious treasure, they have “fallen” from a lofty dignity – not financially or in terms of earthly power, but in a Christian sense – their lives have lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence.  They are the many in need of a new evangelization, that is, a new encounter with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Mk 1:1), who can open their eyes afresh and teach them the path.  It is significant that the liturgy puts the Gospel of Bartimaeus before us today, as we conclude the Synodal Assembly on the New Evangelization.  This biblical passage has something particular to say to us as we grapple with the urgent need to proclaim Christ anew in places where the light of faith has been weakened, in places where the fire of God is more like smoldering cinders, crying out to be stirred up, so that they can become a living flame that gives light and heat to the whole house.

This reflection by the Pope expresses the centrality of Jesus, expressed in these final words: “New evangelizers are like that: people who have had the experience of being healed by God, through Jesus Christ.”.  This experience in turn leads to an attitude and a “path of pastoral creativity”. One of these creative avenues is perhaps the environment and the interest in nature. In fact, the opening words of the Pope for the Synod, were filled with natures metaphors.

In fact, the Pope’s initial word’s set the tone for the official document of the Synod Fathers to the People of God. The logic of this document is excellent, beginning with the need to begin with a personal encounter with Jesus. Here was an important reference to reconciliation. Then, two aspects were highlighted as important signs of the New Evangelization: service to the poor and contemplation, the latter having close ties to nature and environment as seen here and here. Finally, there was an important role attributed to science, art and the economy, all in relation to creation:

A particular field of the encounter between faith and reason today is the dialogue with scientific knowledge. This is not at all far from faith, since it manifests the spiritual principle that God placed in his creatures. It allows us to see the rational structures on which creation is founded. When science and technology do not presume to imprison humanity and the world in a barren materialism, they become an invaluable ally in making life more humane. Our thanks also go to those who are involved in this sensitive field of knowledge.
We also want to thank men and women involved in another expression of the human genius, art in its various forms, from the most ancient to the most recent. We recognize in works of art a particularly meaningful way of expressing spirituality inasmuch as they strive to embody humanity’s attraction to beauty. We are grateful when artists through their beautiful creations bring out the beauty of God’s face and that of his creatures. The way of beauty is a particularly effective path of the new evangelization.In addition to works of art, all of human activity draws our attention as an opportunity in which we cooperate in divine creation through work. We want to remind the world of economy and of labor of some matters arising from the Gospel: to redeem work from the conditions that often make it an unbearable burden and an uncertain future threatened by youth unemployment, to place the human person at the center of economic development, to think of this development as an occasion for humanity to grow in justice and unity. Humanity transforms the world through work. Nevertheless we are called to safeguard the integrity of creation out of a sense of responsibility towards future generations.

Biblical Adventures: The Grain of Wheat

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Creatio has begun a new series of spiritual activities called Biblical Adventures. The central idea is to participate in outdoor activities that are used in the Bible to illustrate a spiritual reality. Some examples are vine dressing, fishing, shepherding, farming, harvesting wheat, etc. By actually participating in these activities, we can get some deeper insight and understand nuances of what was meant in the spiritual sense as well.  Especially today, in a technological and fast paced world, many people may have never experienced or even understand well what it means to fish, shepherd, farm or harvest. The goal of Biblical Adventures is to learn about these realities, and then apply our hands on knowledge to deepen on the understanding of Scripture.

The first activity was held last Saturday, Oct. 20 at Jacob Springs Farm. Christian farmer Andre Houssney, generously shared his knowledge, time and wheat to show us traditional harvesting, threshing, winnowing and grinding methods, similar to what Jesus knew in his time. All participants had a chance to experience these activities, which are often much harder than they look. We also learned about wheat biology, farming seasons and rhythms and Andre shared his experience as a farmer and historical/biblical knowledge on wheat farming. At the end we baked some unleavened bread (foccacia style), ate and shared. The activity was concluded with a Lectio Divina prayer.

Backpacking and Faith

Today Pope Benedict XVI officially proclaimed the beggining of the year of faith with an inaugural Mass and a private note with reflections on Vatican II. During the Mass the Pope spoke about the importance of faith, in continuum with Vatican II and the teachings of the most recent Pope’s since then. IN concluding his homily he used an important metaphor drawn from the Book of Sirach, but also applied to our times: the traveller, or perhaps today the backpacker. The Pope says that the number of people who embark on journeys, such as The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, has increased and asks the rhetorical question of whether it is an expression of an intuition of knowing that we journey in this world, that we search for meaning and faith. (I have posted on related matters here and here). Below his own words and the Mass Reading:

 The first reading spoke to us of the wisdom of the wayfarer (cf. Sir 34:9-13): the journey is a metaphor for life, and the wise wayfarer is one who has learned the art of living, and can share it with his brethren – as happens to pilgrims along the Way of Saint James or similar routes which, not by chance, have again become popular in recent years. How come so many people today feel the need to make these journeys? Is it not because they find there, or at least intuit, the meaning of our existence in the world? This, then, is how we can picture the Year of Faith: a pilgrimage in the deserts of today’s world, taking with us only what is necessary: neither staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, nor two tunics – as the Lord said to those he was sending out on mission (cf. Lk 9:3), but the Gospel and the faith of the Church, of which the Council documents are a luminous expression, as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published twenty years ago.

A reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus

A much travelled man knows many things,
and a man of great experience will talk sound sense.

Someone who has never had his trials knows little; but the travelled man is master of every situation.

I have seen many things on my travels,
I have understood more than I can put into words.

I have often been in anger of death,
but I have been spared, and this is why:

the spirit of those who fear the Lord can survive,
for their hope is in someone with power to save them.

The man who fears the Lord will not be fainthearted, will not be daunted since the Lord is his hope.

Happy the soul of the man who fears the Lord. On whom does he rely? Who supports him?

34, 9-20

The eyes of the Lord watch over those who love him,
he is their powerful protection and their strong support,
their screen from the desert wind, their shelter from the midday sun, A guard against stumbling, an assurance against a fall.

He revives the spirit and brightens the eyes, he gives healing, life and blessing.

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Verbum Domi- ni. C. De- o gra- ti- as.

But there is also another important environmental parallel drawn by the Pope to explain the current state of our times: the desert. Pope Benedict XVI explains that the loss of faith which Pope John XXIII foresaw when he convoked the COuncil in 1962 is what we are living today in a world which is a spiritual desert, barren and empty:

If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honor an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago! And the reply to be given to this need is the one desired by the Popes, by the Council Fathers and contained in its documents. Even the initiative to create a Pontifical Council for the promotion of the new evangelization, which I thank for its special effort for the Year of Faith, is to be understood in this context. Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path.

This aspect was echoed in the Pope’s notes describing his interpretation of Vatican II. Of special mention to the crisis of faith in the modern world, are the themes of religious liberty, which is urgently under attack in America today and the relationship of Christianity with other religions, and especially Judaism. Here there is a specific recognition of the contribution of American bishops which speaks to the urgency of this question lived in the USA.

The Church, which during the Baroque era was still, in a broad sense, shaping the world, had from the nineteenth century onwards visibly entered into a negative relationship with the modern era, which had only then properly begun. Did it have to remain so? Could the Church not take a positive step into the new era? Behind the vague expression “today’s world” lies the question of the relationship with the modern era. To clarify this, it would have been necessary to define more clearly the essential features that constitute the modern era. “Schema XIII” did not succeed in doing this. Although the Pastoral Constitution expressed many important elements for an understanding of the “world” and made significant contributions to the question of Christian ethics, it failed to offer substantial clarification on this point.

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Does the Local Movement help Farmers?

Trey Malone, who has posted on this blog before here, along with Prof. Whitaker, has an interesting article examining the economic benefits of the ‘local’ food movement. You can read the full article here. Essentially the article shows how the “local food movement” is an urban phenomenon that benefits small farms close to urban and affluent areas. There can be negative consequences to this as Malone and Whitaker show. The article contains some great illustrations by the authors. Below some of the maps and highlights of the article:

The patterns suggested by the maps above support the conclusion of a 2010 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack from a group of U.S. senators, including Pat Roberts from Kansas (2010), about government investment in local food initiatives. The senators wrote, “This spending doesn’t appear geared toward conventional farmers who produce the vast majority of our nation’s food supply, but is instead aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers’ markets.”

Policymakers and the media have increased their support of the “Buy Local” movement, often alongside claims of rural economic development.  Various fiscal policies have been written to promote a return to local food systems.  However, this strategy could prove to be catastrophic for already stressed rural communities if it increases food costs and impairs rural areas’ potential to trade.  “Buy Local” policies may, in fact, be redistributing money to higher income locales


Generally, in counties where high percentages of Community Supported Agriculture or direct-to-human consumption exist, residents have higher incomes and population density is also high. In other words, the farms that enjoy high levels of support from their local populations are not typically located in more rural parts of the country.

This is the other face of “buy local” policies. Certainly, many people who indeed purchase from local farmers want to support small inefficient farms rather than large government funded commercial farms. But perhaps they are unaware, or willing to turn a blind eye, to the possibility that this may be less efficient and worse for the environment. A further study should look at the environmental benefits and losses of commercial and small scale farms. Other article on food can be seen here, here and here.

Reconciliation Lessons from the Middle East

Though a few weeks have passed since Pope Benedict’s visit to the Middle East in the midst of the violent demonstrations, the weight and wisdom of the words remain. The Pope proclaimed the document “Ecclesia en Medio Oriente” in Lebanon during his visit and below a few of the highlights. One central theme of course was reconciliation and peace of course. Reconciliation, which as a theological approach informs a rich Catholic response to environmental problems. The Pope emphasized how the Church itself becomes a sacrament of this reconciliation which God brings. And in this sense, a fruit of reconciliation is peace (and here), which in its deep sense means the restoration of holiness:

9. For the sacred Scriptures, peace is not simply a pact or a treaty which ensures a tranquil life, nor can its definition be reduced to the mere absence of war. According to its Hebrew etymology, peace means being complete and intact, restored to wholeness. It is the state of those who live in harmony with God and with themselves, with others and with nature. Before appearing outwardly, peace is interior. It is blessing. It is the yearning for a reality. Peace is something so desirable that it has become a greeting in the Middle East (cf. Jn 20:19;1 Pet 5:14). Peace is justice (cf. Is 32:17); Saint James in his Letter adds that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (3:18). The struggle of the Prophets and the reflections of the Wisdom authors were inspired by the hope of eschatological peace. It is towards this authentic peace in God that Christ leads us. He alone is its gate (Jn 10:9). This is the sole gate that Christians wish to enter.

The Pope also engaged topics which concerned politics and secularizations. He echoed calls to a healthy secularity, something mentioned before in reference to the Middle East. Also he touched on issues of fundamentalism, and the pathology of religion that this phenomenon expresses. This theme is recurrent in Ratzinger and something he engaged Habermas with in their famous dialogue here, here and here. He weaves these themes into the current experience of the Middle East and concludes with reconciliation.

Two new realities

29. Like the rest of the world, the Middle East is experiencing two opposing trends: secularization, with its occasionally extreme consequences, and a violent fundamentalism claiming to be based on religion. Some Middle Eastern political and religious leaders, whatever their community, tend to look with suspicion upon secularity (laïcité) as something intrinsically atheistic or immoral. It is true that secularity sometimes reduces religion to a purely private concern, seeing personal or family worship as unrelated to daily life, ethics or one’s relationships with others. In its extreme and ideological form, secularity becomes a secularism which denies citizens the right openly to express their religion and claims that only the State can legislate on the public form which religion may take. These theories are not new. Nor are they confined to the West or to be confused with Christianity.

A healthy secularity, on the other hand, frees religion from the encumbrance of politics, and allows politics to be enriched by the contribution of religion, while maintaining the necessary distance, clear distinction and indispensable collaboration between the two spheres. No society can develop in a healthy way without embodying a spirit of mutual respect between politics and religion, avoiding the constant temptation either to merge the two or to set them at odds. The basis of a constructive relationship between politics and religion is, first and foremost, human nature – a sound understanding of man – and full respect for inalienable human rights. A sense of this correct relationship should lead to the realization that relations between the spiritual (religious) and the temporal (political) spheres should be marked by a kind of unity in distinction, inasmuch as both are called, while remaining distinct, to cooperate harmoniously in the service of the common good. This kind of healthy secularity ensures that political activity does not manipulate religion, while the practice of religion remains free from a politics of self-interest which at times is barely compatible with, if not downright contrary to, religious belief. For this reason, a healthy secularity, embodying unity in distinction, is necessary and even vital for both spheres. The challenges raised by the relationship of politics and religion can be met patiently and courageously through a sound human and religious formation. Constant emphasis needs to be put on the place of God in personal, family and civic life, and on the proper place of men and women in God’s plan. Above all, greater prayer is required for this intention.

30. Economic and political instability, a readiness on the part of some to manipulate others, and a defective understanding of religion help open the door to religious fundamentalism. This phenomenon afflicts all religious communities, and denies their long-standing tradition of coexistence. It wants to gain power, at times violently, over individual consciences, and over religion itself, for political reasons. I appeal urgently to all Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in the region to seek, by their example and by their teaching, to do everything in their power to eliminate this menace which indiscriminately and fatally affects believers of all religions. “To use the revealed word, the Sacred Scriptures or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault”.[23]

When she proclaims Christ crucified and risen (cf. Acts 2:23-24), the Church becomes ever more fully what she is already by nature and vocation: the sacrament of communion and reconciliation with God and between men.[66] Communion and witness to Christ are thus two aspects of a single reality: both draw from the same source, the Holy Trinity, and rest on the same foundations: the word of God and the sacraments.