Reaffirmation Ritual Reflections

Reaffirmation Ritual Reflections

Erie is at its best time of year: summer. This year one of our doe had a baby fawn, a red fox ambles through the property every once in a while, we have an uncountable number of geese, chipmunks, rabbits and—according to an avid bird-watcher who visited us recently‒a more than credible number of birds and water fowl including visiting bald eagles from Presque Isle.

All of this is a lead-in to my reflections today, as I want to talk with you about what “everyone is talking about” ‒at least in the Catholic Church‒our natural world and our concerns for it, especially from the viewpoint of Pope Francis and his recent encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Praised Be”) that was published in late June. The title comes from the opening words of St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures.”

What caused most of the stir, of course, is that such a visible and high-profile religious leader was writing an entire encyclical on the environment, an issue more commonly discussed in the scientific and civic world than in the churches.

Jesuit Fr. James Martin, the popular author and editor-at-large of the magazine, America shared his views on the Pope’s reflections in a recent issue. His title was: “Top Ten Takeaways from Laudato Si’.” I would like to share with you four of his choices and make the point that as Benedictines, and as people of faith, we should applaud this choice of topic by Pope Francis, pay attention to it and be challenged by it.

Father Martin believes that the primary contribution that Pope Francis made by releasing this encyclical on the environment is that through it “the language of faith has become part of the discussion” that has up to now been only in the arenas of politics, science and economics. Since creation stories and the valuing of all of creation itself are significant parts of most faith traditions, it seems only fitting that people of faith should come to this issue through and with their faith traditions.

Secondly, the Pope fearlessly takes on technology and consumerism, not as problems in themselves, but as potential major difficulties in their extreme, as they then lose their concern for the earth and humanity by excessive desires for advancement and profit with little heed to the side effects of such heedless, uncontrolled and ignorant growth. We are called to an approach to ecology that respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one created family.

Third: Pointing to his own namesake, Francis of Assisi, who preached the interconnectedness of nature, concern for the poor among us, and a dedication to internal peace, Laudato Si’ addresses not a single issue, but proposes a more systemic approach: a caring for creation, certainly, but the connection that this care has with all the other areas of life—especially the production and consumption of goods by some of us and their effects, especially on the poor and the environment of our planet.

The fourth “takeaway” that Father Martin listed was a possible solution that the Pope presents: global dialogue and solidarity. Within the encyclical, he references Bishops’ conferences throughout the world that have addressed the issues of climate control and care for the environment; he brings in non-Catholic faith leaders and faith traditions as a confirmation that this is indeed a subject of global concern and importance. With a simple yet profound wisdom he proposes that there is no one simple answer that will work for all aspects or for all geographic regions. Although it is a worldwide issue, it needs attention by the world community, in tune with local conditions, which can vary greatly throughout the world.

In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvements: waters have been cleaned; woodlands have been restored; landscapes have been beautified; advances have been made in the production of renewable energy. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out. We can redirect our steps. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together, for we know that things can change. The bottom line, as Fr. Martin concludes, is that the Pope is calling for “conversion,” a change of heart, a new way of thinking and making decisions; a shifting of priorities and care.

Terrence Kardong, an American Benedictine scholar, notes that: “an in-depth reading of the Rule of Benedict reveals themes that can provide an ethical foundation for thinking about environmental stewardship.” One of those in-depth areas is from the vow of stability that all Benedictine women and men profess. We know that this vow is a commitment to a specific geographic place and to a specific group of people—the monastic community, of course, and the local community that surrounds the monastery.

Abbot John Klassen recently wrote that our vow of stability connects directly to environmental stewardship because as we live, care for, and explore the place which we call home, we develop a love for it and therefore a strong need and desire for environmental concern and care for everyone and everything within “our world”‒both local and universal. He continued to note that “as Benedictine monastics we want to be people who stay in a place long enough that the spirits can influence us."

We come to know very well the delicate balance that exists between all of the systems that we live among, and we realize that in all of the decisions we make, we must be aware and take into account all of the systems which will be affected‒not only in the immediate but for the future, also. Throughout the centuries we have had a similar message: “to live simply so that others may simply live,” to care for others and to use our authority to promote change that will benefit all of creation.

In the Gospel of Mark today, Jesus sends the twelve disciples out on mission. They are instructed to not take with them or to rely on “things.” How different and very difficult that is for us who live today in a culture of “many things.” Instead, the gospel message of Jesus asks us over and over to place our trust in spiritual things and values that are far beyond the tangible.

The disciples, although carrying little, are given great power, even “authority over the unclean spirits” and the mandate to proclaim that all should repent. Repentance changes behavior; repentance heals and makes us whole again. The unclean spirits of our times that we are called to address include the injustices outlined in Pope Francis’s encyclical. It is our responsibility as Christians, as followers of Christ, to proclaim the gospel message whether is it welcomed or refused. It is an awesome thought that Jesus entrusts his mission to us.

When we make the choice to make life better for everyone and grow in our understanding that we are only one part of the created world, yet blessed by our Creator, who made all things for good, we embrace fully our call to do all that we can to bring the fullness and beauty of that creation into being.

“We require a new and universal solidarity,” the bishops of southern Africa have stated. “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.” They continued, “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experiences, involvements and talents.” (Origins, June 25, 2015)

Let us embrace Pope Francis’s call for “conversion”; a call that will lead us to a new justice, to a new heart, a heart that values and cherishes all people, all of creation‒a creation that our God has so generously brought into being and entrusted to our love and care.

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.