Tag Archives: Environment

Waters of the Jordan and the Sea

The land where Jesus lived spoke to him and inspired so many of the parables he taught. Did the water speak to him too? Jesus went into the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized Mark’s Gospel says, and he heard his Father’s voice and the Spirit rested on him. His ministry continued around the Sea of Galilee. The towns he visited were there; he taught on its shores. He traveled its waters and encountered its storms. He called disciples there.

Pilgrims today still look quietly on those waters when they visit this holy place. From the mountains above, the Sea of Galilee becomes a stage for gospel stories heard before. The waters of the Jordan flowing into it and out on their way to the Dead Sea remind them how realistic the mysteries of faith are. Fishermen, along with cormorants and herons, still fish the waters. At night, a stillness centuries old, takes over.

.Jesus began his ministry here. This land and its waters spoke to him.

The Jordan River figures in many of scriptures’ sacred stories and it’s still vital to this land today. It winds almost 200 miles from its sources at the base of the Golan mountains in the north into the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea in the south. The direct distance from one end to the other is only about 60 miles. The river falls almost 3,000 feet on its way to the Dead Sea,.

The Jordan is sacred to Jews from the time they miraculously crossed it on their way to the Promised Land. The great Jewish prophet Elijah came from a town near the river’s banks. Later he found safety from his enemies there.

Elijah’s successor, the Prophet Elisha, also from the Jordan area, told Naaman a Syrian general to bathe in the river to be cured of his leprosy, and he was cured. Ancient hot springs near Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee fostered the river’s curative reputation then. They’re still used today.

At the time of Jesus, the river’s fresh flowing waters were the life-blood of the land, making the Sea of Galilee teem with fish and the plains along its banks fertile for agriculture. Pilgrims from Galilee were guided by the Jordan on their way to Jericho and then to Jerusalem and its temple.

The Jordan Today

The river is still essential to the region. Lake Kineret, as the Israelis call the Sea of Galilee, is the primary source of drinking water for the region and crucial for its agriculture. The use of water from the Jordan is a major point of controversy between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

cf: “The Disputed Waters of the Jordan” by C. G. Smith Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers No. 40 (Dec., 1966), pp. 111-128 Oxford, England.

Nourishing Prophets

The Jordan nourished prophets in the past.  Somewhere near Jericho where people forded the river John the Baptist preached to and baptized pilgrims going to the Holy City. The place where John baptized was hardly a desert as we think of it. It was a deserted place that offered sufficient food for survival, like the “ grass-hoppers and wild honey” John ate, but this uncultivated place taught you to depend on what God provided.

Jesus taught this too. “I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Mt 6, 25 ff) The desert was a place to put worry aside and trust in the goodness of God.

When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, he acknowledged his heavenly Father as the ultimate Source of Life, the creator of all things. Water, as it always is,  was a holy sign of life.  Like the prophets Elijah and John the Baptist, Jesus remained in this wilderness near the water for forty days to prepare for his divine mission. He readied himself to depend on God for everything.

The Jordan after Jesus

Later, when the Roman empire turned Christian in the 4th century, Christians came to the Jordan River in great numbers on Easter and on the Feast of the Epiphany to remember the One who was baptized there. They went into the sacred waters, and many took some of it home in small containers.

Early Christian pilgrims like Egeria, a nun from Gaul who came to the Holy Land around the year 415 AD, left an account of her visit to the Jordan where she looked for the place of Jesus’ baptism.  Monks who had already settled near the river brought her to a place called Salim, near Jericho. The town, associated with the priest Melchisedech, was surrounded by fertile land which had a revered spring that flowed into the Jordan close by. Here’s how she described it:

“We came to a very beautiful fruit orchard, in the center of which the priest showed us a spring of the very purest and best water, which gives rise to a real stream. In front of the spring there is a sort of pool where it seems that St. John the Baptist administered baptism. Then the saintly priest said to us: ‘To this day this garden is known as the garden of St. John.’ There are many other brothers, holy monks coming from various places, who come to wash in that spring.

“The saintly priest also told us that even today all those who are to be baptized in this village, that is in the church of Melchisedech, are always baptized in this very spring at Easter; they return very early by candlelight with the clergy and the monks, singing psalms and antiphons; and all who have been baptized are led back early from the spring to the church of Melchisedech.” p 73

A 19th Century Pilgrim at the Jordan

Christians in great numbers have visited the Jordan River since Egeria. Towards the end of the 19th century, an English vicar, Cunningham Geikie, described  Christian pilgrims following the venerable tradition of visiting its waters.

“Holy water is traditionally carried away by ship masters visiting the river as pilgrims to sprinkle their ships before a voyage; and we are told that all pilgrims alike went into the water wearing a linen garment, which they sacredly preserved  as a winding sheet to be wrapped around them at their death.

“The scene of the yearly bathing of pilgrims now is near the ford, about two miles above the Dead Sea, each sect having its own particular spot, which it fondly believes to be exactly where our Savior was baptized…

“Each Easter Monday thousands of pilgrims start, in a great caravan, from Jerusalem, under the protection of the Turkish government; a white flag and loud music going before them, while Turkish soldiers, with the green standard of the prophet, close the long procession. On the Greek Easter Monday, the same spectacle is repeated, four or five thousand pilgrims joining in the second caravan. Formerly the numbers going to the Jordan each year was much greater, from fifteen to twenty thousand….”(Cunningham Geikie, The Holy Land and the Bible,Vol 2, New York, 1890 pp 404-405)

The Jordan and Christian Baptism

Today, every Catholic parish church at its baptistery celebrates the mystery of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan as new believers receive new life and regular believers remember their own baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some eastern Christian churches prefer calling their baptisteries simply “the Jordan.”

Today the most authentic site of Jesus’ Baptism, according to archeologists, is in Jordanian territory at el-Maghtas, where a large church and pilgrim center has been built following excavations begun in 1996 by Jordanian archeologists. It is probably the  “Bethany beyond the Jordan” mentioned in the New Testament where Jesus was baptized and John the Baptist preached.

http://www.lpj.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=599%3Achurch-of-the-baptism-of-jesus-christ-maghtas-project-jordan&catid=81&Itemid=113&lang=en

The Jordan River offers a commentary on the mystery of death and resurrection of Jesus, expressed in his baptism.  At one end of the river is the Sea of Galilee brimming with life, and at the other end is the Dead Sea a symbol of death. The river holds these two realities together, and if we reverse its course we can see the gift God gives us through Jesus Christ.

Like him, we pass through the waters of baptism from death to life.

Do Your Job!

We celebrated the feast of Christ the King last Sunday. It’s hard to think of Christ as King in a world where kings are few. Most governments are governed by ordinary people, not kings. Royal families, where they exist, have mainly ceremonial roles.

Yet, Jesus Christ is king, and what’s more we share in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet and king. (Catholic Catechism 1546) We’re all priests, prophets and kings by our baptism. “We’re a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart,” (1 Peter 2,5)

How are we kings? Adam, our first parent, may suggest what kind of king we should be. There he is in the illustration from the Book of Genesis above, given kingly powers by God. In the garden, the symbol of the created world, he names the animals and is given care over God’s creation.

Psalms, like Psalm 8 (Saturday Morning, week 2), remind us that’s our role.
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
The moon and the stars that you arranged,
What are we that you keep us in mind,,
Mortal as we are that you care for us.

Yet you have made us little less than gods,
With glory and honor you crown us,
You have give us power over the works of your hand,
Put all things under our feet.”

Today’s lectionary readings from Daniel and Luke’s Gospel (Friday) can give the impression that the created world is going to be torn apart and discarded when God’s kingdom comes. But that’s not so. Creation itself awaits the promise of resurrection.

We have been given kingly care over creation. Let’s not forget it. We’re not here to save ourselves. The purpose of our life is not to escape from this world. We’re to care for creation and to make it ready for God’s kingdom.

We need to do our job.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Noah

Pope Francis, completing his encyclical Laudato Si. wrote: “All it takes is one good person” like Noah. Thanksgiving is a good time to remember the blessings we have received, starting with Creation itself .  Here’s Pope Francis’ prayer:

All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

Caring for Creation

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St. Francis is one of those super saints  to keep in mind, even after his feast day. I mentioned in a previous blog the statue of Francis facing St. John Lateran and Pope Innocent’s dream of a young man who, like Francis, held up the church’s walls ready to fall.  Francis helped renew the church.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis paints a verbal picture of Francis, holding his arms out to the created world, caring for our endangered planet:

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.

“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. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.

“His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour.

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

I like the pope’s words: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

The Season of Creation, September 1st -October 5th

The Season of Creation spans five weeks between the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1st, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th

This “time for creation” offers, in the words of Pope Francis, “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

“As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.)
Pope Francis, August 6, 2015

“The heavens declare your glory, O Lord, and the stars of the sky bring light to our darkness.
You spoke, and the earth burst forth in life, you saw that it was good.
You called forth creation, and enlivened every creature on land and sea.
You made human beings in your image, and set us over the whole world in all of its wonders.
You gave us share in your dominion, and called us “to till and to keep” this garden, the work of your hands.
This day we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our daily care for your creation show reverence for your name,
and reveal your saving power in every creature under heaven.
We make this prayer in the name of Christ your son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

Praying with Creation During Lent

 Father John O’Brien, a liturgist from my community, wrote an essay in 2004 entitled: “Thomas Berry, the Easter Vigil and the Greening of the Liturgy” 

“This essay”, he wrote, “ argues that the next horizon of liturgical development will require a paradigm shift in understanding and spirituality. This is a shift from a present anthropocentrism to a new role and placement for creation. Although the liturgy has used the stuff of creation to celebrate the magnalia Dei, it has emphasized that water and food, bread and wine, soil and oil, rocks and rivers are at the service of the human community. Creation exists for human use and the promotion of human redemption. If this redemptive motif prevails, humankind may flourish into the immediate future. But the earth that sustains human life will be diminished and destroyed.”

The liturgy can help us acquire this new vision, John suggested, and the Easter Vigil might be a good place to start. The play of light and darkness in the vigil, the fire in the dark, the Genesis readings, the waters of baptism and blessing are reminders of creation in the Easter story.  But in his essay John recognized that people weren’t exactly flocking to the Easter Vigil then. They’re not now.   

Better to start with our daily liturgy, our daily prayer? Should we look more closely at what our prayers say and how we pray every day? 

Daily prayer, particularly the psalms, can help us bond with creation. The reading from Isaiah this Tuesday says God’s word comes down from heaven like rain and snow, watering the earth and providing for the human family as well. Rain and snow are more than figures of speech, they’re messengers from God, beyond human control. Created by God they lead us to God, bestowing his gifts on us. God speaks daily through created things like these, the psalms say: 

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.

Day unto day pours forth speech;

night unto night whispers knowledge.  (Psalm 19,2-4)

Morning with the rising sun, evening with the promise of new light, with a voice not heard, without speech or words, creation speaks for God and is promised a place in the new creation with us. 

The Holy Spirit, the “Lord and Giver of Life”, “God adored and glorified along with the Father and the Son” sustains creation, Elizabeth Johnson writes in her book “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” (2014). Key biblical images, powerful natural forces like blowing wind, flowing water, and blazing fire expand the notion of the active presence of the Spirit in the world God made.

At morning Mass candles are lit. Tongues of fire come upon us now. The fire that created the Big Bang billions of years ago is with us now, as the bread and wine, and water enter our cosmic prayer.

Can daily prayer, if we let it, give us eyes to see creation as our partner in praising God. Our readings this 1st week of Lent are about prayer. They begin Monday with the final judgment from Matthew’s gospel. Those judged ask “when did we see you” in the “the least.”

Can we say “the least” also includes creation, which today we have reduced to the least? Can prayer be a way of seeing it?

God Saw It Was Good

Creation story, BL

Here’s Pope Francis’ commentary on todays reading from Genesis:

“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:25). God’s gaze, at the beginning of the Bible, rests lovingly on his creation. From habitable land to life-giving waters, from fruit-bearing trees to animals that share our common home, everything is dear in the eyes of God, who offers creation to men and women as a precious gift to be preserved.

Tragically, the human response to this gift has been marked by sin, selfishness and a greedy desire to possess and exploit. Egoism and self-interest have turned creation, a place of encounter and sharing, into an arena of competition and conflict. In this way, the environment itself is endangered: something good in God’s eyes has become something to be exploited in human hands. 

Deterioration has increased in recent decades: constant pollution, the continued use of fossil fuels, intensive agricultural exploitation and deforestation are causing global temperatures to rise above safe levels. The increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather phenomena and the desertification of the soil are causing immense hardship for the most vulnerable among us. Melting of glaciers, scarcity of water, neglect of water basins and the considerable presence of plastic and microplastics in the oceans are equally troubling, and testify to the urgent need for interventions that can no longer be postponed. 

We have caused a climate emergency that gravely threatens nature and life itself, including our own.

In effect, we have forgotten who we are: creatures made in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:27) and called to dwell as brothers and sisters in a common home. 

We were created not to be tyrants, but to be at the heart of a network of life made up of millions of species lovingly joined together for us by our Creator. 

Now is the time to rediscover our vocation as children of God, brothers and sisters, and stewards of creation. Now is the time to repent, to be converted and to return to our roots. We are beloved creatures of God, who in his goodness calls us to love life and live it in communion with the rest of creation.

Pope Francis, September 1, 2019

Putting in the Seed

J.Tissot, The Sower, Brooklyn Museum

In one of his poems, “Putting in the Seed,” Robert Frost describes a farmer’s love affair with the earth. It’s getting dark and someone from the house tries fetching him to come in. Supper’s on the table, yet he’s a

“Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

Can’t you see that farmer zestfully casting seed on the waiting earth, eagerly watching it to grow? Jesus sees the Sower as an image of God, casting saving grace onto the world in season and out, because he loves it so much.

 If you have ever been to Galilee and seen the lake and the surrounding lands abundant with crops, you know this is a blessed place. It was in Jesus’ time too. Here, the sower scatters his seed with abandon, hardly caring where it goes: on rocky ground, or amid thorns, or on the soil that gives a good return.

God the Sower sows blessed seed, no matter how badly our human world appears, or how badly it receives. In his parables Jesus acknowledges rejection as well as acceptance, but the sower still sows. Grace is never withheld, and that makes us hope.

And is it just the  human world God loves? Doesn’t his love extend to all the earth God calls “good” in the Book of Genesis? We worry about our planet earth, and with reason.  How fragile it has become, what damage we careless humans do! We are concerned rightly for its future.

The nature parables we are reading in Mark’s gospel tell us to hope for our earth too. Though it is not immune from the threat of destruction and degradation, God loves it still. He’s a Sower at work. Blessed be the Lord God of all creation, may you sow your blessings on all.

Where are the Leaders?


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

July 4: Independence Day

A few days ago we remembered the foundation of our church with the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul. Today we remember the foundation of our country, July 4, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Like church feasts, national feasts are times to celebrate. But this year we’re not going to do much of that.  We’re in the midst of a pandemic. Our public celebrations, for the most part,  have been canceled.

Church feasts are also a time to reflect, so maybe today we can reflect on what this national holiday means.

Where can we learn about what this day means? Historians say this day didn’t happen without much struggle. Political fighting, interest groups, foreign powers, war–all had a part in it. Founding our country was not as easy as we might think. But somehow all these conflicting interests came together around an ideal.

Can we remember that ideal today?

The Declaration of Independence was a statement of great ideals, but those ideals were not applied to everyone.  Have the native peoples here on this continent before us, the African peoples brought here as slaves, been treated as “created equal” with “certain unalienable rights?”

Have the poor and the immigrant been seen as equal?

Church feasts celebrate graces of God. They lift us up to aspire to great ideals and promises. We’re called to do that today.

But we always begin feasts with prayers for forgiveness, acknowledgement of failures, and calls for mercy: “Lord, have mercy.”

“America the Beautiful… God mend thine every flaw, and crown thy good with brotherhood, with liberty and law.”

Father of all nations and ages,
we recall the day when our country
claimed its place among the family of nations;
for what has been achieved we give you thanks,
for the work that still remains we ask your help,
and as you have called us from many peoples to be one nation, grant that, under your providence, our country may share your blessings
with all the peoples of the earth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.