Not as the world gives

6th Sunday of Easter (C)

Speaking to his disciples on the night before he died, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Then he said, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Which leads me to wonder, how does the world give peace?

A few examples come to mind. We contemplate putting down weapons, disarmament, or at least restricting the use of arms. Policy makers search for common ground; they come to the table looking for mutuality. Citizens of the world seek ways to better understand one another, to be more considerate, to share to planet’s resources, and to resolve issues that lead to intolerance and division. All noble steps towards a peaceable kingdom.

It’s complicated, though. The way in which the world gives peace is complicated by the fact that the Peace that Christ left with us, which motivates and inspires us, is opposed by so many.

Yesterday Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, poet, and pacifist died. He was 94. Early on, Berrigan’s tireless work for peace took the form of protest and civil disobedience against the Vietnam war, most famously when, in 1968, he along with nine other activists seized and burned hundreds of military draft cards.

Considered by many at the time to be both a traitor and an anarchist, Berrigan tirelessly articulated, in word and deed, the unheeded message of nonviolence which he located in Scripture. His death came after nine decades of personal risk, multiple arrests, imprisonment, and ceaseless opposition to societal injustice, something he knew to be an offense against God.

Berrigan’s campaign for peace not only earned him the contempt of the US government, but it also antagonized many members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who rejected his tactics and attempted to squelch his influence on the young Catholics whom he taught in university.

As a poet, Berrigan frequently blended his pacifist and theological vision into striking commentaries on religious blindness. In the following poem published in 1964[1], Berrigan suggests that the Church’s attention, while sincere, is misdirected away from the essential work of Christ in the World.

We Are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say

They hold up Christ for ascension
like twelve earnest athletes at a trampoline, but

If I go, I return, He says
skilled in gravity and the dynamics of flesh

Which decree His continuing declension
like dew or fiery napalm

Or the seeding of streams with trout eggs.
The twelve earnest orantes hold their hands

Safe as stone up to the absent One
which He presently strikes, forces and fills—

World, and world’s Body.

—Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Prophets like Daniel Berrigan and his brothers Phillip (1923 – 2002), and Jerry (1919 – 2015), walk amongst us, nudging us to awaken from our complacency. In the coming days, there will be accolades and honors and likely calls for beatification. Those of us who esteemed the work of the Berrigan brothers will read every word. But even as we hold them up and admire their vocation, we recognize that prophets are difficult to be around. Their means to peace make us uncomfortable. We dislike having the status quo challenged, and we don’t like messes.

Prophets disrupt our “peace,” which we have misunderstood to mean a lack of personal discomfort. Why can’t we just enjoy our Sunday afternoons and not be bothered? It’s just so tiresome to hear someone complain about injustice all the time.

Undoubtedly, we are responsible for some of the stain the church bears on behalf of its rejected prophets, but it is not a permanent mark.

Modern day prophets like Daniel Berrigan challenge us with every step to receive the Peace of Christ and give it to the world, not as the world gives it, but as Jesus did.

Today’s readings can be found here.

______________

[1] Daniel Berrigan, SJ, ed. John Dear. We are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say, from And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957-1997. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998) 58.

Give until it hurts?

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Think about the poor widow who gave all that she had to the Temple. Shouldn’t we, who have so much more, do the same?

Stop right there.

It is easy to interpret the story of the poor widow [MK 12:38-44] and her contribution of two small copper coins as either an example of piety and generosity, or an admonishment to those who can afford to give more. This traditional interpretation might have some merit in terms of financial stewardship, but was this Jesus’ message?

The story takes place in the Temple where Jesus had been teaching since he and his disciples entered Jerusalem. Among his listeners were several religious leaders who were intent on trapping Jesus. After lobbing responses to a series of questions related in one way or another to his teaching authority, Jesus points to the scribes, who were both trained in the law as well as theology. Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” [MK 12:38a-40]

In your face, scribes!

(Keep in mind, though, that Jesus does not condemn all religious leaders. For example, in the course of this Temple teaching Jesus praised another scribe’s articulation of the greatest commandment, saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” [MK 12:34])

Jesus then moves to another part of the Temple, opposite the treasury. The word “opposite” describes Jesus’ position within the Temple both literally and figuratively. The Temple treasury can be compared to today’s collection box, except instead of a slot for money, treasuries were topped with a kind of funnel, or trumpet, into which donors could toss their coins. The sound of coins reverberating off the sides of the trumpet made giving a very public act. Hefty donations made an especially loud racket, but the clinking of two copper coins entering the treasury would also have been unmistakable.

From his vantage point, Jesus could watch the wealthy dropping their contributions into the treasury. After witnessing a poor widow deposit just two coins, Jesus summons his disciples and makes an economic comparison. The widow’s contribution was the largest. She gave 100%, whereas the others gave from their surplus. “(t)his poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” [MK 12:43b-44]

Jesus’ Kingdom economics begs us to answer the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

Jesus does not use the word good when he speaks of the widow’s contribution. He does not praise it. He merely states the facts. Nor does Jesus make the widow’s resulting impoverishment a value judgment on the contribution of the wealthy. Why? Because this is a story about institutional greed and injustice, it’s not about tithing.

In biblical times, women who were widowed did not inherit their husband’s wealth. And unless they were supported by their children or husband’s family many were left destitute. Jesus recognized something in the poor widow’s act of tossing her entire livelihood into the Temple treasury: an institution that allows its poorest members to impoverish themselves in order to support it is no different than the scribes who devour widows’ houses; the condemnation will be the same.

Would Jesus make the same comparison today? Isn’t some aspect of the scribe, at times, in the person we see in the mirror? Consider the pervasive nature of domestic and global economic systems that devour the weakest members of society. What can we, as good disciples do to correct it?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Slow Cooking (or, the morality of Clean Food)

clean produceI am away this weekend with my husband to visit our daughter at Jerusalem Farm, a Catholic intentional community located in Kansas City, MO where she lives and works. Jerusalem Farm is a not-for-profit organization which strives to transform the lives of the community members and those they serve “through service retreat experiences, sustainable living and home repair.” While there we will be participating in a weekend retreat entitled “Food and Faith.” In light of this experience this week’s blog post is taken from an essay I wrote in 2012 in response to my growing passion for sustainable agriculture and the Clean Food movement. Note that I wrote this essay well before the majority accepted the reality of Climate Change.

I was raised in a family where the summer garden and its produce was on the table 12 months out of the year whether it was fresh, canned, or frozen. My parents had a serious vegetable garden, and still do as a matter of fact. Seed catalogs, visits to the nursery, and the smell and feel of soil were part of my upbringing. And because meat was expensive we ate relatively small portions of it—supplemented with lots of vegetables and fruit. As a child it did not occur to me that what I ate was particularly special; I’m sure I thought it was boring.

Today, a clean diet like the one on which I was raised has become a privilege. Last week I stood near a woman at the grocery store who, like me, was trying to justify the cost of organic fruit. We talked about how it was the healthier choice not only for our bodies but also for the earth. But she was buying for a family; I was only shopping for my husband and myself. It is an injustice that consumers have to lower their standards of what is good and healthy in order to feed their families.

Food is morally significant. What we buy helps heal or worsen the wounds caused to the earth, to animals, to the laborers, and to our bodies.

Several years ago my youngest daughter recommended a lecture given by one of her college professors on the effects of climate change[1]. The lecture, given by Creighton University theology professor, Richard Miller, Ph.D., was based on his award-winning book, “God, Creation, and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis.” The talk focused on the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change emerging from the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the EPA, various University studies, and other substantiated global sources.

The evidence made me feel angry and helpless about our culture’s blindness and resistance to accepting the truth. I began to consider the impact unchecked climate change would have on our agricultural system and global food supply and I realized I had to get educated. I began to read up on soil science, sustainable agriculture, and biodynamic farming practices. My husband and I watched many documentaries including Ana Sophia Joanes’ underground movie, “Fresh,”[2] and saw both the diseased belly of corporate farming and the success of its antidote.

My eldest daughter, at the time an undergrad at the University of Iowa, was taking a course on the food industry and shared some of her sources with me. I found out how livestock and poultry farms had been converted to animal factories designed to keep pace with our growing demand for cheap meat, using methods both inhumane and harmful to the animals, to us, and to the planet. I learned about corporate agri-farms which have perfected the science of producing high yield mono-crops of genetically modified corn and soy with the prophylactic application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides.

I also learned enough to conclude that what “Big Ag” corporations are really up to as they participate in the mad science of genetic modification is to literally handcuff farmers to an interdependent system of patented seeds which require their own patented herbicides. For example, herbicides such as Roundup™ are so effective at selectively preventing seed germination that only patented “Roundup™ ready” crops, also known as genetically engineered crops (GEs or GMOs), which produce their own pesticides can survive. I’m not the only one who might suggest that the purpose of GMO Roundup™ ready crops is to sell more Roundup™.

And, by the way, the produce of these genetically modified seeds has been on our plates either in vegetable form, in processed foods, or as part of the diet of the meat and poultry we eat since 1994–without prior safety testing. And we wonder why so many of us have developed digestive problems in that time period?

No doubt, improving farm practices to increase crop yields in order to eliminate world hunger is a good thing. However, what I discovered is that no matter what corporate spokespeople claim, eradicating world hunger is not the driver of Big Ag companies and the corporate farms they run: corn and soy are grown primarily for livestock feed.

I learned that in lieu of tried and true soil sustaining practices such as crop rotation and allowing fields to lie fallow for a season, corporate farmers force feed their crops synthetic fertilizers which destroy organisms necessary to life-sustaining soil, thus killing the soil’s ability to nurture growth without the application of higher doses of fertilizer. Further, it is estimated that only 1/3 to 1/2 of synthetic fertilizers are absorbed by the plants[3], the remainder is washed away by rain which flows into and pollutes our water systems.

Each atrocity leads to another, corporate farm monopolies, seed contamination, soil erosion, super weeds, unwitting consumption of second-hand hormones and antibiotics, farm worker injustices, and pollution that knows no bounds.

The current factory farm model of agriculture is unsustainable and yes, sinful. It poisons the earth and it poisons us. It abuses creation and shrugs off our responsibility to be good stewards of it. This is why I am an advocate and student of the Clean Food movement. I feel called to support a more authentic relationship not only with my body, but with the earth and with the people who draw from the soil gifts of food using methods that enrich, rather than deplete it. I am affirmed daily by the greater variety of sustainable and organic foods are available to the consumer, increased education and awareness campaigns, and opportunities for conscientious investors to help fund small farms, canneries, and retailers.

My choice to purchase food from sources that use methods respectful to the earth began with a desire for greater personal health, but has become something greater. My action is driven by the desire to support the purpose and dignity of the land, the animals, the farmers, the workers and everyone involved from farm to fork, especially those who eat the food. And that is the problem. Clean food is generally limited to those who can afford to buy it or who grow it themselves.

Affordable, clean food is a human right, not a privilege. The fact that it is cost prohibitive for most consumers leads to an unsustainable food industry. The availability of clean food for everyone, not just those who can afford it, is undoubtedly a moral issue.

It is clear to see why it matters. But even on a small-scale reform of the current corporate food system and its far-reaching tributaries in the United States alone is a herculean task for activists, lobbyists, educators, scientists and the medical community. But change is happening, and the desire for clean food justice will continue to be the sharp pebble in the shoe of the deniers until clean food is affordable and available to all human beings.

[1] This four-part lecture has been made available to the public on you tube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohoLwfJ8iJU&feature=colike

[2] http://www.freshthemovie.com/

[3] http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/soil/

For more on clean eating, read Steven Rosen’s article: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-07-24/clean-eating/56456224/1

Justice is the indispensable basis for peace: Oscar Romero, Martyr.

Oscar-Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (Born: August 15, 1917— Assassinated: March 24, 1980)

Today, March 24, 2015, marks the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, whose martyrdom was a direct result of his outcry for human rights and social justice for the poor, and who is expected to be beatified on May 23, 2015.

Regardless of one’s information or misinformation related to Liberation Theology, I believe Romero’s four pastoral letters, written between April, 1977 and August, 1979 should be required reading for anyone who claims to be on the side of social justice.

Each letter addresses, defends, and directs the Church’s response to the increasingly grave situation faced by the suffering majority of poor and oppressed—themes which remain profoundly, globally relevant—and shines a light on Romero’s own transformation and conversion.

Last year as part of my graduate studies at CTU (Catholic Theological Union) I had the opportunity read of each of these letters. What I read, pen in hand, scribbling notes in the margins lead to a personal conversion of my own, and ever since I have thought of little that did not include a reference to something Romero wrote. In light of the world situation the resounding message of Oscar Romero must be heeded.

The value of Romero’s words cannot be limited to an appreciation of their historic or geographic context. Rather, they illuminate the challenges facing peace-makers in a world saturated with injustice, oppression, and violence. The effect of structural and societal sin and our responsibility to eradicate it was revealed to me dramatically through the individual experiences of Romero, his representation of the suffering endured by the Salvadoran people, and the struggle for self-understanding within the greater Church.

These words: “justice is the indispensable basis for peace” [Letter 3, pg 12] hit me squarely between the eyes and led me to consider that the root of searing anger and frustration around the globe and the violent response to it emerges from the reality of the unjust, inequitable, and inhumane practices of the powerful minority. This reality is represented in every corner of our life today where we see increasing numbers of “haters,” where lashing out is the rule, not the exception, and the threat of military action is considered a “peacekeeper.” I am overwhelmed.

It is not enough to simply “understand” the gospel; the liberating message of salvation has to be taken to the streets. It has to become part of one’s breath and one’s blood. It is the fire of justice, and at the same time, it is the cool water of enlightenment. Oscar Romero’s own ongoing conversion is apparent in each letter’s increasing detail, length, and urgency.

In the first pastoral letter, we are reminded that the paschal mystery–the journey of Jesus from death to life–is the same transformative journey the Church must devote itself to until the end of time. As Church, then, we are an Easter people living a paschal reality [Letter 1, pg 5].

The second pastoral letter recognizes that the Church’s transcendence results both from its immersion in the temporal world, and its duty to identify and denounce that world’s “dark side” [Letter 2, pg 5]. Therefore, the Church’s prophetic mission must adapt to historical changes if it is to “bring into being the liberating love of God, manifested in Christ” [Letter 2, pgs 3-4]. This manifestation includes a share in Christ’s suffering. As Christ’s body, the Church not only proclaims the kingdom of God to the world, and in particular to the poor, who are our brothers and sisters; it is through this transformative love that we draw closer to God [Letter 2, pg 7].

We are reminded again in the third pastoral letter, that the nature of the Church, which emerges from the gospel as an evangelical community, requires an active, liberating response to the cry of the poor, a response which is a threat to those in positions of power.

The fourth pastoral letter, in which Romero delves most deeply into the heart of the national crisis, reveals the extent of his conversion. Grounding his arguments in official church documents, as he had done in the three previous letters, Romero clarifies the authentic role of the Church in history, defends the Church’s right to denounce the sins of the government and of the Church itself, and challenges the Church to take up its rightful role as liberating evangelists [Letter 4, pg 16].

Please take my word for it but don’t stop there. Read these letters both for their spiritual and secular implications.

First pastoral letter, THE EASTER CHURCH, First Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Easter Sunday, April 10, 1977

Second pastoral letter, THE CHURCH, THE BODY OF CHRIST IN HISTORY, Second Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1977

Third pastoral letter, THE CHURCH AND POPULAR POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS, Third Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Co-authored by Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, Bishop of Santiago de María, Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1978

Fourth pastoral letter, THE CHURCH’S MISSION AMID THE NATIONAL CRISIS, Fourth Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1979

The good seed. The good soil.

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

“The simple truth is that it all starts with the soil” says Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., an urban farm and community food center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (www.growingpower.org). As one of the preeminent thinkers of our time on urban agriculture, vertical farming, and food policy, Allen’s organization actually produces the soil it uses. He continues, “without good soil, crops don’t get enough of the nutrients they need to survive and when plants are stressed, they are more prone to disease and pest problems.”

Parables are stories in which the meaning of one thing is explained with something else.  For Jesus, that something else would be an object familiar to certain members of his audience, but not to all: soil, seeds, yeast, pearls, treasure, fishing nets, and so on. The parable of the sower (MT 13:1-23) if read literally reveals both the plight of the farmer and its solution. Obviously, seed crops and yields were not Jesus’ focus, but to continue the soil metaphor it is worth noting that all seeds have within them the capacity for growth, but unless the soil is receptive, stress, disease and pests threaten to destroy what has been sown. The 4th century Theologian, Gregory Nyssa had a less nuanced explanation, “sin is the failure to grow.”

Presuming we all have ears and want to hear, there’s no better time than right now, in the height of the growing season to consider how we are at different times both the seed and the soil. The liturgical calendar also has returned us to ordinary time, which is represented by the color of nature, green. It is in ordinary time that we want the seeds of our faith to germinate. It is during this time that we cultivate the soil of our community garden.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Image: http://www.freeipadhdwallpaper.com

Food for Life

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood (Corpus Christi) (A)

The Church was born from Jesus’ table ministry and grew in great numbers around the tables of early Christians who experienced the Risen Lord in the sharing of the Eucharist. The act of taking the Body and Blood of Christ into our own bodies is different from ingesting an ordinary, worldly meal since unlike regular food which provides temporarily nourishment, the Eucharist feeds and sustains us for life. But that’s not all. Worldly meals presume boundaries, invitation lists, and disproportionate servings. It’s an unacceptable truth that many don’t eat at all. Jesus’ table ministry included guests who would have been excluded from most tables, and everyone had their fill.

It is essential for Catholics to remember that Eucharist is an activity. When we share this food, we become what we eat; we become what we drink, and are transformed. If we partake, and become one with Christ, we are duty-bound to attend to the worldly nourishment of those who do not have enough to eat. As an evangelizing people we are called to be that one bread, one body, one blood for others. We are called to be Eucharist.

Today’s readings can be found here.