What have we become?

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Yesterday I read the following statement made by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, against President Trump’s move to close our borders to immigrants, refugees, and all who seek a better life in the United States.

Statement of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., On Wednesday’s Executive Actions on Immigration

January 27, 2017

I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism.  The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens.

I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9).  Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” (Mt. 25:40).

Wednesday’s Executive Actions do not show the United States to be an open and welcoming nation.  They are the opposite of what it means to be an American.

Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts.  Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.

In fact, threatening the so-called “sanctuary cities” with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as healthcare, education and transportation will not reduce immigration.  It only will harm all good people in those communities.

I am the grandson of immigrants and was raised in a multicultural neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  Throughout my life as a priest and bishop in the United States, I have lived and worked in communities that were enriched by people of many nationalities, languages and faiths.  Those communities were strong, hard-working, law-abiding, and filled with affection for this nation and its people.

Here in Newark, we are in the final steps of preparing to welcome 51 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is only the latest group of people whom Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has helped to resettle during the past 40 years.  This current group of refugees has waited years for this moment and already has been cleared by the federal government.

They have complied with all of the stringent requirements of a vetting process that is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.  Catholic Charities, assisted by parishes and parishioners of the Archdiocese, will help them establish homes, jobs and new lives so that they can contribute positively to life in northern New Jersey.  When this group is settled, we hope to welcome others.

This nation has a long and rich history of welcoming those who have sought refuge because of oppression or fear of death.  The Acadians, French, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Vietnamese are just a few of the many groups over the past 260 years whom we have welcomed and helped to find a better, safer life for themselves and their children in America.

Even when such groups were met by irrational fear, prejudice and persecution, the signature benevolence of the United States of American eventually triumphed.

That confident kindness is what has made, and will continue to make, America great.

http://www.rcan.org/statement-cardinal-joseph-w-tobin-cssr-wednesday%E2%80%99s-executive-actions-immigration

Then I read the astonishing comments from self-identified Catholics against the Cardinal, against Pope Francis, and against anyone else who objects to the Trump administration’s inhumane agenda, which frankly is directed against people of color.

These so-called Catholics will stand in their pews this weekend professing their faith in the One who dwells within the stranger. They will hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah: “seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger”[Zeph 2:3]. They will sing the words of the psalmist, “The Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free.” [Psalm 146]. They will listen to admonishment of St. Paul against Christians who boast of their righteousness [1 Cor 1:26-31], and hear Jesus’ words honoring the defenseless among us and insisting that we do the same, regardless of the consequences [Matthew 5:1-12]. They will give each other the kiss of peace, and then they will place the Eucharist in their acid mouths and return to their homes to cheer an agenda that is the antithesis of everything Jesus represents.

Some serious soul searching is called for. What have we become?

I also have to work hard to resist rising feelings of animosity against my fellow Christians who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if he knocked on their door and yet dare to use, for example, an image of the Sacred Heart or Blessed Mother or Michael the Archangel or St. Therese the Little Flower as their profile picture and proceed to spew politically motivated venom on good shepherds who speak the truth. Professed Christians who feel justified spitting on Jesus’ face with their vitriol. Jesus wept. So do I. So should you.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

MT 5:1-12

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Readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

1st reading: ZEP 2:3; 3:12-13
Responsorial Psalm: PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
2nd Reading: 1 COR 1:26-31 
Gospel: MT 5:1-12A

What is Your Better Part?

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

This weekend Christians around the world will hear the story of two sisters—followers of Jesus— who welcomed Jesus into their home. In this story, the behavior of one sister, Martha who was “burdened with much serving” [10:40] is contrasted with the behavior of the other sister, Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet “listening to him speak.”[10:39]

Here’s the translation from the New American Bible (Revised Edition). And here’s how some contemporary readers might hear it:

Jesus was welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha. Her sister Mary sat next Jesus so she could listen to his words. Meanwhile, Martha went into the kitchen to put the final touches on the feast she prepared. Soon, overwhelmed with mixing drinks, serving appetizers, setting a perfect table and making sure everyone was comfortable—all with no help from her sister—Martha went to Jesus and asked him to tell Mary to help her. But instead of the response she expected from Jesus, he reprimanded Martha by saying she was focused on all the wrong things, and that Mary had chosen the better part.

Hmmmph. I can’t like that[1].

In the first place, why is it that when we envision this story unfolding we automatically put Martha in the kitchen? Nowhere in the text is food or drink or any of the other acts of domestic hospitality mentioned. Luke was a clever writer; if food was part of the story, he would have included it.

Second, how is the exaggerated competition between Martha and Mary helpful, knowing that among the Christian faithful there have always been those whose service leans more heavily towards ministerial service, and others more towards prayer and spirituality? Furthermore, wouldn’t we agree that a life well lived involves a delicate balance of both? Is Luke suggesting Jesus thinks one is better than the other?

Are we to infer from Jesus’ words that Mary’s example is superior to Martha’s?

Here’s what Jesus actually says to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” [Luke 10:41-42]

The pastoral interpretation, of course, is that Mary represents contemplation and Martha represents action, and that “one who serves actively can only do so after having listened to the word at the feet of Jesus.”[2]  Obviously that is true. There’s nothing wrong with this explanation, plus, it takes some of the sting out of Jesus’ words to Martha. But this understanding is too simple, too literal, and it sidesteps the elephant in the room.

Was Jesus singling out Mary’s “better part” at the expense of Martha’s service?

As a woman in ministry, this question makes me uneasy. Two millennia after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, women of faith continue to struggle to participate in the life of the church beyond Mary’s “better part.” Even while there have been advances in women’s involvement, and Pope Francis continues to call for greater roles for women in the church and he has agreed to create a commission to study the role of the female deaconate in the early church, the partial interpretation of Jesus’ words to Martha for contemporary men and women is concerning.

Of the various methods and approaches to biblical interpretation recommended by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Historical-Critical method is deemed indispensable. “Holy Scripture, inasmuch as it is the “word of God in human language,” has been composed by human authors in all its various parts and in all the sources that lie behind them.” [3]

Each of the books of the New Testament was written with the purpose of presenting the story of Jesus to a specific community during a particular time in world history, in response to their circumstances. Therefore, as part of our interpretive method, it is vital that we attempt to understand the focus and intended message of every author.

Barbara Reid, O.P., esteemed Professor of New Testament Studies, Vice President and Academic Dean of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and author of numerous acclaimed titles[4] and articles on Luke-Acts, and Paul, offers compelling scholarly evidence in her book, “Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke,” that the common interpretation of the Martha and Mary story may not be what Luke intended.

Reid notes that in the original Greek, Luke uses both the noun diakonia, and the verb diakonein in verse 40. Both words “in the Christian communities of Luke’s day, designated a wider variety of ministries.”[5] In our translation, found in the NABRE[6], verse 40 reads “Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” [Luke 10:40; emphasis mine]

St. Luke was a brilliant writer who artfully connected the experience of the early Christian Church, his community, to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Due to his frequent depictions of women interacting with Jesus—far more than any of the other gospel writers—Luke is frequently portrayed as a friend to women, but this theory has been questioned. Stories like Martha and Mary provide valuable insight into feminine presence in the early Christian mission, but are we to infer that by their inclusion Luke’s community supported their involvement in ministerial service?

Since the word diakonia was used throughout the New Testament to mean ministerial service there is no reason to believe that Luke intended it to mean anything else. In other words, Martha was overwhelmed with the amount of ministerial service that needed to be done, and she took it upon herself to do more than she could, perhaps like many of us do today.

So why then does Jesus praise Mary’s part when she is seated silently at his feet? Is Jesus saying that Martha should stop ministerial service? Is Jesus saying that Martha should sit down and be quiet?

Other New Testament texts[7] make it known that divisions over women’s ministerial service (diakonia) were on the rise, therefore the presence of women in the gospels did not necessarily indicate acceptance of their ministerial participation. As Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “The interpretation of what Luke says on any subject must take into account where in his story he says it.”[8]

For example, is it possible that Luke’s intention in positioning the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary after the empowering stories of the mission of the seventy two disciples, the affirmation of the privileges of discipleship, and the story of the Good Samaritan may have been a subtle way to curb women’s participation in ministerial service (diakonia)? It seems possible that this could be what Luke intended.

Still, when I read and reread and then read Jesus’ words again, I don’t hear them supporting Luke’s intention, if we are to believe it was to diminish Martha’s service.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” [Luke 10:41-42]

Jesus is not suggesting to Martha that she should throw in the towel, sit down and be quiet. If this was the case, what could possibly be life-giving about Jesus words?

What Jesus said was an affirmation of Mary’s part, not a negative judgement against Martha’s. Mary had chosen “the better part” and it would not be taken from her. What Mary was doing was “the better part” for her.

That means there were other “parts,” one of which Martha was involved in (diakonia). Martha’s fault, which Jesus pointed out, was that she was “anxious and worried many things” when there was “need of only one thing.”

Barbara Reid asks her readers to consider, “What would it mean for our day to “choose the better part?” Would it be different for each person and each community and each age? If this last question is answered affirmatively, then we might begin to act out of a vision that allows for the rich diversity of gifts in the community to be used in service without regard to gender distinctions. Both men and women called to contemplative listening and women and men called to all forms of ministry would together hear Jesus’ approval of their having “chosen the better part.”[9]

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[1] “I can’t like that,” the frequent, now classic, words of protest spoken by my eldest daughter as a child.

[2] Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the Better Part: Women in the Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1996. 144.

[3] “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” Presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul II on April 23, 1993 (as published in Origins, January 6, 1994) http://catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/PBC_Interp-FullText.htm#Sec4

[4] Barbara E. Reid, O.P. is the author of Abiding Word: Sunday Reflections for Year B (Liturgical Press, 2011; Year C, 2012, Year A, 2013), Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretations Through Latina and Feminist Eyes (Fortress Press, 2007; Spanish translation: Reconsiderar la Cruz, Editorial Verbo Divino, 2009), The Gospel According to Matthew. New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series (Liturgical Press, 2005), Parables for Preachers (3 volumes; Liturgical Press, 1999, 2000, 2001; Spanish translation: Las Parábolas: Predicándolas y Viviéndolas (Ciclo A, B, 2008, 2009), Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (Liturgical Press, 1996), A Retreat With St. Luke (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), and many journal articles.  Forthcoming is Wisdom’s Feast: An Introduction to Feminist Interpretation of the Scriptures (Eerdman’s Press, 2016).  She is General Editor for Wisdom Commentary Series, a new 58-volume feminist commentary on the Bible (Liturgical Press).

[5] Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the Better Part: Women in the Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1996. 147.

[6] NABRE, New American Bible (Revised Edition). Released on March 9, 2011, the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) is the culmination of nearly 20 years of work by a group of nearly 100 scholars and theologians, including bishops, revisers and editors. The NABRE includes a newly revised translation of the entire Old Testament (including the Book of Psalms) along with the 1986 edition of the New Testament.

[7] 1 Cor 14:34-35, 1 Tim 2:12, Titus 2:3-4, for example

[8] Luke Timothy Johnson, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1991. p 5

[9] Reid, 162

Why do some hear while others do not?

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

While preparing to write today’s reflection, I was struck for the seventh time this week (and the three-hundred-and sixty-fifth time in as many days) by the similarities between today’s church and the early church of the Acts of the Apostles. I am reminded of the theory of “God’s time”, which, for example, might say two-thousand and sixteen years is a nanosecond in God’s time.

Let’s try an experiment with today’s first reading from Acts 13. Enter the story with Paul and Barnabas as they go about their missionary activity. There they are, all fired up and filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking and urging and exciting the crowds with the story of Jesus. So compelling were they that the following week nearly everyone in the city came out to hear them preach. Naturally, not everyone was thrilled with Paul and Barnabas, their message about Jesus, or the throngs of people who came out to hear them, especially since they saw some of their neighbors in the crowd. They objected violently to the whole business and enlisted the help of their wealthy and powerful cohorts to force Paul and Barnabas out of the city. Undaunted, Paul and Barnabas seemed to shrug off the rejection and moved on to the next city to continue their mission.

Now, imagine that a Catholic man went to some small city near Rome and preached on a pivotal yet sparingly administered teaching of Jesus’. He excited and urged huge crowds of Catholics and people of goodwill into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teaching. So popular and charismatic was this person that the city was filled with people from every corner of the world who hungered to hear his refreshing and restorative words. Almost immediately, some residents became alarmed and objected not only to what they were hearing but to the type of people who it attracted. These opponents contradicted the man, disrespected his wisdom and encouraged their friends from all over the world to do the same. Still, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the man spoke boldly and continued to guide his opponents to a deeper understanding, but their hostility continued to grow. Undaunted, Pope Francis returned his attention to applying Jesus’ mercy wherever he went.

Which leads to today’s very brief gospel from John 10:27-30. Why do some people hear and others do not? If Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” [John 10:14] that would mean that there are sheep who don’t know his voice and therefore do not follow him.

Returning to the story of our fledgling church from the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that in every flock there are some who hear and some who do not.

Organized religion has to take the blame, on occasion, for drowning out the sound of Jesus’ voice. Even if someone desires to hear, human and religious constructs have the capacity to thwart even the most sincere seeker from reaching the level of consciousness that allows him or her to hear Jesus’ voice.

On the other hand, organized religion can take the credit for the deposit of faith from Scripture and Tradition, and the copious writings of the great Theologians which have created a vast bank of spiritual experience to help attune us to the sound of Jesus’ voice.

What religion and theology provide is an opening through which we can learn about God through the wisdom, experience and insights of others. But it is only an opening; our ability to hear is not limited by it. The many names for Jesus (the Word, Savior, Lamb of God, Morning Star, Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, True Vine, and so on) provide an example of the various ways we can hear. If only we will listen.

I recently read that to ‘hear” Jesus’ voice—not only the universal truths of which he speaks, but Jesus’ voice—one must discern Jesus’ being, his BE-ing, grasp the nature of Jesus’ connection to God, and be able to name him, Son of God, for example.

This “hearing” is what defines the Christian profession of faith. To affirm Jesus as the I AM is to acknowledge that Jesus, the man, is one with God, not just an exceptionally enlightened Prophet with a profoundly rich prayer life and awesome leadership skills.

But there are many, many followers who love Jesus and want to emulate him, but who struggle with Jesus’ identity as the I AM. For many Christians, this is a cake walk. For others, it is difficult, mind-boggling, and perhaps will require a lifetime of following the Good Shepherd to grasp.

Can we avoid the gate and just climb over the fence to enter the fold?  Nope. But, would Jesus, who self-identified as the gate, stand in the way of a would-be follower? Does the gate close to one who lacks absolute certitude but desires to know Jesus? Does Jesus only know the sheep with perfect hearing?

Some would say yes, that this is what Jesus meant when he said “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” [John 10:14]. But the gospels also tell us that Jesus preferred to hang out with the sinners, probably because they were the ones with the better hearing.

Jesus talked a lot about ears and what people should do with them, but only Mark’s gospel includes a story about Jesus restoring a person’s hearing. [Mark 7:31-37].  My sense is that there were many sheep following the Good Shepherd who hung on his every word but who would not have passed the above three-prong spiritual hearing test, at least until after Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus also said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16].

To put this verse in context, by “other sheep” Jesus was likely referring to the Gentiles, but, returning to our experiment at the start of this reflection we can see that the Gentiles were the ones to whom Paul and Barnabas redirected their missionary action, and that the one flock Pope Francis envisions will be identified by their emulation of Jesus’ mercy.

As for my defense of Pope Francis (who has perfect hearing, by the way), I don’t judge the sincerity of Christians who object to new understandings or expanded interpretations of church teachings and what it means to their practice of the faith, but when that objection seems to be the result of a failure to hear the voice of Jesus and it devolves into disrespect for our Pope, condemnation of others, and division within the church, I feel as if we have gone back to the days of Jesus, or even a few hundred years before since the Prophets also received the same fate.

Perhaps in the next nanosecond of God’s time, we will be able to hear.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

All In The Family

27th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

What does it mean to be joined by God to another? For that matter, what does it mean to be joined to God? Both of these difficult questions are at the heart of this weekend’s readings[1] which revolve around God’s plan for the life of the world: our origins, the union of marriage, openness to life, the Kingdom of God, the blessing of children and covenant fidelity to one another. In other words: family life.

Think of these readings as the meat in the sandwich between the events of last week’s wildly successful World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the much anticipated 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family which opens today and continues through October 25. Francis’ many references to the importance of the family during his visit to the United States have given me much to ponder and these combined events are guaranteed to provide plenty to chew on over the next month or so.

I recently participated in an online conversation surrounding the Catholic Church’s focus on openness to life (which for many translates solely to its opposition to artificial birth control). I took issue with one non-Catholic, unmarried person who claimed this teaching was solely responsible for the overpopulation of the planet. Um, really? I was reminded of a time 25 years ago when I, very pregnant, stood in a crowd at a busy intersection in New York City, where I worked, and overheard an intended-to-be-overheard comment from a couple standing right next to me that it was supremely selfish to bring another child into the world. True story. My ears burned for the rest of the day. Actually, it still stings a bit. I feel sorry for people who think this way.

In his address to the joint meeting of Congress on September 24, Pope Francis said,

“How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.” — [September 24, 2015, address to a joint meeting of the United States Congress]

I share Francis’ concern for the family. It troubles me deeply. But to be perfectly honest, I struggle with how to write about marriage and family because I know it is a source of pain for many. I believe strongly in marriage, the joy that children bring to the union, and the value healthy families bring to society. But I know marriage and children are not for everyone and I do not imply that they should be. My long and happy marriage is due to a combination of luck and hard work. We have been blessed to raise two healthy, well-adjusted adult daughters. I’m fully aware that this not the case for everyone. I have many dear friends who are deeply bruised by the experience of divorce and others who struggle to raise troubled children. I come from a large and loving family as does my husband. We are fortunate that both families have remained intact, despite the normal challenges which marriage and family life bring.

My family experience is not the same as yours, and yours is not the same as anyone else’s. It is wrong to compare them, but still, we do. The bottom line is that families come in many shapes, sizes, and circumstances.

The key is love.

Pope Francis affirmed this in his off-the-cuff speech on the importance of family which he delivered to the hundreds of thousands and people gathered in Philadelphia. Referring to God’s highest expression of love—the incarnation of Jesus—Francis said,

“So great was his love, that he began to walk with humanity, with his people, until the right moment came, and he made the highest expression of love – his own Son. And where did he send his son – to a palace? To a city? No. he sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family. And he could do this, because it was a family that had a truly open heart. The doors of their heart opened.” —[September 26, 2015, Pope Francis speech at the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia]

This morning I re-read this speech for the umpteenth time. With each reading I am struck anew by the simple clarity of this brief message which came from this pope’s heart. I read,

“All of the love that God has in himself, all the beauty that he has in himself, he gives it to the family. And the family is really family when it is able to open its arms and receive all that love.”

I think that pretty much sums up both what it means to be joined by God to another, and to be joined to God.

Open your arms, families of all shapes, sizes and circumstances, and let the love of God in.

Read a transcript of the Pope’s speech on the importance of family here: http://www.phillyvoice.com/transcript-pope-francis-festival-families-speech/

[1] [Gen 2:18-24, Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-6]

Papa Francis: The Good Disciple

Look no further than Pope Francis to see Good Discipleship in action. What is discipleship if it is not grounded in the studied practice and fearless proclamation of the challenging teachings of Jesus Christ?

I, like many, love this pope and have done little since he arrived in the United States this week other than tune into live feeds of his speeches and homilies in order to soak up his every word. The man is a prophet on a mission to deliver the Gospel message to the whole world.

His demeanor and style of delivery have made him wildly popular with people of all faith traditions as well as many non-believers. His words are refreshing and compelling, and urgent. There are a few who wish he would be silent. Francis has alluded to the possibility of a short tenure, and knows his popularity may be brief. This awareness led him earlier this month to remark “Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out.”[1]

Pope Francis is the Good Disciple, but I can’t help but notice the volume of grumbling against Francis’ pastoral focus on the impoverishment of the earth and its people. It suggests his opponents, many of them Christian, do not share my gushing definition of him as a good disciple.

As soon as word came out that Pope Francis was writing an encyclical letter on the environment, many hard core capitalists, again many of whom are Christian, got prickly. And ever since the May 24, 2015 publication of Laudato si‘ (On Care for our Common Home), his critics have suggested he’d do well to keep his church business out of the political realm and stick with the things he’s “qualified” to do. Things, I suppose, like lead prayer, administer sacraments, and celebrate the mass.

Call me crazy, but the first commandment, “Love God and neighbor” implies loving all of God’s creation. Still, one does not need to share the view of creation as divinely inspired in order to understand that greed-driven environmental deterioration and its effect on human life, particularly the poor, is so great a threat to the continuation of life on this planet that a global effort to correct it is now essential.

Pope Francis’ message is one of hope and encouragement that changes are possible, changes both to the way people understand ecological and financial responsibility, and changes to a public policy focused on serving the common good. Care for our common home (and its inhabitants) is a humanitarian issue and indeed a serious political matter.

I hope that many people, after having heard or at least read some of the Pope’s powerful words which he delivered this past week will be inspired to make meaningful changes in the way they live and view our precious common home. Clearly, voices of dissent will linger. But it is up to those of us who take to heart Francis’ message to give witness to them, starting today.

For Christians, discipleship—living out Jesus’ teachings— involves a commitment to social justice—loving our neighbors, forgiving them as many times as is needed, and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. No one, especially Jesus, said it would be easy. He told his disciples they would be hated because of him [MK13:13; MT 10:22; LK 21:17].

Jesus did not come to build a church to house the Trinity and to “assist nicely washed and appointed people to maintain the status quo.”[2] Christianity is not about having a comforting religious experience. We have responsibilities.

Pope Francis’ iteration of Catholic social teachings comes directly from the words and examples of Jesus as well as the prophetic books found in the Hebrew Scriptures. What Francis says challenges those who believe the earth and its riches are at their disposal. In his encyclical, Pope Francis says “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.” [Laudato Si, ch2 no.67]. In like manner, Francis insists that society has a responsibility to care for the least of our brothers and sisters, many of whom suffer as a direct result of policies driven by human greed.

Caring for the poor and being good stewards of the earth and its resources is not a debatable topic; all are woven into the fabric of a civilized society—especially an extremely wealthy capitalist society in which people of good faith and character ought to recognize that the common good, indeed a peaceful world, depends on sincere generosity and compassion for all.

I want to be a good disciple like Pope Francis. This means continued prayer and study of scripture, both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures. It means attending to the wisdom of other like-minded traditions and respecting our profound and beautiful tapestry of differences. It means taking an active role in conserving earthly resources, reducing my footprint, and becoming more aware of what I consume and what I waste. It means stepping out of my comfort zone and seeking ways to level the field of opportunity on which all humans stand.

I understand that this ministry, for indeed ministry is what it is, begins in my home with my husband, and daughters, my parents and siblings, my extended family, and my friends and neighbors. I will attempt to season all that I do with the love of God which I feel so deeply. I will try to be the salt, the good disciple. I will try my best. Who would like to join me?

[1] Interview with Portugal’s Radio Renascenca, Monday Sept 14, 2015

[2] Bonnie B. Thurston, Maverick Mark: The Untamed First Gospel. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. 2013. pg xi