An eco-spirituality through the seasons
By Al Fritsch, SJ
In November the growing season ebbs, the calendar year moves
to its final month, and the liturgical year reaches completion.
The designated readings of the Church are those of eschatology --
the last things. This will occupy us now and also well into
December when we celebrate the Advent season, the Christmas event,
and the beginning of winter -- and new growth. Now we confront our
mortality -- a stark reality that is accompanied by an affirmation
of eternal immortality. Christ's Resurrection is extended to
include us as well, an anticipation of the culmination of all
things and our world's return to God.
A sense of home. In late fall we move indoors and find the
home a warm, inviting place for celebration. Our relaxation by
the fire may be short-lived, but we await it with eagerness. This
pause makes us wonder about a more permanent and enduring home that
looms ahead at the end of our faith journey. Outside there is
extending darkness, with a certain foreboding of sorrow and lament.
Here in the Northern Temperate Zone the days are getting noticeably
shorter throughout late autumn. But it is not all darkness;
November fosters interior warmth, sensitivity, and hope -- elements
that are well worth sharing with others.
Wanting to work. This is a time when we become more thankful
than ever, and enjoy the companionship and celebration of friends
and relatives; we review what we have done with God's help and
gifts; and we have much to acknowledge as blessings during this
period of public thanksgiving. And it causes us uneasiness that
many are unable to fulfill themselves through work opportunities.
Visions and dreams. November is a time of dreaming and
visions, of what could be and what must be accomplished in the time
ahead. We discover that others lack some of the blessing we take
for granted: food, potable water, education, health and recreation.
We search for misappropriated resources to answer their needs and
dream that these will be discovered and applied for all our
Re-Creation. The intensity of the work in which we are
involved makes us all the more aware that what we do and anticipate
doing has immense value. Through baptism we are invited into the
re-creation of this troubled world, and are called to exercise our
God-given freedom to improve the planet's environment. This
vocation is strengthened by a growth in our consciousness both as
to the end for which we were created and to the social awareness of
cooperating with fellow human beings in achieving our collective
The scampering varmints. The hurried movements of squirrels
tell us something about sub-human basic needs. The struggle for
precious life occurs among all living beings. Is this struggle to
be overlooked or to be cherished in a special way? Does a
subjective immortality await the creatures we love or only an
objective immortality in the mind of the Almighty?
A. EXPERIENCE OF THE NEW CREATION
Mortality is a passage from life to new life, and November's
feasts of All Saints and All Souls remind us of this passage ahead
for all of us. We each harbor fears and trepidations because our
ultimate individual transformation is uncertain as to when and
where. In a rather perverse way those with acute illnesses or
death sentences have a little more certainty about the when of
dying, not the fact. The great majority of fellow human beings are
death-denying folks who shut out the occasional reflection on dying
by immersing themselves in the world of hustle and bustle. Hospice
workers and other caregivers address death and dying with those
they serve; thus they pave a road for passage by removing some
stones that make one stumble at the end; nonetheless the road to
the grave is a stark certainty that rational beings cannot deny.
However, November's experiences need not be morbid. We do not
demand sermons on hell and judgment as did Black Death survivors in
the fourteenth century. We can overlook epidemics, hurricanes,
wars, and droughts, even the death of Earth from the cosmologists'
prognosis through a distant coldness of eternal death. Instead we
seek to take a more healthy approach and see the transition as what
it is -- death that includes new life. The inevitable
transformation makes us all the more thankful for the blessings
already received. Our thanks is expressed through appreciation of
autumn landscapes, sounds of the season, pleasant home smells and
tastes, and feelings of warmth and love. Earth healers also hear
the scientists' prognosis and say the world way down the track in
billions of years will slowly glide into eternal death -- but even
that may have a way out not yet explained by those believing in the
joy of eternal life. Our eco-spirituality opens us to the
challenges of the yet unknown future.
1. Autumn Landscape and Memories
They told them this story,
"We went into a land to which you sent us.
It does indeed flow with milk and honey;
this is its produce." (Numbers 13:27)
My ancestors told us in piecemeal fashion of their exodus from
Europe. My maternal great, great grandparents came from Schonau in
the Pfalz region of Germany adjacent to the Alsatian French border.
They had ten sons, the older soon to be of military age, and they
did not want them to fight. They were attracted to Appalachian
Ohio, which highly resembled the homeland's terrain, except the
Ohio Valley was not nearly so cultivated or well managed, and it
did not have the German homes with geranium-filled window boxes.
However, these ancestors had dreams of new places. With some
trepidation they left friends for the trip across the ocean.
Some two decades later, and after a devastating Franco-Prussian
War in which my Alsatian paternal grandfather fought on the losing
side, he and my grandmother's people left the village of Dambach
(only five miles but an immense distance culturally from Schonau)
for that same Ohio River valley in hopes of growing grapes on the
river hillsides, similar in appearance to the slopes of the Rhine
Valley. They went from an occupied to a promised land. However,
upon arrival, they found that an unexpected blight had killed all
the grapes. They settled to growing tobacco instead, but never
lost the hope for better times for their own offspring.
We are all ultimately newcomers on the land in which we
reside. It is ultimately part of the "commons," the common
inheritance of all the people. To set up ourselves as insiders and
others as outsiders is a rather cruel division of people -- and
something that Jesus was never a party to doing. What we must
learn is that the pilgrims and many more who followed were welcomed
to these shores by the Native American residents. Their teaching
about universal welcome faded over time but as a nation we still
must welcome people for we were once strangers and guests.
2. The Haunting Bay of the Coon Hounds
Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth,
serve Yahweh gladly
come into the divine presence with songs of joy!
The experience of walking around a denuded landscape in later
autumn is so enchanting. The landscape has opened up before us,
revealing the shapes of trees that were only recently a mass of
foliage sparkling in summer's sun. In some ways, we cross-country
hikers enjoy the freedom and sudden openness of the countryside.
The sounds carry more distinctly without the muffled effect of
leaves, and each adds to the quality of the place. Greenery is
certainly good, but so is the distinct season with which we in this
zone have been blessed today.
In the distance we can hear the dogs bark and they move about
restlessly in the cool autumn evenings. They're our companions.
Theirs is a chorus, though we almost never characterize it as such.
Don't dogs sing as well as the rest of us? Our spoken words have
a certain Appalachian character to them -- a twang, a dialect.
Even the dogs of our region have their own way of expressing
themselves -- cries of pain or of utter excitement. Yes, the coon
hounds are really Appalachian, and so are many less easily
described mixed breeds as well. We've come to detect the lilt of
mountain animal voices even when they interject their own
blood-curdling tones. Couldn't they allow the chased varmints to
go in peace?
We know that all creatures need to acclaim and serve the Most
High. But we can't stand over others in an authoritarian sense.
We are part of a total-service creaturehood. We human beings
assume a leadership role, going ahead of others, not in a sense of
triumphal greatness, but as serving them at the procession's head,
so that others will honorably follow. In some ways, dogs, our
divinely created companions, clear the way for the procession of
all creatures, the Appalachian cavalry. Their yaps announce their
coming. And any self-respecting coon knows how to slip away.
3. Apples Stored in the Root Cellar
... your breath sweet-scented as apples. (The Song of Songs 7:8b)
The smells of late autumn are so often related to the indoors
for that is where the foods are stored and the meals are cooked for
the great celebrations of this and next month. Maybe we will
always cherish the particular aromas that emanated from our mamas'
kitchens Thanksgiving and Christmas some years back.
The Appalachian word "fruit" commonly means "apple," from the
cider to the apple stack cake, from apple butter to apple jack,
from apple pie to apple wood. It includes the exotic apple
varieties brought from the Old World as well as the lowly native
crabapple. Appalachians are apple people, through and through. In
some ways, successful mountain harvests are defined by the apple
crop, and that by the lateness of spring frosts. Nothing beats the
combined sight and smell and taste of fresh autumn apples -- and
add on the crunchy sound and the firm feel of these delights.
Perhaps no other food is so appealing to our senses. Apples shine
in the light, smell ever so good especially in a pie, and offer a
wide spectrum of flavors that vary with each variety. The sound of
biting into a crispy apple is unique, or so it seems. But it is
the faint and delicate smell that gives the most glory to the
fruit. Why else compare loved ones to apples? Just as God has
favorite people, so we as Appalachians have favorite foods -- and
apples are very high on that list.
4. Assembling at Thanksgiving
You prepare a table before me
under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil,
my cup brims over. (Psalm 23:4)
Second only to smells are the tastes of the home at
celebrations of year's end. Not being a conscientious cook, I do
not fully appreciate the care that good cooks like my mother gave
or give to preparing homemade meals and deserts. Cooks have their
special menus for making everything from corn pudding to hickory
nut cakes. Home-grown cooks treasure their own special dishes and
take deep pride in them -- because those dishes mean that others
can enjoy their food all the more.
Today, home cooking is becoming a rarity in Appalachia, as
people are often too tired to cook very much, especially after
working outside the home, and so buy prepared food or go out to the
food court. We risk losing something, if we forget how to make the
favorite dishes of the past -- corn bread, biscuits-and-gravy, soup
beans, stack cakes, and pumpkin pie. At least the cookbooks still
have recipes, and these can be copied and preserved. But is the
taste the same if it is not put there by someone who has a heart to
have others enjoy it? Special tastes come with the cook's heart.
Families like to assemble together during the month of
November at that singular American holiday -- Thanksgiving. And
the glory is in this opportunity to be thankful as families, not
just as individuals expressing gratitude for blessings received.
And what adds to the special character of an American Thanksgiving
meal is that it includes traditional native American foods --
turkey, dressing, corn pudding, cranberries, squash, and
pumpkin pie. Home life is nurtured around the family table -- and
in a real sense the setting becomes the table of the Lord. The
presence of kinfolks and the good taste of the foods are all part
of making this a shared and an extended national feast. The
remaining challenge is to make it a global one as well.
5. Cosmic Hymn of Praise
Let them all praise the name of Yahweh,
at whose command they were created;
Yahweh has fixed them in their place for ever,
by an unalterable statute.
mountains and hills,
orchards and forests,
wild animals and farm animals,
snakes and birds. (Psalm 148: 5-6, 9-10)
All my life I have enjoyed observing wild and tame animals.
And in their giving me joy, I am confident that they are praising
God and extending their joyful presence throughout the cosmos. How
could these that are such sources of happiness be forever gone? Or
will they endure in some fashion? I observe the scampering
chipmunks or ground squirrels moving about through the fallen
leaves. They add much to the bleak November landscape by their
presence. Will these moments of delight be forever lost or is
there some way in which what is observed will continue. If the
Creator has fixed these creatures in a place, in what way will that
place continue in eternity? Or is that place only a small portion
of our eternal hearts, called to move on to greater things?
B. REFLECTIONS ON PREPARING OUR EARTH
We look for the resurrection of the dead... (Nicene Creed)
We reaffirm the mystery of the resurrection, first that of
Christ as first fruits (in May) and now the resurrection of all of
us on the last day. The New Heaven and New Earth is being prepared
for us all -- and we are invited to pitch in and help. We are
molded into a people of God, invited into the Divine Family by a
special calling, and thus we are destined for eternal and
"subjective" immortality, that is, not only to be a pleasurable
thought in the mind of God but also to enjoy actual eternal life
with God. That is the promise to those who keep God's word. But
having said all this, we are still left with a number of questions:
Is our home here on Earth or beyond? We first look at our own
actions and find out that we have a home that is here and yet
another is being prepared by Christ for us. Must we focus on this
our Earthly home or look beyond the here to the hereafter? And is
there a discontinuity? Just as we speak of events and process (our
January calling) and affirm both/and not either/or, so we speak of
the transformation or growth of "home" awareness over time and with
special events in our own lives.
Is our work important or not? What gives us a sense of
hereness is that we are doing something that is fulfilling, and
that others benefit from what we do in making our living. That is
why it is such an affront that some come and work in America, and
yet we determine that they are different, and are not to be treated
with equal respect. Does not working give them a right to belong?
Is it not an affront that some willing people cannot find work?
Should we encourage practical visions and dreams? Wishful
thinking is not sufficient. Let us make room for visions of a
world where peace will prevail and violence is abolished. But this
cannot come by mere daydreaming, and here is where our dreams must
become somewhat realistic. Our work makes us down-to-Earth; the
dreams keep us motivated to do ever more meaningful work. And we
appreciate the privilege of working that leads to salutary results.
Does a "new creation" demand a proper exercise of our freedom?
Sometimes it appears that we should busy ourselves with real
issues, and dreaming of a New Heaven and New Earth appears at first
remote from what we should be doing. But is there a way in which
our maturation combines the desire for an end and the need to treat
all justly in order to undertake this cooperative venture together
in an environment of social justice?
Will other creatures share in the Resurrection? Are other
creatures included in the result of this awaited transformation?
If our collective work retains the best of the old and is not a
destruction, then there must be a place for plants and animals that
help define our Earth as a living organism. Does the Good News of
resurrection extend beyond our human sphere?
1. Establishing our Home
On this mountain,
Yahweh Sabaoth will prepare for all peoples
a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines,
of food rich and juicy, of fine strained wines.
One thing that hurts in life is the death of loved ones and
friends. Closely following is the sale of a home place. When our
family farm was sold after three quarters of a century in our
family, I felt an immense loss. I like other Kentuckians identify
with our land. I still go back and whimsically look about, but it
is not the same -- it is another's home and even the barking dog
seems so forbidding. While not totally detached, I suffer from the
ambivalence of our home -- our source and our destination -- for
home involves how we socially associate and where we are heading in
the future. I believe my emotions are shared by folks throughout
the world -- and that triggers us to reflect on what is "home."
A home is a place of security and quality rest, a place, when
one is settled in, that is comfortable, a place of familiarity
where one can find friends, a place of contentment, a destination.
Does the place need some degree of permanence and allow one an
orientation and direction in what lies ahead? The homing pigeon
has a inbuilt instinct directing it back to its place of origin;
analogously, we have a faint homing instinct; we set our sights on
distant places but often without the clarity as to how to reach the
destination alone. We need companionship on the journey.
Furthermore, for some, the home is a sentimental place of birth or
residing for a time and thus is more an experience from the past --
about which songs and poetry have often been written.
Searching for a home. We hear the expression "make yourself
at home" and know we are welcome. Some people are easy to please
and feel at home quite quickly, whereas others through timidity,
personality differences, or cultural barriers find it harder to
settle in; they are definitely not at home. "Home is where the
heart is," and so those who are moving on as travelers are seeking
to establish a home in heaven. The ones just described who are at
ease are partly satisfied with a temporary resting place but do not
identify with the present location -- hoping that with renewed
energy they will find a longer-term home.
Eternal home. Believers speak of an eternal home in heaven
and hear the comforting words of Jesus at the Last Supper, "I am
going now to prepare a place for you" (John 14:3). They, and
hopefully all of us, long for the face of God, and that longing is
the very core of our restless quest. Those weary with illness
want to pass on. Often the elderly sense their deceased friends
beckoning them to the beyond. We urge the ill to offer their
present sufferings in union with Christ for the whole world, and
many do. But so many are merely surviving and find active prayer
difficult. Frankly, they are often tired of fighting a losing
battle and their hope lies in a future home; for them, death frees
them from the current purgatory of earthy ill and of being
immobilized. Now the talents of the hospice worker, counselor, and
hospital chaplain come to the fore. They are the ones who reassure
the suffering person of passing forth with ease and hope.
The homeless. Our hearts go out to the uprooted, the
refugee, the ones who just have lost a home to fire. These suffer
from home loss; they miss the security of a previous home; they are
uncertain about their future; they are concerned about their own
family's welfare. At the current time, upwards of 25 million
refugees are either externally or internally (within their own
nation) displaced or may be seeking asylum in a friendly land.
Immigrants are often in transit between a former home and one that
is still to be established; their temporary displacement is painful
because they are uprooted. We have pity on refugees and immigrants
because in our deepest recesses we know we are pilgrims on the
road, and this current Earthly home is temporary for us as well.
We empathize with the ones "without a country," and with the
soldiers, diplomats or tourists who swell with pride and emotion as
they see the flag, statue of liberty, or other national symbol
again. And we celebrate with them on their homecoming.
Home as sacred place. Quite often people feel a sense of home
in the parish, shrine or other place of worship. For pilgrims, it
is the happy destination of their ordeal. For Moslems, it is
Mecca; for Hindus, it is the River Ganges; for Jews and Christians,
it is various places in the Holy Land; for Catholic Christians, it
is the home church, St. John Lateran in Rome built in the time of
Constantine in 328 and dedicated to Our Savior. Many have worship
places, not because God needs such but because believers do.
The religious experience addresses our inherent restlessness, our
ongoing pilgrim's way, our desire for a permanent beyond. We
recall the biblical story of the misguided soul who finally
completed storage barns and settled in to live happily ever after;
he was called from this life that very night. Should we settle
down in this Earth and call it home, or should we look for
another? Maybe our conduct in how we anticipate the after life is
most important. We are not to trash the present and expect a
miraculous better one. Such wasting of precious creation is
blasphemy to a God of all goodness and care. Nor should we be as
settled in as the storage barn builder. Then what is godly?
Earth as home. For the eco-spiritual person, ecos means home.
Earth is our common home for the living human family. Earth is our
motherland, our birth, our womb, our tomb -- and a hundred other
descriptive words. Through this understanding of the character of
home we derive that fundamental respect we often refer to in eco-
spirituality. Earth includes other creatures with whom we have
special relationships (see October), all of whom help define the
planet as our home in the vast cold void of the universe. We
wonder whether the highly unexplored "Earth" of a thousand years
ago was as homey as our Earth today when we know the exactness of
our planet's dimensions and yet also know about the cold and vast
space out there beyond our Earth. As we become more connected, we
realize that Earth is homey, much like neighborhoods to our
ancestors who could not travel or communicate over such distances.
Earth is what we have right here and now.
Earth as unsettling. If Earth is home, why our inherent
restlessness? Is the answer that as we age we grow in awareness of
our approaching mortality. Many of the young think they will live
forever; and that impression fades with maturity. If death is the
end of time for us, then the thought of Earth as lasting home is
somewhat unsettling. The more we push it to be our home, the more
we see the fiction because our stay is limited and the place is
imperfect. Cynicism may take hold. A dissatisfaction creeps into
our bones. Yes, it is true; we have no lasting city.
Earth as provisional home? One response (the hospice
approach) as believers in life after death may be that we see Earth
as temporary; we desire to make the best of it and enjoy her for
the short time left, for she will be destroyed by fire; we are to
take on a cheerful countenance and to pretend or do "make work" for
the Lord -- but it is not something lasting. On the other side of
the faith divide is a cynical urging to eat, drink and be merry for
tomorrow we will die. But cynicism bleeds enthusiasm, and so does
pretending to work when not really doing anything worthwhile.
Neither of these responses satisfies us. Earth invites still more.
Earth as substrate of a New Earth. Have we expended enormous
love in developing this place called "Earth," and yet she is
destined for destruction or death? Why the effort? Is this what
Scripture suggest in such passages as, So when you see the
disastrous abomination of which the prophet Daniel spoke...
(Matthew 24:15; Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11); also, Heaven and earth
will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Matthew 24:35).
Did some of the fulfillment occur with the destruction of Jerusalem
at 70 A.D.? Will the passing of this world be a time of
transformation, not of utter destruction? Could the concept of
fire (Christ says he has come to light a fire) be a conversion or
transformation since fire changes our cold hearts to burning and
loving ones? Is not fire used to smelt or change red ore into
iron? Could fire be the transforming of old Earth into New Earth?
The various Scriptural passages are theological and tell more than
mere scientific process. Just as we do not take Genesis as a road
map of the Earth's beginnings, so it is wrong to take the
Apocalyptic writings as a road map to the Earth's ending.
Home is in the transforming process. An emerging position is
that the end of times is really the accelerated process of "homing
us." Stable homes are illusions in the present order; they will be
the precursors to an end product now undergoing dramatic
transition. The times are urgent; Earth must be saved because it
is of lasting value. We are called to be "at home" in this
transformational process, working with our heart in the job. Yes,
we are restless but to be on with the task ahead of us. Our home is
partly realized; it is the Kingdom of God now starting to emerge.
2. All have a Right to Work
Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in
idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone
else's. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of
this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they
eat. (II Thessalonians 3:11-12)
I never really ever objected to all the variety of farm work
and other things in life that I have had to do, provided the proper
equipment is available. In fact, it is a privilege to work, for
that is what we are all expected to do for the benefit of others in
the world. Yes, rest is important, but it is only deeply
appreciated when serving as an interval between bouts of work.
Making ourselves "at home" here and now means that we can be
productive and active where we reside, but the final result is what
is important. There are plenty of things to do in this troubled
and unfinished world, and participating in doing them makes life
meaningful and self-fulfilling -- and it adds to our happiness.
However, in our culture, so-called perfect jobs are generally
higher paying, illustrious, and somewhat secure. But the really
perfect jobs are not related to compensation as such; they are
those that are immensely self-fulfilling even though they may be
lower paying, risky, and have no one else willing to take them --
and yet must be done.
Prayer to action. In the September reflection we considered
how much meaningful work is part of the transformation accomplished
in the Eucharistic devotion and mystery. We enter into the
sacrifice of Jesus. As Paul says, to do what I can to make up all
that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body,
the Church (Colossians 1:24). What has to be still undergone,
since redemption has occurred through his total sacrifice? Our
cooperation as companions is what is still wanting. Jesus craves
that companionship as he did in his agony in the Garden; he craves
our transforming deeds that extend redemption to the far reaches of
the world -- and these deeds are meaningful work. The invitation
goes out to all: we must transform an unjust society into one bent
on rebuilding a wounded Earth.
Component One: Willing Workers. Granted some people are
inclined towards idleness or towards crediting themselves with what
others do. Such is part of the mix of human beings in any joint
enterprise in our imperfect world. But there are ways of making
people more willing to pitch in and actually work. In directing a
nature center, I recall two different individual shirkers. The
best procedure was to assign them a job where no one else was a
partner; they had to do it by themselves. In both cases the two
very soon decided to leave and find "work" elsewhere. St. Paul's
basic observation is still quite valid -- if you don't work you
don't eat; hunger can be a great motivator. However, let us look
beyond the few idlers; the great majority of people would prefer
to apply native talent and acquire the skills to hold down a
meaningful job that pays a living wage and satisfies their desires.
Lack of opportunities. A major indignity is to deny work to
a person who possesses potential talent, physical well-being and
enthusiasm and still is unable to find meaningful work for self and
family. The hundreds of millions (more than America's population)
of un- and underemployed people in this world feel this indignity
deeply. Rising populations of younger people in developing
countries with high unemployment only exacerbate this current
unemployment problem. Add to this the rise of mechanization, which
eliminates jobs from the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
Think of the swelling rural to urban migrant tide, and the growing
numbers of high school and college graduates seeking jobs.
Work competition, good or bad? Elders who are still fit and
willing to work are meeting competition from the more energetic and
youthful ranks; immigrants, often undocumented, wish to replace
those less inclined to exert themselves and will most often get the
undesirable jobs. It is devastating when "surplus labor"
encourages a bidding war among those at the lower end of the
economic ladder, for some will work for less and less just to have
a job. Health insurance is not as important for a young able-
bodied immigrant seeking enough money to return to build a home; it
is very important to an older worker anticipating future health
costs. Sadly enough, some of these older workers have performed
dangerous work and now have labor-related poor health.
Right to work. The right of workers to earn a livelihood is
a basic human right, and citizens must see to it that it is
realized. Unemployment is the symptom of a sick economic society
that fails to allow workers to obtain their just demands in return
for fulfilling work. The few who prefer not to work are not the
majority. That expression cannot be translated into an excuse by
a government to fail to furnish work opportunities for all the
able-bodied citizens. Some may say, "but work opportunities are
not there." No, the work is there along with the workers, but the
wage paying opportunities are lacking. The so-called capitalistic
lovers of freedom know in their heart of hearts that the economic
system would demand radical readjustment to allow all to have
meaningful work. Guaranteeing full employment demands a total
redistribution of the wealth of this world. But the right to work
is a basic demand of a socially just and democratic society. Why
should a privileged few receive high salaries when others do not
have enough to live on? Yes, satisfying the honest demands of all
potential workers ensures national security; lack of work results
in friction and ultimately a basic insecurity. Governments are the
employer of last resort, a philosophy behind the Great Depression's
WPA -- and this is still a valid principle.
Component Two: meaningful work. The job situation varies
considerably from country to country. In some nations the un- or
underemployment reaches unusually high rates of two-thirds of the
potential workers or more. Some underdeveloped nations find it
increasingly difficult to create jobs fast enough to meet their
rapidly swelling labor force. Due to automation, the labor force
in many sectors (e.g. coal mining, agriculture, and railroading) is
in decline. This makes it all the harder to create employment
opportunities, a truly immense challenge for most of the world's
governments. The hopelessness that creeps over long-term
unemployed workers, leads to family discord, drinking, and acts of
violence; the community well-being is shaken; individuals tend to
doubt their competence and develop stress conditions. Though many
workers are strong and willing to work for modest wages, they are
said to be unneeded -- and soon come to believe it. Their souls
are crushed by the seemingly permanent indignity to their person.
Creating jobs. Burdens are placed on the unemployed and that
is not where they belong. Discovering and promoting meaningful
work positions are duties of the state -- and even twentieth-
century communist countries understood this to an amazing degree.
However, the bosses in those lands were often just as uncreative as
those in capitalist countries, where excess jobs cut into profits.
Nevertheless, the work opportunities are out there. It takes
creativity to find them and, more so, to furnish the resources to
do them well. How will the meaningful work arena be funded is the
major question? Should we call for more taxes especially on the
wealthy? Are there other sources we overlook?
Where there's a will, there's a way. People fail to dream of
full world employment and yet think it expedient to spend enormous
sums on anti-terrorism measures, partly demanded by the growing
discontent among the unemployed. Where are the problem areas --
in our insecurity and need for more military defense, or in
addressing deeper causes of social unrest? The following are
examples of major areas of job needs for construction and
maintenance are in the following areas:
* Support for small food producers;
* Potable water systems for all;
* Design and construction of adequate housing;
* Public health and sanitation facilities;
* School construction and maintenance;
* Construction of recreational facilities and other
infrastructure such as transportation and communications;
* Environmental protection education, promotion of renewable
energy programs, and reforestation projects;
* Care for the elderly, infirm and orphans.
Merely stating a litany of needs will not get them addressed,
but we must begin by listing them nonetheless. We see that the
employment opportunities cover a vast field, if we divorce the job
opening from the financed opportunity. If the work is needed and
we acutely sense this, we have taken a first step. There is enough
pressure from the populations of developing nations, who want to
come to North America and Europe, to vouch for willing workers;
there is enough foresight to know that job opportunities exist.
Real jobs need to be done and willing workers exist; now these
must be matched with financial resources to perform the work.
3. Visions and Realistic Dreams
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; yours are the only
hands to which he can do his work; your are the only feet with
which he can go about the world, yours are the only eyes through
which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world. Christ
has no body on Earth now but yours. St. Teresa of Avila
We were asked to perform an environmental resource assessment
at Mission San Luis Rey, the crown jewel among the string of
Franciscan Missions near Oceanside, California. There was an old
layman who had worked at the place for decades and had learned over
time to make adobe brick with the exact composition used in
constructing the original mission buildings in the eighteenth
century. He had used his sun-baked brick for constructing curved
one-meter high walls around some of the fields and plots. Youth
who come from the schools of California for historical tours were
able to scamper around on these walls without causing harm or
damage. I told him there should be a videotape of him explaining
the adobe construction process, and tears came to his eyes. "You
are the first to ever say anything like that to me." Why was it
neglected, for he was a prime builder of the New Heaven and New
Young and old alike can have visions and dreams. The
difference is that youth do not know the realistic limits to what
can be done as well as do elders. An authentic eco-spirituality
demands that both our visions and dreams be realistic, that is, not
glossing over the stark reality of our troubled world today. How
about dreaming realistic dreams, not of fame, power or wealth?
Rather the dreams include knowing what is going on today and
believing that we can alleviate some of the urgent troubles through
human work and cooperation.
Dreams must include a major conversion of at least one quarter
of the all-consuming military budgets worldwide to peacetime
purposes. This comes with hopes that some countries will see fit
to take the first courageous steps to demilitarize and ensure their
security through moral persuasion. Nations like Costa Rica have
replaced military forces with adequate local police units with some
mobile ones capable of being sent to areas of greater need. The
benefits of a massive conversion of military to peacetime police
forces is that true "security" measures would be better understood
and implemented. Financial advantages are forthcoming, for higher
taxes would be far better spent; dollar-for-dollar a non-military
dollar will touch the lives of far more people in the poorer
segments of society. Reductions in standing armies would lessen
possible border clashes and preemptory strikes by powerful nations.
It would reduce the number of lethal weapons, provided a comparable
effort is made to reduce the trade in these weapons.
Police security -- Retaining the remainder of the military
budget for national defense still allows for traditional armies in
a modified degree; these would include rapid deployment forces
hopefully made up of multinational units with proper military air
and sea transport to ferry them to places of greatest need. With
a military force reduced to a smaller size there is room left for
enhanced local police forces along with national and regional
mobile police units for emergencies. The standing national armies
in Africa states are simply outmoded -- and dangerous. A well-
trained, united African force would be far better in areas of
conflict. Much depends on whether our country is willing to reduce
to a peacetime army and assist others by training police forces.
Lack of will power -- Over and over we address the basic
problem that applies to realistic dreams: can we succeed in a
meaningful way in getting the general population to agree to this
beating of spears to pruning hooks? The problem rests squarely
with military/industrial power, which can unduly influence the
media and thus the total citizenry. Can citizens see and hear the
cry of the poor? Can we respond in meaningful ways? What we must
emphasize here again is that potential resources are available to
finance a massive transformation to a just and peaceful society;
they are only misappropriated through fear, corporate greed,
misdirected national pride, and selfishness. Original sin has a
tight grip on national policy, and that is why an authentic eco-
spirituality is crucial at this time.
Eco-spiritual investment. Dreams are looked down upon. Was
not Joseph in the Old Testament regarded as a dreamer by his
brothers, and yet he would eventually be the practical savior of
his family? There is nothing wrong with dreaming and, in fact, it
must be encouraged as part of eco-spiritual investment in the
future. If the dream is not for self-glorification or self-
interest, we can invest in dreaming. This involves relentlessly
announcing, popularizing and insisting on the ultimate fulfillment
of realistic dreams that benefit the commons. And we must be
willing to implement these dreams at the local level.
Component Three: Financial Resources for Workers. Again we
should emphasize that resources are available; they are just
misappropriated. We prefer a modern day strata of serfdom (the un-
or underemployed) when meaningful work is denied to some in order
to ensure the status of the privileged elite. Before we look at
drastic military budget reductions and conversion let us consider
some other suggested methods of freeing capital for work projects:
* Direct financial assistance. Arthur Simon (Reference:
Arthur Simon, How Much is Enough? p. 149) points out that U.S.
assistance (one-quarter of the additional aid) would be less than
six percent of the $270 billion increase in U.S. income each year.
More is needed in direct assistance by wealthy nations.
* Small loans. Cut down on large-scale loan programs. Small,
low-interest capital loans at reasonable rates for small farmers
and home industry operators to use to set up businesses or to
continue their operations are preferable. The loaning agencies
should be secured for a reasonable return by government agencies.
* Energy Taxes. Considerable capital could be raised by
attaching a charge of one dollar to each barrel of oil and allowing
this to be used to install solar and wind applications throughout
the world. This ten-billion dollar windfall could go to harness
the wind and the sun and hasten the coming of a renewable world.
* European proposals. At Paris, in March 2006, several
proposals were made to have a currency tax to assist the world's
poor. These included Gordon Brown's proposal (as British
chancellor of the exchequer) for an International Finance Facility
(IFF), which is estimated to raise possibly $10 billion/year for
the poor. Jacques Chirac, the French President, had pushed through
his parliament his initiative for an airline ticket levy (ATL) that
could raise $5 billion/year. The third concept was to levy a tax
on foreign currency dealing that could raise an additional $40
billion dollars to help meet and exceed the $50 billion annual
United Nations' goal. Gordon Brown, estimated a few years back
that $50 billion a year within 15 years could cut poverty in half,
cut child mortality by two-thirds, and guarantee every child a
primary education (Reference: Washington Post, December 17, 2001 A-
* Military cuts for world peace. The employment of large
numbers of workers for peacetime services costs far less than
military services and equipment; furthermore, greater world
security would result from converting weapons to peaceful means and
soldiers to peacetime police forces. If one-quarter of the
military budgets of the world (about $250 billion per year in 2006
figures) were converted to the already listed subject areas,
poverty and extreme needs could be eliminated within two decades.
Is this dream so unrealistic? Let's give peacemaking a chance.
Give your bread to those who are hungry. (Tobit 4:16a)
The first and most down-to-earth dream is for all to go to bed
without hunger. This persistent worldwide hunger problem that
affects at least one billion people could be tackled on two fronts:
direct distribution of surpluses to those in immediate conditions
of hunger due to drought or refugee status; the supplying of
materials, information, and small loans to farmers who provide the
food in countries throughout the world. In the first place proper
rodent-free storage facilities should be established at key
locations throughout the world, especially in drought-prone regions
such as the Horn of Africa. Such programs should be supervised
through United Nations relief operations in cooperation with
Equal attention should be given to supporting farmers enabling
them to supply nutritious food for local populations. These mostly
small-time farmers need access to land as well as small loans for
purchase of seed and other materials, and for improvement of
irrigation projects, transportation routes (including all-weather
roads) and marketing systems. Also advanced information on higher
crop yields, such as is provided by county agents through the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, is needed in developing nations. Mixed
and subsistence farming must be emphasized over that of factory and
company farms specializing in export commodities. One-sixth of
American workers are in the food sector; a higher portion of the
population would provide a livelihood for tens of millions of
farmers and their families in developing nations.
While traveling through the Holy Land along the Jordan Valley
I saw irrigation sprinklers operating full blast in a late spring
morning (full sun) on cropland in Israeli occupied areas -- and a
major source of irritation is misuse of scarce water supplies.
Wasteful irrigation practices are the number one waste of water.
Hopefully, in the decade since I observed this, conditions have
improved, but have they throughout the world? Often the poor are
forced to drink bad water and fail to realize that water-borne
diseases can afflict them. Swimming pools fill for affluent
residents and tourists and yet the poor must pay for good water to
drink. In many lands potable water techniques are needed together
with water conservation: drilling wells, building cisterns,
teaching simple water treatment procedures (passing non-potable
water through several layers of cotton cloth to remove harmful
organisms, boiling water or using solar distillation, chlorination,
ozone or ultraviolet treatments).
At least one billion people live in urban and rural slums and
are in need of proper affordable housing, and another billion live
in homes in need of basic utilities. The mammoth undertaking to
provide adequate housing is a world goal and demands freeing
resources to tackle world housing problems with the same degree of
intensity as addressing hunger and water problems. However this is
a doable dream using streamlined low-cost design, the latest green
building techniques, native building materials, and local labor and
sweat equity programs. A low-cost $20,000 home in America could
cost only one-tenth of that amount in areas of the so-called
developing world where three quarters of the housing needs are
greatest. In 80% of the areas space heating is not required, and
decent housing can be achieved for as low as $2,000 per unit (local
planning, materials and labor). We need to build twenty-five
million low-cost homes each year for up to 100 million people.
Such housing construction would stimulate the solar industry and
the building materials industry as well, thus bringing about lower
costs of solar systems through volume production.
Adequate basic health services (public health, mass
immunization, infant hydration programs to combat dysentery, eye
infections, AIDS, and other internal treatments, and public
sanitation) exist in all industrialized nations but still are
unavailable in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.
Our responsibility to furnish basic needs to everyone extends to
all nations not just our own; we cannot tolerate poor health
services anywhere, not just here at orth America and Europe.
Immunization of one billion youth over a four-year period would
cost $50 billion/year; water hydration methods for all 200 million
dehydrated infants would be $2 billion, AIDS medicine for thirty
million using generic cocktails at $365 each would amount to $11
billion annually; malaria eradication programs could be an
additional $3 billion, and additional tropical disease treatments
require an equal amount each year. Hansen's Disease or leprosy,
a curse of former times, can be easily cured today, and other
ailments await similar cures. Needed additional health research
would be $6 billion, and a similar amount would establish 50,000
primary treatment facilities in poorer parts of the world.
The United States, the richest economy in the world, still has
immense health needs. This country has some of the highest health
costs in the world; those lacking health insurance in 2005
increased by 1.3 million to 46.6 million or 15.9% of the
population; the leading cause of bankruptcy is unpaid health bills.
The nation is experiencing a current (2007) shortage of 200,000
nurses, especially male nurses. Worldwide, the shortage may be
three million nurses alone -- provided resources are available to
pay them. Now add on the millions for service personnel, cooks,
nurses aides, administrators and, of course, doctors and consider
the ten million who could be employed in meaningful work, if
salaries could be found and made available to these needed
caregivers. Why should the most promising medical personnel come
to the richer nations when the demand is so great at home?
Reading and writing for the first time are the dreams of the
illiterate and are begging to be realized. Our hearts go out to
them. Literacy campaigns seek large numbers of retirees and others
to serve as teachers who can help the illiterate to acquire the
skill of reading. One-on-one education of millions of illiterate
people may require at least ten million human work-years at a
thousand dollars a year -- a legitimate public education task
worthy of modest compensation. Even in the twenty-first
century, schools are not available today to at least one hundred
million youth in the world due to poverty and lack of facilities.
Affluent nations cannot rest until affordable public primary
education is available to all the world's youth.
Construction, maintenance, and improvement of recreation
facilities, and instruction in their proper use all necessitate
working people and financial resources. The quality of everyone's
life requires some degree of recreational facilities and
opportunities, the lack of which is felt keenly by poor youth.
Servile work laws of the early and Middle Age Church were strictly
enforced so that all serfs and day laborers had an opportunity to
engage in recreation, pray and relax. That need continues today
with the need to provide days off for all workers. And sound
recreation should be accessible, affordable and in safe and healthy
facilities for all. We need to consider converting un- or
underused lawns, idled land, cemetery pathways and unused parking
areas to play areas. Recreational activities vary in degree of
greenness (environmentally sound or detrimental). While some types
of recreation are more resource intensive such as golfing, use of
environmentally costly facilities could be taxed so that other
recreational opportunities are open for the underprivileged. In
fragile wilderness areas that are off-limits to recreation,
videotaping, sight-seeing from observation platforms, and more
vicarious experiences through modern technology could be afforded,
for all youth need nature experiences.
7. Environmental Protection
Environmental protection and education are a primary concern
and are already being funded in developed countries but not nearly
in sufficient amounts. Sustainable energy production programs are
another target of generous funding in these lands. For the sake of
Earth's atmosphere and climate, we must reduce carbon dioxide
emissions and the best ways are through resource conservation and
through renewable energy (solar and wind) utilization. In fact,
sustainable and renewable energy applications will take at least
the same number of workers as existing non-renewable energy
facilities, and so there is no net job loss and possibly some gain.
The cleanup that is needed all over the globe will require tens of
thousands of workers in many countries. That could be partly
funded through an energy tax, though this is highly unpopular in
developed nations mainly because of heavy pressure by the oil and
8. Home care for infants and elderly
Some countries such as Ireland pay for relatives and friends
to come to homes of the elderly and disabled and assist them in
home health care that extends to daily tasks of cooking and
housecleaning. This type of necessary care needs to be expanded as
a global project through which those who care for others receive
their own daily bread for doing so. Add to this the care for
dependent young people including the over twelve million youngsters
orphaned due to parental AIDS deaths in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
For worldwide adequate caregiving we are talking about tens of
millions of people.
In summary, to put it bluntly, there is enough work for all
the unemployed and willing workers on this planet. We only need to
redistribute resources, and that is a powerful and realistic dream.
Let us not lose it.
Adding Up Our Dreams
A Worldwide Annual Need
1. Food -- emergency relief $15 billion
-- small farm programs & rural roads 20
2. Water -- community potable systems 20
3. Housing -- basic units 50
4. Health -- as listed 75
5. Education -- Upgrade schools 25
literacy programs 10
6. Recreational facilities -- 5
7. Environment (education, protection and 20
renewable energy promotion
[additional $10 from energy taxes]
8. Home care for elderly, sick and orphans 10
Total: $250 billion
4. A New Creation: A New Heaven and New Earth
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan
he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning to act upon when the
times had run their course to the end. (Ephesians 1: 9)
On the rare occasions when I return to places where we have
performed environmental resource assessments, I find the enthusiasm
of the people who are installed organic gardens, solar greenhouses,
edible landscaping, outdoor water projects, recycling programs,
community education projects, and many other recommendations.
Dreams become reality almost before our eyes for those with faith
to see that better things are possible and do occur through work.
And the great part of the story is that these groups act freely.
Visions and dreams can lead to a profound transformation, but
how can we influence this radical change or even accelerate it:
through fright, or rigid control mechanisms, or through encouraging
the freedom of action on the part of all participants? And does
this freedom allow for an individual "license" or are there some
pattern and safeguards that allow all to practice their freedoms
better? In some ways, we share some of the same realistic visions
and ultimate goals as those of terrorists and their sympathizers
who want a more perfect order for themselves and others; however,
they seek to influence through terror. We may share the same
general goal of social equality as many of the twentieth-century
communists, but their godless methods resulted in the Stalinist and
Maoist cruel and repressive regimes. How can we influence a global
transformation while maximizing freedom of choice and expression?
A question. Is it not sinful to retain more money than is
needed for one's family's livelihood? The retention of money that
could be used to enhance work opportunities retards the development
of a socially just world and ultimately reduces the free use of
these funds by a democratic society. Why should billionaires
decide what they should do with their surpluses? It would be far
better that efficient governmental agencies distribute the
surpluses to those in greater need and that how to spend the money
be decided by aid agencies not influential wealthy folks. Charity
distribution can be controlling. Some will drag up examples of
inefficient governmental bureaucracy as a reason for not doing
such. The answer is that an active citizenry insist that
governments develop schemes to use such funds properly.
Goals. We believers desire a world free from oppression and
want to help to establish an atmosphere of peace -- a New Heaven
and a New Earth. This lofty goal is outside of the purview of
materialists, who have no place for a hereafter and regard such
ends as distracting from the immediate concerns of all who suffer
from injustice. On the other hand, some believers who affirm a
hereafter sometimes regard the present drive for social justice as
a distraction from their individualistic spiritual approach (God-
and-I-alone). They may tend to be falsely apocalyptic (this Earth
is doomed and generally soon) and believe that the perfect miracle
is to stand righteously aloft from the vicissitudes of this world
in order to be saved by the miraculous hand of God. This latter
view can be blasphemous, for it belittles the terrible price of
sacrifice that Jesus did for us, and the solemn invitation to enter
and cooperate in that final sacrifice.
Means. An authentic spiritual approach honors the freedom
that must be operational and yet sees a clear vision of a just and
peaceful New Heaven and New Earth as an emerging possibility. And
we work for this as participants working to maximize freedom of
choice while respecting the rights and aspirations of others.
Thus social justice is not just an intermediate goal -- it becomes
the very means through which the New Earth may occur. And this is
not an occurrence through the violent destruction of Earth as we
know it, but through a radical non-violent transformation.
Restore, not destroy. We cannot engage in so-called "wars
against terrorism" without becoming instigators of new terror.
With patience and forbearance we assess the situation; we know
that present conditions require tolerance and openness to the pain
of all peoples. Building the Kingdom of God is not a special event
punctuated by car bombs and explosives; it is a deliberate
"process" that often lacks drama and is painfully slow. But we are
called to gain patience for the process has already begun in a
growing consciousness that the community of nations must administer
justice and establish peace. Love, compassion and non-violence can
and will bring change, for this is the Triune God's way of acting -
- and ours as well. We look to the first Easter and Ascension and
to the Spirit's coming at Pentecost. Thus begins to emerge what
St. Paul speaks about -- the hidden plan of God (Ephesians 1:9).
The liturgical prayers at the offertory in the Roman Mass tell that
all that was created is now more wonderfully re-created. Thus
untouched natural beauty, so carelessly touched and harmed, now
unfolds as a more wonderful re-creation of healing and restoration.
A new age is dawning. Christ, the New Creation, is rising,
and we are witnesses to this grandeur, first the 500 who saw the
Risen Lord, and now all of us. We profess our belief as witnesses
through proclamation, the blood of martyrdom, operating churches
and schools, devoting ourselves to family life, and through
establishments of communities of belief. We witness as other
christs. To anyone who is in Christ there is a new creation. It
is all God's work (II Corinthians 5:17-19). We are the new
creation (Galatians 6:15) through the roles we are called to play.
We initiate an ongoing catechesis year after year patiently showing
that part of the mystery of the growth of the Kingdom is through
"re-presenting" Christ much as Mary presented him to shepherds and
Magi, in the Temple, and to initiate his public ministry at Cana.
Freedom and influence. The process of achieving the goal of
a New Earth through the means of bringing social justice to all
must be an exercise of freedom. Let us review what has been
already said about freedom. In March, we see that Jesus, freely
given by God to us, is a liberator who brings us the gift of
freedom. He is free as expressed many times: freely changing
course as when immersing himself in teaching when he seeks rest
with the disciples and freely going to Jerusalem even against his
disciples' wishes. Jesus freely gives us freedom so that in this
freedom we can help free others. In April, we see that the freedom
of choice and of specification includes the choice of spiritual
over material values. In May, we encounter the risen Lord who
gives us the spatial freedom to start over again after making
mistakes. In June, we speak of godly ways that were initiated in
freedom and is our way of acting with others. In August, we
reaffirm that the free Spirit inspires us in our journey of faith.
And this stamp of freedom is fundamentally trinitarian (Reference:
Joseph Bracken, Christianity and Process Thought: Spirituality for
a Changing World, Templeton Foundation Press, 2006, pp. 36-37).
Degrees of freedom. Free opportunities seem to emerge within
the complex hierarchy of being. One can speak of degrees of
freedom on the part of all beings from the sub-atomic particles
through atomic and molecular structure, to bacteria, plants,
animals, and human beings on the individual and social levels. In
chemistry we speak of degrees of freedom in intra- and
intermolecular activity. Plant life includes colonies that
flourish; birds and other wildlife add the freedom of spatial
mobility. The individual human being is free to do good or evil,
and the human community emphasizes collective free choices. On
either individual or collective levels original sin manifests
itself in selfishness, arrogance, greed and a host of dysfunctions.
Greater acts demand greater freedom. We all learn through
experience that involves our past mistakes in human, social,
political, and ecclesial history. We were not perfect, but we are
capable of acknowledging mistakes and growing in God's love and
godly ways: we were free and missed the mark; forgiveness opens
the door to us to be even more free; violence and a militaristic
manner of influencing others are not proper. The challenge in
Earthhealing is to involve all people in some way through
democratic process and not to ignore the suffering masses and
enlist only the chosen "elite." We must champion a process where
all grow in their freedom and are participants in rebuilding the
social order. Is this not the grand challenge in the mysterious
and hidden plan of God? We are called to take charge and to
maximize and champion freedom for all -- even at the risk of losing
control of the process of transformation? By extending liberation
through social justice we afford people the option to bring new-
found freedom or ruin to our precious Earth. A hard-nosed
pragmatist would call this foolishness, but is it for those who
champion the freedom associated with godliness?
Two views of re-creation. We perceive the ongoing work of
creation and yet something new as well, a re-creation. Through a
popular fundamentalistic view, the initial creation ended in the
period announced in Genesis through seven days of events. For
these people, would not a New Creation be a merely miraculous event
of a single day of judgment? But was not the Genesis passage
speaking of a theological fact of God's dominion over the totality
of creation -- not over a small portion as in the characteristic
concepts of gods limited in period and place? A more solidly
grounded view involves the scientific process of creation through
the billions of years of geological history and includes selection
through evolutionary process as well. This process is not devoid
of events (the Big Bang at initiation as well as the sinful acts of
individuals and communities). Time enters the picture, as both
events and creative process, and sin requires a corrective remedial
action (redemption), which includes both events and process. And
this temporal unfolding requires the maximizing of our individual
and communal degrees of freedom. This transformation has been and
can continue to be stifled, slowed down, and open to readjustment.
The process of Re-creation. Christ freely came to save us
through a definitive event -- coming, suffering, death and
resurrection. We are invited into salvation history by our birth,
rebirth in baptism, and through events in our lives with an
anticipation of the culminating event at the end of the ages.
God's work in salvation history continues as highlighted by events
and yet an ongoing process in time. Christ leads us on the way,
not lording over us, but through service for us. If I, then, the
Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each
other's feet (John 13:14). Our service as other christs has been
unfolding in rejecting a mistaken notion of domination (Genesis
1:28), but by dying and rising with the Lord, namely, being
compassionate (February), prophetic like Jesus (July), and
enthusiastic (August). With time we grow in an awareness of our
mission. Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your
servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave
to all. For the son of Man himself did not come to be served but to
serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:43-45).
Growth and maturation. Since Earthhealing is a form of
service, if not the most important in our age, it is understood as
a process, a growth in awareness of our mission. We see this
through an awareness of other creatures, of mystery, and of our
consecration in the HERE, NOW and WE. We understand that this
growth involves a movement from an ecological stage to a holy stage
of mystery, and then to a consecrated stage (when we are set apart
for the mission ahead). We note the growth of Jesus in age and
wisdom (Luke 2) is followed in the companion volume of the Acts of
the Apostles by the growth of the Church (the Body of Christ in
Pauline terms) as an increase in numbers. Now we go a step
further: just as Jesus grew in age and wisdom, and the Church grew
in space and numbers, so we grow in becoming other christs. We
mature in our individual callings and thus become wise with time;
we become more aware of our mission and thus undergo church-related
growth. We thus mature individually and collectively.
Teleological Consciousness. We each have a history within
that is patterned to the degree we are with Christ. But this
growth is not just a catalog of knowledge, or mere numbers on the
part of the Church. Qualitative growth is one of consciousness, an
awareness of who one is and where one is heading with an end in
mind, a telos. Our history is not one of life, death, life, and
death in a circular fashion as some Eastern philosophy may tend to
propose. Rather, we become aware of definitive moments in the past
and anticipated definitive moments in the future. The world
historical process is leading to an event -- a culmination of all
things in Christ. This may be interpreted as contrary to the Law
of Entropy, the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But it is authentic
growth as a mustard seed and as fermenting dough.
Avoidance and overemphasis. Awareness of this telos is part
of our growth in maturation and faith. From a theological
understanding, we await a definitive future happening, a Christ
event -- all in all, one with the Father, the final coming, the
judgment. We await something definitive and we will speak of
acceleration in December. This is in contradistinction to two
false tendencies: to become apocalyptic and to regard this as a
miraculous event of which we have little part but to be self-
righteous and await the end as good Christians; to be overly
secular and ignore the end and what it entails -- and revert to
nothingness. Neither path is good, for one fails to see the
mystery in our calling to be other christs, and the other fails to
see the Mystery in the telos. For authentic Christians, the end is
fulfilling and influences the present -- our consecrated NOW.
Social consciousness. An earlier discussion focused on
addressing the needs of others (see April) who are impoverished and
need awareness, assistance and accompaniment. What now emerges is
that our failure to fully address social injustice retards our
movement to the end. That means not just a neglected neighbor next
door but one half-way around the globe now known through
modern communications. We neglect to see that our spiritual
demands deepen with time. To be socially just now demands more
than it did a few centuries back, because our awareness has
expanded. Some are startled by increased responsibility and deny,
excuse and escape from reality, namely, the vision of suffering
humanity and other planetary creatures near and far. Further
development of social consciousness as a means to influence our
teleological consciousness is absolutely imperative.
Social avoidance. Failure to further develop our collective
social consciousness is often placed at the feet of our own
Christian leaders (Catholic and Evangelical). We do not move fast
enough from mere corporal works of mercy to deeper systemic needs
of our planetary society. Permitting injustice to continue, slows
our movement towards an end. It is wise to preach a teleological
consciousness (the end is coming and the interpreted "apocalypse"
is before us), but we must acknowledge the poor, think with them,
and be one with them (see April). The growth both of awareness of
end and of the social community needed to achieve it are absolutely
necessary, and without one or other the work will be retarded.
Lack of harmony. Disharmony occurs when we omit either a
concern about the final goal or the social awareness necessary to
accomplish that goal. When one acts socially with no ultimate end
in sight about which C.S. Lewis comments, "It is since Christians
have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have
become so ineffective in this" (Reference: Mere Christianity,
1943). On the other hand, some Christians become so enthralled
with personal salvation that they forget about that of their
neighbor. A perfect contrition is not fearing the pains of hell
but that we have offended God the source of all love. And love of
God is expressed through love of neighbor. Through our utter
neighborliness we move together to salvation. We are encouraged to
become more perfect because our social tasks demand it. Through an
integral awareness of both dimensions we experience the harmony of
God-with-us. We recite in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed,
"for the resurrection of the dead;" this is when ultimate harmony
will occur when Christ delivers all to the Father. We must guard
against disharmonies that arise due to sinful living or improper
focusing on either means or end without due ecological balance for
the other. At times the ultimate transformation seems stalled. We
vacillate between wanting the end to come quickly and stall it
coming while we continue our present lifestyle. Even our
convictions are indeterminate, and thus we seek discernment. Yes,
the ultimate end will occur at some unexpected time, but then we
hark back to early Christian misunderstood lethargy that St. Paul
addressed in the Letters to Thessalonians: no work, no food.
Indeterminacy. Our indeterminate convictions and lack of
focus extend to an inherent indeterminacy in natural processes and
extend from the smallest parts of our subatomic world to the
largest. The principles of indeterminacy in respect to matter (see
October) may relate to a basic indeterminacy as to position of
particles at a given time (impossible to accurately predict or to
measure). This does not make us refrain from coming to know more
about them through statistical probabilities. In much the same
way, our cognitive indeterminacy about the inner nature of God does
not stop us from discovering all the more about divine interior
love manifested through the saving works of Christ. Nor does
resolving current individual indeterminacy bring us any closer to
the inherent temporal indeterminate (precise time of) a final goal.
Where indeterminacy and faith approach. We do not know the
specific time or conditions of the final end, but in some
mysterious way we are asked to help determine the eternal marks of
our Earth, just as the wounds inflicted by human beings are found
on the risen Lord. Our Earth's healed wounds will be glorified,
and we enter into that glorification process. It will not be
automatic as though a harmonized social and teleological
consciousness is inevitable. Our harmonizing action is not pre-
determined because we are free beings capable of sinning. We can
make our Earth sterile and lifeless -- a possibility due to our
freedom -- or we can heal her; we can delay the end, reduce our
participation, and change the ultimate outcome. In faith, we
acknowledge the inherent indeterminacy coming from our freedom; and
yet we are called to act in godly ways at this time.
5. Other Creatures
Will non-human creatures be part of this promised New Heaven
and New Earth, or will this be exclusively a human habitation with
the Lord? First from what is developed in previous sections, let
us summarize some of the elements that lead to the conclusions that
* The Creator is a merciful God and nothing is lost of the
sufferings of the world. At least all are within God's purview.
When focusing on a vengeful God, worshippers acknowledge that those
who cause the suffering will be punished, but this is hardly
satisfying for sufferers who seek to be merciful and loving. It is
better when they see that God's mercy overrides everything and we
are unable to fully comprehend how this will be carried out, for
God is both merciful and just. Plants and animals are not free to
choose and thus do not incur blame as do human beings.
* It is godly to be loving and merciful, for we do want to
imitate our God. Thus we learn to be kind to human beings and to
all creatures -- plants, animals and Earth herself.
* Earth is our home that has been developed for better or
worse through our own toil and suffering. This should not be lost
either. Thus what we build up is something that has a more lasting
value and will not be erased in God's merciful hands.
* Animals and plants have value through creation. They are of
worth in themselves and thus are not merely expendable and
forgotten. Some of this value is intrinsic to their being and some
of it is through the invested love we have placed in them.
* Animals and plants are our companions. The New Earth
without animals and plants would not be the one we have come to
experience, for they are part of the Earthly community. In some
way, New Earth will be more than human because we have more high
quality relationships than just our intra-human ones (see October).
We do have something approaching intersubjective relationships with
other creatures. Human beings have had close relationships with
certain pets, livestock, and wildlife. Will these be experiences
from the past that are merely remembered, or something more?
* Jesus Christ lived died and rose as savior of all. If Jesus
comes to save us all, isn't the all more than just the human
sphere? Christ's salvation extends to all of creation, to the
entire cosmos and certainly to Earth, to plants and to animals as
well as to human beings.
* Through baptism we go down with Christ and rise with him.
Salvation is a participative enterprise, for we are called to take
on the role of other christs to the world around us. We enter into
the sufferings and the death of Christ so that we can also rise
with him at the Day of Judgment. This is a firm promise of Jesus,
an affirmation of the Creed, and a major component of our faith.
But does this promise extend beyond the human sphere?
* We are charged to present the Good News to all of creation
(Mark 16:16). This presentation of Good News as mentioned in June
is one of donation and receptivity; we give through our words to
other people and through our protection and care to all of
creation. In turn, we are open and receptive to those who have
never heard the word and thus their response enters into the
totality of Good News. But we are also receptive to new knowledge
and experience that we receive by learning about and from other
creatures and that adds to the Good News of scientific knowledge.
* We have special relationships with plants and animals. This
occurs through an ecological consciousness (August and October), in
which bonds are established among caring human beings and others.
Thus we are to extend Christ's loving hand to all that we love and
respect, and the more we love and respect others, the more that
salvation will reach to them. From our part, this is godly
service, not lordly domination.
* Our Earth is home as we know it is and as defined through
these relationships. But our Earth is composed of a wide variety
of plants and animals that we see as companions, adornment, and
constitutive of the living planet's definition.
Arriving at a Conclusion. What seems to follow from what we
have presented is that an eternity is not devoid of animals and
plants. From an eco-spiritual standpoint, it seems fitting that
the beauty and complexity of God's creation will still be able to
be admired and loved in a sense of presence and not just
remembrance. Other creatures are not to be seen as purely
utilitarian and helping us get to heaven, only to be forgotten.
What will not be remembered are the sufferings and persecutions and
injustice of former times in the New Heaven and New Earth. Rather
than an erasing of the treasured past, these that gave enjoyment to
us -- and to God -- should in some way be present to us in
From what is said in a sense of love, mercy, ecological
concern, and responsible action, the most inviting ecologically-
based conclusion for those who believe in the resurrection of the
body is that those creatures we loved and respected in a more
intense way would also join us in the New Heaven and New Earth.
All the remainder of that vast store of creatures will undoubtedly
share in an objective immortality in the collective consciousness
in God (see October). Since nothing is lost, the existence of
these creatures was not in vain. There will be at least an
extended sense in which these happy remembrances of the past will
become present to us who are rewarded with the fuller participation
in eternal life. The actual and realized vision is beyond the veil
of our impending death, and we learn to live more comfortably with
the mystery as to whether this will occur or not. Too much more
speculation is idle -- and that we should refrain from doing.
Enough is enough!
1. Environmental Actions: Recycling
Through recycling, we demonstrate the value of the resources
we have used and that we need to return these to practical
utilization. As we mention elsewhere on this website (50
Challenges to Commercialism Revised), recycling is not a perfect
ecological practice, only a better one than dumping the material
into a landfill, or incinerating it, or discarding it improperly
through littering. Recycling has been promoted to some degree by
commercial interests who regard it as more profitable than reusing
containers -- a far better form of environmentalism. A still
better practice is not to use the material in the first place, or
to reuse what has already been acquired. Nothing should be wasted,
and so recycling does show some respect for resources and in a
remote way is a testimony to resurrection and renewing. After
accepting the imperfection of this method, look at recycling in all
aspects of home life: the resources we consume, those we no longer
need, and the "waste" that can be reprocessed in useful ways.
* Refashioning for new use. Sort and place all used domestic
containers (paper, metal, glass, and plastic) and newsprint in bins
for recycling or take these sorted materials to recycling centers.
It costs far less energy to return an aluminum can to some new
aluminum product than to make that product from virgin materials.
Many paper products should not have been obtained in the first
place, but once obtained, select a recycling route that is now
resource conservative -- for paper can also be reused.
* Reuse essentially as is without refashioning. Our consumer
culture encourages a rapid change of fashion and results in
discarding clothes, shoes, furnishings, and electronics for new
ones even though there is some life left in older products. While
respectable clothing is expected for work, worship, or education,
still the pressure for the latest fashion fuels the consumer-based
economies of most nations. Unfashionable items are shunted to a
thrift shop, yard sale, or other places of disposing of such items
as "charity." Ultimately, these shorter lived products are the
disposal burden of those receiving the hand-me-downs. Besides so-
called charity, it is good to develop community-wide recycling
centers where "waste" and unused items can be returned to the
consuming system, while we battle planned obsolescence and rapid
* "Wastes" regenerated. Nature reuses waste materials. The
compost toilet involves a natural process of converting human waste
to humus to fertilize trees and other vegetative matter. Also, the
backyard compost bin can be used for generated kitchen, garden and
yard wastes. With few exceptions, we can place wastes in a
container where needed air and moisture along with friendly
bacteria and earthworms will do the composting for us. Again, the
end result is valuable humus that can be used in the flowerbed,
around fruit trees or in the garden for next year's produce.
2. Establishing a Consecrated Home
If we see Earth as our present home, we are called to enhance
the home through an in-depth "home economics," that embraces more
than external environmental protection. We are to start at the
grassroots and rebuild our Earth step by step. That starting place
is the reality of our domestic dwelling. This home needs to be
more than an environmentally safe place (Reference: Al Fritsch,
editor, Household Pollutants Guide, Doubleday, 1976). It needs to
be a warm spiritual place that is inviting to others in a somewhat
hostile world around us; it needs to be a consecrated HERE where
God dwells with us.
Homemakers. During the wedding ceremony, married partners are
encouraged to provide an ideal homestead so others can have a
guiding light in establishing their own homes. That is a mutual
assignment, not for one homemaking spouse without the other, for
the two are needed in making a home. They can thus make their home
a central place of direction and security for those who live there
and those who visit. The warmth of love should greet each visitor.
Thus no matter how humble, the home should be made into a warm and
inviting place, one where people feel welcome and at ease.
Believers are convinced that God is present and protects the
dwelling in a very special way; young people need this; so do the
infirm and elders who live much more indoors; so do we all.
Often homes of American Christians do not differ from houses
of Americans with no religion. All have many types of gadgets and
devices that establish their homes as part of the modern material
culture in which we live. But Christians should create home
environments that show to the public that Christ is the center of
life here. Amazingly, this determination calls for a new form of
home economics. Consecration means dedicating or setting a place
apart as holy. We do more than recognize that Mystery is present
and do so through visible signs and symbols. One way is that
Christians insert religious images or other symbols into some part
of the home. In the apparitions to Margaret Mary Alacoque in the
seventeenth century, the following words of Jesus are heard, I will
bless every place in which an image of my Heart shall be exposed
and honored. A Christian home consecrated to the Sacred Heart (the
love of Jesus) will be a home of peace. We are invited to enthrone
the likeness of Jesus in a prominent place, thus making the home a
proper local environment for Christ's presence.
Thus Christians begin the making of the world anew through the
actions taking place in their homes. By selecting an image of the
Sacred Heart for the home we simply act differently; we regard the
place as a more sacred place through this form of home improvement.
Thus the home is at the grassroots, the beginning point in our
transforming Earth. The setting aside of our home gives visitors
the encouragement to do the same in theirs. And so reverence and
Earthhealing flow out from the wellspring of the Christian home.
3. Added Content to Our Thanksgiving
"I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat,
what I want is your happiness." (Philippians 4:4)
In November, we in America celebrate the great feast of
Thanksgiving -- an occasion that is certainly salutary, for God
loves a thankful heart.
Present gifts. Our greatest act of freedom as children of God
is to say those two important words "thank you" to the Giver of all
good gifts: for personal faith; for individual and collective
health; for the rich bounty of our land -- fields of grain,
forests, majestic mountains, clear streams, and all the wildlife
with which we are graced. We spend time thanking the Lord for
placing us here at this time, and for giving us relatives and
Past challenges. However, at some period in our thanksgiving
prayer we need to bring in the reality of the beautiful world in
which we live -- of air pollution, melting glaciers and the teeming
poor. We do not thank God for their condition, but we are thankful
* to God for allowing us to live at this time;
* for the majestic plan of restoration and a new creation;
* for including us in the saving deeds;
* for inviting us to help re-create this wounded world;
* for the use of our acute spiritual senses --
seeing the face of Christ in all creation,
hearing the voice of invitation,
smelling the consecrating oils of personal commission,
tasting the sweetness of future victory, and
feeling the happiness of being in God's family.
* for being inclined to healing;
* for working with the Lord to bring this about;
* for a social and teleological consciousness; and
* for seeing these movements as important.
Future opportunities. Some thanks are due for the
anticipation we have to move forward, for not losing hope in a
better world, for the energy to look beyond ourselves, for the
atmosphere of freedom and democracy that allows us to act without
stress and to work together to improve the world in need of
development and sharing. Now in a fuller sense of thanksgiving let
us look more closely at our frail and fragile mother Earth; she
offers so much in celebration, and yet there is much that needs to
be done. Ecos takes on new meaning, for the resolve to improve
home making leaves our domestic scene and extends outward to the
entire planet. The damage done is not irreversible; we have the
power to reverse directions and take on a new stand. Thankfulness
expands this emerging opportunity.
SUMMARY: NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH
Dreams and visions are very important. They can be worked
for, and, in faith, we are convinced they can be achieved. The end
toward which we are moving is that grand vision, Then I saw a New
Heaven and a New Earth (Revelation 21:1), (also Isaiah 51:16;
65:17; 66:12). In Isaiah, God will create this new and transformed
place and the past will not be remembered and come to human minds.
We will be freed from the past that binds us all too often or from
the dominance of corruption (Romans 8:19ff.). At that future time,
the NOW will have no anticipated future nor a limited past; the
eternal present moment endures. The HERE will then be a focus on
Mystery that embraces all below and all above, and all promises
will be fulfilled (Matthew 19:28). Then comes an eternal present.
Harking back to the summer season, we repeat the insight:
the better we know our role, the more we are empowered to
participate; and the greater the service we render to others, the
more we share in the Divine Life of God. When we enter into a
creative, redemptive and enlivening movement of renewal, we act in
a trinitarian manner, the only manner in which an authentic
Earthhealing will be able to occur. But we must believe that we
can save Earth, that it is not lost and that irreversible patterns
are not cast in stone. Our faith is empowering: we can heal our
Earth! But to sustain that faith during these days we must engage
in sacramental life, for otherwise doubt and cynicism will erode
our mission. Yes, we must rise and find our place collectively in
the course of an ongoing salvation history.
What emerges in November is that our model of home is the
prime analog of what our destiny is to be, for we move from a small
intimate family of kin to a broader family of the people of God.
To actualize that global movement requires "homework," that
involves, study, planning, cooperating, mustering resources and
engaging in the nitty-gritty of building the new home. But a
vision of home with a commitment to work hard is not enough, for
that may involve us only at a local level. We move to a global
vision of all people having the basic needs of food, housing,
recreation, education, environmental protection, and home care.
Achieving these realistic dreams involves a growth in
teleological and social consciousness, a growth that respects and
exemplifies the freedom of all of God's people. To stimulate this
growth in consciousness of telos requires a comparable exercise of
social justice without which the movement will be frustrated. Thus
we must confront the predominant culture that retards the growth of
the Kingdom of God. Our immediate efforts may not seem to be
successful, but we must continue in faith so as to succeed in the
long run. Fidelity will bear fruit. Things can and will go wrong;
opportunities can be lost; affluence can deaden our companions.
The very risk of losing the opportunity to succeed makes us more
determined to hasten the day of the coming of the Lord. And
reflecting on this fact will be the central focus of our December