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Eucharist & Culture (May/June 2020)

Art • Music • Film • Poetry • Books

Book Reviews

THE TEN GREEN COMMANDMENTS OF LAUDATO SI’

Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam
The Liturgical Press
Collegeville, MN
2019

Fr. Kureethadam’s text offers a clear, enlightening study of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ (LS). The Preface informs the reader that the text will be expository in nature rather than evaluative or critical of Francis’ text (xvii). Truth be told, I was initially somewhat disappointed to think that the book I was beginning to read would not be offering any critical commentary on the encyclical. However, upon completing my reading of the text, I understand and concur with Kureethadam’s expository approach. This descriptive approach is indeed important to assist the reader to more clearly understand the several important contributions made by Pope Francis in LS.

Perhaps an initial point to clarify is that the text of LS does not itself speak of “ten green commandments.” This term is an insight of Fr. Kureethadam and is used as an interpretive key to understanding the main ideas of Pope Francis’ teaching in LS. Given this clarification, the text of The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’ (hereafter, TGC) is composed with a double structure. There are three parts to the text that follow “the scheme of the see-judge-act methodology increasingly used in social sciences (xvii).” Within these three parts we find the author’s ten green commandments. These “follow the main outline of the six chapters of the encyclical… (xvii).” Unlike the biblical commandments which are phrased with the all-too-familiar “thou shalt not,” each green commandment is stated with a positive imperative verb: “take care of,” “listen,” “rediscover,” “recognize,” “acknowledge,” “develop,” “learn,” “educate,” “embrace,” “cultivate.”

Each chapter of TGC states one of these commandments and then proceeds to unpack its meaning. This process is done at successively deeper levels that include scientific, ethical, and theological insights. TGC cites the text of LS extensively “to let Pope Francis speak directly to the reader (xvii).” In addition, Fr. Kureethadam offers the reader extensive contextual information regarding the various themes of LS. In particular, the important magisterial teaching of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, little known to most Roman Catholics, is brought to light throughout the text of TGC. Fr. Kureethadam also highlights the contributions of several national episcopal conferences as well as the work of significant theologians and scientists. All of the above have made important contributions to the several issues surrounding the current crisis of the environment and of society in general.

Not surprisingly, the historical hero of LS is Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis is held high as a model person who recognized and contemplated God’s beauty both in nature and in the poor. Francis melded his contemplative appreciation of nature and humanity to his lifelong care for both the natural and human aspects of God’s creation. His was truly a creation care.

Fr. Kureethadam highlights how Pope Francis aligns his thinking with that of his papal predecessors. He notes Saint Pope John Paul II’s call for a “global ecological conversion” and the need to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology (Cf. LS 5).” Francis also appreciates the so-called “green pope” Benedict XV’s introduction of the concept of an integral approach which recognizes “‘the book of nature is one and indivisible,’ and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth (Cf. LS 6).” Additionally, Fr. Kureethadam notes how Pope Francis looks to the East and embraces the contributions of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, known as the “green patriarch.” Of particular interest is Bartholomew’s notion of ecological sin: “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God (Cf. LS 8).”

There is a unifying theme that serves as the leitmotiv of the texts of LS and of TGC. On Care for Our Common Home is in fact the subtitle of the encyclical and the concept that provides the foundational purpose for Pope Francis’ encyclical. Fr. Kureethadam wisely employs this same concept to effectively link the chapters of TGC. By using this notion of “our common home,” Pope Francis invites his readers to see earth not simply as a planet of resources to be used and exploited, but rather as our dwelling place. And, as we care for our personal homes, Pope Francis challenges us to be good stewards and caretakers of our common dwelling place on earth. LS recognizes that we are all unique individuals, so our responsibilities towards our planet-home will be differentiated according to our unique abilities and roles in life (TGC, 25).

Perhaps the most significant insight that Pope Francis highlights in LS is his notion that “our common home” does not simply refer to our environmental home, but equally to our social home — i.e., our human society. Interestingly, the English translation of LS is entitled: Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for Our Common Home. Fr. Kureethadam helpfully points out that the word “climate” is mentioned 14 times in LS, while “the poor” is found 59 times. We find the linking word “creation” 66 times (TGC, 37). Pope Francis is clearly integrating the concepts of environmental justice and social justice in LS.

This integration is captured by the phrase “integral ecology.” In LS Pope Francis points to the human causes and effects of the abuse of both the environment and the poor. Both are in many ways powerless in the face of exploitation by the rich and powerful. The pope illustrates how the abuse of the environment is also an abuse of the poor in the example of the plight of “climate migrants” who must move about in the search of fresh water to maintain their existence (TGC, 41).

However, as Fr. Kureeethadam is quick to point out, Pope Francis’ message does not end with the recognition of the planetary crisis and the peril which humanity faces because of it. Instead, the Holy Father develops a response to the crisis and challenges his readers to a change of lifestyle to decrease the enormous stresses that humanity is currently placing on the resources of our common home, planet earth. We are invited to assume “the gaze of the earthly Jesus” as we encounter God’s creation in each of its many manifestations (TGC, 70-1). This Christological starting point can be the impetus for a new metanoia regarding our relationship to the earth and to God’s creation universally. Pope Francis encourages the embracing of an ecological spirituality — one that is characterized by moderation and even a sense of asceticism.

After reading and reflecting upon Fr. Kureethadam’s TGC, I have come to see Pope Francis’ encyclical as an important examination of conscience for twenty-first century Christians. Solidly founded on the traditional Catholic theological teachings on the trinitarian, incarnational and sacramental bases of our faith, the Holy Father extends the tradition to include the formation of healthy spiritual habits regarding the environment. Fr. Kureethadam finds seven ecological virtues in LS and concludes his text with their exposition. “Praise of God,” “gratitude,” “care,” “justice,” “work,” “sobriety,” and “humility” are the virtues which can shape us into persons ready and willing to do our part in assisting our fellow humans to treat planet earth as our sacred abode and not as a mere marketplace of exploitation of nature and the poor of the world. Reading and reflecting on Fr. Kureethadam’s TGC is indeed a profound experience of spiritual formation regarding our relationship to God’s creation, as it is found in both nature and humanity.

George Matejka, Ph.D.
Ursuline College

 

BECOMING NEW: FINDING GOD WITHIN US AND IN CREATION

Anselm Grün, and Leonardo Boff
Orbis Books
Maryknoll New York: 2019

And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52).

The above quotation from Matthew’s Gospel is an apt description of this collection of short essays by two committed disciples and prolific authors who reflect on the presence of God. Grün, a Benedictine monk, brings his treasures from the Christian Scriptures, mystics, other ancient and classic spiritual writers, with a touch of Carl Jung, to ponder how it is possible to discover and understand the presence of God within human beings. Boff, a noted Brazilian theologian, engages contemporary cosmology and evolutionary theory to explore how the universe and creation itself is a discoverable locus for the presence of God. Though the essays are not a dialogue between the two authors, it seems clear that they are aware of each other’s work and make efforts to relate their approaches where appropriate.

In the first part of the book, Grün makes his case that God is “born” in human beings and then uses a series of metaphors to describe this indwelling presence as the healing power in us, the divine that unifies us with ourselves, the room of stillness within us, and of course, love. His language is often figurative as he grapples with the help of his sources to describe that which is ultimately ineffable and at the same time closer to us than we are to ourselves.

In the second part of the book, Boff takes a necessarily more systematic approach to his topic. First he briefly introduces the readers to pertinent aspects of contemporary cosmology and evolutionary theory, proceeding step by step to show how these sciences can help us to reimagine and rethink God’s presence to us. While he retains much of the language of these sciences, his presentation also takes a more figurative turn as he grapples with the same inexpressible reality as Grün, namely, the divine mystery.

If there is a point of convergence in their approaches, it seems to be in Boff’s essay, “A Prerequisite to Experiencing God in the Universe: The Liberation of “‘Sensible Reason’ (p.109-112).” In this essay, he contrasts the analytic reason of science to the sensible reason of the heart, stating, “Here emerges spirituality. Spirituality is more than thinking about God. It means to feel God in our deepest inner being (109).” This is clearly resonant with Grün’s treatment.

This text is a deceptively easy read. Probably it is best to read it slowly, lest the value of the treasures brought forth from the old and the new slip through the fingers of our minds, hearts, and imaginations. The treasures are meant to be lingered upon, and in that lingering it may be that the presence of God may be (re)discovered.

Joseph J. Fortuna, S.T.D., Pastor
Our Lady of the Lake Parish
Euclid, Ohio


Poetry

In Memoriam: Patricia Treece

By Joan Lerman

Beyond confines of linear time,
you wrote of the sanctified body even here on earth,
portraying the stories of those subsisting
solely on the Holy Eucharist;
of physical healing
after the prayers of a priest, the unassuming Father Seelos,
though long dead, appeared at the patient’s side,
his smile from heaven.

Bewildered, a man says to the visitor at his door:
“How did you get here so quickly?”
A journey on foot to have taken hours
suddenly completed within minutes,
time disappearing
into itself …. paradoxes made possible
by the necessity of love.

Chronicles of the love found,
bestowed by the saints.

That was your library, your research,
and now …
your abode.

 


About Various Authors