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What better way to celebrate the Assumption than with a bit of Catholic Trivia.
Q. How many times has a pope used Papal Infallibility, or the dogma that a pope can speak without error on specific matters of faith and morals, to promulgate (i.e. roll out) a revealed truth of religion which Catholics are required to believe?
A. For all of the contentious ink spilled over the idea of Papal Infallibility since it was proclaimed by the First Vatican Council in 1870, Papal Infallibility has been invoked only once by a pope in defining a dogma ex cathedra that all Catholics must believe.
This first and only usage in the history of the church occurred in 1950 when Pope Pius XII declared that all Catholics (including us, today) must hold “that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This is the fourth of the Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church. The other three Marian dogmas are:
- That Mary is the Mother of God (defined at the council of Ephesus in AD 431)
- That Mary was a virgin prior to, during, and after the birth of Jesus (defined at the first Lateran council in 649)
- That Mary, from moment of her conception was preserved from original sin (defined ex cathedra by Pope Pius IX in 1854)
So, we must believe that Mary’s body is in heaven as Catholics. Inoffensive enough, I guess, but also seemingly random. What difference does the location of Mary’s body make? Why should it matter to us?
Simply stated: the Assumption matters because it reminds us, with almost embarrassing boldness, of the shocking materiality of Catholic belief in the afterlife—a facet of our faith that we’d often rather forget. Most of us learn something like this in catechism: At the end of our lives we will all be judged by God. Depending on the outcome, we will then go to heaven (or heaven on the slow track a la purgatory) or hell, and that’s that. Forever.
This version of our eternal fate is true, but it is glaringly incomplete. Every single Sunday, we Catholics publicly profess that we expect “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” I’ll bet that most of us don’t spend too much time thinking about what this means.
For Christians, the separation of the soul from the body is unnatural. God created us as embodied souls, and Christ redeemed our matter and souls by his Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. God took flesh, God exalted that flesh and he revealed his glorious plan for creation: to share this glory with him.
Heaven and Hell are real, but they aren’t the end of the story. On the last day, we will all rise just as Jesus did. We will have resurrected bodies: mysterious, powerful, yet material and real like his, and our souls will be reunited with them forever. Where Christ has led, we too will follow, if we remain faithful to our baptismal call to build his kingdom in anticipation of his return.
Mary, the mother of God, is the first and the best Christian that has ever been or will ever be. Her entire life is an example for us. She leads the way to Christ. Mary was just as human as we are; she needed a savior just like we do. She struggled to understand God’s plan through joys and sorrows just like we do. At the end of her life, Mary died like Jesus (and like each and every one of us will). Death though, for her (and for us!), did not have the final word. She was resurrected, and exalted, and she reigns with Christ in the kingdom of God which is bursting forth at the seams all around us.
Thus, the Assumption, just like every Marian Dogma, is really a statement about who Jesus is and who we are as his followers. The Assumption tells us that Jesus is true to his word, and that he will do for all of us exactly as he promised. Pius XII himself, in the document which promulgated the dogma of the Assumption wrote, “It is our hope that belief in Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven will make our belief in our own resurrection stronger and render it more effective.”
The Assumption bids us all celebrate a wonderful truth: an empty tomb awaits each one of us beyond our individual calvaries. The Assumption boldly promises that every lowly person who follows Christ as Mary did will be exalted. The Assumption is the realization of that song of joy which Mary sang when she visited her cousin Elizabeth:
The almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name…He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has scattered the proud in their conceit and has lifted up the lowly…for he has remembered his promise of mercy, which he made to our parents, Abraham and his children forever.
How can we pray with the Assumption of Mary? Br. Sullivan McCormick, SJ, offers a reflection to pray with today’s solemnity. Based on the readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.
How do we pray with the Assumption of Mary?
Hi, I am Br. Sullivan McCormick and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I want to offer a meditation for this Solemnity. Start by asking Mary to unite you with her Son and show you her Son. Take a moment to locate and name whatever might be pressing or stirring in your heart, whether that may be joy, happiness, frustration, sorrow, pain, or suffering. Imagine bringing that to Mary as she is assumed into heaven, body and soul. As she is reunited with her Son in heaven, ask Mary to help you talk to Jesus. Do not hold back. Be as free, open, and genuine as possible.
In the words of Saint John Paul II “Taken up into heaven, Mary shows us the way to God, the way to heaven, the way to life.”
This summer I’ve been struck by the number of goodbyes I have said. Some were to people I had just met; others to people I have known my whole life. But regardless of the length and depth of familiarity, each goodbye has stirred up some amount of heartache, wistfulness, or sadness. It’s easy to see God in the people I love, but how is God present when it comes time to say goodbye to them? Where is God in this messy, emotional, and often painful experience of parting with those we love?
The summer began by saying goodbye to friends who were moving out of our community in St. Louis. We came from different parts of the country and belonged to separate provinces, and so a sadness hung over me as I wondered whether I would ever see some of these friends again.
When it was my turn to leave St. Louis for the summer, I travelled to El Paso with a few other Jesuits to serve at a migrant shelter. As the guests left the shelter there was often effusive thanks for the help received and joy at the prospect of reuniting with family they had not seen in years. But the sadness struck me when my six-week stint at the shelter came to an end and I had to say goodbye to the other volunteers. I hadn’t appreciated how much camaraderie I had come to feel with them, nor was I aware of what my presence had meant to others until I was leaving. Since leaving El Paso, I’ve visited and said my farewells to a friend moving abroad, to family and hometown friends I had not seen since before the pandemic, and to a sacred place, the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth, which will be closing on August 15th. It’s where I made the Spiritual Exercises as a novice and discerned to profess vows.
Those vows call me to fully love and give myself to others and to have the freedom to move to a new assignment when missioned. It can be very difficult to hold these two callings simultaneously, especially when I feel affection for the people I have served and befriended, and for the places where I have encountered God. Of course, this tension is not unique to Jesuits. Anybody who has had to part with loved ones or move from a beloved place knows this difficulty. It just seems that in my four years as a Jesuit, I have gone through this experience more frequently than in my 28 years before becoming a Jesuit. And the quickness with which friends are made and then separated during formation has caused more than a few moments of emotional whiplash. After experiencing that whiplash again this summer, I realized that if I was going to be both as loving and as available as I wanted to be (and as God was calling me to be), then I had to discern how God was present in the midst of these difficult goodbyes.
To my surprise, God guided me in this discernment through a Wendell Berry novel I happened to be reading. The book’s eponymous narrator, Jayber Crow, is a barber in a small town in Kentucky, and he describes the moment when he looks into the faces of some of his regular, elderly customers only to recognize that they are dying. The barber reflects that in this moment, “[T]his man, your foolish neighbor, your friend and brother, has shed somehow the laughter that followed him through the world, and has assumed the dignity and the strangeness of a traveler departing forever.”
That analogy of the “traveler departing forever” leapt off the page and I suddenly saw myself in a way I had never seen before. I saw the “dignity” and “strangeness” that I had assumed in each of my goodbyes, even the ones that were not forever, and I saw that same dignity and strangeness in those I had parted from. And in that dignity and strangeness, I found the presence of God.
We have a tendency to take for granted not just the presence of friends, family, and others whom we know well, but also their personalities and identities. It is natural to reduce others to our knowledge of them, especially those with whom we spend the most time. But in saying goodbye, there comes a sudden realization that there is something of this person that is beyond my knowledge and escapes what I have been able to capture. There is a life, a future, an inner depth that is separate from me, and so this person whom I thought I knew so well suddenly becomes a mystery. And from that mystery comes their dignity and strangeness.
When I picture the faces of those whom I have said goodbye to this summer, I see in each of them that mystery, dignity, and strangeness, and I am filled with awe and wonder. And when I continue to gaze at this person with that newfound awe and wonder, I catch a glimpse of their sacredness and transcendent beauty. That is, I see the image of God.
Saying goodbye will continue to be difficult. As long as we love, there will be no avoiding the sadness of parting. But I no longer fear or dread this part of my Jesuit vocation, or more accurately, this inevitability of life. I have come to accept these frequent partings and the accompanying sadness with humble gratitude. I now see the sacred when saying goodbye. What a privilege it is to dwell for a little bit in the other’s mystery. And it is worth the sadness, as I have come to feel more deeply than ever before that even in parting we remain united to each other. The shared dignity and strangeness in our parting reveals our shared divine image, and the same Love that created us unites us to His Body and in our unique travels guides us all to Himself.
Author’s note: I wrote this reflection while doing a month-long Spanish immersion in Puerto Rico. It is common for Jesuits of the United States in formation to spend their summers improving their Spanish. As such, I decided to write this piece using as much Spanish as possible.
Nota del autor: escribí esta reflexión mientras hacía una inmersión en español de un mes en Puerto Rico. Es común que los jesuitas de los Estados Unidos en formación pasen los veranos mejorando su español. Como tal, decidí escribir este artículo usando la mayor cantidad de español posible.
My friend calls me as I am laying in the un-air conditioned room of this Capuchin Monastery at the top of this mountain in Puerto Rico. As the fan drones on and the coquis, those little frogs native to the island, fill the night with their croaking, I listen to my friend. It is serious. Something has happened. There was a bar. There were friends. Words were spoken. She is younger than me, and uncertain about her future. She is hopeful. She is passionate. She wants a good career and a meaningful life. But this fight has shaken her confidence. “Maybe I shouldn’t interview for this counseling job. How can I help others when I can’t even help myself?” That’s what I heard over and over again as I listened. In many ways, she reminds me of myself.
Mi amiga me llama por teléfono mientras estoy acostado en mi dormitorio sin aire acondicionado, de este Monasterio Capuchino en la cima de esta montaña en Puerto Rico. Mientras el ventilador zumba y los coquíes, esas ranitas nativas de la isla, llenan la noche con su croar, escucho a mi amiga. Esto es serio. Algo ha pasado. Había un bar. Hubo amigos. Se hablaron palabras. Había menos amigos. Es más joven que yo y no está segura de su futuro. Ella tiene esperanzas. Ella es apasionada. Quiere una buena carrera y una vida significativa. Pero esta pelea ha sacudido su confianza. “Quizás no debería entrevistarme para este trabajo de consejera. ¿Cómo puedo ayudar a los demás cuando ni siquiera puedo ayudarme a mí misma?” Eso es lo que escuché una y otra vez mientras escuchaba. En muchos sentidos, me recuerda a mí misma.
And with the tropical trees and the spanish music playing from the houses near our guesthouse, I return to Honduras. I arrived in San Pedro Sula in 2014 planning to teach at a bilingual high school. At the airport, a man with a wide, toothy smile greeted me. He held a makeshift cardboard sign haphazardly, grabbing my bags. All around I could see warm colors against the plastered walls. I ate, my hands full of warm flour tortillas. The taste of hand-prepared beans lingering on my tongue. I could feel God’s presence close to the people around me. They gave of themselves freely. I walked around the street and found a church filled to the brim of life. Green vines. Vibrant flowers. I had never seen a sanctuary more filled with plants. Then, birds began to sing as if to block out the violence and noise of San Pedro Sula.
Y con los árboles tropicales y la música española que suena en las casas cercanas a nuestra casa de huéspedes, regreso a Honduras. Llegué a San Pedro Sula en 2014 con la intención de enseñar en una escuela secundaria bilingüe. En el aeropuerto, un hombre con una amplia sonrisa llena de dientes me saludó. Sostenía un letrero de cartón improvisado al azar, agarrando mis maletas. A mi alrededor podía ver colores cálidos contra las paredes enlucidas. Comí con las manos llenas de tortillas calientes de harina . El sabor de los frijoles preparados a mano persistía en mi lengua. Podía sentir la presencia de Dios cerca de las personas que me rodeaban. Se dieron a sí mismas libremente. Caminé por la calle y encontré una iglesia llena de vida. Vides verdes. Flores vibrantes. Nunca había visto un santuario más lleno de plantas. Luego, los pájaros comenzaron a cantar como para opacar la violencia y el ruido de San Pedro Sula.
After a day, we left the capital city for the highschool where we would work. It was far in the countryside in a town near the Guatemalan border. When I arrived in the small barrio outside of this small town I could see how far away I was from the life I was used to living. There was an insidious voice who hovered around my shoulder telling me that I wouldn’t make it. It got louder little by little. I took my newly bought clothes to wash at the pila, those stone sinks outside the house, and I heard the voice. It got louder as I scrubbed and scrubbed and couldn’t quite get my clothes as clean as I could back home. I sat through a four hour church service where I couldn’t understand a word, and I heard the voice. I thought of my bank account shrinking and shrinking while I pursued this extended gap year, and I heard the voice. You’ll never make it. Broken down and desolate after two weeks of tribulation and doubt I decided to leave. I would go home.
Después de un día, dejamos la ciudad capital hacia la escuela secundaria donde trabajaríamos. Estaba lejos, en el campo, en un pueblo cerca de la frontera con Guatemala. Cuando llegué al pequeño barrio en las afueras de este pequeño pueblo, pude ver lo lejos que estaba de la vida a la que estaba acostumbrado. Había una voz insidiosa que se cernía alrededor de mi hombro diciéndome que no lo lograría. Se hizo más fuerte poco a poco. Tomé mi ropa recién comprada para lavarla en la pila, esos lavabos de piedra afuera de la casa, y escuché la voz. Se hizo más fuerte mientras fregaba y fregaba y no podía dejar mi ropa tan limpia como podía en casa. Me senté durante un servicio de cuatro horas de la iglesia en el que no pude entender una palabra y escuché la voz. Pensé en mi cuenta bancaria encogiéndose y encogiéndose mientras perseguía este año sabático extendido, y escuché la voz. “Nunca lo lograrás.” Al final, abatido y desolado después de dos semanas de tribulación y dudas, decidí irme. Me iría a casa.
Yet, leaving wasn’t the hardest part. Making that decision while I was depressed and unsure was easy. It was living with the decision that was hard. Because, it was when I decided to listen to that insidious voice that it got louder. I sat for a week on a couch, filling myself up with junk food.
Sin embargo, irse no fue la parte más difícil. Tomar esa decisión mientras estaba deprimido e inseguro fue fácil. Vivir con la decisión fue difícil. Porque fue cuando decidí escuchar esa voz insidiosa que se hizo más fuerte. Me senté durante una semana en un sofá, llenándome de comida chatarra.
Here I am talking to my friend. I wait on the phone. I wait to hear my friend speak. I wait to hear her say “maybe” … one more time before trailing off.
Aquí estoy hablando con mi amiga. Espero en el teléfono. Espero oír hablar a mi amiga. Espero escucharla decir “tal vez” … una vez más antes de apagarse.
It took me a long time to heal from that decision. It took friends and distance both in time and space. I had to forgive myself for not being able to handle what I thought I should. I had to turn to God and feel His love. I had to feel it through the hugs from friends who cared for me when I didn’t care for myself. I had to feel it through long nights and phone conversations filled with static. Just like I am doing now. Letting the static linger.
Me tomó mucho tiempo recuperarme de esa decisión. Se necesitaron amigos y distancia tanto en el tiempo como en el espacio. Tuve que perdonarme a mí mismo por no poder manejar lo que pensé que debería. Tuve que volverme a Dios y sentir su amor. Tuve que sentirlo a través de los abrazos de amigos que se preocupaban por mí cuando yo no me cuidaba a mí mismo. Tuve que sentirlo durante largas noches y conversaciones telefónicas llenas de estática. Como lo estoy haciendo ahora. Dejando que la estática se demore.
I am in Puerto Rico. It is hot. I am tired and cranky from a long day. I am frustrated at the people I am staying with. I am too exhausted to pray. I am not okay.
Yo estoy en Puerto Rico. Hace calor. Estoy cansado y de mal humor por un largo día. Estoy frustrado con la gente con la que me estoy quedando. Estoy demasiado agotado para rezar. No estoy bien.
Yet, as I have grown in this spiritual life I have grown more comfortable with not being okay. There have been weeks of frustration, where I would have rather been anywhere else in the world. I would have rather been doing anything else than what I was doing. There have been times where I have doubted my ability to do my job even when my job was as simple as listening. And I heard that voice, the voice that says I can’t do it and that I am not good enough. I have even heard it during this month-long experience in Puerto Rico. I’ve learned that that voice is not from God. I’ve also learned that not being okay doesn’t last forever.
Sin embargo, a medida que he crecido en esta vida espiritual, me he sentido más cómodo con no estar bien. Ha habido semanas de frustración, en las que hubiera preferido estar en cualquier otro lugar del mundo. Hubiera preferido hacer cualquier otra cosa a lo que estaba haciendo. Ha habido momentos en los que he dudado de mi capacidad para hacer mi trabajo, incluso cuando mi trabajo era tan simple como escuchar. Y escuché esa voz, la voz que dice que no puedo hacerlo y que no soy lo suficientemente bueno. Incluso, la he escuchado durante esta experiencia de un mes en Puerto Rico. Aprendí que esa voz no es de Dios. También aprendí que no estar bien no dura para siempre.
In Puerto Rico there is a saying which translates to “longer than the hope of a poor man.” It is used when a person can’t see an end to something. It is both tragic, highlighting the poverty that people find themselves in, and also hopeful that in the end the situation will get better. I learned this phrase in my Spanish class, and I want to tell her this folk wisdom. I want to tell her that she is loved. I want to tell her that she is enough. However, I just wait on the phone listening to the silence in between us.
En Puerto Rico hay un dicho que se traduce como “más larga que la esperanza de un pobre”. Se usa cuando una persona no puede ver el final de algo. Es a la vez trágico, pues pone de relieve la pobreza en la que se encuentran las personas, y también la esperanza de que al final la situación mejorará. Aprendí esta frase en mi clase de español y quiero contarle este dato. Quiero decirle que es amada. Quiero decirle que es suficiente. Sin embargo, solo espero en el teléfono, escuchando el silencio entre nosotros.
Because there is another voice, too. A voice from God that is sometimes loud and sometimes as soft as a drop of water. For me, it is the voice of gratitude. The voice that points out the soft bed I am sleeping in. It points out the marvelous teachers God has given me. The voice is sometimes a laugh and sometimes a chorus channeling the tender-hearted words of the brothers I live with, the people I see on the streets and in the parish. It is a voice that evokes gratitude and strengthens me for the times I want to scream.
Porque también hay otra voz. Una voz de Dios que a veces es fuerte y a veces tan suave como una gota de agua. Para mí, es la voz de la gratitud. La voz que señala la suave cama en la que estoy durmiendo. Señala los maravillosos maestros que Dios me ha dado. La voz a veces es una risa y a veces un coro que canaliza las palabras tiernas de los hermanos con los que vivo, la gente que veo en las calles y en la parroquia. Es una voz que evoca gratitud y me fortalece durante las veces que quiero gritar.
And that is the voice I am waiting for my friend and I to hear between the static.
Y esa es la voz que espero que mi amiga y yo escuchemos entre la estática.
When Jesus proclaims that he is the bread of life, many leave him. Can we believe in the bread of life? Patrick St. Jean reflects on our call to believe in this week’s One-Minute Homily.
What is your favorite food?
Hi, my name is Patrick Saint-Jean. This is my one-minute reflection.
A friend recently asked me, what my favorite food is? I responded, “European breakfast, Caribbean lunch, and American dinner.” I would eat them every day if possible. They just satisfy me for a moment. After a couple of hours, I got hangry again.
Today, John invites us to meet God as the Bread of Life in Jesus. This is where Christ affirms that he is The Bread of life.
Some of his disciples moved apart to try to gossip about Jesus’ affirmation. No one could believe him.
That happens to me as well. Sometimes I just receive Jesus, just as I do my breakfast, lunch, or dinner; yet I continually forget to pray for the grace to believe that Jesus is God appearing as bread.
May this now be my prayer: “God, help me to believe that you come to encounter me in Jesus Christ as the bread of life.”
(Audio recording of the author’s reading)
The paschal mystery
Has passed through
My mortal body
From pain to peace,
Broken to beautiful,
Satiation to surrender,
The pit of unhealed spirit
Had bound around
My mind tightly.
sawing, slowly, slowly,
My soul bracing
For bounding liberation.
Finally… or persistently,
Beauty breaks through.
And I, transfixed
Am sometimes unable to see
Past the last limits
of love-life being breached
Over and over and over!
My parents’ Aspen tree
In the sun and breeze,
Fritters, glitters galvanizing
Heartstrings plucked and harmonizing,
Beckoning toward love uninterrupted by
The effects of the first sin:
A butterfly flies
With nothing to do but flourish,
resting in roses and marigolds
Sucking sweet nectar.
But this enjoyed rest
By soon-to-come commitments
A less then-ness than this now-ness.
Work, boredom, exhaustion;
Trapped in something
Other than my own preferred satisfaction.
Why must I leave behind –
So quickly –
The beauty I now behold
After the time of torment?
Why must being faithful
Now mean choosing to live
With less than a final festivity?
Why descend from transfiguration?
Why circle back to the cave?
Becoming obedient to death
Even death on a cross.”?
Why must I lose my life to save it?
That if I do not want to lose thee who freed me,
I must lose my freedom for thee,
And also, for a time,
Forego the final resting beauty
that freedom opened me to see.
It feels like a quid-pro-quo
Who supposedly quit conditions.
I can’t sit here all day;
Listening to the leaves
Of the Aspen tree and birdsong,
Breeze blowing on my bare feet
Blue sky, butterfly, white brushed bounty.
And freedom producing
I have lost this wisdom,
Of surrendered self-will
In the face of privileged good graces.
Forgetting how an other-worldly hope
Necessarily redounds to this-worldly,
Sacrifice for redemption.
A new beauty born
Which sees strength in weakness,
And life in death
To make room
For an even more majestic
hewn from fault fractured friends,
As you call us.
Letting go of beauty and rest
Is not settling for less.
Death defying freedom
“When is this nightmare going to end?”
This is what a Lebanese friend of mine posted on Facebook recently in response to yet another political crisis in Lebanon. The prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, announced that he would step down from this role after more than nine months of negotiating with President Michel Aoun about the makeup of a new cabinet he could put forward to parliament.
Political squabbles are far from the only nightmare Lebanon’s people face, however.
In fact, these conflicts are a symptom of a leadership in crisis. Lebanon’s problems are legion: a banking crisis has led the currency to lose 90% of its value, plunging more than half of the population into sudden poverty. All manner of goods are in short supply, including gasoline and medicines, and even food has become too expensive for families to afford. Some places get as little as two hours of electricity a day, leaving even cities eerily dark.
I contemplated this darkness recently as I walked with a friend in Beirut where I’m spending the summer doing research and volunteer work. The seafront of Beirut, called the Corniche, is normally a thriving hub of restaurants, hotels, and pedestrians milling around on a summer evening. Yet as we walked in darkness with street lights out, the huge hotels were mostly closed and few restaurants appeared to be open. People were walking, but the atmosphere was muted as those out for a leisurely stroll mixed with poor children begging for money or food.
And, though invisible in the darkness, I knew what lay not far in front of me: towering grain silos, ripped apart by the August 4 blast at the port. After all, one of the largest human-caused explosions in history took place within walking distance of the heart of a modern capital city.
These grain silos stand as a grim reminder of the disaster which killed over 200 people, injured 7,500, left 300,000 without homes, and damaged buildings all over the city. At least some leaders knew there were tons of ammonium nitrate stored at the port which could ignite and create an urban bomb. Yet, they managed the situation as they do best: dithering, passing the responsibility to others, or ignoring the problem entirely. I passed graffiti near downtown that charged, “You people literally blew us up.”
In the wake of the blast, the country’s leaders have continued this failure. Lebanon’s president has yet to meet with families of blast victims, members of Parliament who allegedly knew about the ammonium nitrate are vigorously trying to avoid being questioned, and the first government leader to visit the blast site was the president of France, not any Lebanese official.
All of these leadership failures have beaten down the spirits of Lebanese people. Friends of mine seem tired, depressed, traumatized, and struggling to find any hope of a way out of an endless series of crises. Waves of unrest since October 2019, when more than a million Lebanese took to the streets calling for the downfall of the whole political elite and chanting “All of them means all of them,” have so far failed to persuade Lebanon’s leaders to undertake any kind of reform.
The people of Lebanon, however, have shown great resilience. In the wake of the explosion, thousands of people descended on damaged parts of the city to help clean and rebuild. Civil society groups have also taken on duties the absentee organs of state are unable, or unwilling, to undertake.
For example, at St. Joseph Church, a Jesuit-run parish that was itself badly damaged by the port explosion, everyday people gather to distribute food. The Circle of Catholic Youth runs a food bank for those who have fallen into poverty. Magali Toutoungi, the coordinator of the food bank, explained to me that the operation began slowly, with some members of the parish starting to make a little extra food each week for those who did not have enough to eat due to the explosion or the economic crisis. Now they distribute two to three hundred meals every day. “And all across Beirut there are dozens – who knows how many – places like us giving out food. That’s how great the need is,” she said. The volunteers who come to help not only assemble bags of food but make those who come feel welcome to sit, drink coffee, and share conversation.
“They just want to be treated with respect,” Magali told me.
Magali strongly advises prayer as well. “Jesus’ multiplication of loaves happens here [at the food bank] every day. I never know if we’ll have enough food, but we pray, and God provides. It’s simply a miracle.” Despite the difficult conditions in Lebanon, God’s providence helps give her hope: “After working here for many months, I’m not afraid of anything. The people who come here are so afraid, but I tell them not to fear, because God is sending help.”
Jesus offers of his very self when he says, “I am the bread of life.” What Jesus offers us is a relationship. Fr. Eric Sundrup, SJ, reflects on what it means to enter into this relationship with God. Based on the readings for Sunday, August 1, 2021.
There is no magic fix, there is no silver bullet!
Hi, I’m Fr. Eric Sundrup and this is my one-minute homily.
Ever caught an infomercial on TV?
Don’t you love it when they’re selling you the one magic thing you need to change everything? Your life would work, your house would be clean, your self-esteem would be perfect if you just have/do or buy this one thing
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus telling people that he’s got stuff better than the manna from heaven. And people are like yes, sign me up I’ll take one.
So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
It’s a person… and if it’s a person, that means it’s a relationship. It’s ongoing, it’s dynamic, it’s gonna change us and challenge us.
Let’s reflect today on what it means to be in a dynamic relationship with God. Relationships take work, so let’s all get to work!
About two months ago, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the conversion of Ignatius of Loyola. This commemoration inaugurated a period of renewal and reflection for the Society of Jesus and those with whom we collaborate that we are calling theIgnatian Year. It is in the context that the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa, has released Walking with Ignatius. The book takes the form of a collection of interviews of Fr. Sosa with journalist Darío Menor and covers a wide-range of topics.
The Covid-19 pandemic. The struggle of refugees and migrants around the world. Economic inequality. Climate change. Polarization. Fr. Sosa discusses all these things, though this book is not the place for easy, pre-packaged answers. Sr. Jolanta Kofka, president of the International Union of Superiors General, presents the weight of these questions in the preface she wrote for this book: there are questions “about how we should live and what we should do, about how to pray, how to build fraternity, how to be with and close to the poorest of the poor, what we should hold onto, what we should let go of, who to involve in our quest and our discoveries… Where is God?”
“Where is God?”
This is not a question of despair; but one of hope. The challenges we face, as individuals and as a society, are invitations to journey together as pilgrims towards a deeper life in the Kingdom. They are invitations to conversion. And conversion, Fr. Sosa reminds us, “never really happens in one fell swoop but is really a life-long process.”
We all must remember that we are members of one humanity, called together by Christ as surely as we are each personally called. The key to keeping this in the forefront of our minds and hearts is remembering that God is with us now, in this very moment. “Our time is now, with the challenges and opportunities of today, even though we might wish the situation were different. It is in the here and now that the grace of God that sustains the mission of the Church is made manifest.”
One of the points which Fr. Sosa returns to throughout the book is that receiving the grace of God inevitably leads to movement outwards towards service of others and of the world. One way this outward movement has taken shape for Jesuits and the Ignatian family is through the “Universal Apostolic Preferences” (UAPs), a series of guiding principles which are to influence every Jesuit mission and work. Much of the second half of Walking with Ignatius is dedicated to a discussion of the UAPs and how they might help anyone (Jesuit or otherwise) live the Gospel. These guiding principles are:
1. Showing the Way to God
The first UAP provides the lens through which the others are to be understood. For Jesuits in particular, showing the way to God involves sharing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as well as practicing and teaching the discernment of spirits. Fr. Sosa stresses that what is most important for all of us, however, is direct communication with God. This is a process of both talking and listening, and it determines everything else. “If we are not open to God speaking to us, there is no way forward,” he writes.
2. Walking with the Poor, the World’s Outcasts
“If it is not Christian to deny God, neither is it Christian to deny the majority of people a life that is truly human,” remarks Fr. Sosa. Care for the poor is something central to the Christain life. Including it as one of the UAPs is, for Fr. Sosa, a way of stating that it is one of the “non-negotiables” of the Church’s mission.
3. Accompanying Young People in the Creation of a Hope-Filled Future
At 72 years old, Fr. Sosa recognizes that there are differences between how he approaches the world and how many young people do today. It is precisely for this reason that he encourages them especially to speak up, and for older people to take the time to listen. When asked what message he would like to communicate to young people, Fr. Sosa offers “a clear and simple one: don’t be afraid to set out on the path you feel drawn to.”
4. Growing in Awareness of our Common Home
“No one lives in isolation, and we all depend on an environment that we continually create and transform,” he writes. The fourth UAP rests upon the recognition that, just as we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, so we all share one common home. Fr. Sosa stresses that questions of care for the environment and of responsible management of natural resources are intimately tied to our care for each other.
Walking with Ignatius is concerned more with the kind of conversion that leads us to new questions than to firm answers. The UAPs are one way of approaching the question posed by Sr. Kofka at the beginning: in today’s world, “where is God?”
Each chapter ends with a series of reflection points, selections from Scripture, and points for prayer. This book could well be used for reading groups, parish communities, and classrooms. And the dialogue is, after all, the point. For Fr. Sosa, conversation, with God and with each other, is the key to conversion.
Warning: Spoilers for the Disney+ series, “Loki.”
“You could be whoever, whatever you want to be, even someone good.
Just in case someone ever told you different.” – Mobius to Loki
We all have an idea of what we want our lives to look like, but what happens when we don’t measure up to our own ideals or those placed on us by others? The theme of “not measuring up” is a major component of Marvel’s latest Disney+ series, Loki.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know it’s getting more and more complex. You might remember that in Avengers: Endgame, a past version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) escaped from custody with the Tessaract in hand while the Avengers were traveling through time to collect the Infinity Stones. You know, standard stuff. The Loki series begins with this scene and follows this version of Loki. Moments after escaping, he is quickly apprehended by the Time Variants Authority (TVA), a mysterious organization that monitors the flow of time. Through the TVA, we learn about the “sacred timeline,” which was supposedly established by powerful beings who dictate all events and actions throughout time.
The TVA steps in and apprehends individuals that step off of their predetermined path. These individuals are called “variants.” A person can become a variant for actions great and small: from starting an uprising to simply being late for work. For the most part, variants don’t even know that they are going against the sacred timeline. They make one decision and the TVA charges them and “prunes” them from existence. At first, this appears to be their complete destruction, but it turns out that it moves them to a place where they are out of the way. Variants are essentially thrown away and those that survive seem to lose all sense of purpose.
Is it possible that we are all variants?
As strange as the idea of a “sacred timeline” seemed to me at first, I realized that most of us believe in it in some way. Whether we realize it or not, we have our own idea of how things are supposed to go and who we are supposed to be. Through our hopes and dreams we create a sacred timeline for ourselves. Sometimes we judge ourselves based on these expectations and declare ourselves to be variants. Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and do something differently? Avoid a particular mistake or relationship? Do you often speak in “shoulds,” like “I should have done this or that”? If so, then in some way you have declared yourself to be a variant.
We might also act as if God has set up some sacred timeline with a very particular path that we have to follow. When we look at discernment from this point of view it can be scary or even debilitating. I spent years going back and forth on whether or not to join the Jesuits because I was worried about getting it wrong. I thought that if I discerned the wrong path, then I would be forever off course. Since then I’ve met many people who look at discernment in a similar way—they avoid making any choice at all out of fear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that God knows all, including our entire past and future. God also has plans and desires for us, but our path is not dictated to us. God’s primary desire is that we might be with God forever, but there can be several different routes that can bring us to that destination. We need not look at ourselves or God from such a narrow point of view.
So, how do we overcome this mindset? Look for glorious purpose.
The phrase “glorious purpose,” which was first spoken in the original Avengers movie, is used a great deal in the Loki series. Loki describes himself as being “burdened with glorious purpose” at the beginning of the first episode. He sees it as his destiny to rule—to be above those around him. But this notion of his own destiny is quickly challenged by the TVA, especially when they show him the “greatest hits” of his life, including his failures, mistakes, and his own untimely death. His sense of glorious purpose, and purpose in general, fades quickly. That doesn’t mean, however, that Loki’s “burden” goes away. He eventually meets other variants of himself and they, too, seemed burdened by the idea that they were meant for more. Of all these variants, “Classic Loki,” (Richard E. Grant) seems to be especially disillusioned by the notion of glorious purpose. He is an older version of Loki who spent much of his life in solitude after judging his own purpose to be nothing but bringing pain to others. At one point he says, “We’re broken, every version of us.”
We too can become disillusioned with our own sense of purpose when things do not go as we planned. This is exacerbated when we only focus on our failures. When the TVA showed Loki different parts of his life, they only focused on his greatest mistakes and failures. The Ignatian Examen (different from the examination of conscience) can provide us with a different way of looking at our lives. The examen serves as a way of revisiting the moments of our day to see where God is present, including both our failures and successes. As part of the examen, we always review our past with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who can help to temper judgments on ourselves. When we do recall a time in which we did not respond as we would have hoped, we do not rush to judgment. We acknowledge these moments in order to reflect on our path forward. We also ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate those moments when we have responded to God’s call in our lives, even just in small interactions or gestures. Even though the examen involves reviewing our past, it always ends looking forward.
Moving forward with God is what our own “sacred timeline” actually looks like. Not a path in which we make no mistakes. God has greater plans for us than we can even dream of and those plans are not so easily thrown off course. We may not know or ever see the greater picture, but we can get glimpses of it through the examen. In reviewing our day, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can see those moments when we are closest to God and when God has worked through us.
In the penultimate episode of Loki, Classic Loki performs an act of heroism in order to help Loki. While he does this he shouts out, “glorious purpose!” It was as if he finally realized the meaning of those words. After years of disappointment and hopelessness, he finally found purpose in an act of giving of himself to help others. We too might be disappointed in ourselves from time to time, but God doesn’t want us to think of ourselves as variants. Rather, we can look to Pope Francis’s assurance that “no one is useless in the Church.” That knowledge will help us to achieve small acts of kindness with great love–that’s a glorious purpose we all have to offer.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. These siblings displayed close relationships with Jesus in the gospels and each of them can teach us something different about our faith.
Who do you most identify with: Martha, Mary, or Lazarus?
Hi, I’m Tucker Redding with the Jesuit Post.
Today is the feast of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, three siblings who teach us different lessons.
In the story of Martha and Mary, Mary teaches us that sometimes the best thing that we can do is slow down and pay attention to the presence of Jesus in our midst, rather than busy ourselves with endless tasks.
We learn from Martha that we can be bold with Jesus. After the death of Lazarus, Martha expresses her frustration saying her brother would still be alive if Jesus arrived sooner. She also expresses great faith and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. One of few people in scripture to make such a confession.
We know very little about Lazarus, but we do know that Jesus wept at his tomb. We can all aspire to have such a deep connection with Jesus and that our lives might reveal the power and glory of God.
Sts. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, pray for us!
A couple weeks ago, Mr. Matthew Flegenheimer of the New York Times published an article introducing his readers to Joe Rogan. Mr. Rogan is a comedian who has earned blackbelts in three styles of martial arts and is a UFC commentator. He’s also a media personality with one of the most popular podcasts ever. In spite of Mr. Rogan’s undeniable success, Mr. Flegenheimer has a strange defensive tone throughout the article that generally dismisses Mr. Rogan’s success as a sort of flash-in-the-pan accident; all the while, failing to recognize the impact that the long-form conversation-interview podcast format is having on how people stay informed and even changing audience expectations of media distributors.
Instead of seriously assessing this new media landscape where the number of news curators equal roughly that of the users of the internet, Mr. Flegenheimer makes a strange attempt to deplore Mr. Rogan’s level of professionalism. He caricatures Rogan as “high school wrestling coach who commandeered the AV room,” and neuters his intelligence as someone who will “run out of things to say.”
Mr. Flegenheimer describes Joe Rogan’s show as “effectively a series of wandering conversations, often over whiskey and weed, on topics including but not limited to comedy, cage-fighting, psychedelics, quantum mechanics and the political excesses of the left.” Because of this meandering, it is hard to script or neatly package the content into an ideological frame. Even though the invited guests usually have a particular expertise, the diversity of topics discussed usually reveal a more complex set of values and positions. Some of those positions are well reasoned, while others are the result of emotional instinct. Rarely, however, does a guest’s worldview fit nicely into one ideological camp. They’re human.
Mr. Flegenheimer claims that Rogan’s podcast success “lies in making audiences feel as if they’re in on something subversive.” Taking the conversation-interview format into account, it seems authenticity is indeed subversive. The unedited yet clean presentation makes a huge difference for the tens of millions of regular per episode viewers. When podcasters interview in long-form, they allow their guests the space to give a fuller, deeper response to questions, they allow the opportunity to follow-up when guests or host may have misspoke or been unclear. There are no hard-hitting “gotcha moments,” for example, see how Tucker Carlson doggedly pursues climate-science “gotcha” with Bill Nye. Nor are there long narrative lead-ins that are meant to prime the audience to accept the testimony of the guest through a certain lens like the one employed by Rachel Maddow here. The podcast host effectively is an observer with the audience, and the audience can choose to identify with either party without feeling like their beliefs are being dismissed or misrepresented.
What’s more the audience is actively brought along the intellectual journey. Because everything is out in the open, conversation-interviews follow the 5th grade teachers’ endless requests for their math students to “show your work.” Joe Rogan, for example, walks you through his thought process about not getting vaccinated (warning: Rogan uses extensive expletives ). You witness, perhaps even share, his revelations in real time. You are on the journey to truth with the podcaster. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether he got the facts right or wrong, he reveals his process of discernment and the values that are important when weighing bits of information. This is a radical level of transparency to which established corporate media doesn’t know how to adapt.
Corporate media’s presentation in newspapers and cable TV interviews too often rely on a variety of theatrics. From the character host with teleprompter script, to the selection of sub-par representatives of contrary views. Polished production, biting sound-bits, and jester journalists craft a product to sell – the experience of feeling informed. It’s not surprising that Mr. Flegenheimer, and by extension the NYT editors, cannot recognize authenticity. Instead they defend their business model against “an absence of curation, or any discernible editing, as if such filtering would amount to a form of censorship, doomed to cheapen the product” without stopping for a moment to think, “Why yes!” Less editing and filtering and selection of images and layout planning all amounts to a kind of censorship that does cheapen the product that people under 40 want: an encounter with a person and their ideas.
This is where I think the long-form podcast is finding its draw: it’s in the medium’s ability to prioritize an encounter with the guest instead of prioritizing their opinions and ideas. In the latter model of information distribution where the focus is the packaging of ideas, the reporter’s incentives become seeking the most polished representative to articulate the desired opinion, and then to find less articulate, less polished guests who take the opposing view and make a mockery of their strawman objections. This is the epitome of inauthenticity. It’s a sad joke and, in the new internet environment, a failing business model.
Encountering the individual is especially important to the youth in our postmodern, post-truth environment. Corporate media is banking on their reputation, but the reality is that reputation only belongs with the 50+ plus crowd; meanwhile, 40 and younger are, who are more influenced by the cutting criticisms of corporate media from The Daily Show with John Stewart and the Colbert Report, are searching for new figures to trust. The ideas and ideologies are second.
A remarkable encounter that seems representative of this media’s capacity for congeniality and ability to build trust is the relationship that has grown between Tech Entrepreneur and YouTube Big Fish David Rubin and the online evangelist Bishop Barron. Watch this exchange as Mr. Rubin, a married gay man, listens to Bishop Barron’s reasons for the Catholic Church’s teaching on gay-marriage. It’s obvious that there is a level of discomfort. Mr. Rubin launches into the topic with “I don’t know how much Googling you did on me, but I am gay married and you are in my house…and whatever you say I will continue this conversation,” and Bishop Barron begins acknowledging the Church’s PR failure, “if the only thing a gay person hears from the Catholic Church is ‘you are instrically disordered’ then we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.” Both men ultimately have their positions, but they are still willing to engage each other because the relationship between them is more important than the corporate media nonsense already discussed above.
This conversation was posted four years ago, and they maintain a relationship geared toward common interests to this day. The long-form conversation interview has the capacity to demonstrate that people with opposing view-points still have greater commonalities and can get along and live together in peace. We do not all have to have the same ideologies and values in order to respect and love each other.
The bottom line is that corporate media is losing ground and has been for a long time. The future source of news and information distribution is already here. Once upon a time people had to rely on corporate mediators to stay informed about world events and culture. But with the advent of the internet and social media, especially Twitter and YouTube, people are deciding that they don’t need the New York Times and venues like it. People can get access to similar news reporting via YouTube, and straight from the source news updates via Twitter all with a real attempt to respect what is human in the interviewer and guest alike.
What Mr Flegenheimer admits by omission, is that the New York Times cannot compete with independent podcasters and news curators. Corporate media’s product is just not as interesting or informative, or inspiring as the Joe Rogan’s, Jordan Peterson’s, or Kimi Katiti’s of the world. And these rogue personalities are networking. They appear on each other’s platforms and are creating a community that supports and cooperates with one another more than they compete. We no longer want the divisiveness and disagreeable antics. We want to strive for something more, and the youth see in themselves the sense of common humanity and cooperation represented in this voluntary community of content creators. The long-form will be around for a while and won’t be running out of things to say any time soon.
In the story of the multiplication of loaves, Jesus takes a few loaves and fish and makes them more than enough to feed 5000 people. Doug Jones, SJ, reflects on how Jesus can take whatever we bring to him and make it more than enough. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 25, 2021.
God does more than we can ask or imagine!
Hi, I’m Doug Jones, and this is my One Minute Reflection.
When the boy in today’s Gospel brought Jesus five loaves of bread and two fish, he could never have expected what would happen next. We know, of course, because this is one of the most beloved stories in all of the New Testament: Jesus multiplies that boy’s gift so it feeds five thousand people…with plenty left over!
Jesus will do the same with our gifts, too. Our call as Christians is to bring Jesus our talents, our hopes, our desires, all that we have. No matter how meager or simple we might think they are, he will multiply them. He’ll help us do more with them than we could ever do on our own.
Like he did in today’s Gospel, Jesus will use our gifts to nourish his people. He’ll give their bodies and spirits food for the journey.
Bring your gifts to Jesus, and watch in awe at what you and he do with them!
Warning: This article addresses difficult themes including severe depression and suicide. If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal depression, call the prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.There are also spoilers for Doki Doki Literature Club Plus.
Sometimes, a game subverts your expectations. Team Salvato’s psychological horror video game, Doki Doki Literature Club Plus, is an expansion on their 2017 Doki Doki Literature Club, and it addresses the issues of mental health, depression, and suicide in an unsettlingly but realistic way.
The game starts out following the player as he decides to join his school’s literature club at the prompting of his friend Sayori. The small club consists of the protagonist and four girls: Sayori (the vice president), Yuri, Natsuki, and Monika (the president). The cutesy aesthetic sets the player up to think he’s going to make decisions to woo one of the girls and win her heart. 1
The game’s central mechanic has the player choose words for poems to try and appeal to the different girls , which seems harmless enough. In a first playthrough, it can be easy to miss some darker words like “suicide,” “cage,” or “trap,” and that these words interest characters you wouldn’t expect.
In my first playthrough, I went with words that appealed to me, and I found that most of my choices agreed with Sayori, so my experience followed her more closely. After making a third poem, her character seems very down and leaves the club meeting early. The player briefly sees her again over the weekend where a distraught Sayori confesses her love for the player, who can choose to accept it or to kindly reject it.
The next time the player sees her, regardless of whether he reciprocates Sayori’s love, she has taken her life by hanging herself. The shocking image of Sayori’s body stays on screen for a handful of seconds as the camera fades out and the game restarts. The horrible part is that after this the game acts as if Sayori never even existed.
The game begins to glitch out more frequently as the player again joins the literature club and begins creating poems. The other characters start acting strangely and sometimes more aggressively towards each other and the player. The only one who seems somewhat normal is Monika, who has been subtly dropping hints that she knows more than she’s letting on.
The game is at its best when it explores the mental state of the different characters. Sayori’s depression is a bit of a surprise at first, because she is always upbeat, trying to help other characters have fun, especially the protagonist. But people with depression, especially those who have lived with it for many years, can often hide it well, especially to people unaware of its symptoms. When I played through the game again, I could see hints of her deteriorating psychological state.
This expanded version of the game also includes a collection of six sidestories which do a solid job of developing the characters’ backstories of how the friends came to form the club. Sayori knows that she’s depressed, and she uses that vulnerable truth to grow closer to other characters like Monika and Natsuki. Like with real-life depression, sometimes the only thing we can do for a loved one going through depression is to be present to them and let them know how much we care for their wellbeing.
When a person is dealing with severe depression like Sayori, it’s important to recognize that the situation is complicated. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Sayori chose to act cheerful in spite of her depression so that she wouldn’t be a burden to others around her. She also wanted to avoid the harsh judgment or repercussions that can go along with letting others know about her psychological state. And these reactions are common enough for people hiding their depression.
In the end, the player’s decision to accept or reject Sayori’s confession of love doesn’t make a difference. The game makes a point to show that she is not in her right mind. Right before witnessing her suicide, the player sees a poem from her that repeats the words “get out of my head” over and over again. At the time of her suicide, she is clearly distressed and confused.
The first time I reached this part of the story, I had to close the game and walk away to let the heaviness of the situation sink in. It was jarring, painful, and disturbing. While I could tell myself that this was just a game, the reality of suicide isn’t.
The year after I graduated, my high school was rocked by a suicide of a student the year below me. As a teacher, I’ve struggled with the school community when we were faced with suicides. I didn’t have the right words for my students or colleagues. I wondered if I could have noticed warning signs better. I was in shock and needed time to process what had happened. A heavy cloud hung over the school community for a long while after each of these tragic deaths. The sad truth is that many people dealing with the after effects of suicide can be left wondering if there was something else we could have done.
Team Salvato is brave in its attempt to deal unflinchingly with the complex realities of suicidal depression. Playing it helped remind me of the need to be attentive to those around me, especially the students I’ve worked with these last few years. It encouraged me to ask myself questions like: Are the people around me hiding their pain or always putting on a good face to avoid burdening others? Are they exhibiting other warning signs? Am I willing to ask difficult questions to let others know I notice and I care?
I hope more people ask themselves these sorts of questions. Because if we do, then we’ll be more attentive to the mental health of others. And that will make our world a little more loving all around.
Photo courtesy of www.amenclinics.com
California is in the midst of a drought. Again. One cannot help but feel a sense of deja vu as well-meaning folks take fewer or shorter showers and decline water at restaurants. Some may even let their lawns dry out. Though well-meaning and good in themselves, these actions are akin to fussing over a dripping kitchen faucet while your garden hose is open full blast all day. The real problem is not showers, but the water used in animal agriculture.
Driving along Interstate 5 in California’s Central Valley, one can see numerous placards proclaiming that growing food is not a waste of water. This is only partially true. Growing grass and corn to feed animals for meat is a waste when the land and water could have been used to grow crops for direct human consumption.
In the battle for the ever-diminishing supply of water in California, we need to examine which sectors use the largest amount of this precious commodity. The agriculture industry uses about four times the amount of water that urban populations consume. According to a publication by the University of California Davis, 29% of California’s water is used to irrigate pastures or grow alfalfa for farm animal consumption. Another 7% is used to grow corn, which is fed to animals. This means that more than a third of the water used in agriculture, or about 30% of all human consumption of water in California is used for animal agriculture.
An article in Bloomberg puts these numbers into perspective: “put it all together and growing things to feed cattle use more than 10 million acre-feet of water in California in an average year… all the people in California used 8.6 million acre-feet a year.” The bottom line is that animal agriculture puts a tremendous strain on the water resources of the drought-stricken state of California.
Even when there is sufficient water in our rivers to irrigate farmland, we need to use as little as we can. Rivers need to be allowed to reach the ocean because freshwater flowing into estuaries is an essential part of estuarine habitats that support diverse wildlife. Excessive withdrawal of water from rivers such as the Colorado River has led to rivers drying up before they reach the ocean, destroying habitats along the rivers and estuaries in the process. For example, certain fish species such as salmon need clean and cool water in rivers for reproduction. As large quantities of water from rivers are diverted for irrigation of crops, salmon populations have plummeted, leading to the use of artificial methods to ensure their survival.
Animal agriculture serving our meat-heavy diets are also causing issues beyond the drought-stricken California. Water pollution through runoff from livestock waste and fertilizers used to grow crops for livestock cause toxic algae blooms in the Great Lakes. The dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and other coastal areas and the pollution of rivers can be attributed to farming operations that produce meat and dairy.
Farming operations of plant-based food also cause water pollution, but on a much smaller scale. First, there is no sewage from plants that contaminates water bodies. As a result, plant agriculture is much cleaner than animal agriculture by default. Secondly, fewer crops need to be grown for a plant-based diet. According to a study by an ecologist at Cornell University, if all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, we could feed nearly 800 million people, more than twice the total population of the US. In other words, we could half our agricultural land and water footprint by shifting to a plant-based diet.
Hypothetically, if we shifted to a plant-based diet, the land and water used to grow crops for animals could be returned to nature, restoring endangered grasslands and replenishing dry river beds. Imagine if the grasslands of the Great Plains were restored to their former glory, teaming with wildlife and watered by pristine streams and rivers. Imagine the Colorado river reaching the Gulf of California watering a verdant delta in a desert. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “In 1922, the great naturalist Aldo Leopold canoeed through the (Colorado River) delta, which he described as “a milk and honey wilderness” and a land of “a hundred green lagoons.” It was home back then to deer, quail, raccoon, bobcat, jaguar and vast flocks of waterfowl, and its 2-million-acre expanse was a crucial stopover on the Pacific flyway, providing respite and feeding grounds for millions of migratory birds as they journeyed across the western Americas.” Can we imagine today’s desiccated delta of the Colorado River as a land of “a hundred green lagoons” again?
These Edenesque portraits can come to fruition if we reduce the amount of land and water we use to support our meat-based diets.
The instinct to do what we can to alleviate this drought crisis is noble. However, our instinct to do good should be informed by an awareness of the larger problem at hand. In addition to being a burden on water resources, animal agriculture harms the natural environment by contributing to carbon emissions, the ravaging of forests and grasslands, and water pollution.
As Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si: “Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31).” We must not destroy God’s works, the works in which God rejoices.
We will need to act at a personal level and at a systemic level to align our lifestyle with the ecological vision of the Catholic faith. Reducing or ceasing our consumption of animal based foods while concurrently encouraging our elected leaders to pass laws that protect our water resources is the way forward. Lack of action at an individual level while espousing ecofriendly views reeks of hypocrisy, and lack of action at a systemic level blocks real change.
How do we recognize the voice of the shepherd? Sullivan McCormick, SJ, reflects on discerning the different voices that we might hear in our head in this week’s One-Minute Homily. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 18, 2021.
How do we know the voice of the shepherd?
Hi, I’m Br. Sullivan McCormick and this is my One-Minute Reflection.
Amidst the countless voices in our head, which voices are of God? Today’s Gospel verse after the Alleluia encapsulates a theme in the readings: the guidance of the shepherd. The verse says, “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me.”
There’s another voice that we might hear from time to time and St. Ignatius calls that the evil spirit. I experienced this voice when I was on an 8-day retreat before I entered the Jesuits. While praying I heard, “you have prayed well throughout this retreat, but you could never maintain that amount of prayer every day as a Jesuit.” This highlights the primary characteristic of the evil spirit’s voice: discouragement. On the contrary, St. Ignatius tells us that when we are moving from good to better in the spiritual life, the good spirit gives us strength and courage. In this context, we know the voice of the shepherd when we experience the voice of encouragement.
Both international soccer championship matches played last weekend were neck and neck. Both saw the defeat of the host nation. Brazil lost the Copa America to Argentina on July 10th in the famed Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, while England lost the European Championship a day later to Italy at Wembley Stadium. Both sparked the joy of a nation and of the footballing world respectively.
The importance of Italy’s win struck home for me as I listened to John Allen’s “Last Week in the Church,” which streams from a studio in Rome where he lives. John reminded listeners that Italy was the first country outside of China to get hit by the coronavirus. Since last year, over 125 thousand Italians have died of COVID-19. That tragedy combined with the fact that Italy had not won the European finals in over 60 years meant that Sunday’s win at Wembley warranted national celebrations. “This run in the European tournament combined a defining Italian passion with a nation badly, badly, in need of an infusion of happiness, of joy, of relief.” That almost desperate passion was even palpable outside of Italy, especially in the New York pub where I watched the Euro Cup final alongside fans of both England and Italy—the Italians were louder.
The finals even got Pope Francis, famous soccer fan and an Argentinian born of Italian immigrants, reflecting on the importance of sport. After Argentina and Italy’s victory, Pope Francis said the value of athletic competition is learning to accept whatever the outcome, even defeat. “Only in this way, faced with the difficulties of life,” Pope Francis said, “can one always put everything into the game, struggling without giving up, with hope and confidence.”
While I value the Holy Father’s wise words, I must admit that I was not completely indifferent to the outcome of the Copa America. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I’m a slightly obsessed fan of Lionel Messi, the captain of La Albiceleste (Argentina’s team nickname). And I joined millions of other Messi aficionados from around the globe who were willing a victory for the away team. It wasn’t only Messi fans who wanted to see this win, global soccer wanted this (just check Twitter).
The reason for this is that, even though Messi is arguably the best soccer player who has ever played the game, he’s not won any awards with the senior national team of Argentina. He’s conquered Europe four times with FC Barcelona and has won La Liga 10 times, as well as taking six Copas del Rey. Messi and Argentina have even won an Olympic title, but that is played with a squad predominantly consisting of U-23 players. It’s not considered the senior squad. There was only one kind of trophy missing from his case.
And it’s not like Messi hasn’t gotten close. Four times he’s appeared in a major final with his national side: once at the 2014 World Cup against Germany, and three more at the Copa America (2007, 2015, and 2016). In response to the 2016 loss, Messi even announced an early retirement from national soccer–he just couldn’t bear the possibility of seeing his hopes dashed again. Lucky for us Messi fanatics, and for the soccer world in general, Messi renounced those retirement plans less than a year later. True hope isn’t vanquished so easily.
On Saturday, July 10th, Lionel Messi and Argentina saw a dream deferred become a dream come true. Argentina’s Angel de Maria scored a first-half goal, cushioning a driven-through ball out of the air before lobbing it over the keeper’s head, and that was the game winner. After five minutes of second half stoppage time, the ref blew the final whistle to end the match. Messi collapsed to his knees. The relief of getting the weight of a nation off his shoulders was tangible. His whole team knew what victory meant for their captain. They rushed the kneeling Messi and piled that weight back on.
I imagine it felt lighter this time around.
“Vee ah closing ze doors now,” instructed Hilde, a terrifying, 5 foot tall German octogenarian. She had no patience for my Dad who was waiting for me to leave the church. “Vee ah closing ze doors now,” she repeated, as she bolted the massive doors of the Basilica—the church in which I received all my sacraments. As on every night at 8:45PM sharp, she shooed out lingering parishioners, checked for any street people hiding in the confessional, and closed the doors.
Hilde was a part of a gang of old folks who were at the Basilica whenever its doors were open. She, Shirley, and a few other folks made a holy hour every night prior to closing the church, faithfully reading their binder of devotions. With monotone voice, they rattled through the rosary and other devotions, always finishing with a Bing Crosby crooner, “Good Night Sweet Jesus.”
Another member of the squad was a Brooklynite named Theresa. She and another lady, Sylvia, lived in the Senior Apartments next to the church and would spend the entire day in church. Sylvia gave me a golden dollar every Christmas and random Catholic tchotchkes at other times. Theresa was always wheezing out a rosary in some state between wakefulness and sleep, but she would always reach out her arms when she saw me. She covered me in her red lipstick, told me that I was going to be a priest someday, and called me her “St. Martin de Porres” (There aren’t a lot of options for saint nicknames for little black boys).
Every Monday, a red haired Portuguese woman and her husband were in charge of closing the church. Her name was Fernanda, but we called her Fern and she was fierce. She knew the 15 prayers of St. Brigid by heart and would say them every day from worn photocopied pages old enough to have been copied by Brigid herself.
In my early teens, I went through a phase of not wanting to wear a coat. Fern quietly assumed it was because I could not afford one. One evening, she gestured to me from her usual spot in the back of the Adoration Chapel and pushed a new coat into my hands. She did not have a lot, but with the little she had, she made sure that I was warm. I wore a coat from that day forward.
One beautiful soul, Marjorie, was the regent of the Catholic Daughters. She led it through the integration of the church in the 1960s and when I became Catholic in 2000 she was still in charge. She was Black and attended the Black parish on the South side until the bishop closed it in an effort to hasten desegregation. Neither those ousted from their churches, nor the white folks forced to accommodate them were very happy with the arrangement. Some white members were downright nasty to the new Black parishioners. Nevertheless, grace-filled women like Marjorie stuck it out.
Marjorie was always organizing events—her favorite was setting up a stand to give out free water during our hot summer festival in town. A former lounge singer, she would always call out to me “there’s my baby” in a raspy voice. She was a chain smoker and when she arrived at church for daily mass—always late—she would rush out of her Cadillac amid billows of smoke, smiling and beaming with light. She was never in too much of a hurry to greet everybody. In fact, she was the only greeter that our church had for many years and she was the only one we needed.
Some were mystics. Joan, who suffered terribly from cancer, was always raspily praying. Nevertheless, whenever our priest opened the prayers of the faithful up for everyone, she would—without fail—begin a long prayer with “Father I give you praise…” No one was ever quite sure when to say “Lord hear our Prayer,” but everyone knew that God had heard Joan.
There were many saints, but the holiest was Jane. She was quiet and shy with big eyes amplified by big glasses. She was one of the organizers of adoration at the parish and whenever a person could not make their time, or a time slot could not be filled, Jane was there. Her pride and joy was her adult daughter who was developmentally challenged and who lived with her and her husband.
The last time I saw Jane, she recounted how when I was converting and had just learned how to say the rosary, I would always come to adoration when she was there and ask her if she wanted to pray with me. As we laughed, she filled in the rest of the story—it so happened that she was always right about to leave when I would ask her. She had things to do. She had a family to feed. She had a daughter with needs. She had already spent hours in the church that day. Nevertheless, she smiled, many years later, as I stood before her as an embarrassed adult, she beamed the same sincere smile: “I was blessed to have done it” she whispered.
Hilde, Sylvia, Theresa, Fern, Marjorie and Joan all passed away over the years along with others whose stories are too many to tell. Every time I came home to church during college or afterwards, it seemed a little emptier and a little less like home. Last year, Jane died of an aneurism. Her absence was the hardest. I came back to church for the first time after she passed away, our priests having also retired, and it was not the same—it was cold.
During the Lamb of God, I looked around for the kind, wrinkled smiles that had welcomed me into the church before I was even Catholic. I tried to meet the wise eyes that were always watching from the same pew, every day. They were gone. It was eerie and unsettling. Church just didn’t feel like church without these pillars.
Some days later, I dropped into the church. Looking around, I stopped and sat in Fern’s spot, hidden in the back of the adoration chapel. I imagined being with Jesus and all of his friends who were women. I have always been comforted by Jesus’ squad of holy women. Disciples, friends, coworkers, laborers, sages, Jesus surrounded himself with faithful women—strong Marthas, mystic Marys and Annas who spent their entire waking life awaiting him patiently in the temple.
I began to imagine each of them, and as I looked around, the faces of his friends were quite familiar. Mary of Bethany kissed the pages of her worn out Passion, and Martha was smiling from a cloud of smoke. Anna mumbled God’s praise through heavily lipsticked lips. Last, I imagined Mary—her big eyes amplified by her big glasses smiling sheepishly, as she sat beside me. It only seemed right to continue my childhood tradition: I asked her to pray the rosary with me.
This prayer reminded me of one of the most comforting ideas Catholics have in the Eucharist. Wherever the Eucharist is, however it is celebrated, received and adored, there too, are all of the saints. Our loved ones, and not so loved ones, the ones we’d expect, and the ones that we never would have imagined, join us in the love which they showered us with on Earth. Our bond with them, with all the saints, is so real and strong that even Hilde in her five foot heavenly glory cannot close ze doors between us.
What will we leave behind to follow Jesus? Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ, reflects on the call of Jesus in today’s gospel. Based on the readings for Sunday, July 11, 2021.
What are you willing to leave behind now to come with Jesus?
Hi, my name is Patrick Saint-Jean. This is my one-minute reflection.
I used to have a cozy blanket when I was a kid. I would never leave it behind for anything in the world. When it was time to go on vacation with my parents, they would say, “Your only Job is: Wake up on time. Take nothing with you. Come with us.” When I remember that I am going to leave my blanket behind, I used to resist going, yet vacation was always fun and restful.
Today, Mark invites us to engage in a similar story where Jesus calls the twelve disciples: Take nothing for the journey. Just come.
This is Freedom.
Just like me with my parents, most of them did not refuse to come when they remembered what they were going to leave behind. Yet in return, Jesus surprised them by sharing his gift of preaching, healing and teaching.
Recently, I had a chance to accompany my friend to a funeral home to prepare for his father’s funeral. Knowing that both of us are religious, the manager offered to show us behind-the-scenes of the funeral home. As I was on the tour, never in my life did I feel so close to death. It was not my own death I felt close to, but the very presence of death itself. I was struck by the simplicity of life and death, the fragility of human life, and the transformative power of death in its utmost emptiness.
Five hundred years ago, on May 20, 1521, at the battle of Pamplona, a cannonball shattered the leg of a Spanish soldier. The Spanish soldier was Iñigo López de Oñaz y Loyola, who later became the founder of the Society of Jesus and left a legacy that still influences the world until this day.
Iñigo was destined to be an honorable knight who would fight to the death for his queen, at least that’s what he thought. When he was shot by a cannonball, together with his leg, his image and ideologies were also shattered. On the convalescent bed, a few times he came close to death, but he survived, and his survival made him question his past life and ponder the meaning of life. Being so close to death he could look back at life with a meaningful gaze. That theme of finding life in death continued throughout his life.
The covid-19 pandemic left many of us with similar encounters as Ignatius. In my funeral home tour, the guide told me that during the pandemic, the place held around 90 bodies at once. Death became so present among the community, especially families who lost their loved ones during the pandemic. I remember my friend telling me that his family still has not recovered from the death of his grandparent, as it was too sudden. Like a cannonball, death comes and takes away the love of our life, turning over our peaceful life into chaos, and leaving us with a sense of emptiness.
During the peak of the pandemic in NYC, I remember hearing the ambulance siren every hour. Every time I heard it, not knowing what would happen, I simply said a prayer, “May Your Will be done.” I imagined that, somewhere, people were bargaining with God, asking to spare the life of their loved ones. Just like Iñigo asked to have his leg rebroken and reset thus becoming limped for the rest of his life, our brokenness cannot return to what it was. No matter how much I try to fix things, things will never be the same, and I will carry my brokenness for the rest of my life.
After Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross and resurrected three days later, he still carried the wounds of the nails, and despite the hope of his followers, Jesus did not return things to how they were. Death is the end of a journey, but also the beginning of a new one. Like a river, life continues to flow, so I can either try to stay stagnant and fight against the stream of life or let myself be carried to a new tributary.
After his leg was healed, Iñigo, the flamboyant knight, took on a new journey and a new identity: Ignatius the pilgrim. With his limp leg, the pilgrim began his pilgrimage not knowing his destination but knowing that he was not alone on the journey.
Seeing the dead bodies in front of me, I imagine that each of them was accompanied by an angel of death, who gently guides them to a new journey. I remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi who praised God for Sister Death, the one who embraces all beings.