Category Archives: environment

A martyr to give us hope

Dorothy-StangTen years ago today, a 73-year old US Sister of Notre Dame de Namur was gunned down on a rural path in the state of Para in Brazil. Sister Dorothy Stang had spent almost forty years as a missionary in Brazil.

She worked with the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Land Commission and had worked for many years with the rural villagers and workers, accompanying them as they faced the onslaughts of ranchers, loggers, and other powerful economic interests. She recognized that this was a struggle not only for the land, the environment, but also for the people on the land.

She had received death threats as early as the 1990s but she continued her work, accompanying the people and denouncing the injustices they were suffering.

She knew that it was dangerous but she felt that God called her there.

I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest.  They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.

The story of her death seems to come out of the early stories of martyrs.

She was on her way to a meeting in a rural community when her path was blocked by two hired gunmen. She took out her bible and began to read the Beatitudes. At that point she was shot and killed. She had to know that they were going to kill her, but she responded with such peace –

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice…

Blessed are those who have the spirit of the poor…

I pray and hope that I may have the same peace and presence that she had when she faced death.

I think the way that I can prepare myself is to pray as she did:

I light a candle and look at Jesus on the cross and ask for the strength to carry the suffering of the people. Don’t worry about my safety. The safety of the people is what’s important.

I do believe that accompanying the people and looking to the suffering Savior are keys to peace and to a life of love.

So today I want to celebrate the death of a modern martyr – with a renewed commitment to mission.

I do it with joy, and hope, realizing that Sister Dorothy was killed near a settlement named Boa Esperança – Good Hope.

——–

A short biography of Sister Dorothy can be found on her congregation’s site: here.

Missing what is there

Remember the wonders the Lord has done…
Psalm 105: 5

 It’s so easy to miss what is around us or, worse, defile what is beautiful and a gift from God.

As I read today’s lectionary reading from Jeremiah 2, I was struck by two image he used to show how the people – we – have lost our way and misused the gifts of God.

The images are meant to speak of the infidelity of the people, their – our – turning aside from the God of life to things, idols, that bring death.

But Jeremiah used images from nature that speak not only of our infidelity of God but of the ways we devastate creation.

Verse 7:

I brought you to a fertile land to eat of the choicest fruit. As soon as you came, you defiled the land and dishonored my heritage! (Christian Community Bible translation)

I brought you to this country of farm land,
to enjoy its fruit and its bounty;
but you came and defiled My land,
you made My possession abhorrent.
(Tanakh translation)

Verse 13:

For my people have done two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, to dig for themselves leaking cisterns that hold no water.

God has given us fertile land, farm land, and living waters, but so often we look for something that is merely the work of our hands – forgetting the wonders around us – or worse, abusing them, not caring for them.

Jeremiah calls us to turn to God, the fount of living waters, to conversion. I also think he might be reminding us to see, love, and care for the good earth and the pools of living water around us.

Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to verse 13 this year since I went with members of one village to test the quality of their water source, a source for theirs and two other villages. The source was contaminated with bacterial and fecal matter. They, nevertheless, have non-contaminated water in their homes, since they chlorinate the water in their community tank. The other communities, though, are drinking contaminated water – since they had not chlorinated the water in their tank.

Care for the garden

In today’s Gospel (John 20: 11-18), Mary Magdalen mistakes Jesus for a gardener.

But is it really a mistake?

Isn’t Jesus, the gardener of souls? But even more, isn’t the Garden the place where humans first encountered God?

In Genesis 3, we read that God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But they hid after abusing the garden, eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. At the serpent’s suggestion they ate the fruit because they wanted to be like gods.

But in the Garden of the Tomb, Mary Magdalene encounters the Lord Jesus who calls her by name.

Magdalen Angelico

The garden that was lost is now encountered. The relation between God and humans is now restored.

The hope is that the relation and between God and all creation is now also restored.

God has initiated this but, like Mary Magdalen, we are called, to pass on the message of the risen Lord, of the promise of resurrection for God’s people and of the renewed creation.

What a fitting message for Earth Day.

Let us work with the Gardener to restore some signs of the Garden of Eden on God’s good earth.

————

 The image is from a fresco of  the San Marco Friary in Florence painted by the Dominican Fra Angelico and his students.

An earlier meditation on this Gospel can be found here.

The fruit of study

Finding God in the created world is one of the themes in Celtic spirituality.

According to Shirley Toulson, in The Celtic Year, St. Ninian – whose feast is celebrated today – was supposed to have said the the fruit of study was “To perceive the eternal word of God reflected in every plant and insect, every bird and animal, every man and woman.”

Such a God-present view of study would profit us today as study is often oriented to profit and sometimes results in treating nature and persons as mere commodities.

This is also the vision of the British poet and critic of industrialization, William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

A worthy thought for today.

 

 

A martyr for the poor and the rain forest

Sister Dorothy Stang, US missionary, member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, defender of peasants and small farmers, was killed in a remote settlement in the state of Para, Brazil, on February 12, 2005. She was 73 years old and had served in Brazil since 1966.

Her death was described in GoodWorks (Spring-Summer 2005), in terms that seem to be taken directly from the early martyrologies:

While Sr. Dorothy walked on toward a local village, she heard taunts from men who had stopped alongside her. The rain poured as she stopped and opened her Bible. She read to the men. They listened to two verses, stepped back and aimed their guns. Dorothy raised her Bible toward them and six shots were fired at point blank range. She fell to the ground, martyred for her belief that all humans are due justice. As she died, she was reading, “Blessed are you who are poor.”

Sister Dorothy had a deep faith that was manifested in her commitment to the poor and marginalized of Brazil as well as to the care of the creation God has entrusted to us, particularly the Brazilian rain forest. She gave her life as a martyr, a witness, for the poor and the earth.

As she once said:

“I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest.  They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.”

Riches and animals

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Basil the Great, Monk, Bishop, Doctor of the Church who died on January 1, 379.

Like mostly of the early fathers of the church he  was a pointed advocate of the poor and critic of the accumulation of riches:

 “What is a miser? One who is not content with what is needful. What is a thief? One who takes what belongs to others. Why do you not consider yourself a miser and a thief when you claim as your own what you received in trust? If one who takes the clothing off another is called a thief, why give any other name to one who can clothe the naked and refuses to do so?

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the one who is naked. The shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are so many injustices you commit.”

There are many other sides to St. Basil. Somewhere I also came across the prayer for animals which is striking in its move away from anthropocentrism in the approach to animals:

 O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, our brothers the animals to whom Thou gavest the earth as their home in common with us.

We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to Thee in song has been a groan of travail.

May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for Thee and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve Thee better in their place than we in ours.

 

Ordinary Miracles

Today is the birthday of Wendell Berry, farmer, poet, philosopher, and advocate of all God’s creation.

In his extraordinary collection of essays, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, he wrote:

The miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread.

Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.

This reminds me of the remark of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, “The miracle is to walk the earth.”

Oh that we would recognize the miracles all around us, walk the earth with deep reverence – and give glory to God!

 

Water

I saw water from the temple.
Ezekiel 47: 1-9, 12

We sometimes think that the concern fro the environment is a new concern. But here is what Archbishop Oscar Romero said in his March 11, 1979, homily.

You know that the air and water are being polluted, as is everything we touch and live with, and we go on corrupting the nature that we need. We don’t realize we have a commitment to God to take care of nature. To cut down a tree, to waste water when there is so much lack of it, to let buses poison our atmosphere with those noxious fumes from their exhausts, to burn rubbish haphazardly – all that concerns our alliance with God.