Faith and Environment in Assisi

Below are some of the highlights of the Popes messages from his visit to Assisi, in honor of the patron saint of creation, St. Francis.

1. Respect Creation –  human ecology: First is the Pope’s Homily in Assisi where the Pope remember’s Franci’s love for Creation. And in full continuity with his predecessors, he also affirms the love for mankind, and the centrality of human beings in creation.

Francis began the Canticle of the Creatures with these words: “Praised may you be, Most High, All-powerful God, good Lord… by all your creatures (FF, 1820). Love for all creation, for its harmony. Saint Francis of Assisi bears witness to the need to respect all that God has created and as he created it, without manipulating and destroying creation; rather to help it grow, to become more beautiful and more like what God created it to be. And above all, Saint Francis witnesses to respect for everyone, he testifies that each of us is called to protect our neighbour, that the human person is at the centre of creation, at the place where God – our creator – willed that we should be. Not at the mercy of the idols we have created! Harmony and peace! Francis was a man of harmony and peace. From this City of Peace, I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity. Let us listen to the cry of all those who are weeping, who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to Saint Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world. We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Obtain for us God’s gift of harmony, peace and respect for creation!

2. The Incarnation – “God loves matter”: The Pope affirms an important aspect of the Christian approach to reality, which loves matter and creation. It expresses the ability to see the physical and spiritual as related, and not divided. I have spoken of this before here and here.

When a cloistered nun consecrates her entire life to the Lord, a transformation happens beyond our understanding. It would be natural to think that this nun becomes isolated, alone with the Absolute, alone with God: it is an ascetic and penitent life. But this is not the path neither of a Catholic nor a Christian cloistered nun. The path always leads to Jesus Christ, always! Jesus Christ is at the centre of your life, your penitence, your community life, your prayer and also of the universality of prayer. And on this path the opposite of what one might think, happens to an ascetic cloistered nun. When she takes this path of contemplating Jesus Christ, of prayer and penitence with Jesus Christ, she becomes extremely human. Cloistered nuns are called to have a great humanity, a humanity like that of the Mother Church; human, to understand everything about life, to be people who know how to understand human problems, how to forgive, how to supplicate the Lord on behalf of others. Your humanity. Your humanity takes this road, the Incarnation of the Word, the path of Jesus Christ. And what is the mark of such a human nun? Joy, joy, when there is joy! I am sad when I find nuns who are not joyful. Perhaps they smile, but with the smile of a flight attendant….because that nun, like the Church, is on the path of being an expert in humanity. And this is your path: not too spiritual! When paths are too spiritual… I think for example of the foundress of the monasteries of your competition St Teresa. When a nun came to her, oh, with these things… she said to the cook: “Get her a steak!”. Always with Jesus Christ always. The humanity of Jesus Christ! Because the Word became flesh, God became flesh for us and this gives you human sanctity that is great, beautiful, mature, the sanctity of a mother. … Remember the story of St Teresa’s steak! It is important.

3. A culture of acceptance, not waste: The Pope insists on the theme of changing our culture of waste when he spoke to the sick and disabled children. He has connected this before to the environment. To be better environmentalists, we need to be good people first, loving, forgiving, giving…

Unfortunately, society has been polluted by the culture of “waste”, which is opposed to the culture of acceptance. And the victims of this culture of waste are precisely persons who are the weakest, the most fragile. In this home, however, I see a culture of acceptance in action. Of course, not everything can be perfect here either, but you are working together for a dignified life for those people in grave difficulty. Thank you for this sign of love that you offer us: this is a sign of true citizenship, human and Christian! Put the most disadvantaged people at the centre of social and political attention! At times instead families find themselves alone in taking care of them. What should we do? In this place real love can be seen, I say to everyone: let us multiply our work in the culture of acceptance, works primarily enlivened by a deep Christian love, love for the Crucified Christ, for the flesh of Christ, works which join together professionality, skilled work properly compensated with volunteer work, a precious treasure.

Serving with love and tenderness those who are in great need helps us to grow in humanity because they are true resources of humanity. St Francis was a rich young man, he had ideals of glory but Jesus, in the person of a leper, spoke to him in silence and he changed him, he made him understand what truly mattered in life: not wealth, nor power of weapons, nor earthly glory, but humility, mercy and forgiveness.

4. Know your dogs: This is less serious, but the Pope urged parish priests to know not only the name of their parishioners but also of their dogs. He connected it to the very Christian experience of walking, or pilgrimage as a people of God.

Here I think once more of you priests, and let me place myself in your company. What could be more beautiful for us than walking with our people? It is beautiful! When I think of the parish priests who knew the names of their parishioners, who went to visit them; even as one of them told me: “I know the name of each family’s dog”. They even knew the dog’s name! How nice it was! What could be more beautiful than this? I repeat it often: walking with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and sometimes in the middle, and sometimes behind : in front in order to guide the community, in the middle in order to encourage and support; and at the back in order to keep it united and so that no one lags too, too far behind, to keep them united. There is another reason too: because the people have a “nose”! The people scent out, discover, new ways to walk, it has the “sensus fidei,” as theologians call it. What could be more beautiful than this?

2 thoughts on “Faith and Environment in Assisi

  1. Religious views of Thomas Aquinas
    While affirming the unreflective character of most participation in practices, it is also helpful to reflect in the light of our faith on the shape and character of the practices that make up our way of life. Indeed, reflection may be especially important at this point in history, when the shape of our lives is changing so rapidly. These are practices in which Christian communities have engaged over the years and across many cultures, practices which it is now our responsibility to receive and reshape in lively ways in our own time and place. When we do reflect on practices as those explored in Practicing Our Faith, we can see that central of Christian theology are integrally related to each Christian practice: our practices are shaped by our beliefs, and our beliefs arise from and take on meaning within our practices. For example, bases her Honoring the Body on the theological convictions that God created human bodies and declared that they are good; that God shared our condition in the incarnation of Jesus; and that God overcame death through Jesus’ resurrection. Through everyday activities — for example, resting, and caring for those who suffer — we live out our deepest convictions about who we are as embodied children of God in specific, often stumbling, and ways. We learn to do so from those with whom we share our lives, and likewise, it is with them that we need to reflect on practices as they take shape in the light of and in response to God’s grace.
    This issue of Lifelong Faith is part of a larger initiative of Lifelong Faith Associates on “Faith Formation in Christian Practices.” The focus of the project is to develop new ways to nourish the faith of families and individuals across the whole life span through Christian practices. With development grants from the Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith, we have been working over the past year to develop resources for households, and training and tools to help churches integrate education in Christian practices into faith formation efforts. We have created a new resource for households, Living Well—Christian Practices for Everyday Life, with sixteen Christian practices: 1) Appreciating Beauty; 2) Caring for the Body; 3) Celebrating Life; 4) Discernment, 5) Doing Justice; 6) embodying wisdom; 7) Eating Well; 8) Forgiving; 9) Hospitality; 10) Keeping Sabbath; 11) Listening to God’s Word; 12) Managing Household Life; 13) Participating in Community; 14) Praying; 15) Relating, and 16) Serving. We have developed a three-day seminar program to provide the knowledge, skills, tools, and resources church leaders need to make faith formation in Christian practices an essential element in faith formation. We will be consulting with parishes to assist them in implementing a Christian practices approach to faith formation. In spring 2009 we will assess the impact of the resources through an evaluation process.
    Even some scholars specializing in Protestant Reformation studies have advanced the notion that the Reformers endorsed natural law. “No real discontinuity” with a natural law emphasis. Except possibly he concludes, the Reformers accept natural law and even consider it affirmed by Scripture. “The assumption of some contemporary theologians that natural law has no place in the company of Reformation theology,” he asserts, “be not allowed to govern historical inquiry or to lead us to ignore, minimize, or evacuate of reality the positive on law scattered through the works of the Reformers.” argues that evangelical interpreters have misunderstood and he insists that the Reformer affirms natural law.
    Not only for the intellectual elite but increasingly for popular culture also, truth and right reflect only a synthesis of empirically observed relationships; they are unanchored in a transcendently based authority and require no reference to an eternal supernatural God. However exacting modern empirical methods claim to be, they cannot for all that attain to the unrevisability of divine attributes. Neither a cosmos-centered nor a human worldview can transcend space-time relativities.
    If the only human relationships of power, human reasoning even at best cannot identify universally valid norms or transcend fallible approximations of any perfect standard. The greatest appeal of natural law theory lies in the claim that it mirrors universally shared norms and moral principles that lift humanity above modern subjectivism and relativism. The Reformers in principle questioned the epistemic viability of natural law theory, whether stated in pre-Christian Greco-Roman terms or on premises pursued by Thomas Aquinas.
    Christian History and Human Rights: The concept of human rights is not a “secular” notion but instead finds expression in Christian sources long before the Enlightenment. More secularized versions of the human rights ethic which came to occupy a large place should be seen as derivative of earlier religious arguments. Twentieth century assaults on human rights by totalitarian states led to a renewal of “rights talk”. Most branches of the Christian tradition, including evangelicalism, now embrace a human rights ethic.
    Ethical Implications: Everyone bears an obligation to act that recognizes human rights. This responsibility takes different forms at different levels. Churches must think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues. Our own government must honour its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights.
    The detailed and complicated discussions on the Eucharist led to the publication of the encyclical Mysterium Fidei by Pope Paul. This Eucharisticum Mysterium by the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the Consilium for the implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. While expressing appreciation for the recent discussion, the document states that “the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, is at the same time and inseparably: a sacrifice in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated; a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord . . . ; a sacred banquet in which . . . the People of God share the benefits of the Paschal Sacrifice” The interior reality of the Eucharist is not only sanctifying grace, as in the other sacraments; it is Christ himself, Body and Blood, soul and divinity.
    Moreover, “the mystery of the Eucharist should therefore be considered in all its fullness, not only in the celebration of Mass but also in devotion to the sacred species which remain after Mass and are reserved to extend the grace of the sacrifice” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, From the earliest days of the Church, the Eucharist has been reserved for veneration and for Viaticum. In Mysterium Fidei repeated the Church’s teaching on the permanent presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “It is not allowable . . . to propose and to act on the opinion according to which Christ the Lord is no longer present in the consecrated hosts left after the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass is ended”.

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