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In the likeness of God

The human, unlike other creations, is distinctly made in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1:26-27). Though we can forever discuss exactly what that means, I propose that at least part of what that means is that in a way which is far more complex than in any other creature, the self-aware human being possesses the ability to make decisions informed by reflecting on the past and reasoning through the possible future. The presence of the human within the rest of the created world makes a huge difference because human beings can know the effect of our own existence.
 
What effect is humanity having on creation right now? No human has made a greater impact on the world of life (and death) than the Spirit made flesh, the human being called Jesus of Nazareth. Some may argue that glorifying all creation diminishes the significance of the Incarnation in the form of human flesh. But, the significance of the Incarnation is in no way lessened by glorifying all creation. In
fact, employing the capacities for reflection and self awareness that are indicative of humanity, we see that the Incarnation of God as human further supports glorifying creation in its entirety.
 
The Word made flesh manifested itself in the specific flesh of the human, but that human did not exist in a vacuum. That human existed in and among and in relation to the rest of the created world. Jesus “was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it attention full of fondness and wonder” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
By stating that God became human, one states that God became part of the intricate
web of life that exists on this planet and in which humanity takes part. God became
subject to the ecosystems and relationships of this world — whether they were in right relation or whether they were crooked, broken and disturbed. “One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross” (“Laudato Si’”). Not only did God dwell among creation, but in the person of Jesus Christ, God became embedded in the genetic, scientific history of life on this planet.
 
Pope Francis reflects on the cosmic significance of Christ as exemplified in the Eucharist: “The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to
reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter … he comes that we might find him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist … is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life…. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love. ... Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation
for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation” (“Laudato Si’”).
 
Motivated by our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and in the world, we must utilize our unique, human “capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility” (“Laudato Si’”) to have an effect on the world that is truly life-giving. Being made in the image and likeness of God demands nothing less.
 

Greening a parish center

Three women from Holy Family-St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction are on a mission to make their parish center a fully "green" operation that composts, recycles and reduces its waste to near-zero levels.

Audrey Dawson, a senior at Essex High School; her grandmother, Joyce Dawson; and Lindsey Sullivan, an engineer at Global Foundries, represent three generations of women deeply committed to environmental stewardship as an essential part of the Christian call.

Green kitchen guidelines

The trio recently implemented "Green Kitchen Guidelines" that all parish groups and outside organizations renting the upstairs parish hall will need to comply with beginning this month.

Styrofoam, cheap to purchase and effective at keeping beverages hot, will no longer be allowed in the facility. Those hosting events will be asked to utilize the ceramic dishware and utensils provided and clean them in the nochemical, water-saving dishwashers on site. Or, they will need to purchase their own paper and plastic products that meet compostable and recyclable standards. The overarching goal is to reduce the stream of solid waste going into the landfill and to raise the consciousness of parishioners around environmental issues.

"We have been entrusted by God to protect the planet we live on," said Sullivan, 32, a recycler since kindergarten. "Millennials have been taught by their teachers since very young that landfills are an important resource."

The Holy Family-St. Lawrence parish center, an airy, timber; frame structure with a fireplace and sweeping views of Essex Junction, opened in 2014. The previous building was hit by lightening and burned to the ground in 2011. The Parish Council decided to outfit the new hall with an industrial-grade kitchen that could be used for parish activities and also serve as a kind of outreach to the larger community.

Parishioner Mike Dowling books events at the hall and said the facility is in "constant motion," utilized by the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters, Essex Eats Out, the Diocese of Burlington and local schools and non-profit organizations hosting workshops.

Some 500 people are serviced through the kitchen per month, he pointed out, enough volume to make waste production a concern.

Dowling joined both Dawson women and Sullivan on a tour of the kitchen to determine where newly purchased sorter bins for compost, recycled materials and waste will be situated. The Green Kitchen Committee, as they refer to themselves, has ordered bins that slip into a caddy on wheels to make transporting byproducts to an outer shed an easy exercise. A grant through the Chittenden Solid Waste District will offset half the cost of the bins.

The elder Dawson shared with the committee that some pushback has come her way from people that want to continue buying paper products at discount stores. But those items include wax-coated paper plates and plastic silverware, which cannot be recycled or composted and will end up in the waste stream.

"There's been some initial resistance," explained Joyce Dawson, a 38-year parishioner, "which is why we have to make participation as easy as possible with a communication plan that educates people and creates buy-in."

The committee plans a "Green Grand Opening" event for parishioners and interested community members on Sunday, March 19, after the 11 a.m. Mass, to learn about the new Green Kitchen protocols, as well as to enjoy some Earth Day-themed refreshments.

"Laudato Si'" study group

The Green Kitchen initiative was born after 25 parishioners engaged in a study of Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home."

Faith formation director John McMahon, had heard interest expressed by parishioners about the pope's publication, released in 2015. That October, McMahon facilitated a study group to delve into the six chapters, one week at a time.

McMahon described the study group, which also drew participants from the Essex Catholic Community's third parish, St. Pius X in Essex Center, as a balance of people with both conservative and liberal politics.

Dawson and her granddaughter Audrey, 17, both walked into the first session not knowing the other was planning to attend.

Through spirited dialogue and communal prayer, the group explored the pope's invitation to become "protectors of God's handiwork" as "not an optional or secondary aspect of our Christian experience."

"I felt the way the encyclical was written was a call to action," said Audrey, who participated in World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil and witnessed the detrimental impacts of air and water pollution on poor families living in slums. "Seeing how interconnected environmental and economic issues were for these people piqued my interest to do something in my own church community."

At the conclusion of the "Laudato Si'" study group, McMahon said, there was enough interest to continue meeting to consider a project that would represent the parish's good-faith effort to do its fair share.

Greening parish events

Essex Eats Out, a weekly community dinner for residents sponsored by five local churches was ramping up. Holy Family Parish Hall was hosting the event on the second Friday of the month, serving healthy dinners to 140-170 people per seating.

"Working on the meal teams and seeing all the waste generated was eye-opening," McMahon recalled. "The scale of these dinners and the parish center going into full operational mode, frankly, made us get more serious about creating an overall green initiative."

Meanwhile, Sullivan was dreaming up a new strategy for the parish's twice-annual Serve Our Neighbor Day. The prayer and service event that sends 150 parishioners of all ages into the local community to rake lawns and clean gutters for the elderly and sick of Essex Junction was generating four 35-gallon bags of garbage at its concluding picnic.

Sullivan was aiming to decrease waste creation to near-zero levels. "If you want to reduce the amount of trash you generate then you have to reduce the amount of trash you buy in the first place," she advised. That meant no longer purchasing individual packs of chips and drinks and buying food in bulk at Costco with minimal, recyclable packaging.

At the Serve Our Neighbor Day event last October, Sullivan removed the trash bins from view as a way to "interrupt the behavior" of volunteers. She sat herself beside the sorter bins and helped folks discern where to put what.

"A couple of people grouched about having to sort their trash," Sullivan recalled. "But through a 10-second interaction with each person to explain the process, we had 100-percent compliance." Once the food service was set up, there was zero-waste created. The initial food preparation phase resulted in only one-half of a 35-gallon bag headed to the landfill.

Edmundite Father Charles Ranges, pastor, has been an advocate of environmental stewardship and energy-efficiency efforts (see sidebar) in the parish from the get-go. "My pastoral philosophy is to get the people of God to have a sense of ownership for their faith community, the programs and buildings and to encourage them to stay involved," he said.

Father Ranges recently approved a separate weekly pickup for compost by the parish's hauling company. He includes Sunday Prayers of the Faithful that connect to the diocese's Year of Creation and writes occasionally about ecological justice themes in his weekly letter from the pastor.

"The beauty of the earth is a reflection of the goodness of God," he said. "Taking care of our natural environment and the planet we live on is Christ-like."


Making church buildings sustainable for future generations

Years before the Green Kitchen initiative, Dave Robideau and the parish finance council were working methodically to increase the energy-efficiency of all church buildings on the Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish campuses in Essex Junction.

Robideau, an engineer at IBM for 35 years, recalled attending Sunday morning Mass at Holy Family Church in 2009 and struggling to hear then-Burlington Bishop Salvatore R. Matano's voice over the clanging pipes, the boiler working hard to heat the cavernous space.

Robideau knew the time had come for a new heating system.

The following year, he organized an energy assessment of Holy Family Church to establish baseline measurements. The steam furnace heating the 120-year-old church was in need of constant repair, costing the parish thousands of dollars per year, and technicians to fix an increasingly antiquated boiler system were harder to find.

With the blessings of their pastor, Edmundite Father Charles Ranges and the finance council, and input from several contractors, Robideau embarked on a project to have the church air-sealed and insulated as well as have a high-tech radiator system installed that preserved architectural aesthetics. The retrofit was offset by incentives from Vermont Gas, resulting in a more affordable price tag of $25,000.

Robideau called the project one of his most rewarding. "We essentially brought a church constructed in 1893 up to modern energy standards," he said. Air leakage numbers for Holy Family Church were cut in half, and the gas bill was cut by 66 percent to $2,500 per year.

"Part of our responsibility as good stewards is to reduce the cost of ownership on our buildings with the longer-term goal of reducing their footprint and expense for future generations," he said.

Likewise, an energy audit at St. Lawrence Church revealed opportunities to save on both electricity and natural gas usage. The initial work focused on projects that required minimal investment with the highest immediate payback.

By replacing sanctuary light bulbs with LEDs, installing wireless thermostats, eliminating a compressor that drove the heating controls for the boiler and turning off parking lot lights after 10 p.m., the church achieved a $600-$800 savings per year.

"The moral of the story is that there are numerous low-tech solutions that almost all parishes can take advantage of right away," Robideau said. "An essential way of giving back to the Church is to help it spend its limited resources as wisely as possible."

How to host a zero-waste event

It's very satisfying to host an event and generate NO garbage. It's also easier than it sounds.

Here are some ideas to help achieve that goal:

• Reduce garbage generated at the source. Purchase as many foods and raw materials in recyclable or compostable packaging as possible. This could also mean buying in bulk instead of individual packages.

• Use plates/silverware that you wash, dry and reuse.

• You cannot recycle paper or plastic plates/dishes with food stuck to them; if you don't want to rinse off food scraps, then go with compostable plates like Chinet.

• Leftover foods, plates (i.e. paper, cardboard), utensils (i.e. bamboo) and almost everything left behind after a meal is compostable. Napkins and paper towels often make up the bulk of compost even if you use recyclable items or durables. Any amount of compost you decide to collect contributes to less trash production.

• Eliminate all use of Styrofoam containers.

• Identify a Green Leader or Green Team or someone who is in charge of making sure everything gets thrown in the right bin at your event.

• Hide the trash can.

If you'd like a comprehensive copy of the Holy Family-St. Lawrence Green Kitchen Guidelines,

email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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By Marybeth Christie Redmond

 
  • Published in Parish

Restoring Right Relation

Often, Christians find Pope Francis’ promotion of integral ecology at odds with the biblical command to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures. Yet, a careful look at the Book of Genesis offers much to consider in regard to relationships among creation and how God intended creation to exist.

Ecologically-relevant verses are found throughout scripture, but as Pope Francis asserts in “Laudato Si’,” there is reason to start at the beginning: “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality.”

“Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth” (Gn 1:28). Upon an uncritical reading, this verse seems to support human control over non-human creation. But, when placed in context with other biblical narratives, the verse no longer reads as a God-given mandate for human superiority. A critical look at the words from which “subdue” and “dominion” are translated paired with awareness of how these words are used elsewhere in scripture yields a different interpretation.

Elsewhere in scripture, the word translated into English as “subdue” describes cultivation of land and preparation of space for worship. There is great significance in this interpretative shift from subdue as meaning to overpower and control to subdue as meaning to cultivate for sustainability and ease of worship. Knowing this broader biblical context allows for reconsideration of the way in which humanity is asked to interact with non-human creation. Instead of exercising superiority over the earth with exploitation and destruction, humanity is called to cultivate a sustainable living space that allows for worship of God.

The word translated as “dominion” can also support a holistic, interconnected and mutually-dependent relationship among creation when the command to “have dominion” is considered in conjunction with scripture stories that elaborate upon its meaning. For example, the story of the great flood shows humanity tasked with “dominion” of creation.

Humanity must ensure survival of all.

Considered within this context, “dominion” transforms from a word conveying a relationship of domination and control into a word conveying a relationship of care, concern and respect. The survival of non-human creation is prioritized not because of any value or benefit it holds for humanity but simply because all creation is of God and deserves to live. Furthermore, when considered within the context of the great flood story, God’s command to humans about the relationship between human and non-human creation does not present a passive relationship, where human and non-human creation merely coexist, or even a relationship in which humans consciously refrain from destroying or harming non-human creation. What God’s command calls for is conscious, compassionate action on the part of humanity to see to the survival, livelihood and flourishing of non-human creation. This is quite a big responsibility, of which the failure to fulfill has disastrous consequences.

Pope Francis reflects, “The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole [is] disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God.” When humans act as if humanity is other than creation instead of an integral part of it, all of creation suffers, including humans. 

He continues, “Responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world. ... The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings.”

Creation was designed in a way that allows it to survive, to grow, to adapt, to flourish!

The human, in the image and likeness of God and as part of that design, is called to cultivate creation for life and worship (subdue) and ensure its ongoing survival (have dominion). While this relationship between human and non-human creation (and God) is often abused — even ruptured — reconciliation, a return to right relation, is always possible.

As demonstrated by the story of the great flood and exclaimed by Pope Francis, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”

____________________________________________________________________________________________________
This article was originally published in the 2017 spring issue of Vermont Catholic Magazine.

National parks: Places of wonder, history, culture, spiritual refuge

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- From the dramatic vistas of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the glistening waters of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, national parks have stood as places of wonder, history and culture.

John Muir, considered the father of the nation's national parks, petitioned U.S. lawmakers to set aside such places for preservation, play and prayer.

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike," wrote the 19th-century naturalist and philosopher in his book "Yosemite."

During the 100th year of the National Park Service, Catholic News Service traveled to a few of the nation's most popular parks and discovered sites of spiritual refuge beside some of America's most beautiful landscapes.

Though the U.S. governmental agencies operate within the guidelines of separation of church and state, there are sacred symbols in many of the national parks, mainly because the Catholic Church and other religious institutions are a part of the nation's story.

Religious men and women often use nature's bounty as a backdrop for spiritual connection.

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne, an angler and outdoorsman, said he understands people's longing for nature. Newly named to head the Archdiocese of Anchorage, he has for the last seven years overseen the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., which includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

"Nature stirs something in the human soul that helps to reveal the Creator to us," he said. "Through creation we come to know the Creator."

He called national parks a "true treasure of this nation" and nature "God's first book."

"To set aside the natural beauty of this country is very important," he said. "It helps us to understand the nature of humanity."

Yellowstone, the first national park, was established by Congress in 1872. Today, 412 parks covering more than 84 million acres in the U.S. and its territories are managed by the National Park Service.

Each year, more than 300 million people venture into the parks for recreation, relaxation and renewal.

President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service in 1916 to protect and regulate all federal parks and monuments. Under the Department of the Interior, the Park Service was charged with the conservation of scenery, wildlife and natural and historic objects and to "provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

To meet the needs of Catholic visitors, Catholic clergy and laypeople lead weekend liturgical services inside some of the largest parks -- Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Zion and Glacier -- during the busy summer season.

Two Catholic chapels, Sacred Heart in Grand Teton and El Cristo Rey at the south rim of the Grand Canyon, not only offer Mass but are open daily for visits and prayer.

Parishes in park gateway communities, such as St. Mary's in Gatlinburg, Tenn., also cater to throngs of national park visitors.

A majority of those attending Mass at St. Mary's are visitors of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited of the national parks with an estimated 10.7 million people annually, said Carmelite Father Antony Punnackal, pastor of the parish.

"We call this parish 'the parish of the Smokies,' because it's basically for the visiting parishioners," Father Punnackal told CNS.

Though the church has about 200 registered families who live within the parish boundaries, an average of 700 people attends Mass each weekend from the spring through fall, he said.

Ed Willis of Delaware, Ohio, said his trip through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park offered him a spiritual experience while witnessing "the creation of God," a vision that stayed with him as he worshipped at St. Mary's after leaving the park for the day.

"Having this park and church within reach has deepened my relationship with God," he told CNS after attending a Saturday evening Mass in August.

The National Park Service not only preserves America's top wilderness areas, but its cultural and historical places as well, including such sites as the Washington Monument, the White House, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Independence Hall.

"Most of the national parks are cultural sites," said Kathy Kupper, spokeswoman for the Park Service. "They tell the story of who we are collectively as a people and as a society."

That story includes the role of Catholicism in the building of the nation.

"There are many connections between the National Park Service and the Catholic Church," Kupper told CNS. "Perhaps the most famous Catholic Church association is at the San Antonio Missions."

Established as a national historical park in 1978, it includes Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan and Espada missions and represents a unique collaboration between the park service and the church. The Park Service maintains mission buildings, landscapes and visitor centers, while the Archdiocese of San Antonio cares for the mission churches and oversees religious services. Visitors can learn about Spanish Colonial Texas and also attend Mass in the still active missions.

In the mix of national historical parks and monuments, are those that tell the stories of some prominent Catholics.

-- Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Molokai, Hawaii, a memorial to the secluded settlement of people banished from their homes for having Hansen's disease (leprosy), tells the story of the community and those who served as its caregivers, including St. Damien of Molokai (Father Damien De Veuster), St. Marianne of Molokai (Mother Marianne Cope) and Vermont native Joseph Dutton.

-- The John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site in Brookline, Mass., is the Catholic president's birthplace and boyhood home. A reproduction of the baptismal gown worn by JFK and his siblings is among the religious items on display. (The original gown is retained in storage for preservation.)

-- Tumacacori National Historical Park south of Tucson, Ariz., contains the ruins of a mission founded by Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1691. The park imparts the accounts of European missionaries, settlers and soldiers and the native O'odham, Apache and Yaqui people they met in their explorations and ministry.

-- Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, located northeast of Keene, Calif., is the home and burial place of the Latino labor leader and civil rights activist. With the rallying call "Si, se puede!" ("Yes, we can!"), his movement led to better working conditions and higher wages for farm workers. The monument is part of the Chavez property known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace).

The National Park Service also manages the National Register of Historic Places, which includes more than 400 Catholic churches. Among them are the California missions established by Spanish Franciscan missionary St. Junipero Serra.

 
  • Published in Nation

Pope proposes care for creation as a new work of mercy

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Calling for concrete actions that benefit human life and the environment, Pope Francis proposed adding the care and protection of creation to the traditional list of corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 

As a spiritual work of mercy, the pope said, care for creation requires "a grateful contemplation of God's world," while as a corporal work, it calls for "simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness." 

The pope reflected on the need for an integral ecology in Christian life in his message for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Sept. 1. 

The message, titled "Show Mercy to our Common Home," reflects on the day of prayer as an occasion for Christians to "reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation" and to thank God "for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care."

Presenting the pope's message at a news conference Sept. 1, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the day of prayer follows the example of the Orthodox Church, which initiated the prayer day in 1989. 

Pope Francis' message, the cardinal told journalists, calls on Christians to be "honest with ourselves" and acknowledge that "when we hurt the earth, we also hurt the poor" and thus commit "a sin against creation, against the poor and against those who have not yet been born."

"This means that we must examine our consciences and repent. I realize that this is not the way we traditionally think about sin. These are sins, Pope Francis says, that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed," Cardinal Turkson said. 

In his message, the pope said concern for the planet's future unites religious leaders and organizations and draws attention to "the moral and spiritual crisis" that is at the heart of environmental problems. "Christians or not, as people of faith and goodwill, we should be united in showing mercy to the earth as our common home and cherishing the world in which we live as a place for sharing and communion," the pope said. 

Pollution and global warming, due partly to human activity, he said, has turned the beauty of God's creation into a "polluted wasteland" that impacts the world's poor, who have suffered the brunt of "irresponsible and selfish behavior."

"As an integral ecology emphasizes, human beings are deeply connected with all of creation. When we mistreat nature, we also mistreat human beings," the pope said.

The Year of Mercy, he added, offers Christians an opportunity to experience not only an interior conversion but also an "ecological conversion," one that recognizes "our responsibility to ourselves, our neighbors, creation and the Creator."

The first step on the path of conversion is to reflect on the harm done to creation by lifestyles inspired by "a distorted culture of prosperity," which brings about a "disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary," he said. 

Ecological conversion, the pope said, requires a serious examination of conscience, recognizing one's sins "against the Creator, against creation and against our brothers and sisters," and sincere repentance.

Sincere conversion and repentance are shown by a firm resolve to change course and bring about concrete actions that respect creation, such as energy conservation, recycling and caring concern for others.

"We must not think that these efforts are too small to improve our world. They call for a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread and encourage a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle," he wrote.

A change of course also requires governments to take steps to protect the environment. While praising the adoption of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, Pope Francis called on world leaders to honor their commitments in halting the rise of global temperatures and on citizens to hold them accountable and "advocate for even more ambitious goals."

Pope Francis said that adding care for creation to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy acknowledges human life and everything that surrounds it as "an object of mercy."

"In our rapidly changing and increasingly globalized world, many new forms of poverty are appearing," Pope Francis said. "In response to them, we need to be creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as concrete expressions of the way of mercy."
  • Published in Vatican
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