Laudato Si’ is Out; And it is Shaking Things Up!

Laudato Si 2On June 18th, the Vatican officially released Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment:  “Laudato Si’.”  Truth be told, I have not actually read the document myself; I am basing my own observations on the analysis and commentary of others, whose opinions I trust.  Chief among them is John Allen, Jr. of Crux who has done some analysis on the encyclical.

The theological analysis of the document I have; comes from Father Dan Horan OFM, of Dating God, who gives a Franciscan perspective on the encyclical.  The other comes from Jay Michaelson, of Religion News Service.  He brings out some of the theological points in the document that he considers truly radical.

As a Franciscan, the theological points that grabbed my attention were found in Chapter 2: “Human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbors, and with the earth itself.”  And in Chapter 3: “Our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.”  To Western ears these statements may seem very strange, but they are not new.  If one was to get beyond the image of St. Francis of Assisi as a statue holding a birdbath, one can see a Francis who knew that because of his intimate relationship with God, he had to have an intimate relationship with all people, and all creation.  Joined intimately with Christ, through the Gospels, through the Eucharist, and prayer, he was fully open to, and accepted the reality that he shared a kinship with all people, with all creatures, with everything that exists.

Francis passed this realization on to his followers, through his words and his actions.  Sadly, some of his children did not realize the depth of his teaching, but in recent times, we are finally beginning to get the point.  In our Secular Franciscan Rule, we have Article 18: “Moreover they should respect all creatures, animate and inanimate, which bear the imprint of the Most High, and they should strive to move from the temptation of exploiting creation to the Franciscan concept of universal kinship.”

It is this idea of “universal kinship” that Pope Francis is calling on the world, on all of us, to realize, and to act on.  It is a call to change our way of life, that is abusing our earth, and live in ways that will enhance our planet.

I do plan to read this encyclical myself, and hopefully I will be able share my own insights with you soon.  Pace e Bene!

Thomas Merton, 100th Birthday of a Trappst Monk…And a Secular Franciscan?

Merton

Today, January 31, 2015, would have been the 100th birthday of Father Louis Merton, OSCO; better known to the world as Thomas Merton. The Catholic, Christian blogosphere is abuzz with reports, stories, and reflections on the life of this Trappist monk, one I read on Crux, by Dennis Sadowski, of the Catholic News Service; another by Margery Eagan, On Spirituality columnist for Crux, and finally a very moving post by Father Dan Horan, OFM on his blog.

I do not know how many will share this opinion, but I think of Thomas Merton, as the one person who brought Christian spirituality, especially contemplative spirituality to the modern American Catholic population. After him, I think we see an increase in the number of books on spirituality, and prayer, geared for the Catholic laity, and new authors, like Thomas Keating, M. Basil Pennington, Richard Rohr, and Emilie Griffin. I know for myself, my spiritual life became much deeper, more enriched by reading his writings. He showed me a path to walk, and encouraged me to seek out other spiritual fathers and mothers, for inspiration and guidance.

I am still discovering new things about Merton, especially as heretofore unpublished journals, books, and essays are becoming public. This has given a much more rounded view of Merton, his life, his struggles, and his achievements. Now there are some facts that I was not aware of until I recently read Father Dan Horan, OFM book on Merton, was that Thomas Merton had some deep Franciscan roots. After his conversion to Catholicism, he felt a call to the Order of Friars Minor, and had applied to the Order, and was initially approved to enter into formation as a friar. Before he was to enter, something happened; scholars are not completely sure what, that caused Merton to withdraw his application. Still attracted to Franciscanism, he found himself at the Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure’s, in western New York. There, he joined the faculty as an instructor in English. It was during his time there, that he became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, now known as the Secular Franciscan Order. This bit of information floored me. Now I knew that Merton had a Franciscan connection. When I was once a Franciscan novice myself, and attended some summer classes at St. Bonaventure’s, I daily would look up at a hillside clearing, known as “Merton’s Heart.” But to learn that Merton had been a Secular Franciscan, “Wow!”

Of course, this brings a whole bunch of questions: what fraternity did he belong to? Is the fraternity still in existence? Is the fraternity’s register, with his name listed in it, still available? Did he attend monthly fraternity meetings, or was he an isolated tertiary, attached to a fraternity, but unable to make the meetings? Maybe someday, some scholar, maybe even a Secular Franciscan, will be able to find answer to these questions.

I owe a debt of thanks to Father Louis, for prodding me to go ever deeper into my relationship with God. May he rest in peace!