Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Laudato Si with My Children

(This was printed by our Frontiersman paper today also.) 

 I have read portions of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, mi Signore (Praise be to you, my Lord; known simply as Laudato Si) to the younger children and have sent the Vatican link to our older boys, telling them to read it themselves, both to learn and to be ready to converse about its contents. Encyclical, from the Greek word for circle, is a letter from the pope to be sent around to the bishops to encourage and educate the faithful. This day, anyone is able to access it immediately and send the links around without waiting for our bishops to translate and teach. I love that the web address includes the words, “Papa Francesco.” My Papa Francis.

Currently, we are halfway through. It begins.

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her...The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life...We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

This reminded the kids of the Noah story from their picture Bibles and the older Howells of the intense visual destruction of both earth and humanity from last year’s Noah movie as well. We wondered how the Creator could watch.

We continued.

“Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise... Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.”

One of the children remarked, “Sounds just like Wall-E,” Pixar’s 2008 animated film where humans had completely lost touch with nature -- both their own human nature and anything green. I love that Pope Francis uses, “nature” (such an alive-sounding word) alongside, “environment” (a necessary scientific word).

And then a wincing grimace as I scrolled along.

Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously...True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”

May I live wisely, think deeply, and love generously. May I actively reach for real relationships and  challenges. May I use today’s media to share and communicate but never to shield myself from direct contact with others. May I teach this well to my children.

He sheds light on the reason for the destruction of our souls and our planet.

 “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast... It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

I reminded the kids of our final blessing after Mass, which is an encounter with Jesus. “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

The Catholic faith is a sacramental one; that is, God’s supernatural graces are given by natural materials. Just as Jesus used the stuff of the earth (oil, water, dirt, bread, wine) for miracles, so do our sacraments, says Papa Francis.

“The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life. Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world on a different plane. Water, oil, fire and colours are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of praise. The hand that blesses is an instrument of God’s love and a reflection of the closeness of Jesus Christ, who came to accompany us on the journey of life. Water poured over the body of a child in Baptism is a sign of new life. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature.

It was a good reminder for all of us, that church is not simply where we go to sing songs and hear preaching.

He gives easy, practical advice.

“I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom [thanking God before and after meals]. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.”
“Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”

I can start this immediately. So can my children. So can anyone.

I’ve been in the mind of a theologian, a scientist, a pastor, an environmentalist, and a lover of Jesus and people. I can’t wait to learn and love more. Praise be to you, my Lord!

Love, Allison

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Mom's Hour

My routine has been the same for years: babies, toddlers, teenagers, homeschool, homemaking. Rinse and repeat. With seven children, there’s always someone, or several, in all those age brackets. Two kids have cystic fibrosis, so there are extra health chores daily and two-week hospitalizations occasionally that add to the mix. I have always been honored to be known as my husband’s wife and my children’s mother; it is not a loss of my identity but a flowering of it. So when feelings of discontent began whispering to me in my forty-fifth year, I was shaken and embarrassed. I wondered if I should get a job, complete a degree, or send the kids off to school. Am I boring? Am I useless? Am I fulfilled? I made a list of the pros and cons for each possibility and could not live with any of the cons. How to transform myself?

I spent a morning alone at a local cafe to relax and think, with an attractive, expensive cup of coffee and a delicious, tiny slice of biscotti. I decided to take baby
steps; or more accurately, one baby step: in the middle of the day, every single Howell at home was going to be silent for one hour. The small ones could rest and the older ones could read or draw. Separately was the key. I told them they were going to be alone with themselves. I promised myself not to clean or cook or help with lessons, but to simply be with me. I would use that hour to nap, read a book, learn to crochet, write a letter, or relearn how to play the piano -- something to stretch my mind and heart.

I'm pretty sure I see a positive boon for myself and our entire household order. It is both exciting and grounding. My next plan is to sign up for one college class online. We are getting used to Mom’s Hour and I am confident that some of those hours will be perfect for working through an anthropology or literature course.

I did not have to give up or reinvent what defines me --my home and family-- in order to fulfill something new welling up within me. A bit of balance is coming with one baby step, one hour, one day at a time. I look forward to my next year, one Mom’s Hour at a time.

Now to start filling out forms ...
Love, Allison