Liturgy is the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity kenotically extended to invite our synergistic ascent into deification. Dr. David Fagerberg

A Collection of Essays and Articles to Answer the Chaos

Behold the old boldly retold to fashion hearts of gold in the sheep of the fold.
- G.N.
  1. Identity: How Are We the ‘Image and Likeness of God’?; Catholic Identity; Catholicism and the FutureStrong Families, Strong Selves.
  2. Spirituality: How To Love God; Prayer in the Christian Life
  3. Meaning: A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith
  4. Stability and stewardship. A Reflection On the Benedictine Vow of Stability; Principles of Stewardship; The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation
  5. The Transcendentals: The Pillar of the CloudLetter to Artists - The Beauty That Saves; Educating to Truth, Beauty and Goodness
  6. Renewal and Evangelization: How to Spark a Catholic Revival; Five keys to keep in mind when sharing the Catholic Faith; A Program for Bolstering FaithA Liturgical Catechesis for the New EvangelizationApostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of Pope Saint Paul VI
  7. Hospitality and The New Evangelization: I see Jesus in every human beingThe Grace and Call of HospitalityBeer Evangelization: Untapped Possibilities; Hospitality Is Biblical—and It’s Not OptionalWhat are Some Outcomes of Hospitality?Christian Fellowship; The Saint who embodied hospitality.
I. Identity

How Are We the ‘Image and Likeness of God’?
Fr. Charles R. Grondin

We are made in the image and likeness of God because we can love, create, and truly choose good. We are capable of truly and freely choosing to do good and to love. Human persons are not mere reactionary creatures but a creation that, like God, can choose to do good and to love one another. Human persons are also able to know and understand goodness and love. Human persons can mirror God in the manner we know, understand, love and do good.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
  • The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection “in seeking and loving what is true and good” (1704).
  • By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an “outstanding manifestation of the divine image” (1705).
Catholic Identity
Cormac Burke

When we speak of some people as being “very human” or others as “lacking in humanity,” what we mean is that the former are fulfilling the models or standards befitting human nature while the latter are falling away from them. Human nature, or “what it means to be human,” is not something that each one decides for oneself or that can be changed at will. It has an objective content, given by God when he made man “in his own image” (Gn 1:27).

Man is not a self-defining being in regard to his nature. He has not the right or power to define humanity. All he can do is to achieve true human identity, fulfill his potential to be human, or frustrate it. Human nature, from which alone can flow true human identity, is something given by God. What keeps man in God’s image or increases that image in him accords with human nature, giving him greater identity as a man. What lessens, disfigures, or spoils that image contradicts human nature and identity, and can in the end make a person unidentifiable as truly human.

Content of Christian Identity • Christian identity, similarly, has an objective rather than a subjective content. The requirements for achieving true Christian identity are clearly indicated in the Scriptures. To be a Christian means to follow and imitate Jesus Christ. As Jesus himself says, this involves being ready to bear the cross in a spirit of self-denial: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25); “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30); “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

This gives us the key to Christian identity. It is achieved in the measure of one’s interior identification with Christ, a paradoxical process by which one in fact becomes more distinctively oneself, just as the saints were all one with Christ, approaching him from different angles, and are so different among themselves.
The norm and condition of Christian living, of acquiring the true identity of a Christian, is just the opposite therefore of self-seeking. Vatican Council II teaches: “Man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself” (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 24). The surest way to frustrate one’s true identity is self-seeking in its various forms: pride, vanity, envy, impurity, greed.

Much of modern education and professional psychological counseling is nevertheless imbued with the cult of self. To acquire real Christian identity, one must distance oneself from this philosophy. “Self-identification” and “self-definition” are formulas of individualism. As a recipe for life, they lead to frustration and loneliness. The willfully self-centered person is unrecognizable as a Christian.
This applies to all Christians, to all those who by Baptism are made members of the Body of Christ and of the People of God. But if all Christians are members of the People of God, what is the specific difference in being a Catholic? Does Catholic identity mean something more definite or definable than simple Christian identity? Are there external and objective standards by which Catholic identity can be determined?

Distinctiveness of Catholic Identity • With words taken directly from Vatican Council II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 31 and 14, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, in the opening canons of Book II on “The People of God,” distinguishes between Christian and Catholic identity. Christian identity comes from Baptism by which one is “incorporated into Christ” (Canon 204) and so, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, receives “the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son” (CCC 683). Catholic identity is possessed by “those baptized [who] are fully in communion with the Catholic Church on this earth,” being “joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of profession of faith, of the sacraments and of ecclesiastical governance” (Canon 205).

Catholic identity, then, means membership in the Church, the People of God formed and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Vatican Council II says that for this People and each of her members the Spirit is “the principle of their union and unity in the teaching of the apostles and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and prayers” (Lumen Gentium, 13). “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that He is the principle of the Church’s unity” (Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, 2).

Catholic identity consists in being in full communion with the Catholic Church – in her visible structure as it appears on this earth – accepting and enjoying bonds which link us more specially still to Jesus Christ that are defined as the profession of the same doctrine, the share and worship in the same sacraments, and the acceptance of ecclesiastical authority and discipline (Lumen Gentium, 14).
Catholic identity is not something static. It should grow; it can be lost. Growth in Catholic identity means an ever fuller and more intimate bonding and union with Jesus Christ, through the faith proposed by his Church, through the sacraments she administers, and through obedience to the dispositions of governance behind which one discovers his will (Lk 10:16).

Instead of growing as a Catholic of course, the opposite can happen and one can gradually suffer a loss of Catholic identity. This can occur if a person lacks the faith to appreciate the special union with Christ effected by full and wholehearted communion with the visible Church: if he or she begins to chaff against these ecclesial bonds that join us to Christ, resenting or resisting the demands they make on our mind and will; “picking and choosing” in the faith one professes, so that it is no longer the faith of the Church; neglecting the sacraments (especially Penance and Reconciliation and the Eucharist) or receiving or administering them unworthily, or participating in or celebrating the Sacred Liturgy without due reverence; ignoring legitimate Church authority or seeking to evade dispositions of government, especially of the Holy See.

No teacher or theologian has the right to appropriate the term “Catholic” for his views or to present them to the people as Catholic on his authority. The people have the right to know whether a theologian’s views are within the broad stream of Catholic thinking or outside, and it is the Church, not the individual thinker, which is competent to decide.
Loss of Catholic Identity • The Church cannot lose her identity. Despite the defects of her members, she will always be the holy Church. This is something that Jesus Christ himself has guaranteed. But each Catholic can acquire more and more solidly or gradually lose his or her identity as a Catholic. The application of this point goes beyond individual persons.

The Church is made up of things human and divine. The divine things – the sacraments, Revelation, Scripture, the Magisterium – never lose their sacred identity, even if misused by men. The Eucharistic Sacrifice always remains the Holy Mass, even if celebrated (with due intention) by a priest in a state of serious sin.
But many things in the Church are of purely human foundation: Catholic schools and other teaching institutions, chairs of theology, hospitals, publishing houses, newspapers, bookshops, etc. They can lose their Catholic identity, even while continuing to use the name “Catholic.” In judging whether a particular institution is retaining its Catholic identity, the same tests offered by Canon 205, noted above, should be applied: union with Christ through acceptance of the Church’s faith, sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance. If it happens that a particular institution shows a lack of union with Christ by failing to transmit the faith passed down to us through his Church over the centuries or if it does not heed his voice speaking through indications of Church government (“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me” [Lk 10:16]), then it is undoubtedly losing or has already lost its Catholic identity. A Catholic name or a Catholic past are not sufficient to guarantee a present Catholic identity. This is something to be borne in mind in choosing books or schools.

Being true to one’s Catholic identity requires special courage in a world that tends more and more to look for, and even demand, identification with secular principles as a qualification for the free exercise of what it chooses to define as civic rights. It is not from the media or opinion polls, not from congresses, parliaments, or supreme court decisions, that Catholics must take their standards and their stand. It is from the Gospel. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

There is no conflict between being true to one’s Catholic identity and having the fullest respect for the human rights of others. On the contrary, it is precisely Catholics who keep faithful to Christ and to the identity (the principles and practice) that he calls for in his followers, who can alert their fellow citizens to the threat posed to their human identity – to the freedom and dignity of every single person – by many of the principles and legislative practices being proposed by modern states.

Catholicism and the Future
The Belief of Catholics
Fr. Ronald Knox

(T)he ethos of Catholics is not futuristic; they live, not on dreams, but on convictions. They witness without surprise the depopulation of religion around them; we have been told beforehand that the days will come when charity shall wax cold. Yet they do not, (like some Protestant enthusiasts) look around them eagerly for the signs of an approaching world-dissolution; they have heard the cry of "Wolf!" too often. They devote themselves, rather, to the business of their own souls (Philippians 2:12), and to influencing, in whatever modest way may be practicable, the lives of those around them, secure of inviolable principles and a hope of which cannot fade. He that believeth, let him not make haste - it is commonly, among Catholics themselves, where faith is weakest that clamour is loudest, for a policy and a world-attitude. "But you, beloved, building yourselves upon your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto life everlasting."

Strong Families, Strong Selves
Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput

This essay is excerpted and adapted from the author’s forthcoming book (Holt, March 16), Things Worth Dying For: Thoughts on a Life Worth Living.

To borrow a thought from Catherine of Siena, nothing great is ever achieved without suffering. No one wants to suffer. No healthy person seeks to do so. But most people do know that accomplishing anything important is hard. Suffering can be fruitful if we understand its roots and channel it toward good ends.

Tocqueville saw that democracy isolates the individual in the name of liberty. Wendell Berry attacked the gigantism of modern life; how it turns persons into passive recipients of meaningless choices. And Christopher Lasch often spoke of “the minimal self.” Under siege, he claimed, a person’s self shrinks to a defensive core. Its focus becomes little more than psychic survival. In effect, despite all our culture’s noise about the wonders of “you” and “me” as individuals (i.e., each of us as consumers), the scope of our problems and institutions leaves us feeling powerless.

Put simply: The flaw in the modern self is not that it’s too strong. On the contrary. It’s too weak. Today’s consumer life is ordered toward creating that weakness. While flattering the individual self, it also controls the self with massive advertising, media fantasies, and a limited range of material choices.

Strong families do the opposite. Who we are as “selves” is largely the product of formation and nourishment by others. The forge of a mature, resilient self is the family ruled by intentional love. Scripture describes love as being “strong as death” (Song of Sol. 8:6). And for good reason. Nothing has more persuasive power than self-sacrifice; the example, sustained over time, of giving oneself to or for another, purely for the sake of the other.

That kind of love, the real kind of love, shapes the life of a child. The child may one day stray from it, but he or she will never escape its memory and effect. Predictably, given its power, real love also has a cost; a cost in discomfort and suffering. The cheap and impermanent nature of sex relations in current American life disguises an evasion, even a hatred, of love’s cost and the personal entanglements it brings. But the cost is justified by the return: The child shaped in virtue by parental love becomes the adult grounded in a strong identity and deep humanity. And such a person is much harder to dominate.

So how do we get such families? And such persons? No one in recent memory matches Karol Wojtyła, Pope John Paul II, for the work he did in advancing Christian thought on the dignity of marriage and the family. By training, John Paul was a philosopher, but he was also a skilled pastor. He enjoyed and connected avidly with everyday people. He spoke to their worries, hopes, and needs. In a sense, his life illustrated the words of Catherine of Siena: The suffering wrought by a world war and two totalitarian regimes made him stronger, more real, more human. Thus, his teaching reaffirmed with uncommon beauty and depth the lessons of long Christian experience. And he did it in a way easy to distill as principles of family life:

Actions speak louder than words.

Our words should be used to speak the truth. Our actions likewise “speak” a language. Just as we can lie and abuse with our words, so we can lie and abuse with our example. A son who grows up in a home where the father mistreats the mother will have a hard time learning how to respect and love women. Personal witness shapes the world, whether we act consciously or not. Children see everything. If parents love each other, their children learn love. If parents love God, their children learn faith.

Freedom is not license.

The decline of real freedom is a feature of modern life. Tolerance is revered as the badge of an enlightened people. But an unwillingness to name evil, to teach right from wrong, and to resist the behaviors wickedness creates, is a recipe for license, not freedom. John Paul stressed that authentic freedom is the ability to do what’s right, not necessarily what we want. Parents need to teach the same. Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand, and our responsibility is to Truth. Jesus himself said that “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

Knowledge is a blessing. Without wisdom, it becomes a curse.

Knowledge ennobles the human intellect through the acquisition of facts and experience. But facts divorced from a moral framework of meaning easily turn into weapons. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge in the right way, to the right ends. Wisdom is the greater gift. Therefore, we should seek wisdom first, so that the knowledge we learn serves, rather than abuses, human dignity.

Learn to see clearly and think critically.

A mark of our times is the loss of critical thinking. Too often we’re willing to believe news media, to name just one example, without questioning their accuracy or bias. We accept being treated as targets of clever marketing. We need to reclaim the art of critical thinking, and we need to ingrain it in our children.

Thinking critically and seeing clearly involve developing the tools to discern good from bad, beauty from ugliness. Families need to use those tools to engage the culture and renew it from within.

Teach and live the virtues.

The Christian faith is not a collection of “thou shalt nots.” It’s an invitation to arete or virtue; the excellence of a fully human life as God intended it. In the Catholic tradition, virtues divide into two basic groups; moral and theological. Moral virtues are firm, habitual dispositions to do the good. We acquire moral virtues through human effort aided by God’s grace. The theological virtues, faith, hope, and love, are free gifts from God.

Just as a muscle weakens without exercise, so too virtues go soft without constant practice. Moreover, each child is uniquely prone to certain virtues and more alien to others. This is why the daily, intimate presence of parents in their children’s lives is so vital.

Revere the sanctity of life.

An openness to new life, and a reverence for all life, from conception to natural death: These are the glue of the human community; sources of hope and expressions of faith in the future. By contrast, in the words of John Paul, “a civilization inspired by [an] anti-birth mentality is not, and cannot ever be, a civilization of love.” Yet that’s exactly what we’ve created. And we needn’t look far for proof. Most of the nation shut down during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Most abortion clinics stayed open.

Teach the habit of gratitude.

Despite all of our modern material advantages, we live in a joyless world; a world soaked in the message that we don’t have enough things; that we need more things; that we deserve more things, and that we should get the things we want, right now.

We need to refocus our hearts on gratitude, on being joyful with what we have; or more precisely, with what God has given to us. Gratitude, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, is the beginning of joy.

Create silence.

Romano Guardini, one of the great Catholic theologians of the last century, described the value of silence this way:
Only he who is able to be silent can speak meaningfully; otherwise he talks nonsense. Only he who speaks can properly keep silence; otherwise he is dumb. Man lives in these two mysteries; their unity expresses his nature. To be capable of silence is a virtue. He who does not know how to keep silence does the same thing with his life as a man who would only wish to exhale and not inhale. We need only to imagine this to feel terrified. The man who is never silent dissipates his humanity.

The devil Screwtape described noise as the music of hell. Parents might profitably check the levels in their homes, and in their own lives.

Finally: Pray together.

“The family that prays together, stays together.” It’s an old adage, but also a true one. Prayer needs to be a central activity of family life. Prayer binds the family together in a common project of praise and thanksgiving; and the time it involves, seals the bond. It’s in prayer that a family’s hopes can be expressed, shared, and made fruitful by the grace of God. Nothing can take its place.

Where does this leave us?

“The family” John Paul II wrote nearly 30 years ago, “has always been considered as the first and basic expression of man’s social nature . . . A truly sovereign and spiritually vigorous nation is always made up of strong families who are aware of their vocation and mission in history.” It’s precisely because the ties of blood, and kinship, and family bind so tightly that humans will live, and work, and when needed die, to have their families flourish. This explains why “the history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family.”

II. Spirituality

How to Love God
David Torkington

It is all very well to say that the first and most important of the commandments is that ‘we should love God with our whole minds and hearts and with our whole bodies and souls and with our whole strength’, but the question is, how to do it?

When I first decided to take this commandment seriously I had just fallen in love for the first time, and I simply could not conceive loving God with my whole heart and mind and with my whole being as I had come to love my girlfriend. Compared with her, God seemed so abstract, so distant, so far away.

“That is precisely why God became man so that we could love him in Jesus,” my parish priest explained to me. The trouble was I had difficulty with the idea of loving another man, even if he was the Son of God — at least not as I had recently come to understand the word ‘love.’ It might do for girls, I thought, but it would not do for me.

Guided by the Catholic Catechism

Then I came across a book on scripture that seemed to resolve my difficulties. It explained how in the Old Testament, God was said to be endowed with feminine as well as male characteristics. It showed how some of the Fathers of the Church spoke of what they called the anima and the animus in God. In other words, God is neither male nor female, but the qualities of male-ness and female-ness can be found uniquely balanced and brought to perfection in him. These same qualities must therefore be found in Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of the Father’s love is to be found here on earth. That is why in responding to his love, men and women can respond equally, if differently, and both ultimately find their completion in him. As the Catholic Catechism states,

By calling God Father, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man (CCC 239).

I decided to study Jesus Christ more and more deeply so that I could come to love him, and in loving him come to experience the only love that I knew could change me permanently for the better. This led me to a new form of prayer called meditation in the Christian Tradition. The first disciples of Jesus who knew him personally came to love him from the start. However, the second generation of Christians who did not encounter him personally themselves listened to the recollections of the first generation, and read and committed to memory all that they had written about Jesus Christ. This created a treasury of personal information about Jesus, enabling them to come to know and love him, as the first disciples did. This led them onward into him, into his glorified body, and into his mystical contemplation of God the Father.

A New form of Meditation

This was a completely new understanding of meditation that superseded what previous religions practised in both the East and the West. For Hindus in the East for instance and Gnostics in the West and later Neoplatonists, meditation primarily entails mastering mental techniques that would, they believed, enable them to encounter and experience the utterly transcendent God. Their encounter with him would be predominantly an intellectual or a mental encounter, in which they sought to attain esoteric knowledge.

The by-product of this meditation often resulted in psychological states of inner peace that have been wrongly identified with the mystical contemplation described in the Christian tradition by such saints as St Teresa of Avila in her masterwork Interior Castle. In the Christian tradition meditation took on a far more profound and genuinely religious form because unlike any previous or subsequent religions, it depended on love, not on the search for intellectual enlightenment or abstruse forms of mystical knowledge. St John was clear that God is love, and only through love can we find love and then enter into him.

For Christians therefore there is only one way to Union with God and that is by coming to know and love Him by coming to know and love his Son, made flesh and blood in Jesus Christ. For as Jesus said at the Last Supper “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. We pursue our search for union with God, therefore, by meditating on those memories of Jesus Christ as contained in the writings of those who knew him personally; not just because their memories were unique, but because their memories, and the way they wrote them down in the scriptures, were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Main Reason for Reading the Scriptures

There are manifold reasons why a person might choose to read the scriptures, but there is only one reason for the person who wants to come to know and love God, and that is to come to know and love Jesus Christ, in whose flesh and blood God chose to make his love present, through the Incarnation.

Choose for your meditation therefore those parts of the scriptures in which Christ can be seen manifesting his love in all that he says and does. Having read and re-read the sacred texts, it is time to reflect on them in deep Christian Meditation. Pore over them again and again, ruminate on them, as Saint Augustine would say; allow the inner meaning of every word to seep deep down into the very marrow of your being so that their dynamic impact can register with effect.

Begin by setting the scene in your imagination. Picture the apostles preparing the table for the Last Supper, for instance, see Christ coming into the room; watch the way he moves; look into his face when he speaks; then mull over his every word, trying to penetrate their inner meaning.

The same sort of scene-setting could be used to build up the atmosphere before meditating on other Gospel texts. The Passion of Christ, for instance, would lend itself to this method of praying. Do not just think of what Christ went through in your mind, go back in your imagination and place yourself in the event. You are amongst the soldiers at the scourging, one of the crowd during the carrying of the cross, an onlooker at the actual crucifixion. You see everything as it happens, you open your ears and hear what is said, and then you open your mouth and begin to pray.

This is not Pious Fantasy

We are not dealing with pious fantasy here, but with the most momentous historical events in human history. The Word was made flesh precisely so that people of flesh and blood could understand and see God’s love made tangible. Christ’s death was a brutal and painful reality through which the Word, who was made flesh, speaks of love in a way that is intelligible to all. To neglect the Passion as a primary source of Christian meditation and prayer is to neglect the most important manifestation of God’s love that ever took place.

Gradually in many months the slow meditation on the sacred texts suddenly begins to bear fruit; the spiritual understanding begins to stir and the emotions are touched and begin to react. What began as rather dry academic knowledge about God changes and begins to strike with an ever-deepening impact. Knowledge begins to turn into love, as the love that God has for us begins to register with effect. Nobody can remain the same when they realize that another loves them. We respond automatically, the emotions are released, and we begin to express our love and thanks in return.
From Meditation to Contemplation

As the experience of coming to know and love Christ begins to explode with maximum effect, you will find that even the most extravagant words do not sufficiently voice the depth of feeling experienced welling up from within. In the end, the words of thanks, praise, adoration, and love give way to silence that says far more than the most potent man-made means of expression. All a person wants to do now is to remain silent and still in Christ and together with his gaze upon God’s glory in a form of prayer that has traditionally been called Contemplation.

In this contemplation in which the whole person — heart and mind, body and soul — is more united than ever before, a subtle change begins to take place. Initially, it was through meditating on God’s love, as embodied in the human body of Jesus, that leads a person to contemplation on Christ as he once was on earth, but now a change gradually begins to take place. Meditating on God’s love as it was embodied in the historical Christ gives way to contemplating his love as it is now, pouring out of the risen Christ. The first form of contemplation sometimes called acquired contemplation was generated with God’s grace and human endeavour.

The second, sometimes called mystical contemplation is a pure gift of God. It is the fruit of this profound prayer that is, in the eyes of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the perfect preparation for sharing the Faith with others, because in this prayer the fruits of contemplation are given to the one who prays, namely the infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We must therefore persevere for long enough in this prayer to experience for ourselves something of the love that we are called to share with others in this sublime contemplation, sometimes in the light sometimes in darkness, or we will have little to give.

However, before the gift of contemplation can lead to the full union for which the believer now craves, a purification begins to take place so that the selfish seeker can receive the Selfless Giver without any let or hindrance. If this purification is not complete in this life it has to be completed in the next life, where it is called Purgatory. In this life, some have called it the ‘Spiritual Desert or Wilderness’, the ‘House of Self-knowledge’, the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, or ‘Purgatory on Earth’.

Christian Prayer
David Torkington

There is only one way forward for the serious searcher who wishes to be transformed into Christ in this life, and to share  in something of the life and love that continually flows between Christ and his Father. The way forward, in the words of St Teresa of Avila, is to pray, and to enter into the profound mystical experience of love unlimited, that alone can bring this union about. “Never be deceived by anyone who tries to point you in another direction,” she insists. Never be deceived by anyone who suggests this can be achieved by instant man-made methods or techniques. The true Christian way takes a lifetime, involving both sorrow and joy, the agony and the ecstasy, the experience of carrying the Cross, as well as experiencing the fruits of the resurrection. There is no other way.

Prayer in the Christian Life
The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Section One: Prayer in the Christian Life

2558 "Great is the mystery of the faith!" The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles' Creed (Part One) and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy (Part Two), so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Part Three). This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.

What is Prayer?

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.1

Prayer as God's Gift

2559 "Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God."2 But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or "out of the depths" of a humble and contrite heart?3 He who humbles himself will be exalted;4 humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that "we do not know how to pray as we ought,"5 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. "Man is a beggar before God."6

2560 "If you knew the gift of God!"7 The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.8

2561 "You would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."9 Paradoxically our prayer of petition is a response to the plea of the living God: "They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water!"10 Prayer is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation and also a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God.11

Prayer as Covenant

2562 Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

2563 The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live; according to the Semitic or Biblical expression, the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

2564 Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man.

Prayer as Communion

2565 In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is "the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity . . . with the whole human spirit."12 Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him. This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ.13 Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his Body. Its dimensions are those of Christ's love.14


1 St. ThéRèse of Lisieux, Manuscrits autobiographiques, C 25r.
2 St. John Damascene, Defide orth. 3,24:PG 94,1089C.
3 Ps 130:1.
4 Cf. Lk 18:9-14.
5 Rom 8:26.
6 St. Augustine, Sermo 56,6,9:PL 38,381.
7 Jn 4:10.
8 Cf. St. Augustine, De diversis quaestionibus octoginta tribus 64,4:PL 40,56.
9 Jn 4:10.
10 Jer 2:13.
11 Cf. Jn 7:37-39; 19:28; Isa 12:3; 51:1; Zech 12:10; 13:1.
12 St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio, 16,9:PG 35,945.
13 Cf. Rom 6:5.
14 Cf. Eph 3:18-21.

III. Meaning

A Simple Explanation of the Catholic Faith

The Catholic Stand

A very common and challenging question I often got in the RCIA program to encourage “reverts” to come back to the faith is, “Can you provide a simple explanation of the Catholic faith and what it teaches without all the doctrine, rules, creeds, and 800-page Catechism?” As products of the current culture, those raising that question want a quick answer that fits into a “sound bite”. However, it is not such an easy task because life is not simple. The world and our experiences in it have infinite variations that we have to respond to.

I have found that many abandon the Church for different reasons too numerous to discuss here, however, there is one common denominator that I have found. That is – they never really knew nor were they instructed on all that the faith teaches or what it is all about. For most, they were given a superficial orientation (whether as kids or adults) to the doctrines and tenants of the faith and why they are important. As a consequence, they are susceptible to the anti-Catholic lies prevalent in our culture and have many false perceptions.

Having a grasp on a few of the basic tenants of the faith may not be enough when the complications, confusions, and sufferings of the world infringe on us. Consequently, there has to be a little bit more than a few “one-liners” to understand our belief and its necessary relationship to our living up to that faith in this world. After reading what many apologists and clergy have said on the subject, here goes an attempt at a simple and concise explanation of what the Catholic Church proclaims.

A “Simple” Explanation of What the Catholic Church Proclaims

The Catholic faith is the Christianity originally handed down directly from Jesus Christ to his Apostles that he commanded to build his Church. The Apostles, in turn, handed down that faith (called the Deposit of Faith) to their successors (the Pope and Bishops) for the last 2000 years with unbroken continuity from Jesus Christ to you and me. So, What is that faith? What does it basically proclaim and teach? – To Love God and Love neighbor.

Love God = Practice through prayer/reverence/worship and belief in God as he revealed both who he is to us and what our relationship to him should be as disclosed through the Word (Holy Tradition and Sacred Scripture).

Love neighbor = Practice what he (God) taught and modeled through Jesus Christ and his commandments, again, through the Word (Holy Tradition and Sacred Scripture).

That’s it in a nutshell. However, there is a little more to explore to fully grasp the meaning of that simple proclamation that involves asking three additional questions: What is the Church’s purpose in fulfilling those faith proclamations? How does it meet that purpose? And, What does it mean to be a Catholic in light of that purpose?

The Purpose of the Catholic Church

Those two proclamations are based on the original words of Jesus in answering a lawyer’s question “How should I inherit eternal life” (Luke 10: 25). Jesus answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).

Beyond those words, it is based on the original encounter with Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The Catholic Church is a sacramental faith facilitating a personal connection with God. We can experience that ongoing encounter through what Christ gave us through the Church and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It’s all about that encounter with Jesus Christ, as the bridge that atones for the sins that caused a rupture between God and mankind.

At the most basic level, the Church’s purpose is to provide the “Way” to know and practice that faith to fulfill our obligations to God and neighbor. Simply put, I believe that the ultimate purpose of the Catholic Church is to help restore the unity between God and man which, because of sin, has become ruptured. The Catholic Church, as the institution established by Christ, serves as the earthly vehicle to accomplish that end. In turn, the Church’s purpose can be further broken down into five elements:

  1. To evangelize – To bring all into communion with God as Jesus commanded us. For some, the term used is salvation and “being saved”.
  2. To reconcile – To aid in repairing our ruptures with God, with our true selves, with others and with creation – To fulfill our obligations as Jesus commanded us. To help sanctify us to be more holy.
  3. To be a source of grace in the world. Grace is a free gift of God that invites us into a relationship with God, to transform us into an “adopted son” of God. The Church, especially through the provision of the sacraments that Jesus Christ instituted for the Church is the vehicle to help reconnect with God in a personal and spiritual manner.
  4. To bring charity (love) to the world with the priority being the poor as Jesus commanded us.
  5. To provide a way to understand and live out the faith which we are not able to do on our own because of our fallen and broken nature.

How the Catholic Church Meets its Purpose

In relation to the last purpose, the early Christian Church was called “The Way” because it served to answer four key questions about God and our relationship with him, that as humans, we are incapable of answering on our own. Those key questions are as follows:

  • What to believe? = Instruction on DOCTRINE/DOGMA = The formal Church provides instruction and direction as to the nature of God and our relationship to him which was taught by Christ to his Apostles and passed down by the Church for 2000 years. Without that instruction, would anybody have even known about Jesus?
  • What to do- how to act? = Instruction on A MORALITY = Besides Christ, the formal Church provides role models (the saints) and direction/instruction on how to apply what Christ taught and modeled to love God and love neighbor. The Church teaches a “we” morality not a “me” morality.
  • How can we experience God? = Offering a means for GRACE and MERCY = The formal Church provides the sacraments, as a means to reconnect personally with God in a personal and spiritual manner. Going back to Christ’s commands and the Apostles, the Church (along with the Eastern Orthodox) have the authority to make Christ real in the Eucharist so that we may actually eat his body and drink his blood as he commanded in the Gospel of John chapter 6. It is the ultimate gift of grace that serves as our “soul food”. To all other Christians, the sacraments are but symbols and, as a consequence, a great loss for them in not being able to fully experience Jesus’ presence.
  • How to survive in a secular culture? = Providing A FAITH COMMUNITY = The formal Church provides a support system necessary to function in a progressively secular and relative culture where God is dismissed and faith is increasingly being persecuted.

What it Means to be Part of the Catholic Church

As Catholics, we are called to be part of the “The Body of Christ”. What that means is that Christ is the head of our Church. It is not the Pope. He is just the “steward” or caretaker of Christ’s Church here in earth. We, as the members of the Body of Christ, are his arms and legs.

By definition, to live up to that faith declaration requires commitments beyond just those pertaining to self or a belief. It is also about acting on those beliefs. Catholics are not expected to be on the sidelines but to be full participants in meeting the Church’s purpose participating in serving God and neighbor. It is about being Christ’s arms and legs on earth so there are duties and responsibilities just as we have in our families.

Catholicism is not a “feel-good” religion of faith and fun and being entertained or being prosperous. For some, the so-called “Church rules” get in the way of having a modern-day “obligation-free” spirituality. A common refrain heard is “Jesus yes – Church no”. However, to be Catholic is to not be obligation-free and we need help to follow Jesus’s commandments. The history of the world certainly verifies that need, so the Church serves a necessary purpose to help us believe, to be spiritual, and to act on the love God – love neighbor faith proclamation.

Jesus Christ did not put anything into writing or address all the conceivable problems and issues humans face or prescribe all the details of belief and behavior for loving God and neighbor. It was left it up to the Apostles and their successors to figure it all out with, as we believe, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. While the core of our belief (the Word as expressed through Holy Tradition and Sacred Scripture) can be described in concise terms, there is a need for more detailed explanation/instruction on the many issues of life and in living the faith.

Therefore, is the reason for a Church and an 800-page Catechism (instruction and details on belief and practice). The Church, over the last 2000 years, has dealt with every conceivable question about our human nature, the nature of God, our relationship to him, our morality in following the model of Jesus Christ, our obligations to God and neighbor, and the multitude of questions that have arisen about what is the truth. The Church as an institution with all its documents, pronouncements, symbols, liturgy, and believer obligations acts to put “meat on the bones” of the love God, love neighbor simple proclamation.

IV. Stability & Stewardship

A Reflection On the Benedictine Vow of Stability
Monsignor Charles Pope

Most Catholics are familiar with the three vows taken by most religious of poverty, chastity and obedience. To these three, St. Benedict (whose feast we celebrated Wednesday), added a fourth for the Benedictine order, the vow of stability. Our summer seminarian who had considered joining the Benedictines at one time spoke to us today after Mass about this vow of stability and I have taken his observations and adopted them here.

Stability for Benedictines involves the promise to remain and live out the rest of one’s life in the monastery community which they enter, not moving about from Monastery to monastery, or place to place. One Benedictine community describes their vow this way:

We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behavior, giving up one’s preferences, forgiving.

It is a very profound insight to describe our constant search for a more ideal situation as a temptation and an illusion.

Instability is pandemic in our culture and it has harmed our families, our communities, our parishes, and likely our nation. Almost no one stays anywhere for long. The idea of a “hometown” is more of an abstraction or a mere euphemism for the “town of ones birth.”

The layers of extended family that once existed were stripped away by the migration to the suburbs and the seeming desire to get as far apart from each other as possible. Old city neighborhoods that for generations nourished ethnic groups and identities emptied out, and now, most neighborhoods, cities or suburban, are filled with people who barely know each other and who seldom stay long in one place anyway.

The economy both feeds and reflects this instability. Gone are the days when most people worked for the same company or even in the same career all their life. Accepting a new job or promotion often means moving to a new city. Businesses often relocate to whole new areas of the country. Lasting professional relationships are threadbare as well as long-standing relationships between businesses and customers, tradesmen and clients. The American scene and culture has become largely ephemeral (i.e. passing and trendy).

And in our private lives too we reinforce this attitude:

  1. Marriages – Spiritually everyone who enters into a marriage takes a vow of stability to be true and faithful to their spouse in good times and bad, in sickness and health, in riches or in poverty till death. And yet more than half of marriages fail to realize this vow. Many want their marriage to be ideal and if there is any ordeal, most want a new deal. And, frankly most who divorce and remarry  are the most likely to divorce again. As the Benedictine statement above says, Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion.
  2. People do this with faith too, often moving from faith to faith, or at least from parish to parish in search of a more perfect experience of church. And while some are actually following a path deeper into and toward the truth, most who church-hop are looking for that illusive community where the sermons are all good, the people friendly, the moral teachings affirm them, and the liturgy perfectly executed according to their liking. It is a kind of “designer church” phenomenon. And yet again, the problem is often as much within as without: Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion.
  3. The older practice of buying a home, settling in a neighborhood and living their your whole life there is largely gone too. Most people own several homes in a lifetime and thus live in several different neighborhoods as they move about. Never mind that this means a lot of uprooting and harm to relationships. People who are just passing through and waiting to find a better home are thus less committed to improving their communities, schools, and Churches. Children too have relationships with schoolmates, and neighbor friends severed by all this mobility. There may at times be a real need for a larger home or a safer neighborhood, but even without these needs, most seem to have the goal to “upgrade” and the emphasis seems more on the bigger house than real relationships.
  4. A strange phenomenon to me personally is how popular the idea of moving to Florida or to the south is among retirees. In so doing they usually leave behind all their friends, much of their family, their church, and all that is familiar. Why is this so popular,  and does it also bespeak a kind of great divorce where family and obligations to friends and communities are seem more as burdens and part of the work that one retires from?

Well, you get the point. We have very little stability and it effects how well we can hand on the faith, and transform our culture. Our lack of stability is not wholly our fault but we do cooperate to some extent with its contours.

In the Gospel for this coming Sunday Jesus counsels: Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. In other words, settle down and don’t go from house to house looking for a better deal or a better meal. Pick a house and stay there, set down roots in the community where you minister, eat what is set before you and develop the deep relationships that are necessary for evangelization and the proclamation of the Gospel.

Stability, though difficult to find in our times is very important to cultivate wherever possible and to the extent possible. In particular, the gift to seek is the kind of stability that is content with what God has given and is not always restlessly seeking a more ideal setting. For again, as we have noted: Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion.

Perhaps a parable to end: Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors and the Silence of the monastery would be shattered. This would upset the monks; but not the Master, who seemed just as content with the noise as with the Silence. To his protesting disciples he said one day, “Silence is not the absence of sound, but the absence of self.”

Principles of Stewardship
Catholic Foundation, Archdiocese of Brisbane

What is Stewardship?

Stewardship is a way of life, a way that begins with acknowledging God as the creator and giver of all and responding with generosity and the responsible management of our resources. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we choose to be caretakers of all God has given to us. Gratitude for these gifts and blessings is expressed in prayer, worship, offering and sharing our gifts out of love for God and one another.

Stewardship is a path to holiness. It makes us more like Christ who came not to be served, but to serve. It is the humble awareness that all we have and all we are has been given to us freely from God. When we offer our lives back to God in love, He blesses that generosity a hundredfold.

Stewardship in the Bible

The message of stewardship has been part of the salvation history of the Church. From the Old Testament, we learn that Adam and Eve were asked to tend and care for the gifts of creation. From the New Testament, Saint Andrew brings the little boy forward and his simple gifts of two fish and five barley loaves and places those gifts in the hands of Jesus resulting in a wonderful demonstration of God’s abundance in the feeding of the 5,000.

Stewardship is not just a program or a method of fundraising as it is based on the spiritual principles of the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. It is a way of thanking God for all His blessings by returning a portion of the time, talent, and treasure we have each received.

The Catholic Church and Stewardship of Creation
  • Father J. Michael Beers, Ph.D., S.S.L., Associate Professor in Historical Theology, Pontifical College Josephinum
  • Dr. Russell Hittinger, Warren Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Tulsa
  • Father Matthew Lamb, S.T.L., Professor of Theology, Boston College
  • Father Richard John Neuhaus, President, Institute for Religion & Public Life
  • Dr. Robert Royal, President, Faith and Reason Institute
  • Father Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

As Roman Catholics seeking to be faithful to the fullness of God’s truth, we offer the following reflections in the hope that they will shed some much-needed light upon the environmental issues that are currently facing our world. We do not speak here as authoritative representatives of the Church’s Magisterium, but only for ourselves as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, reflecting upon environmental questions with the aid of Church teaching. This teaching derives its authenticity from its origin, which is Christ himself, and has been passed down to us by the Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and the teaching office of the Magisterium. By the very nature of the Church’s "catholicity," this teaching is intended to be universal in its scope, and, as such, has much to contribute to a proper understanding of environmental stewardship.

Because this teaching represents a two-thousand-year history of reasoned reflection upon divine revelation, it serves as an indispensable point of departure for establishing a deeper understanding of the created order, the nature and ontological value of God’s creatures, and, in particular, humanity’s value and place in that created order. An authentically Catholic understanding of the environment must be informed by a knowledge of these truths so that we can appropriately respond to environmental questions in a manner that respects the order that God has established. At the same time, a genuinely Catholic approach to environmental stewardship must constantly bring the moral authority of Church teaching to bear on all environmental questions. Thus, in addition to authentic scientific and reasoned analysis, even the most simple choices regarding theenvironment must be properly ordered to the truth about man and the world that is his home.

I. The Goodness and Order of God’s Creation

If one takes the time to study the religious views of many ancient cultures outside the influence of revelation, one will notice how deeply our Western understanding of creation, God, and man has been shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition. What ancient cultures provide for us are examples of the insufficiency of human reason in trying to penetrate the deepest mysteries of life. Though the religious views of ancient cultures varied, what we see, beginning principally with Abraham, is a radical departure from what we now refer to as paganism. Of the beliefs common among ancient peoples, a number of fundamental presuppositions seemed to figure prominently in their religious belief. For the sake of space, we will list them below:

  • Asserted the existence of many gods.
  • Denied that human life has intrinsic value.
  • Saw time as cyclical as opposed to linear.
  • Lacked the understanding that objective moral norms emanate from the divine and are an essential component of proper worship.
  • Maintained that all of creation is divine.
  • Saw time as cyclical as opposed to linear.
  • Denied that God is a single, unchanging, perfect, transcendent, and necessary being who is totally above the created order.
  • Maintained that creation developed out of a supernatural conflict between good and evil.
  • Held that matter is evil, while the spirit is good.
  • Sought to escape evil by transcending both time and matter.
As Catholics concerned about the environment, we believe it is important to establish the radical difference between a worldview informed by revelation and one that is not. One of the greatest concerns for the Church today in terms of environmental stewardship is the surprising emergence, among some religious and secular environmentalists, of what might be called "neo-paganism." Though the articulation of this new paganism may be far more nuanced and refined than that of ancient cultures, many of the fundamental philosophical and theological errors remain the same. The distinction between God and his creation has been blurred; man’s place in the created order has been obscured, while creation is garnished with characteristics unique to persons alone. Consequently, much of the environmental agenda currently being advanced reflects an environmental ethic that stands in contradiction to the Church’s doctrines of God and creation. It is our intention, therefore, to establish an environmental ethic that rests firmly upon the foundation of both sound reasoning and divine revelation.

At the very beginning of the Creed, the Catholic Church professes its belief in one God who created heaven and earth. That Creator, unlike those described in the pagan cosmologies of antiquity, is described as good–indeed, as the only good that is whole and perfect.1 The opening pages of Scripture also repeatedly emphasize that the Creator looked upon his creation and "saw that it was good" (Gen. 1:4; 1:10; 1:12; 1:18; 1:21; 1:25). Of all his good creation, it is God’s creation of mankind that completes the created order in such a way that he pronounces it to be "very good" (Gen. 1:31). The Catechism of the Catholic Church reinforces this fact: "Man is the summit of the Creator’s work, as the inspired account expresses by clearly distinguishing the creation of man from that of the other creatures."2 Human beings are described as part of that creation, as specially created in God’s image and likeness, and as endowed with the unique powers of reason and will.

The order that is inscribed into the very fabric of creation reveals to us that not only is everything God created good, but also that creation itself reflects the grandeur of God. In the ancient tradition, the Church Fathers often spoke of nature and Scripture as two divine books. The first shows us some of God’s attributes through traces and images of the Creator imprinted on material things. Among these attributes are his transcendence, sovereignty, and marvelous creative power that appear to us in the vast cosmos and the fertile earth with its wonderful assortment of creatures. Even some peoples prior to or outside the influence of revelation were moved by the wonder of the world to intuitions about its origin and how everything had been brought into being. The sheer variety of things led them to speculate about the plenitude of their source. The order and intelligibility they found everywhere seemed a trace of some divine reason or unitive principle operating in all creatures. The world’s beauty and majesty spoke of some perfect spirit at work. Stars, seas, mountains, animals, and plants visibly pointed beyond themselves to some invisible reality hidden to mortal eyes.3

The biblical revelation deepened these intuitions still further, placing them on a firmer foundation, and encouraging believers to observe ever more closely the world God had made. The Wisdom Literature and the prophets testified to a profound experience of God’s creative power and guidance over the world, and a sense of the awesome responsibility of the human creature. Or, as the Psalmist eloquently describes it:

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
with glory and honor you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hand,
put all things under his feet.
All of them, sheep and cattle,
yes, even the savage beasts–
birds of the air, and fish
that make their way through the waters.
(Ps. 8:3-8)

This vision combines the two basic dimensions of Scripture’s view of creation: the glory and majesty we may contemplate in what God has made, and our surprising dignity as active stewards of the world, despite our mere creatureliness. This realization has echoed throughout Christian history. Saint Francis of Assisi best expressed the concrete implications of this insight in encouraging his followers to contemplate creation and to praise God "in all creatures and from all creatures."4 It is no accident that the Franciscans, who loved and rejoiced in creation more than other religious orders, shaped individuals such as Roger Bacon. Bacon paid careful attention to nature and, as a consequence, figured prominently after the medieval period in the development of early experimental science.5 Thus, in echoing a long-standing tradition, the Second Vatican Council declared that Scripture enables us to "recognize the inner nature, the value, and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God."6

II. Christian Anthropology

As the summit of God’s creation, man reflects the divine image in a most excellent way. Essential to this divine image is our capacity for reason, which enables us to know God, the world, and ourselves. We are also endowed with the powers of freedom and imagination that allow us to reflect upon our experiences, choose a course of action, and thus become cooperators in the opus of creation. It might be said that we ourselves are co-creators with God, and are consequently privileged in our ability to take what God has created and make new things, which creation, on its own, could not produce. This privilege bestows on us a dignity that surpasses other creatures precisely because we can participate spiritually in God’s creativity in a manner that far exceeds the merely physical capabilities of other creatures. Furthermore, because the nature of human action is free and self-determining, these actions have moral value.

It follows, then, that with such capabilities, and by virtue of our dignity, God placed human beings in governance over his creation: "Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth" (Gen. 1:26). This dominion was specified as a command to "till and keep" the garden, and was first manifested in the naming of the animals (Gen. 2:15—20). Since naming something is to know that thing’s nature, we see the first manifestation of man’s rational nature. Moreover, by the command of the Lord to till and keep the garden, we can assume that man was commanded to use his rationality in the governance of creation for the sake of bringing forth fruit from the earth. As is evidenced by man’s original "nakedness," we can conclude that man’s dominion over creation was intended to provide us with the means for sustaining and enhancing our existence. This stands in stark contrast to the animals and plants for which God’s eternal law has provided physical attributes that sustain their existence. All of this occurred before the Fall, and it constitutes the originating Catholic vision of man’s place within the created order.

Alongside these divinely and humanly acknowledged goods, revelation also warns, of course, about profound evils. The story of the Fall in the Book of Genesis explains why evil came into human hearts and societies. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command.… In that sin, man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully "divinized" by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to "be like God," but "without God, before God, and not in accordance with God."7

The original sin affected every dimension of human life. One of its results is that "visible creation has become alien and hostile to man."8 Just as there have been, since Cain and Abel, unjust and immoral relations between persons, so, too, have actions been taken against creation. However, evil is not the dominant force of action in salvation history. God himself entered our world to redeem us through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. By taking on human nature and restoring its original relationship to God, so began a process of recapitulation for us and the whole cosmos, which is "groaning in labor pains even until now" (Rom. 8:22). This has been accomplished so that we may hope that by Christ’s ultimate action, "creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21).

We must be clear, therefore, about what dominion does and does not mean. While all things have been subordinated to human beings, we should rule over them as God himself does. This dominion does not grant to us the right to "lord over" creation in a manner incongruous with God’s own manner of governance. Since the first moment of creation, God has provided for the needs of his creatures, and, likewise, has ordered all of creation to its perfection. Hence, man’s dominion over creation must serve the good of human beings and all of creation as well. Thus, dominion requires responsible stewardship. Such stewardship must uphold the common good of humanity, while also respecting the end for which each creature was intended, and the means necessary to achieve that end. If man exercises dominion in a way that ultimately destroys nature’s creative potential or denies the human family the fruits of creation, such action constitutes an offense against God’s original plan for creation.

In thinking about our relationship with the environment, then, we must distinguish carefully between disordered human action, which harms creation and–by extension–human life and property, and responsible action, which the Creator intends for the good of the human family and creation. According to a pastoral statement by the United States Catholic Conference, "As faithful stewards, fullness of life comes from living responsibly within God’s creation."9 Nowhere does revelation suggest (as do some contemporary religious and secular environmentalists) that creation, undisturbed by human intervention, is the final order God intended. To the contrary, human beings, with all the glory and tragedy of which we are capable, are central actors in God’s drama. Indeed, in the history of salvation, the human person and the natural world are never ascribed the same dignity. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord himself, while counseling his disciples not to be anxious and to trust in God’s providence, assures them that God even takes care of the birds of the air, and adds, "Are not you of more value than they?" (Matt. 6:26).10 The Scriptures frankly present an ordered hierarchy of being: God rules over all, and human beings serve as his stewards, exercising an instrumental dominion over everything, while also being accountable to him for our exalted position as the rulers of the earth.

Thus, we do rule–and are justified in subordinating and using nature for human purposes, so long as that governance is in accord with the truth about God’s creation. As the United States Catholic Conference explains, humans bear "a unique responsibility under God: to safeguard the created world and by their creative labor even to enhance it."11 Hence, the good steward does not allow the resources entrusted to him to lie fallow or to fail to produce their proper fruit. Nor does he destroy them irrevocably. Rather, he uses them, develops them, and, to the best of his ability, strives to realize their increase so that he may enjoy his livelihood and provide for the good of his family and his descendants.

Some would argue that if man refrains from exercising dominion over nature, nature would be better off. Yet the issue bearing the greatest importance is whether man would be better off. When man does not exercise dominion over nature, nature will exercise dominion over man and cause tremendous suffering for the human family. If we were to choose to refrain from exercising our dominion over creation, nature on its own would not necessarily produce the most advantageous outcomes for human well-being. Droughts occur, rivers flood, earthquakes strike, volcanoes erupt, fires start, and diseases infirm, causing harm to humans and other creatures of the earth as well. Why God in his providence allows such things to occur is a mystery bound up with the fact of original sin. The destructive consequences, however, are not so mysterious. Consequently, as rational beings, we have a primary responsibility to protect human life as a duty that acknowledges the dignity of the human person who is created in God’s image. Our responsibility to care for the earth follows secondarily from this dignity, and, as such, presupposes it. We alone, of all God’s earthly creatures, have the power, intelligence, and responsibility to help order the world in accord with divine providence and thus minimize the effects of natural evil.

III. The Lord of History

In part, man’s prominence in creation derives from another dimension of reality revealed to us by God–that time does not exist as what might appear to be a never-ending circle of life. Time is not static or circular. We move through a history that had a beginning and will have an end. In fact, as Scripture indicates, the entire universe progresses along a linear trajectory that moves us closer and closer to some final end when the last chapter of history will be closed. What this might suggest to us is that creation is developing toward a final state of perfection. This is not to say that God’s creation was imperfect at the beginning, but that creation is not finished and will achieve its final perfection as it progresses through stages of development until it reaches that end for which creation was intended.

Even recent science suggests that creation began with the "Big Bang," that the universe is perhaps fifteen billion years into its development, and that after billions more, our universe may simply dissipate. Even in secular terms, there is strong evidence for us to believe that nature and human civilization are intended to develop through time. Geology and biology have discovered that the very planet on which we exist is the product of long developmental processes. Almost all the elements on earth were manufactured in earlier generations of stars that burned out, exploded, and distributed their material into the universe. The great diversity of plant and animal species in our biosphere reflects the slow rise of more and more complex and varied organisms. In the human realm, the growth of civilization, with its patient advances in science, technology, social institutions, and religion, mirror, albeit at a quicker pace, what seems to be one of the central laws of creation–that greater and greater complexity or degrees of perfection take time. What should be noted, however, is just how much faster human civilization has developed by comparison to the rest of creation.

God has revealed that this historic character of creation is, for man, infused with religious significance. Scripture tells us that God, through his word, first created time and space, and then proceeded to make creatures to rule over these realms. Yet he placed man, at the climax, as ruler over the entire order (Gen. 1:3—26). Thus, God was the beginning, and the first cause, of creation, and the principle of authority from whom man receives his vocation to exercise his earthly dominion. Scripture also indicates that we are passing through time from our origin to some final end for which we were created–a final consummation in Christ (Rev. 21: 5—6). Human history, in a sublime way, is unfolding and developing toward a final perfection in God himself. We also know from Saint Paul that Christ came "in the fullness of time" to redeem us (Gal. 4:4), and that he will come again at the end of history to judge the living and the dead (2 Pet. 3:1—10). In Christ, the fullness of God dwells, and in him all things find their fulfillment (Col. 1:15—20). Therefore, linear time and the development it entails are undeniable components of God’s plan for us because they place a moral imperative upon man’s temporal existence, and thus infuse human life with a more noble purpose. The fact that man was given dominion over the earth suggests that this final state of perfection, both for man and creation, will be achieved, in part, by the free employment of man’s creative intelligence and labor upon the created order. In other words, God has commanded that we participate freely and intelligently in furthering the development of his creation. Because God has revealed to us that time has a beginning and an end, we must acknowledge the truth that human dominion over creation is infused with spiritual meaning and religious significance.

In contrast, many of the cultures outside the influence of divine revelation believed that time was cyclical. Such a view followed naturally from simply observing the life cycles of nature. Thus, ancient peoples often viewed creation as an eternal, self-perpetuating, self-sufficient, and self-contained reality. In short, creation was its own perfection. It was man alone who somehow existed outside that perfection and longed to embrace it. One can see a glimmer of truth in such a view. It certainly appears to be that way. Thus, the regularity of the seasons and the recurrence of certain life patterns were the most prominent features of existence.

God’s revelation has elevated and perfected that view by situating the cycles of nature within the proper religious context of man’s vocation. Thus, the wonderfully rhythmic cycles of creation, in addition to providing for God’s creatures, are best understood and respected in reference to man’s relationship to God. The cycles of nature and the regularity with which they present themselves reveal a principle of intelligence that draws man’s attention to their source. The logic of creation, which can be discerned by man’s rationality, helps us to transcend the merely material and guides us on our journey toward ultimate meaning. The ebb-and-flow, life-and-death cadence of nature is a sacrament of the living God that points to an absolute perfection that stands both above and under all things. Were it not for the splendor of creation, man would have nothing to contemplate, and thus, nothing to direct his glance toward God, nor any way of discerning the meaning of his existence.

Therefore, we will not fully understand God’s revelation, human nature, or the integrity of creation if we limit ourselves to a cyclical view of time and nature. Just as the marvelous world in which we live came to its present state of development over time, so, too, must our religious and secular knowledge develop toward the fullest understanding of God’s plan for us. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus represent crucial stages in this history of salvation, which unfolds in time. Thus, Sacred Tradition reveals to us that God is not only the Lord of creation, but the Lord of history as well.

Many persons who are concerned about our impact on the environment believe that linear thinking and action violate the Creator’s intention of a permanent and stable natural order. However, this is a point where both revelation and man’s achievements–particularly in the arena of good science–will correct this misperception. Nature and human society are dynamic systems that depend on both change and continuity for their existence. In any faithful reading of either the book of nature or Scripture, we can see that, despite our concerns about what the short-term environmental effects of development might be, we must continually raise our eyes to the larger perspectives of God’s providence and his intentions for humanity. Environmental stewardship consists in discovering how to properly understand the relationship between cyclical processes and linear developments, present in both nature and human civilization, so that they coexist harmoniously, and direct us toward the ultimate good, which is God himself.

Basing our existence upon cycles alone would be a great limitation on human civilization. The great Christian theologian, Saint Augustine, who was familiar with the cyclical views of antiquity, saw in the Christian vision a great liberation of the human race. He states, "Let us therefore keep to the straight path, which is Christ, and with Him as our Guide and Savior, let us turn away in heart and mind from the unreal and futile cycles of the godless."12 Elsewhere, Augustine speaks of God as marvelously creating, ordering, guiding, and arranging all things, "like the great melody of some ineffable composer."13 As a reflection of this, the human person, who is made in the image and likeness of God, composes, writes, paints, dances, grows food, makes tools, manufactures, and brings forth many new things from the intelligibility inscribed into the very order of creation. Because man cannot create ex nihilo as God does, it is precisely the cycles and logic of nature that assist man in exercising his creative inclinations. In other words, while we depend upon the cyclical dimensions of nature for how we develop in our own earthly existence, we have within us the same creative thrust that set in motion the whole history of the universe. In effect, our creativity can bring nature to a higher degree of perfection. Thus, we are faithful to the potential God has placed within us when we affirm what is intrinsically good in nature by developing new and previously unrealized goods.

Interestingly, the Church acknowledges this truth through its liturgy. The very unfolding of the liturgical calendar itself and the celebration of liturgy reflect the times and seasons of the earth, celebrate the products of man’s ingenuity, and then suffuse them with spiritual meaning. Every sacrament of the Church affirms God’s blessing upon man’s dominion over nature by the mere fact that God chose to communicate his grace to us not through the fruits of nature alone, but through those fruits that have been further developed by human intelligence. Thus, even in our worship, we affirm both the value of creation, and the value of man’s creativity, which gradually brings all of creation closer to its final perfection.

IV. Human Labor and Human Progress

Not surprisingly, the imperative for human work to meet human needs and restore our fallen world, which is implied by the process of development, appears throughout Scripture. Adam and Eve were given stewardship over the Garden. Cain practiced agriculture, and Abel tended flocks, as did many of the Hebrew patriarchs; and David, the Lord’s anointed, was a shepherd before he became king of Israel. In the New Testament, our Lord himself learned carpentry in Joseph’s shop, which means that even the holy family had to support itself by humbly shaping wood into useful products. Several of the apostles earned their living as fishermen, and Saint Paul made tents so as not to be a burden to others. Even the holiest of Catholic sacraments, the Eucharist, makes use not of wheat and grapes, but of bread and wine, "which earth has given and human hands have made," thus reflecting the cooperation between God’s grace and our labor in the work of salvation.

As necessitated by this tradition, the Church has subsequently placed great value on human labor as perhaps no other religion in history. Though this world is passing, for Christians the material world is not an illusion, as other religions have sometimes maintained. Thus, work and discovery are essential to God’s plan for human fulfillment. The very work of salvation history itself has been unfolding here, in time, in space, and in the flesh. Likewise, the world for the Christian is not, as modern science suggests, a mere repository of raw materials and energy to be harnessed toward whatever purposes we feel inclined. To the greatest extent, the value of human labor finds its fulfillment in the discovery of those ways in which nature can be most responsibly and effectively placed at the service of the human family. This is the most authentic definition of human progress.

Christianity’s affirmation of human progress is demonstrated throughout history. For example, out of loving attention to God’s world, and the value placed on manual labor in the Benedictine monastic tradition, the Western impulse toward material improvements, and the later development of science, partly find their origin.14 Some of the greatest early modern scientists, such as Galileo and Newton, were Christians who thought of their work as faithfully discovering the nature of the world that God actually made. These observations of the physical world were, in part, made possible by medieval scholastic philosophy and its Aristotelian metaphysics. Had it not been for the work of people such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Scientific Revolution of the fifteenth century may have occurred much later or not at all. From the careful attention and desire to better the human condition that developed within the monastic tradition, eventually spreading into the universities throughout Europe, many valuable developments emerged, and human beings began more fully to understand and express their own God-given role in creation. In our own times, Pope John Paul II has stated,

the earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God’s first gift for the sustenance of human life. But the earth does not yield its fruits without a particular human response to God’s gift, that is to say, without working. It is through work that man, using his intelligence and exercising his freedom, succeeds in dominating the earth and making it a fitting home.15

However, a genuine concern has recently arisen that our very God-given capacities may, in fact, be endangering creation. Though man is the summit of creation, our burgeoning powers have made us acutely aware of the particular goodness, vulnerability, and interdependence of all creatures.16 As Pope Paul VI observed, "The Christian must turn to these new perceptions in order to take on responsibility, together with the rest of men, for a destiny which from now on is shared by all."17 This new situation, with its new perceptions, calls for a new ethical effort, and further broadening of the Catholic moral vision. The primary Catholic approach to the moral life focuses upon the development and habituation of virtue. Clearly, human action toward the environment must be guided by something more than utilitarian calculations and human wants, especially since those have been distorted by the Fall. How to apply a knowledge of virtue to environmental questions is complex and has only recently begun to be addressed. A full treatment cannot be offered here. However, a few brief suggestions are in order.

At the center of the moral life the Church identifies four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Briefly, these virtues are pivotal for establishing a norm of behavior for human action, and, for our purposes here, those actions which adversely affect the environment:

Prudence: As the mother of all virtue, prudence demands that we reflect deeply upon the highly complex particulars that are involved in environmental stewardship, along with those moral norms articulated in Church teaching. The most diligent application of prudence, however, will not solve all our dilemmas. Nonetheless, by prudently acknowledging the limits of our human knowledge and judgments, we will prevent ourselves from pursuing impossible utopias, and thus proceed cautiously toward the best possible solutions for both the good of the human family and the good of nature. Prudence necessitates humility in the face of complexity.

Temperance: As the virtue that restrains and directs our disordered appetites, temperance has obvious applications for environmental stewardship. It suggests that simplicity of life, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice, as Pope John Paul II has reminded us, "must inform everyday life."18 Temperance is the virtue required for a proper ordering of consumption.

Fortitude: In earlier times, we needed great courage to face the challenges that the material world posed to our existence. Many of the discoveries that have benefited the human family required individuals to courageously discover the powers and potentials of nature. This tradition continues still, but with little regard for moral norms. While fortitude has often been of tremendous value, it requires that we avoid pursuing technologies that violate the natural law or could result in the mass destruction of nature and the human family.

Justice: As all people are impacted by ecological concerns, justice requires that each creature be given its due in accord with its own particular goodness. Consequently, where tradeoffs are necessary, human need must always be given priority. Wealthy societies are better able to absorb environmental costs, and, therefore, they should bear them; but they should also assist poorer nations in the process of economic development so as to help them secure their own dignity and will. In the long run, such efforts benefit both man and nature.

Some of these points will be touched on later in this essay. Nonetheless, it is clear that, for the Catholic tradition, virtue is an indispensable foundation to understanding how human beings are called upon by God to play their proper role in restoring and developing God’s creation in accordance with his original plan.

V. Human Power and Nature’s Ways: Some Prudential Considerations

The ongoing process of discovering potentiality in nature and choosing which portions of that potential to actualize, leads us into many complicated prudential judgments. The judgments we make here are not the only prudent conclusions from Catholic principles, but they seem to us the best reflection of sound theology and sound science.

For much of history, human interaction with the environment had few lasting effects. Nature was immensely powerful, compared with the limited capacities of mortal man. It is only the immense growth in human powers in the past few centuries that has made human activity a potential threat to the integrity of creation. Prior to that expansion, people in every part of the world over-fished, over-hunted, over-harvested, polluted, and, sometimes, harmed themselves and their fellow creatures in the process. However, the relative weakness of the human animal in the face of nature’s immense power and fecundity made such damage local and transitory. Nature itself has produced much larger disruptions. During the last Ice Age, for instance, which ended only about fourteen thousand years ago, a large portion of the northern half of the globe was covered in ice thousands of feet thick. Forests were scraped clean from the land; few plants or animals survived. Yet the reproductive powers of life on this planet are such that the splendid northern forests we now enjoy reappeared in a relatively short time. Creation itself has a wide range of states as well as enormous regenerative powers when it is allowed to use them.

Some changes push the world into greater complexity and proliferating forms of life; others kill off species–and sometimes even whole ecosystems–without the slightest human intervention. What is often spoken of as the "balance of nature," therefore, is a dynamic balance. Nature changes all the time. In the past, for instance, the earth’s climate naturally underwent fluctuations that were faster and larger than even the worst scenarios for manmade climate change. The course of rivers, as well as the locations of forests and of deserts, shifted without ceasing. These forces, which destroy only to create anew, seem to be part of the way that the Creator intended to bring about the intricate and varied forms of life we see around us today. If we think of the balance of nature as static, we will not only have a false impression of the world God has given to us, but we will work against the dynamism of nature and human nature, even as we seek to help both to flourish.

Nature is also sometimes described as a self-regulating system. Again, this is only partly true, and needs to be rightly understood; nature’s way of self-regulation raises hard questions for responsible stewardship. Nature achieves balance when one portion takes advantage of opportunities presented by another portion. Big fish eat little fish. Weaker species reproduce in large numbers to offset the losses to predators. None of this, of course, is an ideal model for human individuals and societies to follow. We have concerns that no other earthly creature manifests. Very few of us, for instance, would wish to obliterate the natural beauty and varieties of plant and animal life around us, even if it would entail no physical harm to our own species. A healthy and beautiful environment is one of the goods man values, and, therefore, seeks to promote. By contrast, the hiv virus that causes aids does not care if it wipes out all potential animal hosts because the only thing it appears to know is how to reproduce to the limit of available biological niches. Other species seem to behave in essentially the same way.

Despite our natural affection for our fellow creatures on this planet, we need to see them as they are in themselves, and in terms of what they mean for human life. Elephants and tigers, for instance, are marvelous creatures that should be preserved; they tell us something irreplaceable about God’s "infinite wisdom and goodness."19 However, wild elephants and tigers have also been the bane of human existence, as have been viruses, mosquitoes, wolves, bears, sharks, and a menagerie of other creatures. To recognize this is not to license any and every human action over nature. Man’s dominion over nature is "not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come."20 Still, persons who live in close contact with nature have a very different sense of its relative mix of threat and glory than do persons who observe beautiful rain forests or wild animals only at a safe distance through television, movies, or with the advantages of civilization to which to return. Nature contains many dangers for the human race, as well as much beauty and benefit. Some religious and secular environmentalists give the impression that it would be better for man and nature if we returned to some previous state, certainly before industrialization, and perhaps nearer to prehistoric conditions prior to settled agriculture. These aims are both wrong-headed and dangerous. Creation becomes benign for man and realizes potentialities built into it by the Creator to the degree that, through developing his own creative powers, man takes dominion over creation. Left on its own, nature is limited in what it can achieve by its own natural processes. Thus, nature would fail to release the potential God intended for it if not for the instrumentality of human creativity and labor. Furthermore, untamed nature would continue to inflict tremendous suffering on the human family.

VI. A Better Sense of Perspective

The modern concern about the environment, and the very development of the science of ecology, began in the middle of the nineteenth century when human power over creation began to expand rapidly. As we might expect, good and evil were inextricably mixed in this development. On the one hand, industrialization and modern agriculture have enabled more people to live–and live a more fully human life–than ever before. After a difficult transition period, for instance, manual laborers in advanced economies achieved a security and sense of dignity never before seen in any society. Advances in technology have made famine–which was a regular scourge to humanity around the globe before modern times–a thing of the past, except in places where political tyranny or turmoil prevent intelligent development. Advances in medicine have all but eliminated diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, and malaria, and have made formerly life-threatening maladies such as measles, mumps, and others, relatively minor nuisances. All of this was achieved by the slow and patient accumulation of human knowledge and the creation of free institutions that enabled the fruits of that knowledge to be shared by even larger numbers of people.

On the other hand, industrialization also had its negative effects. Early industrialization polluted cities, disrupted agricultural communities, and challenged modern nations to find ways to integrate growing urban masses. However, these were largely transitional problems. Today, it is precisely industrialization, new forms of agriculture, and other human advances that are making it possible for humans to increasingly live well and in proper relation to the earth. Even in difficult cases, such as the increase in greenhouse gases, we want to be wary of taking too narrow a view of the matter that neglects a broader perspective on the goods of development. Fossil fuels, which come from beneath the earth, have made it possible for us to forego the far more destructive, inefficient, and polluting use of wood and other so-called natural fuels that must be harvested from the earth’s surface. Paradoxically, fossil fuels may have even helped save whales from extinction. Prior to learning how to use petroleum, humans had few alternatives to whale oil for generating heat and light.

Moreover, fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, have also had far-reaching positive environmental effects that a good steward should wish to consider in drawing up the global balance sheet. The first effect is to make it possible for farmers to replace beasts of burden with machines and, therefore, to cultivate land more efficiently. (Much of the developing world is now beginning to undergo this process of agricultural modernization today.) Second, fossil fuels have been turned into fertilizers that, together with new pesticides, other means of preventing spoilage, and advances in new plant species–the so-called Green Revolution–have produced so much more food per acre that large amounts of land have now been spared from cultivation altogether. For example, America’s forests, contrary to popular perception, have been growing steadily for the past fifty years and are actually larger than they were one hundred years ago.21 Even in the heavily populated coastal areas, small farms have returned to forestland. The result of all this is that despite its vast fossil-fuel consumption, North America currently shows a net minus in the amount of carbon dioxide it puts into the atmosphere. In other words, North America absorbs more carbon dioxide through plants and forests than it emits through industry.22 No one intentionally set out to produce these consequences, but human ingenuity, aimed at doing better with greater cost efficiency and lower amounts of raw materials, seems here to reflect a providential convergence of man and nature. Now that we are conscious of the effects of our activity on nature, we can set out to do even better.

If other countries in the world could imitate such ingenuity and efficiency, we would not see an exhaustion and despoliation of natural resources. Instead, we would see their enhancement and protection. Agricultural scientists have estimated that if the rest of the world could achieve the level of efficiency and care for the land exhibited by the average farmer in the developed world, then ten billion people–which is almost twice the current world population, and is a larger figure than is now expected when the population levels off in the middle of the century–could be fed on half the land. Put into concrete terms, this means that an area the size of India could simply be left untouched worldwide in spite of population growth.23 It is a modern scandal, then, that out of a misguided concern for the earth, some philanthropic foundations and environmental groups from developed countries, and some international agencies as well, have discouraged, or even refused to support so-called "unsustainable" agricultural practices. These practices are, in fact, necessary for saving and improving the lives of the world’s poor and hungry.

Such a position severely clashes with the moral imperative outlined above that human needs must be given first priority in environmental policy and practice. There is room for well-meaning people to disagree about the best set of stewardship policies; and it is rarely the place of the Catholic Church to endorse particular policy proposals. However, we should not indulge ourselves in a strongly negative, almost anti-human view of human population. Unfortunately, environmental policy is often guided by this view–a view that ultimately deplores the appearance of billions of new people on the planet, each of whom, by God’s providence, is created to enjoy eternal life with him. Many environmentalists seem to believe that human beings are a kind of scar or cancer on the land, an immoral intrusion on an otherwise perfect natural order. No basis for this view can be found in revelation; indeed, quite the opposite is true. Man was placed here by God and was commanded to be fertile and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Thinking of the existence of other people as unfortunate and perhaps even as a violation of nature is a radical departure from the Judeo-Christian ethic. We are made in God’s image and likeness, and that means, in part, that every person conceived is sacred, per se, because he or she adds to creation an incommunicable value that did not previously exist. The view that people are merely a drain on resources not only contradicts our faith, but denies the real contributions of human beings to the common good of human society and the integrity of the environment. God has decided to allow these new persons into the cosmic community of spirits. Any view that does not welcome human beings both in themselves, and for what they may providentially bring into the world, is at fundamental odds with the Catholic ethos.

In addition, the best evidence appears to suggest that no population crisis, as such, exists. Some countries with high population densities are poor because their economic development has not, in fact, matched growth in human numbers. However, countries such as Japan and Hong Kong show that such poverty is an economic rather than a population problem. We have already seen that there is no shortage of food on the planet. There is equally no "population bomb" ready to go off. The predictions of alarmists on this score in the 1960s and 1970s proved false. Only nature or the disregard for human life has produced large numbers of human deaths in recent decades. Globally, food production has outstripped population growth, thanks to human innovation.

However, many human beings still suffer from a lack of basic necessities. Thus, if there does exist an imbalance between population and the amount of arable land, observes Pope John XXIII, "necessity demands a cooperative effort on the part of the people to bring about a quicker exchange of goods, or of capital, or the migration of people themselves."24 Thus, an approach that favors economic development and international cooperation should be promoted as an alternative to programs intended to reduce human population.

Another side effect of development–albeit an unintended one–has appeared as well. As food becomes more plentiful and medicine more widely available, population growth naturally slows. Many developed countries in North America, Europe, and Asia are actually facing precipitous population collapse, absent immigration.25 In developing countries, population growth slows as people become confident that, thanks to material improvements, more of their children will survive into adulthood. Whereas a half century ago, women in developing countries had to bear, on average, six children to keep the population steady, today’s lowered infant mortality rate has cut the number of births in half.26 Developing countries today are at the stage of many developed countries more than fifty years ago, with the added advantage of developed technologies and practices already discovered and in use. Thus, addressing the needs of developing nations is well within our potential.

What may block the path to development, however, is mistrust of human innovation, and the inevitable drags on progress that government management of the economy, weak protection of private property rights, and barriers to trade introduce. We know from hard historical experience, for instance, that the centralized, planned systems of the former Communist countries were poor stewards of lands with remarkable natural resources. These countries were not only terribly inept at producing and distributing goods to their own people, they were also among the worst polluters and most reckless environmental regimes in history.27 Despite many laws stipulating production targets and pollution controls, scarcity and environmental degradation were the result. Command economies and the rigidity they introduce into social relations make the environment a marginal concern. Most government planning tends to produce exactly the opposite of what is intended by hampering or penalizing needed innovations and the dynamic spontaneity to solve problems in both the economic and environmental spheres.

It is a normative Catholic principle that God intended the goods of the earth for the benefit of all.28 In other words, while private property, as Saint Thomas Aquinas notes, is a right, it is not an absolute right.29 Unfortunately, recent attempts to promote the common good by overly centralized planning remind us that, other things being equal, the right to economic initiative and the natural interest we take in our own property play an important social function in both the economy and the environment.

VII. A Proper Understanding of Environmental Stewardship

What becomes clear to us in this analysis is that we need a very sophisticated grasp of our situation that will take into account everything that the sciences–which are a product of human reason–are able to tell us about our world. Yet this is not all; we must also integrate our scientific knowledge with the normative principles of the moral order.

The moral teaching of the Church, as manifested in the various saintly lives of Christians throughout history, remains a key component in our understanding of how we should live in relationship to the material world. These individuals have challenged us to see that it is prudent for us–as both bodies and spirits–to refrain from consuming more than we need, or to coarsen ourselves by the endless pursuit of luxuries. Our tradition challenges us to be very careful in our personal lives about the temptations of worldly goods. Yet what is helpful, and even a religious necessity, in one’s personal life cannot be translated directly into a social ethic without some caveats.

The human species as a whole will do better for itself and for creation if we vigorously cultivate the intelligence and creativity with which we have been endowed. This can be accomplished when each person is allowed the economic freedom to seek material improvements, and to make them economically viable within a system that is circumscribed by a strong juridical framework.30 A more expansive social ethic that allows for economic prosperity does not contradict personal austerity, as it may appear at first glance. Large-scale innovation and productivity actually allow for greater efficiency, thus saving raw materials and energy in the long run. As the Catholic tradition acknowledges, proper distinctions are an imperative for moral analysis. Thus, it may be important to generate a lot of wealth; however, what one does with that wealth is quite another matter.

Moreover, while we ought to desire a certain simplicity in our personal lives, returning to some pre-industrial agrarian arrangement would result in the loss of such goods as profitable employment, modern medicine, and a resilient infrastructure, as well as in reduced food production, thus creating an empty well of human need. In times past, human existence was marked by a constant struggle for survival. Only since industrialization has man acquired the means necessary for protecting himself against the forces of nature. Putting the billions of people now alive back on the land would, paradoxically, have even worse environmental effects than intelligent development. Consequently, economic development must progress hand in hand with individual commitment to the virtue of temperance.

Similarly, no responsible person believes that the relatively simpler but dirty old path of early industrialization should be continued in the future. Many environmental problems are already well on their way to technical solutions. Water and air are vastly cleaner than they were only two decades ago, largely due to advances in technology. Manufacturing processes and automobiles may soon have no environmental effects whatsoever. Thus, in addition to the great advances we have seen in agriculture and medicine, we can anticipate that, in the very near future, technologies will continue to provide ways to solve many other problems we currently face.31 However, to achieve a reduction in environmental impact, human societies require greater development and more innovation, not less.

Since questions of stewardship, by their nature, reflect great human as well as natural complexity, public policy must reflect the greatest technical skill, practical wisdom, and widest human experience possible. Experience has shown that democratic political systems and market economies, by and large, do exactly that, particularly when moral values and the practice of virtue inform them. Neither of these systems is perfect, and neither will deal with the environment perfectly. Both are subject to the pitfalls of human vice, fallibility, and original sin–as well as simple error. However, as Thomas Jefferson observed, there is "no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves." Time has proven the practical wisdom of that principle, and we might observe that it is consistent with the Catholic view that every human person has been endowed by God with gifts intended to be used for the glory of the Creator and of his creation. Democracy and a free economy provide a space for those gifts to be effectively utilized in the stewardship of the earth. It is often argued that environmental questions are so urgent that they cannot wait for a popular consensus to form or cannot depend upon market incentives–which are often focused on short-term gains–for solutions. In a very few cases of demonstrated emergency, that may be true. In almost every other instance, however, far from being inconvenient obstacles to realizing environmental goals, democracy and markets are the most effective social embodiments of our God-given intelligence, and are the best mechanisms for the responsible handling of the environment.

It is no mere coincidence that the words ecology and economics have related etymologies. Economics, referring to the laws of the household (oikos in Greek), is the science of how we produce, sell, buy, trade, and use goods and employ services to meet human needs. Ecology, a word that came into existence in the nineteenth century as environmental questions became more evident, is the science of the laws that govern the interactions of the earth’s biosphere with the earth’s inhabitants, specifically as the home (oikos) for all life (bios). The two terms are deeply related in reality as well as in their origins. Too often, however, they are set in opposition to each other. The usual way this relationship is characterized is by arguing that greed, expressed in economic activity, is the driving force behind ecological problems. Even historically, this is false. The economic actions intended to fulfill human needs have often damaged ecological systems, but to portray these actions simply as greed or excessive consumption assumes that nature is far more benign than the witness of human history seems to suggest. Much of the environmental harm inflicted on nature in the past few centuries has stemmed from human ignorance, not malice or even greed, as we have tried to gain advantage over the nemesis of material scarcity. Yet now that we are beginning to discern the value of our stewardship over nature, we are in a new situation. Thus, we need to reaffirm our commitment to the tools that allow us to respond effectively to the multifaceted problems we face.

First, we need the very best and dispassionate environmental science to help us sort out the immensely complicated series of interconnected effects of our actions on the biosphere. Simple emotional appeals or alarmist claims are of little use here. As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, "Reverence for nature must be combined with scientific learning."32 Global warming, for instance, which remains speculative and based on incomplete computer models rather than on demonstrated science, might cost man and nature a great deal if we rush to impose dramatic limits on fossil-fuel use in a misguided attempt to solve a problem that may not even exist. Just twenty-five years ago, some of the current proponents of global warming were warning us about global cooling.33 Because ecology is still in its infancy, we need to utilize all that we know to help us find prudent solutions for these complex problems. We must also recognize that science alone is insufficient for resolving these matters, especially since these issues have moral implications. Thus, in recognizing that we will have to make unavoidable tradeoffs in striking a balance between human need and a clean environment, we must exercise prudence in addressing environmental concerns.

Finding ways for nature and man to coexist for the benefit of all of creation will demand great human ingenuity and effort in the coming years. At the moment, the simplest solution for many environmental problems is to set aside land for conservation and wildlife habitat. Around the world, the countries that enjoy the greatest prosperity are able, through both public and private means, to set aside land for wildlife preservation. Development and wealth make environmental care much easier, as can be inferred from the fact that intelligent development, which leads to a surplus of wealth, provides the greatest possibility for man to address concerns beyond the scope of his immediate material needs. This fact is rooted in the very logic of man’s dominion over nature.34 Despite some continuing environmental problems, developed countries are the ones most dedicated to and successful in treating their own environmental situations.

For the most part, it is not the entrepreneur or the corporation in developed societies, as is often claimed, who acquires disastrous and short-term profit at the expense of the environment. Entrepreneurs usually have a vested interest in their own kind of sustainability, as well as incentives to innovate and to make products more efficiently and with less waste. By contrast, the poorest and least-developed countries frequently have few real options as their often-growing populations, with little or no incentive to prudent stewardship of their natural resources, exploit every available resource in the search for short-term survival.

The poorer countries of the world are those most in need of good science and development, for both economic and environmental reasons. The traditional forms of agriculture and manufacturing, often romantically thought to be ideal models of how to live on the land, are actually a much heavier burden upon earth and upon man than modern developments. For example, developing countries would benefit both environmentally and economically from electricity. Electricity generated by fossil fuels is frequently portrayed as a clumsy and centralized means of power generation that would best be replaced by wind, solar, or wave-powered generators. If these alternative energy sources were successfully developed and made affordable, perhaps this would be true. However, in the meantime, millions of children and adults die every year in developing countries because of the smoke they inhale from wood and dung fires, or because of the impure water that they must drink for lack of proper sanitation. Thus, their basic needs would be met with far less local and atmospheric pollution by the construction of the most up-to-date electrical power generators around the world. Even if this source of energy is not perfect, it represents an improvement toward both meeting human need and a cleaner environment. Science and development should work in tandem to aid the most hard-pressed of our human neighbors, while taking prudential steps toward a fuller realization of environmental stewardship.

In addition to proper science, however, we desperately need an authentic democratic deliberation on the environment. Every recent survey of the American people confirms that they place high value on a clean and safe environment. Yet in human life there are few indisputable absolutes. Thus, we see that most often these same people do not endorse the proposals recommended by many environmental organizations for achieving this seemingly desired end. Real environmental decisions, as we have seen, always involve choices between different and sometimes competing values, therefore suggesting that we must proceed with great caution and prudence.

For example, air quality in the United States is better than it has been in decades. Soon, smog is likely to be a thing of the past. Pollutants are still put into the atmosphere by human activity, but, at a certain point, a moral calculation must be made. Do we want to spend enormous amounts of human and material capital on removing, say, the last 5 percent of an air pollutant at the cost of being unable to deal with other more serious problems? If so, what if the last 2 percent is ten times as expensive? Or a hundred times? Prudence dictates that we need a moral and political calculus that will weigh several competing values as they come to bear upon the common good. Though all of them are perhaps laudable enough in themselves, we must always consider the fact of scarcity when seeking to resolve these conflicts of interest. By virtue of the limits placed on our material existence, we must be modest in our assessment of what we can reasonably achieve environmentally without placing an undue hardship on others. True democratic processes, then, will allow for the real cost and benefits of environmental stewardship to emerge, and thus a policy can be advanced that truly upholds the common good.

Third, in much of the literature on the environment, entrepreneurs and the technologies they employ are pitted against ecologists and the "rights" of nature. There is a kernel of truth in such arguments, because all human activity alters the natural world to a greater or lesser degree. Far from being locked in inevitable conflict, however, entrepreneurs and environmentalists need increasingly to cooperate with one another to the benefit of both. Many environmentalists have demonized entrepreneurs. Without going to the opposite extreme of idealizing entrepreneurs–some of whom provide great service, others of whom, in fact, are irresponsible–it is clear that there are several ways in which entrepreneurial activity, at its best, will be crucial to the solution of environmental problems. First, scientific research, both in nonprofit and in corporate settings, depends largely on the excess capital generated by successful entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs also have a market incentive in developing innovations favorable to the environment, such as new technologies that replace older, dirtier, and less efficient technologies. Only the freedom and responsiveness of markets, as has been demonstrated around the world, will succeed in distributing those goods to the widest number of people. As Pope John Paul II has argued, "the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs."35 Environmentalists can play a useful role in identifying problems and threats. However, as it stands today, their critiques are often insufficient for addressing the vast array of needs confronting society as a whole. Therefore, embracing a broader view of creation that credits economic activity as being an extension of God’s own wisdom for how man is to relate to his physical surroundings is becoming increasingly important.

Fourth, many environmentalists deplore the right to private property. In contrast, property is upheld in the Catholic tradition, not only as a fundamental right by virtue of man’s labor, but also as the means by which God intends man to develop the earth for the benefit of all people. Property that is held in common is most often neglected. In general, he who owns his property will care for it and produce something from it. Therefore, an owner is typically the best steward of a resource. However, the right to private property, in Catholic social thought, can never be understood authentically apart from the universal destination of all material goods. Man is entitled to the fruits of his labor, only inasmuch as he has a right to provide for himself and his family, and the duty to help others in need. Saint Thomas Aquinas provides several arguments for why privately owned property is better cared for than common property or property that is owned by no one in particular.36 In short, he argues that property is temporary and relative in this world. Since its possession requires moral as well as legal limitations, where private property rights have been respected, the whole created order has generally fared better.

Some environmental problems may be best treated, in fact, by creating new forms of property rights defensible by law. The law has recognized that pollution damages the common environment and may, therefore, be curtailed in respect to others’ property rights. Recently, pollution credits, which are currently being actively traded, have provided successful market incentives to reduce emissions. However, we have not yet experimented extensively with ways to use private-property rights to solve ecological questions. Nonetheless, limited experimentation in this area has yielded positive results. For some places in Africa, for example, establishing property rights over land and animals, and allowing local peoples to benefit from controlled hunting and harvesting policies, have paradoxically lessened poaching and made hunting both economically valuable and sustainable. Previously, people in such areas had immediate incentives to destroy large beasts and their habitats in order to enlarge simple agricultural activities. Innovation that takes advantage of new markets has enabled them to avoid harming nature, to a greater degree, while also benefiting themselves. Whenever possible, as this example illustrates, economic and ecological interests must everywhere be made to coincide as closely as possible with one another.

VIII. Recommendations

In conclusion, we would like to recommend some general principles as guides to future reflection on environmental questions:
  1. Nature reveals God as the Creator. Thus, we human beings learn things about God and ourselves from contemplating the earth’s power, intelligibility, and beauty. We would do well to know nature better in its immediacy and to cultivate the ancient practice of meditating on nature in order to increase our spiritual understanding and love for God’s world. As Pope John Paul II rightly reminds us, "Our very contact with nature has a deep restorative power."37
  2. Even natural contemplation, however, will lead us, as it did many early civilizations, to see that nature points to something beyond itself and draws man to the ultimate source of well-being. We care for creation as a God-given responsibility, but the love of neighbor as a being with an eternal destiny is a still higher demand. We should welcome new additions to our numbers by protecting the sanctity of human life–from conception to natural death–and taking all possible steps to see that each person’s basic needs are met. The United States Catholic Conference has posed this question: If we do not respect human life, "can we truly expect that nature will receive respectful treatment at our hands?"38
  3. Meeting human needs should not be thought of as a zero-sum process that inevitably entails further deterioration of nature or exploitation of neighbor. Creative minds and ready hands can quite easily offset and even reduce the current human impact on creation and can expand man’s capacity to meet the needs of his neighbor through voluntary exchange.
  4. Ecology and economics must go hand in hand. (Sound environmental stewardship is the joining of the two.) There is an economy of salvation, an economy of human existence, and an economy of the environment. Greater prosperity generally correlates with greater concern for–and better means for dealing with–environmental questions. It also leads to voluntary, non-coercive decisions about having children–decisions that avoid morally illicit means of reducing perceived population pressures.
  5. Political and economic liberty best reflect the human freedom and intelligence with which we have been endowed by God. Democratic political systems and free economies, therefore, are most likely to respond to our environmental concerns in the most fully human way. In many cases, this means that finding market solutions to perceived problems will benefit both people and the environment.
  6. We should resist the tendency to believe that centralized planning is more environmentally responsible than free institutions. The countries that have had the most centralized systems in the past century have also been the most harmful to the environment. Catholics are not opposed to properly constituted state power, but the issues where clumsy and rigid regulation can help are far fewer than is generally believed. Agile and flexible markets can respond, and with great efficiency, to problems unsolvable in any other way.
  7. Entrepreneurship is one dimension of human nature. Portraying all entrepreneurs as people driven merely by greed is both unfair and disrespectful to one of the means God has given us to handle our ever-changing needs. Properly understood, responsible entrepreneurship is a vehicle for realizing what the United States Catholic Conference has called a "common and workable environmental ethic."39 As Pope John II has stated, "Placing human well-being at the center of concern for the environment is actually the surest way of safeguarding creation; this in fact stimulates the responsibility of the individual with regard to natural resources and their judicious use."40

The revelation of God both in nature and in salvation history does not lead us to believe that we should return to some prelapsarian garden in the earth’s distant past. Angels with flaming swords block that way forever (Gen. 3:24). As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, ecological responsibility "cannot base itself on the rejection of the modern world or on the vague wish for a return to a ‘lost paradise.’ "41 Human dominion over nature is not necessarily evil; yet our task lies before us. We must always be on guard against a two-fold temptation that is repeatedly denounced by God: first, making idols of nature or creatures that, in so doing, exalts them above our primary duties toward God; and, second, neglecting the needs of our human neighbor. We are awaiting the New Jerusalem, a city to be given to us at the end of time out of God’s free bounty, which will descend upon a New Heaven and a New Earth. In the meantime, we must combat the evil in ourselves and in our world. We must seek better ways to love God by keeping his commandments and loving our neighbor as ourselves. In a sense, the love for our neighbor can be extended to the non-human world. However, we will have to make prudential judgments about many complex questions and expect inescapable tradeoffs along the way. Since "one can love animals" but should not "direct to them the affection due only to persons,"42 whenever there is an unavoidable choice between people and nature, we must, like God, put people, the summit of his creation, first.

Finally, we should always have faith that God never abandons his people. Our talents were given to us for a reason: to enable us to love God and our neighbor in Christian freedom. We may be confident that God will also provide us with the gifts and graces that are needed to care for both nature and ourselves. Nonetheless, we should still not expect that any of our many pursuits in the coming years–let alone complex activities such as environmental stewardship–will be without new problems of their own. As the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar has recently reminded us, Jesus said that the wheat and the tares grow together. Believing that we can uproot all evil may threaten the goods on which we all depend.43 Catholic teaching about the Fall is a realistic, not a pessimistic view, in this perspective. There is much bad and much good in our world, but the persistence of evil should not discourage us. Until the Lord comes in glory, total perfection for us as a species and perfect harmony within nature are beyond our reach, but we know that someday he will come. In the meantime, we seek salvation and our human future amid great uncertainties, but also in joyful hope that the Creator who brought this world and the human race into being is certainly still at work in it–and in us.

Editorial Board
  • Father J. Michael Beers, Ph.D., S.S.L., Associate Professor in Historical Theology, Pontifical College Josephinum
  • Dr. Russell Hittinger, Warren Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Tulsa
  • Father Matthew Lamb, S.T.L., Professor of Theology, Boston College
  • Father Richard John Neuhaus, President, Institute for Religion and Public Life
  • Dr. Robert Royal, President, Faith and Reason Institute
  • Father Robert A. Sirico, President, Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty
  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 385.
  2. Ibid., 343.
  3. Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.2.
  4. Saint Bonaventure, Legenda Major 4.3. See also Omar Englebert, Saint Francis of Assisi: A Biography (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1965).
  5. Cf. Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, vol. 2, part 1 (New York: Image, 1963), 164.
  6. The Second Council of the Vatican, Lumen Gentium (November 21, 1964), 36.2.
  7. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 397—398.
  8. Ibid., 400.
  9. United States Catholic Conference, Pastoral Statement Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (November 14, 1991), III, A.
  10. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 342.
  11. United States Catholic Conference, Pastoral Statement Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (November 14, 1991), II, A.
  12. Saint Augustine, City of God 12.20.
  13. Saint Augustine, Epistles 138.1.
  14. Cf. Alan Macfarlane, The Culture of Capitalism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987).
  15. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 31.
  16. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 339—340.
  17. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Octogesima Adveniens (May 14, 1971), 21.
  18. John Paul II, "The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility," 1990 World Day of Peace Message (December 8, 1989), 13.
  19. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 339.
  20. Ibid., 2415.
  21. See Jesse H. Ausubel, "The Liberation of the Environment," Daedalus 125 (summer 1996): 1—17.
  22. S. Fan, M. Gloor, J. Mahlman, S. Pacala, J. Sarmiento, T. Takahashi, and P. Tans, "A Large Terrestrial Carbon Sink in North America Implied by Atmospheric and Oceanic Carbon Dioxide Data and Models," Science 282 (October 16, 1998): 442—446.
  23. Paul E. Waggoner, "How Much Land Can Be Spared for Nature?" Daedalus 125 (summer 1996): 87.
  24. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963), 101.
  25. Cf. Nicholas Eberstadt, "World Depopulation: Last One Out Turn Off the Lights," Millken Institute Review 2 (first quarter 2000): 37—48.
  26. United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 1994 Revision.
  27. Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr., Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature Under Siege (New York: Basic Books, 1992).
  28. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 2401.
  29. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II—II Q. 66.
  30. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 42.
  31. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).
  32. United States Catholic Conference, Pastoral Statement Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (November 14, 1991), IV, B.
  33. Anna Bray, "The Ice Age Cometh: Remembering the Scare of Global Cooling," Policy Review 58 (fall 1991): 82—84.
  34. Cf. Gene M. Grossman and Alan B. Krueger, "Economic Growth and the Environment," Quarterly Journal of Economics 110 (May 1995): 353—377.
  35. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 34.
  36. Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia—IIae, q. 105, aa. 2—3, and IIa—IIae q. 66.
  37. John Paul II, "The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility," 1990 World Day of Peace Message (December 8, 1989), 14.
  38. United States Catholic Conference, Pastoral Statement Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (November 14, 1991), III, H.
  39. Ibid., I, D.
  40. John Paul II, "Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace," 1999 World Day of Peace Message (January 1, 1999), 10.
  41. John Paul II, "The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility," 1990 World Day of Peace Message (December 8, 1989),13.
  42. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), 2418.
  43. Hans Urs von Balthasar, A Theology of History (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), 124—125.

V.  The Transcendentals

The Pillar of the Cloud
Saint John Henry Newman

Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

June 16, 1833

The “Beauty” that saves
Excerpt from the Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists (1999)

16. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.

From this wonder there can come that enthusiasm of which Norwid spoke in the poem to which I referred earlier. People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.(25)

Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”.(26)

Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.

May you be guided and inspired by the mystery of the Risen Christ, whom the Church in these days contemplates with joy.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always: she is the “tota pulchra” portrayed by countless artists, whom Dante contemplates among the splendours of Paradise as “beauty that was joy in the eyes of all the other saints”.(27)

“From chaos there rises the world of the spirit”. These words of Adam Mickiewicz, written at a time of great hardship for his Polish homeland,(28) prompt my hope for you: may your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.

Educating to Truth, Beauty and Goodness
Academics Commentary, Commentary, K12 Curriculum Standards, Teacher Formation and Witness
Dr. Dan Guernsey
The following essay appears in Appendix A of The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Curriculum Standards.1

The world, in all its diversity, is eager to be guided towards the great values of mankind, truth, good and beauty; now more than ever…Teaching means to accompany young people in their search for truth and beauty, for what is right and good. — Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion, 2014 2

We want our students to maximize their human potential and to both be good and do good in authentic freedom. In order to do this, our students need to be able to know how to wisely and fully apprehend and interrogate all aspects of reality from a solid Christian intellectual tradition. This intellectual tradition involves not just teaching facts and skills, but is also essentially focused on seeking to know the value and nature of things and in appreciating the value of knowledge for its own sake.

One method of assisting students to keep focus on these aspects of Catholic intellectual inquiry is to use the lenses of truth, goodness, and beauty to evaluate a subject under consideration. These three elements are often understood as being among the transcendentals. Transcendentals are the timeless and universal attributes of being.3 They are the properties of all beings. They reflect the divine origin of all things and the unity of all truth and reality in God. These elements are among the deepest realities. They help unite men across time and culture and are often a delight to explore and discuss, because they are substantive to our very nature.

The transcendentals of truth, beauty, and goodness are closely intertwined. Dubay (1999) observed that, “Truth beauty and goodness have their being together, by truth we are put in touch with reality which we find is good for us and beautiful to behold. In our knowing, loving and delighting the gift of reality appears to us as something infinitely and in-exhaustively valuable and fascinating.”4 In seeking to discuss one, the others are naturally and organically brought into the conversation.

The following simple definitions and essential questions are provided as a general framework to help facilitate a discussion on any topic in any subject. The goal is not to generate easy questions for easy answers, but to generate foundational questions for deep inquiry into the value and nature of things, to instill a sense of the intrinsic value of knowledge, and to elicit a sense of wonder.


Beauty can help evoke wonder and delight, which are foundations of a life of wisdom and inquiry.5 Beauty involves apprehending unity, harmony, proportion, wholeness, and radiance.6 It often manifests itself in simplicity and purity, especially in math and science.7 Often beauty has a type of pre-rational (striking) force upon the soul, for instance when one witnesses a spectacular sunset or the face of one’s beloved. Beauty can be understood as a type of inner radiance or shine coming from a thing that is well-ordered to its state of being or is true to its nature or form.8

Beauty pleases not only the eye or ear, but also the intellect in a celebration of the integrity of our body and soul. It can be seen as a sign of God’s goodness, benevolence and graciousness, of both His presence and His transcendence in the world.9 It can serve as re-enchantment with the cosmos and all reality10 and assist in moving our students to a rich and deep contemplative beholding of the real.11

Some essential questions related to beauty:
  • Is “X” beautiful? How so? Why not?
  • Which of these (i.e., poems, experiments, proofs, theories, people, functions, concepts) is more beautiful and why? Why might others have thought this beautiful?
  • How does this person/thing attract? Is this person using their God-given gifts to attract in a way that pleases God and draws others closer to God? What can happen when beauty is not used for the glory of God?
  • What is delightful, wondrous about this person/thing?
  • How does this shine? Radiate?
  • How is faithfulness to form or nature powerfully evident here?
  • What does this reveal about the nature of what is seen?
  • Where is there unity and wholeness here?
  • Where is there proportion and harmony here?
  • How does this reveal God’s graciousness, presence, and transcendence?
  • What does my response to this reveal about me?
  • Is this also Good? Is this also True?

When we explore issues of goodness with our students, we are fundamentally asking them to consider questions of how well someone or something fulfills its purpose. Goodness is understood as the perfection of being. A thing is good to the degree that it enacts and perfects those powers, activities, and capacities appropriate to its nature and purpose. A good pair of scissors cuts, a good eye has 20/20 vision, and so forth. We have to know a thing’s purpose, nature, or form to engage in an authentic discussion of “The Good.” When we get to questions of what is a good law, a good government, a good father, or a good man, the discussion quickly grows richer, deeper, and more complex.

As Catholic educators, our goal is to help our students to become good persons. Among those qualities we deem good are wisdom, faithfulness, and virtue. Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good.12 We are free to the extent that with the help of others, we have maximized these goods, these proper powers and perfections as man.13 Such efforts raise fundamental questions of what it means to be human and our relationships with each other, the created world, and God.

God, through reason and revelation, has not left us blind on these issues, nor has He left us up to our own subjective devices. It is a fundamental responsibility of the Catholic school to teach and pass on this Catholic culture, this Catholic worldview, this cultural patrimony, these insights, and these very fundamental truths about the good and what constitutes the good life.14 Particularly, in this and all our efforts as Catholic educators, we build our foundation of the good on Jesus Christ, who is the perfect man, and who fully reveals man to himself.15

Some essential questions related to goodness:
  • What is this thing’s purpose/end? What do we know from our senses and reason? From nature and natural law? What do we know from revelation?
  • What is this thing’s nature? What do we know from our senses and reason? From nature and natural law? What do we know from revelation?
  • What perfections are proper to this thing in light of its purpose?
  • To what degree does the particular instance we are considering possess or lack these perfections?
  • What, if anything, would make this better?
  • What would make this worse?
  • How well does this work? Is “X” a good “Y”? What makes “X” a good “Y”? (e.g., Is Odysseus a good husband? Is the liver we are diagnosing a good liver? Is the theory of relativity a good theory? Is Picasso a good artist?)
  • How does this measure up in terms of a Catholic worldview and values?
  • How does this measure up in terms of Catholic morality and virtue?
  • How does this measure up to God’s plan or expectations of it as revealed in Christ?
  • Is this also beautiful? Is this also true?

A simple definition for truth is the mind being in accord with reality.16 We seek always to place our students and ourselves in proper relationship with the truth. Nothing we do can ever be opposed to the truth, that is, opposed to reality which has its being in God. Catholics hold that when our senses are in good condition and functioning properly under normal circumstances, and when our reason is functioning honestly and clearly, we can come to know reality and have the ability to make true judgments about reality. Through study, reflection, experimentation, argument and discussion, we believe that an object under discussion may manifest itself in its various relations, either directly or indirectly, to the mind.17

We believe that Man tends by nature toward the truth. Even though due to our fallen nature we may sometimes seek to ignore or obfuscate the truth, we are nonetheless obliged to honor and bear witness to it in its fullness. We are bound to adhere to the truth once we come to know it and direct our whole life in accordance with the demands of truth.18 As Catholics, we believe that reason, revelation, and science will never be in ultimate conflict, as the same God created them all.19 We oppose scientism which without evidence makes the metaphysical claim that only what can be measured and subject to physical science can be true. We oppose relativism, not only because its central dictum “there is no truth” is self-contradicting, but also because in removing objective truths from any analysis, this also removes the possibility of gauging human progress, destroys the basis for human dignity, and disables the ability to make important moral distinctions such as the desirability of tolerance20 and wisdom of pursuing truth, beauty, and goodness as opposed to their opposites of error, ugliness, and sin.

Some essential questions related to truth:
  • Is it true?
  • Is our mind/concept in accord with reality?
  • Are we looking at this clearly and with our senses and reason properly attuned?
  • Is the thinking rational and logical?
  • Is the information and reasoning clear and precise?
  • Is the approach fair and balanced?
  • How does this square with what we know from revelation? If there is a disconnect, where further shall we explore?
  • On what intellectual, moral, or intuitive principle are we basing this?
  • Can the knowledge or situation under consideration be integrated with or expanded by the knowledge from another academic discipline?
  • Now that we know this particular truth about a thing, what other questions does that raise? What more do we want to know?
  • Is this also beautiful? Is this also good?
  1. An adapted version of this essay also appears in After the Fall: Catholic Education Beyond the Common Core 
  2. Congregation for Catholic Education. (2014).  Educating today and tomorrow: A renewing passion. Conclusion.
  3. Harden, J. (1980). Modern Catholic dictionary. New York, NY: Image Books.
  4. Dubay, T. (1999).  The evidential power of beauty: Science and theology meet. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 23.
  5. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.982b.
  6. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 5,4 and 1q.39.a.8.
  7. Dubay, The evidential power of beauty: Science and theology meet, 24.
  8. Saward, J.(1997). The beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty: Art sanctity and the truth of Catholicism. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 47.
  9. Hart, D. (2003). The beauty of the infinite: The aesthetics of Christian truth. Cambridge, UK: Eerdmann’s Publishing, 17.
  10. Caldecott, S. (2009). Beauty for truth’s sake: The re-enchantment of education. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 17.
  11. Pieper, J. (1998). Leisure and the basis of culture. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 31.
  12. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. (1997). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.1830.
  13. Hancock, C. (2005). Recovering a Catholic philosophy of elementary education. Mount Pocono, PA: Newman House Press, 86.
  14. The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 108.
  15. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. (1965). Gaudium et Spes, 22.
  16. St. Thomas Aquinas De Veritate, Q.1, A.1-3; cf. Summa Theologiae, Q.16.
  17. For a more complete discussion of this topic see p. 64-70, Recovering a Catholic Philosophy of Elementary Education by Curtis Hancock.
  18. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2467.
  19. The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 54.
  20. Beckwith, F. & Koukl, G. (1998). Relativism: Feet firmly planted in midair. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 62-69.
VI. Renewal & Evangelization

How to Spark a Catholic Revival
Casey Chalk

Quiz time! What, according to St. John Paul II, is the most important kind of Catholic catechesis? Is it catechesis for children, adults, or non-Catholics? The answer is found in the late pope’s apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae §43: “The catechesis of adults… is the principal form of catechesis, because it is addressed to persons who have the greatest responsibilities and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form.”

Don’t feel bad if you got it wrong. I only learned it when interviewing Father Hezekias Carnazzo, an Eastern Rite priest and founder of the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC). I would have thought the answer was children—if you “teach your children well,” to quote the sappy Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, it will have a powerful spiritual ripple effect for generations to come. Yet, Father Hezekias reminded me, if the adults are well-catechized, they will understand their vocation to dutifully instruct their own children in the truths of the Catholic faith, rather than expecting volunteers at their local parish to do it for them. In other words, adult Catholic formation is two for the price of one.

Father Hezekias, who describes the personal impact of his own father’s faith in Tyler Rowley’s new book Because of Our Fathers, spends a lot of time thinking and talking about adult religious formation. The ICC, which he founded in 2009, is a nonprofit catechetical powerhouse that provides a remarkable diversity of courses and lectures in Catholic theology, Scripture, history, philosophy, liturgy, literature, and politics, among other subjects. Offered free-of-charge, these courses are available online for anyone interested in what the website terms “100% Orthodox Catholic Faith Formation.” The results of this ministry are remarkable and exciting.

The ICC currently has about 42,000 members in 117 countries. Membership is predominantly in the United States, but there are also sizable ICC communities in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and even Hong Kong and Trinidad & Tobago. Semester and year-long courses are available at no charge, as are lectures from many well-known Catholic writers and speakers. This includes, among others, Peter Kreeft, Tony Esolen, Marcus Grodi, Tim Staples, Father Robert Spitzer, Joseph Pearce, Mike Aquilina, Chad Pecknold, and Father Paul Scalia. Certificate track studies, with assigned readings, quizzes, and a final, are also available. Some dioceses accept these for catechetical certification.

Though the organization originally began in the Diocese of Arlington in Northern Virginia, in the past three years it has turned into a national organization with international outreach. The ICC recently rolled out a brand new app available on both iOS and Android. All education events are live, which is the intention. “I can’t bring Monsignor Pope to Texas, but I can bring a Texan to Monsignor Pope,” explains Father Hezekias. “We are doing the messy part of education by having the teacher live so students can be disciples and struggle with what they are learning. This is really unique about the institute, people are truly being formed.”

The heart of the ICC’s mission is educating laypersons in the pews, including parents and grandparents. “Laity don’t need a degree, many don’t even want a degree,” says Father Hezekias. Rather, the goal is to make a good education in Aquinas and Scripture available to everyone. “A huge part of our mission is that we never charge anyone. This is because Jesus never charged. The vast majority of Catholics are not going to pay anything for what they need to receive,” argues Father Hezekias. “The part of the body that is not healthy is not being fed, and the only way to reach them is to not charge for what Jesus gave for free.” This is brilliant in its simplicity.

Rather than undermine the ICC, covid-19 actually pushed the organization in the direction it was already headed, as it offers an increasing variety of live streaming content. Father Hezekias aims to make this catechesis personable not only by giving students the opportunity to talk with their teachers, but by providing a diversity of content. This includes cooking programs, singing, and lessons in how to incorporate the liturgical calendar into one’s immediate family and community.

“There is a total wasteland of Catholicism in parts of the United States,” asserts Father Hezekias. “We want everyone in the country to have the same opportunities available in the Arlington Diocese. Not just be at the mercy of the health of their local parish.”

Right now the ICC is focused on international growth, manifested in such developments as the release of their content on Android, which is predominant in Asia. The organization is also expanding its course offerings so that members can have the same courses as those available at a strong Catholic college. “I want people to take their TVs, defenestrate them and replace them with good Catholic formation, which means they have to have a product that is more engaging than CNN and Fox News.” This upcoming January, the ICC will be offering a year-long philosophy course taught by Dr. John Cuddeback from Christendom College and a course on the art of catechesis by Jared Staudt from the Augustine Institute.

Certainly a significant number of ICC participants are catechists. It also offers a program called the Magdala Apostolate that teaches women religious and novices. Yet at its heart, the ICC is aimed at everyday Catholics hungry to learn more about their Catholic faith, and how to put that faith into practice in their families and communities. “We’re a family, and we let people join the family—when someone learns the faith, it changes their life, spreading through families and friends,” says Father Hezekias. The family certainly seems to be growing, driven not by paid advertising—of which the ICC does very little—but by word of mouth. “We are totally funded by the average layperson who donates.”

When Paul VI and John Paul II used and popularized the term “new evangelization,” one imagines they had in mind initiatives like that of the ICC. Sensing the evangelical zeal from Father Hezekias during the interview for this article, I’ve certainly been won over. “If parents are well catechized then the children will be well catechized. If we did this our churches would be completely changed overnight,” he declares. Indeed, imagine a global Church in which parishes in Salt Lake City, Sydney and Seoul all have a ministry participating in ICC courses for lay members’ edification. Imagine, in turn, members of those ministries starting their own version of the ICC in other languages. The results truly would be revolutionary.

You can learn more about the Institute of Catholic Culture (ICC) at their website, (update 8 December 2020).

Five keys to keep in mind when sharing the Catholic Faith     
John Kubasak

1. Holiness

Saint John Henry Newman

“In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians” (CCC #2044). On a common sense level, we don’t need the Catechism to tell us that our witness is key to evangelizing.  It is easy to tell if a religious education teacher is conveying a list of facts or if they’re passing on the faith that they love.  In addition, all of the intellectual arguments in the world won’t win as many converts as a sanctified life. Saint John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism, is an example of that.  He was one of the intellectual giants of his day; theological considerations and events within the Anglican Church gradually moved him to the doorstep of Catholicism. He was reluctant to go through the door, however, until he encountered a holy priest, Fr. Barberi. Just in case we need to be reminded on the importance of living a holy life: Fr. Barberi had no clue of the effect he had on Newman until the latter asked to be received into the Catholic Church (Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, 211).

2. Prayer

The Christian life is unlivable without prayer. In terms of evangelization, pray for opportunities to evangelize and for guidance. And always pray for those with whom you speak! Besides prayer of petition for others, make sure to stay spiritually healthy. Each Catholic engaged in evangelization would do well to remember Jesus’ warning: “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt 16:26)

3. Study

Before jumping into evangelization, first know and love the faith. Any serious evangelical endeavor cannot progress very far without knowledge of Catholic beliefs and teaching. This is one of the immense gifts to the Church of the modern era: there are easily available, fantastic resources on apologetics, history, common questions, and Catholic doctrine. Catholic Answers has a website full of information as well as discussion forums; numerous Catholic authors keep blogs; many Catholic publishers offer a wide array of theological and spiritual books. The Catechism is online at the USCCB website, the Catholic Encyclopedia is online, there are smart phone apps for Catholic editions of the Bible, and every recent papal document is on the Vatican website. Never before has the intellectual wealth of the Catholic Church been so readily available to the faithful. Take advantage of it, and build your knowledge of the faith.

4. Action

St. Martin de Tours

All the praying in the world still requires us to take action. Yes, pray and discern; examine your gifts and solicit as much inspiration as possible. But don’t wait around for the Holy Spirit to send you a formal request to start volunteering. If you’re unsure of a place to start, try teaching religious education at your parish, or volunteering with the youth group. At most parishes, there’s a constant need for volunteers. Perhaps the first lesson you learn may be that you can’t handle third graders, or teenagers.  No matter the result, it’s worth the effort. Every time I’ve had to give a talk for the youth group or for confirmation class, I probably learn more than the youth do. I have to do research, delve into the Catechism, and deepen my knowledge of the Bible. I have to seek its application to my life before I can make it relatable to the youth.

On the interpersonal level, do not be afraid to say “God bless you” or to talk about upcoming events at your parish. Stand up to anti-Catholic talk, or to blasphemous speech. And, be on the lookout for small openings in conversations. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with non-Catholic family or friends have resulted from a tiny openings in one-on-one moments. Confidence might not come immediately, but it does develop over time.

A great model for evangelical confidence is St. Martin of Tours. The 4th century bishop traveled throughout his diocese in Gaul (present-day France), going from town to town. He “did not wait until the peasants in his diocese came looking for him, but, rather, went out to meet them” (Pernoud, Martin of Tours, 79). His zeal and faith are great models to every Catholic.

5. Humility

St. Therese of Lisieux

Top everything off with the virtue of humility, the most Christ-like of virtues. We shouldn’t pick fights or let our conversations overstep the bounds of charity. St. Therese of Lisieux desperately wanted to be a missionary to the foreign lands, yet she did not rebel against the role that the Lord chose for her.  Rather, she flourished in her brief life as a Carmelite nun and has become a posthumous missionary.  She’s the patron of missions together with St. Francis Xavier, and her relics have traversed the globe since her death.

Our vocations/roles within the Church will necessarily differ, and our part in turning the heart of someone may not always be clear. It may not be our arguments that turn someone’s heart toward the Catholic faith. God’s plan for our role might be to merely plant a seed. Strive to let God define evangelical success, and don’t get caught up in human definitions of success. St. Peter Chanel traveled to the Canary Islands in 1837, bearing the Gospel. His ministry had not lasted very long on the isle of Futuna when the king’s son desired to convert. This brought the king’s ire onto Peter, and one of the king’s warriors clubbed Peter to death. By human standards, this mission was an utter failure.  God’s work had only just begun, however—the inhabitants of Futuna soon converted, including the warrior who killed St. Peter.

Present God with a willing heart and a love for the Catholic faith; pray for and be willing to accept your role in spreading the Gospel.  Grace builds upon grace when we share it: “missionary activity renews the Church, revitalizes faith and Christian identity, and offers fresh enthusiasm and new incentive. Faith is strengthened when it is given to others!” (Redepmtoris Missio #2).
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997. 
  • St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 1990.
  • McCloskey, Fr. C. John and Russell Shaw. Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion and the Catholic Faith. Ignatius Press, 2007.
  • Newman, Saint John Henry. Apologia Pro Vita Sua.  Penguin, 2004.
  • Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975.
  • Pernoud, Regine. Martin of Tours. Ignatius, 2006.
  • Scripture quotes used from: The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version – Catholic Ed.  Ignatius, 1966.
A Program for Bolstering Faith
Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

The bodily resurrection of Jesus is the crown jewel of our faith and defines our existence for eternity. Jesus forever breaks the power of sin, suffering, and death. The gates of heaven are now open to receive us if we follow Him. But without constantly recurring to the fact of the Resurrection, our faith degrades and fragments, and we risk our salvation.

Despite tumultuous times and widespread faithlessness, the Church has infallible mechanisms to renew belief even if it takes generations. Here is a worthwhile game plan to nourish and bolster our religious convictions.

Avoid spiritual poison.

Honesty requires us to acknowledge the flowering of widespread and full-bore faithlessness that followed Vatican II. At its core, many of the hierarchy’s gatekeepers, swept up in theological fads, denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

During the 1980s, seminarians often received an unholy indoctrination. Among the questions of the so-called “Priest Perceiver Interview” administered to candidates were things such as: “Do you believe in the Resurrection? What if archeologists would discover beyond a reasonable doubt the remains of the body of Jesus Christ?” The theologically chic answer was: “If archeologists discovered the bones of Jesus, it would not affect my faith at all.” (My Internet search does not turn up the Priest Perceiver Interview. I took extensive notes in the 1980s and retained them in my private archives – along with a personal enemies list.)

Saint Paul provides the correct answer: “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:12-14)

The Priest Perceiver Interview has evaporated as an instrument of dogmatic torture. Do not allow theological baloney to deceive you: whether it’s the denial of the Resurrection then, or the celebration of moral abominations today.

Confront faith difficulties.

The Resurrection of Jesus is a dogma of the Catholic faith, witnessed by a select few of His disciples – most of whom suffered martyrdom – and handed down by the Church through the centuries. Nevertheless, even the most devout and orthodox Catholics may struggle with faith.

It is common for people to conclude that they are suffering a crisis of faith during life difficulties. Perhaps there is a death, marital problems, rambunctious kids, family members who have abandoned the faith, clerical scandals, and the rest. But sorrow and anger do not necessarily suggest a crisis of faith. Mary at the foot of the Cross was not faithless, nor did she sin. She was His sorrowful mother because we crucified her Son. She is also our sorrowful mother because our sins also crucify us. But Mary never lost faith. She knew His Divine origin.

In fear, Saint Peter and the Apostles abandoned Jesus during His Passion. Judas’ crisis of faith was twofold. The faithlessness that led him to betray Jesus is open to our speculation. But the despair that destroyed him came when he concluded that his sin of betrayal was unforgivable. For those tempted to despair, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a dramatic confirmation that Jesus has defeated every known sin. A sincere Confession forgives every sin without exception.

Hold fast to orthodox doctrinal definitions and external observances.

We also have a crisis of faith in the Real Presence. We need not refer to the Catholic majority – including many priests and bishops – who have no idea as to the meaning of Transubstantiation. But orthodox and devout Catholics also struggle with their faith in the Eucharist.

There’s an old story about a Catholic priest explaining Transubstantiation to a devout Muslim. The description of the Real Presence astonished the man. He told the priest that if it were true that God was truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, he would fall in worship and not dare to get up. Exactly.

It is a paradox of Christianity that weak faith permits us to get back to our necessary work duties after prayer before the tabernacle. Yet we must cultivate a strong faith through sincere repeated external expressions of devotion. “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil. 2:10)

Even the most orthodox among us struggle to remain reverent in church, sometimes with disturbing swings of behavior. We might find ourselves in a devout mood and, with great reverence, approach the table of the Lord for Communion with hands folded and focused attention. The same person, however, may glad-hand friends returning to the pew, or immediately aim for the exits to beat the crowds.

Schizophrenic faith is also part of the spiritual life. Be attentive to peculiar and unreasonable acts of irreverence. Proper reverence for God is also the foundation of respect for all of us created in the image of God.

Be attentive to the liturgical seasons.

The rhythm of liturgical seasons – Advent, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary Time – re-presents the faith and reinforces our beliefs and practices. At times our faith fails. At other times – as the example of the martyrs teach us – it triumphs over the most horrifying obstacles. Reverently celebrating the Sacraments is the primary means of cultivating faith, above all, the Eucharist. Diligently observing the liturgical year strengthens faith.

With Semitic hyperbole, Jesus says: “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Lk. 17:6) Our God-given faith, purified of error, is our most potent spiritual faculty. Fortified with God’s grace, it overcomes every obstacle to salvation.

  • Avoid spiritual poison.
  • Confront faith difficulties.
  • Hold fast to orthodox doctrinal definitions and external observances.
  • Be attentive to liturgical seasons.
A lifetime of disciplined practice makes perfect. Christ is risen in the flesh! Glorious Easter greetings.

A Liturgical Catechesis for the New Evangelization
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

If liturgical catechesis is fundamentally absorbed through practice and related to developing prayerful dispositions, what implications are there for developing a liturgical catechesis for the new evangelization? Here, I offer five hypotheses for parishes, dioceses, and publishers who seek to renew liturgical formation in the Church.  

First, liturgical practice matters. Much liturgical catechesis is devoted to teaching people about the liturgy and the sacraments. This education supposes that everyone knows how to practice the liturgy. The first stage of liturgical formation is learning the technique needed to pray the liturgy. How many diocesan catechetical guidelines have a learning objective related to the chants of the Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours? How many of those involved in formation in the RCIA begin with bodily postures such as genuflection, kneeling, standing, and sitting in the Eucharistic liturgy before explaining the doctrines of real presence and transubstantiation? How many of those preparing couples for the baptism of an infant teach the family to celebrate Compline? The liturgy becomes evangelizing when it forms men and women to use their bodies aright to worship God.   

Second, matter matters. The celebration of the liturgy in many parishes is overly verbose. Everything is explained, silence is loathed, music is rare, and art is absent. Prayer is a formation of the imagination. Mass is a prayer, and therefore it is not time for verbosity. The liturgy employs a language of material signs, and the more signs that the Christian can contemplate, the better. Medieval Catholics knew this. Altarpieces were not simply didactic. They were spaces of contemplation. As the Eucharist was consecrated, the baptized would gaze upon an image of the Annunciation. Simultaneously, a Mass setting would be sung that employed a chant from the feast of the Annunciation. Silence allowed each person to recognize this link, and then to perceive his or her own life in relationship to the mystery of the Incarnation and the Eucharist.  

Third, prayer matters. Catechesis has tended to separate learning to pray and liturgical celebration. This separation is artificial. Regular participation in the liturgy requires initiation into the art of prayer. Think about the kind of questions that should surface in the life of those who are regularly participating in the liturgy. How do we prepare to enter the presence of God? How do we avoid distraction in praying the liturgy? How do we learn to discover the fruitfulness of silence? What happens when we no longer experience consolation in our praying of the liturgy? What role is there for fidelity in prayer? What kind of devotional prayer would best enable me to actively participate in the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church? How do I pray with the Scriptures according to the mind of the Church? Again, most catechesis rarely addresses these questions at all. And when such catechesis does, it is often addressed abstractly, outside the context of the practice of prayer. If we want a liturgical renewal, there needs to be a contemplative renewal.  

Fourth, doctrine matters. Those who are learning to pray need a formation in doctrine. Doctrines, after all, are not abstract propositions for the intellectuals in the Church. Doctrines help us live the Christian life. As we learn to pray the liturgy, we will inevitably need doctrine to advance in our union with God.1 Let us think about the doctrine of creation from nothing. What does this doctrine mean for the one praying? This doctrine is an invitation to prayer. God created the world not out of existing matter but from nothing. Before God spoke a word, there was nothing. This means that God does not need the world. God created everything that exists as gift. Further, it also means that creation is not an event that happened once upon a time. The God who created through the peace of the spoken word, through the breath of God’s Spirit, even now sustains creation. Flowers in the liturgy, therefore, are not just pleasant décor for the celebration. Flowers, as part of creation, are God’s gift being given right now. These flowers, their fragrant smell, their stunning colors are invitations to worship the Creator who gives them even now. What a gift it is to be in the presence of these flowers that invite us to consider our own status as creatures! The doctrine of creation from nothing is not a distraction from prayer but teaches us a posture of prayer. It helps us to form our experience as those engaged in prayer.

Fifth, culture matters. If evangelization is the “gospelization” of the world, and liturgical catechesis is evangelizing, then this catechesis must also “gospelize” the world. Liturgical catechesis gospelizes the world through the creation of a culture oriented toward worship.

Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of Pope Saint Paul VI

22. (E)ven the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always having "your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have"[52] - and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. The history of the Church, from the discourse of Peter on the morning of Pentecost onwards, has been intermingled and identified with the history of this proclamation. At every new phase of human history, the Church, constantly gripped by the desire to evangelize, has but one preoccupation: whom to send to proclaim the mystery of Jesus? In what way is this mystery to be proclaimed? How can one ensure that it will resound and reach all those who should hear it? This proclamation - kerygma, preaching or catechesis - occupies such an important place in evangelization that it has often become synonymous with it; and yet it is only one aspect of evangelization.

52. 1 Pt 3:15.

VII. Hospitality & The New Evangelization

I see Jesus in every human being

An excerpt from an interview with Sister Mary Prema Pierick conducted by Edward Pentin.

I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus. - Saint Teresa of Calcutta

How was Saint Teresa a prophet for the modern world?

I would say very simply that Mother was a prophet because of the joy she had and she passed to other people; not because she had things, but because she had God and the priority of God in every person’s life. Real freedom and peace come from doing the will of God and searching for what God wants from me and doing what he wants from me. She was also a prophet for the unity of a person. She used to tell us that to love oneself is to keep the balance, and then unity in the family, between the different religions, different cultures, nationalities, within the castes. Because of her understanding that each soul is unique and very precious to God, she treated all the same. Also, [she respected] the dignity of the person, their dignity as a child of God, and that dignity makes us all brothers and sisters and also gives us responsibility to care for each other.

The Grace and Call of Hospitality
Fr. John Navone, S.J.

The transforming meaning of Jesus' life and mission can be understood in terms of divine hospitality. The inhospitality that Jesus encounters from the time of his birth, when there was no room for him in the inn (Lk 2:7), and when Herod tried to do away with him (Mt 2:13), he continues to encounter throughout his entire lifetime. He came to his own, and his own people did not accept him (Jn 1:11). Jesus counters the inhospitality of the human heart with the hospitality of his heavenly Father. In the light of the crucified and risen Christ, the community of Christian faith proclaims that God, the Host of the world, has given us his Son and Spirit, to transform an inhospitable humankind into his own hospitable image and likeness.

The grace and call of God finds expression in the many biblical hospitality narratives. God as Host provides a garden for Adam and Eve, and walks with them in that garden. The primordial hospitality of paradise is a paradigm for human hospitality. Abraham and Sarah reflect God's primordial hospitality in hosting their guests.

Jesus reveals God's call to hospitality when he summons his hearers to extend God's hospitality, which we can never repay, to others who cannot repay us (Luke 14). God's hospitality is not on a quid pro quo basis. God offers his hospitality even to the inhospitable. He is not hospitable because he is lonely and in need of festive company. He is not hospitable out of necessity; rather, his hospitality expresses the joy and happiness that he is. The Triune God of Jesus Christ is hospitably self-giving by nature.

Jesus' parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-30) tells us of a generous God, who shares his abundance that we might enjoy life abundantly. It implies that our God-given abundance should enable us to become hospitable sources of abundance for others. Jesus' parable of the talents extends the divine imperative of Genesis, to increase and multiply, beyond the limits of demography. The abundance of hospitable children evidences the life/spirit that they have received from their hospitable Creator. They are the true image and likeness of God as host. The servant who buried his two talents is indicted for his failure to enjoy, and employ, his God-given abundance as God himself. This servant recalls the warning of Jesus that the fearful person, who tries to save his life, will lose it. Such fear and insecurity, reflects the absence of God's abundantly, self-giving spirit/life.

Jesus' banquet parables reveal God's universal, and all encompassing love, as the Host of all humankind. God has prepared a banquet to which he invites all humankind. The banquet is a metaphor for the communion, community and communication of God, and all humankind, under the sovereignty of God's love. Jesus' banquet parables tell us that God has predestined all human beings to share the eternal love, joy and happiness that he is. They tell us that God's will for us is always God's happiness for us. To reject God's will, is to reject Happiness Itself. Matthew 25 contrasts the happiness and joy of the hospitable, to the unhappiness and misery of the inhospitable. Matthew, the tax-collecter, and a taker, becomes a generous banquet-giver in following Jesus. The Banquet-giving Lord is recognized in his banquet-giving disciples. The Generous/ Hospitable One is known in all who share his generous and hospitable Spirit.

The banquet parables imply the communion, community, and communication of both the host, and his guests, in freedom The host freely prepares his banquet, and freely invites his guests. All who are invited may freely accept or decline the invitation. Always an act of freedom, love is never violent. God forces no one to love him.

The banquet parables tell of both the freedom of God's grace and call, and of the freedom of our accepting, or declining, God's invitation to the communion, community and communication of the banquet. Divine and human hospitality, express divine and human love and freedom.

Matthew 25 associates hospitality with the joy of eternal life. Persons who, even though unwittingly had been hospitable to the Son of Man, are welcomed into the kingdom of God. Jesus' parables of banquets and wedding feasts associate God's hospitality with joy. Invitations to banquets are a call to share the joy and festivity of the host. The elder son in the parable of the prodigal son is the resentful refuser of festivity. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins associates participation in the hospitality of the bridegroom's wedding feast with wisdom. It is an eschatological festivity and hospitality that eludes the foolish.

Hospitality is associated with beauty. The Greek word for beauty derives from the verb to "beckon." Beauty beckons or attracts us. The hospitable banquet giver of the parables invites guests to his festivities. Beauty is the inviting quality of the self-giving host. The Greek adjective, kalos, means both "good" and "beautiful"; hence, the Beautiful Shepherd is the Good Shepherd, whose beauty consists in the love that lays down his life for others, and draws them to himself. The eucharistic hospitality of bread and wine in communion, celebrates the self-sacrificing love of the Beautiful Shepherd, whose beauty draws us to himself.

The transforming power of messianic hospitality in Isaiah 25, liberates us from sadness and death. The hospitality of God's messiah, makes us joyfully hospitable persons (the sacramental effect of the Eucharist) just as God's love makes us lovely, and his friendship makes us friendly: "See how they love one another" (Jn 13:35).

We are all God's guests on planet earth, which is like an airport hotel, where God hosts us until the next flight to the mansions, where he will host those who love their divine host. Each day, flights arrive with all God's newly created persons to whom he has given free tickets as his guests on planet earth. None of the new arrivals paid for his ticket.

God not only hosts everyone on planet earth, but he also knocks on our doors looking for hospitality: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). Our generous Host (gratia operans) has provided us with all the resources for becoming reciprocally hospitable (gratia co-operans). God hosts all human persons within his creation, starting with Adam and Eve in paradise.

Abraham is the paradigm of human reciprocity: in hosting the three angel guests, he unwittingly hosts the divine Host, who rewards Abraham's hospitality with the promise of which Jesus Christ is the fulfillment. Abraham's hospitality is that of the welcoming human heart that hears the Lord knocking at the door, and opens it for communion with him (see Rev. 3:20). Mary's "Let it be done unto me," is that of the welcoming human heart of the new creation. The hospitality of Abraham achieves its fulfillment in hospitality of Mary's welcoming heart, hearing the Lord who stands and knocks at her door, and welcomes him into her life. Mary's hospitality participates in that of the Triune God, whose Son became man, that all humankind might enjoy God's eternal hospitality in the mansions that his crucified and risen Son has prepared for those who open their doors in hospitality to him.

Three key moments of divine and human hospitality in salvation history

The Abraham pattern of divine and human hospitality recurs throughout the Bible: from the time of the promise to Abraham, to its fulfillment in Christ, and at the Last Judgment. The Host of the world is welcomed and shown hospitality, in three key moments of salvation history, by persons who had no idea that they were hosting the Host of all humankind. Abraham hosted his three visitors; the Samaritan woman at the well is asked to host Jesus with the water he had requested; and, the blessed of the Father had no idea that they had hosted the hungry and thirsty Son of Man, who welcomes them into the kingdom his Father had prepared for them, since the foundation of the world.
  1. Abraham–At the time of the promise (Genesis 15);
  2. Samaritan woman–At the fulfillment of the promise in Christ the messiah (Jn 4);
  3. The just at the Last Judgment–At the end of time - (Matthew 25).
The scriptures of the Christian community of faith tell us, in these three key moments of salvation history, that we encounter the Other in our hospitality to others: we encounter God in our hospitality towards strangers. In all three stories, there is an implicitly theocentric, self-transcendence–transcending ourselves, our families and our nations–in welcoming the transcendent, Ultimate Reality that is the Origin, Ground and Destiny of all humankind. In hosting those whom the Host of humankind is hosting, we are hosting the Host.

That the hospitable persons in the three above instances were unwittingly hosting the Host of the world, implies that their hospitality was not calculated on a quid pro quo, or payback basis. Their hospitality had all the freedom, and sheer gratuity, of the divine hospitality, what we mean by "grace."

By the grace of God, we are what we are. Our worth is a gift given to us from the moment of our creation. The marvel of our life in Christ is not in getting something, from the outside to the inside, by achieving. Instead, the marvel is our coming to recognize what is already inside, by the grace of creation, and learning to bring this outside, by the sharing and serving that is divine and human hospitality. It consists of seeing the first thing that happened to us–our birth–the way God sees it, and regarding it, with God, as something "very, very good."

The abundance of the Generous One is the ultimate source and resource of our Christian hope in the face of death, grounding our conviction that after death, there is more where that came from. There is an artesian well in everyone whose Source is the abundance of the Generous One, the Host of the world. We are what we are because of who our Parent is, and once this identity becomes deeply rooted in us, then an unself-conscious giving of self will become our way of life. This is another way of saying that we "inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).

Our creation is, at bottom, an act of generosity–God sharing his bounty. We have been created in the image of the Generous One for generosity. Our Creator's magnanimity lies at the root of our being the kind of creatures that we are meant to be. Just as there is delight in our recognizing how much we have that we do not deserve or create, so there is a godly delight in seeing our hospitality bless and energize others.

The hospitable city of God

The City of God is the community that welcomes and enjoys the hospitality of God. Its hospitality implies a real relationship among those who are different, and the willingness to be moved out of our comfort zone in order to be transformed in the encounter. The German word for hospitality, Gastfreundschaft, which means "friendship for the guest," captures the meaning of this transformation, with its implication that hospitality creates a free space where the stranger can enter, becoming a friend instead of an alien. The Christian community of faith believes that God extends, to all humankind, a divine and inexhaustible welcome in the transforming experience of hospitality, where the door is always open, the table always set, the arms flung wide and outstretched.

The hospitable spirit of the City of God transcends mere tolerance–that passive magnanimity of the powerful towards the less favored. The Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter 53) contributes to our understanding of Christian hospitality when it affirms that: "All guests who arrive, are to be received as Christ....for he himself will say, I was the stranger and you took me in." That Christ is the stranger implies more than merely giving food and board to a passing guest. "All guests" implies and emphasizes the importance of inclusiveness, and its particular link to strangeness or otherness, in contrast to the familiarity of those who are like us. The second word, "those who arrive," underscores the point even more. It suggests the unexpected–not merely those who did not write in-advance, but those who are a surprise to us in broader terms. Christian disciples are not to be choosy about the company they keep. The nicely ambiguous Latin word, hospes, can be translated as "stranger," as well as "guest." The former sense is reinforced by the Rule's reference to Matthew 25:35. And finally, the Latin word, "suscipiantur," means literally "to be received," but its deeper meaning is "to be cherished."

The spirit of hospitality in the City of God can be identified with the concept of solidarity. Solidarity is a moral imperative, based on a belief in the fundamental unity of the human family, which is rooted in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Communion of Saints. It demands a profound conversion of heart, and a conscious commitment to the quest for the common good, as an essential ethical virtue. With the spirit of hospitality, the City of God sees the world with the vision of God–as a mixture of good and bad. But most importantly, it realizes that, from all eternity, the gaze of God is redemptive, transforming and enlivening.

Beer Evangelization: Untapped Possibilities
Daniel Mattson

St. Brigid of Ireland (ca. 451-525) is one of many of the Church’s patron saints of beer. Many beery miracles have been attributed to her. Once, when a group of clerics unexpectedly visited her convent, the nuns found that they had no beer on hand to serve their distinguished guests. It is said that St. Brigid prayed to God, and miraculously, her dishwater turned to beer. She penned a beautiful poem, combining her love of God and her love for beer:

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I should like the angels of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.
I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety.
I should like the men of heaven at my house.
I should like barrels of peace at their disposal.
I should like for them cellars of mercy.
I should like cheerfulness to be their drinking.
I should like Jesus to be there among them.
I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I should like the people of heaven, the poor, to be gathered around from all parts.

Hospitality Is Biblical—and It’s Not Optional
Emily J. Cook

It’s not a coincidence that Jesus did most of his teaching while at table over a meal. Learning at the table would have been natural to him. As a boy, he probably first learned many of the traditions and history of the Jewish people through mealtime prayers and from the celebratory rituals that preceded feasts. Jewish prayers are filled with history and are often mini-catechisms.

Once Jesus began his public ministry, he was often on the road and had to depend on the hospitality of strangers for meals and a place to rest. Not only did he use those meals as an opportunity to teach, but he also used the language of hospitality to describe God and his kingdom.

That hospitality was an important virtue would have been an old idea even in Jesus’ time. The theme of the necessary, yet precarious, relationship between guest and host was a familiar one to the ancient Hebrews as well as to other ancient cultures (see “My Big Fat Greek Welcome”). Hospitality in the ancient world was much more than politeness or friendliness. In an age when inns were few and far between, travelers had to rely upon the hospitality of strangers to aid them in their journeys. Hospitality was also a way to survive in a culture where political boundaries were in constant flux. A traveler might find himself in unfriendly territory all too quickly.

The Israelites were hospitable out of a sense of communal responsibility, out of obedience to the Mosaic law, and because of their desire to please God. Proverbs says even enemies must be given the necessities of survival, because generosity is a reproof to those who lack that virtue: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Prov. 25:21–22).

In the Beginning

The biblical lessons of hospitality begin in Genesis, at the beginning of salvation history. The stories of Abraham and others illustrate the way a guest should be treated. When three strangers approached his tent, he ran out to greet them and prepared a lavish meal for them. He later learned that they were God’s messengers sent to reveal that his formerly barren wife would bear a son.

Hosts had a sacred obligation to provide food and drink, water to wash their feet, and a place to rest. The guest had an obligation to accept what was offered. The refusal on either part was a serious breach of honor.

The obligations of hospitality also included protecting the guest from harm. The seriousness of this obligation is shown in the story of Lot, who offered his daughters to an angry mob rather than allow guests who “have come under the shelter of my roof” (Gen. 19:8) to be harmed. (Those guests turned out to be messengers from God.) In return, the guest had a solemn obligation not to harm the host. In the ancient world—and still today in some cultures—the sharing of food constituted a covenant of friendship, and one of the most despicable acts would be to eat with someone and then betray him. Knowing that adds another dimension to Judas’s betrayal.

Other stories that illustrate the power and importance of hospitality abound in the Old Testament. For example, Abraham’s servant is so generously received by Rebecca at the well that he recognizes her as the perfect wife for Isaac (Gen. 24). And in the second book of Kings, the prophets Elijah and Elisha repay their hosts by curing their sons. In a gesture of gratitude prefiguring the Eucharist, Elijah blesses his hostess’s grain so that it never runs out (2 Kgs. 4).

The Mosaic law explicated the necessity of hospitality. Having known from their years in slavery in Egypt what it was like to be a foreigner at the mercy of their hosts, the Israelites had a special kinship with strangers, which the laws of Moses reiterated: “You shall not oppress a stranger . . . for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9). In Leviticus, Christ’s golden rule is prefigured: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33–34).

The repetition of the refrain “for you were strangers” reminded the Hebrews to be hospitable out of sympathy and charity, in addition to obedience to the law of God handed down through Moses. They were dependent on God’s assistance when they were in the desert; now they must respond with generosity when others are in trouble.

Other Mosaic laws instructed the community on how strangers who stayed for a length of time should fit into the society. They were to participate in sacrifices and allowed to celebrate feasts. They were welcome to glean the fields. In return, guests were expected to follow the laws of Israel as long as they abided there (cf. Lev. 17:12–13; 18:26; 19:10; Num. 15:16).

Strangers, like the poor, widows, and orphans, should be shown special generosity: God “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). Yet despite these laws requiring generosity toward strangers, there was still a distance to be kept. Marrying a foreigner was frowned upon if not forbidden, and outsiders were not to eat “holy things” (Lev. 22:10, 12).

In the Fullness of Time

That distance was bridged by Christ. In the New Testament, when Paul calls on the early Christians to show hospitality to strangers, he links hospitality to Christ’s commandment to love, which is the New Law. Paul, perhaps thinking of Abraham, writes, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:1–2). Paul’s encouragement of brotherly love implies that the distance between the foreigner and host can be bridged. For the Christian, the stranger is also a brother or a neighbor who represents Christ and who also may be a messenger from God. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Christ broadens the concept of “neighbor” to define it more by actions than by proximity.

This New Law, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, fulfills and perfects the Old Law. It does not add to or abolish the Old Law but “proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The gospel thus brings the law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity” (CCC 1968).

Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loves deepens the understanding of neighborly love with which the Jews were familiar. Jesus not only says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” but invites us to love as he loves: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13). Christ includes even enemies when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:44–45).

Christ as Guest and Host

The idea that love of neighbor is an act of sacrificial love adds a new dimension to the virtue of hospitality. Hospitality becomes a means to serve others and Christ in them. Christ lives this humble service by becoming a traveler himself, dependent on the hospitality of both Pharisees and tax collectors alike. He journeys from town to town preaching about true charity, himself a stranger who must be welcomed: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

Christ shares much of his wisdom while dining with others. The lesson that he repeats at the table of Zacchaeus is that he has come to heal the afflicted, to eat with the sinners, and to call those who have strayed from God: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9:12). He thus reminds us that an essential part of hospitality is ministering to the needs of guests.

Jesus also ties hospitality into his description of who will inherit heaven: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me . . .Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:34–36, 40).

These passages make it clear that in order to be welcomed into heaven, we must welcome and serve others. Time and again, even at the Last Supper, Jesus reminded his disciples that to love means to put others first: “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). Many potential followers of Christ turn away because this call to active service requires detachment from material goods, family connections, and physical comforts. We see this in the story of the rich young man (Mark 10:17–22). If we are to follow Christ, we must be willing to put all we have at the service of others. In other words, we must practice hospitality not just out of courtesy or duty—it has to cost us something. As John Paul II said, “Welcoming Christ in our needy brothers and sisters is the condition of being able to meet him face to face and perfectly at the end of our earthly journey” (Homily for the Jubilee of Migrants and Itinerant Workers, June 2, 2000).

Heaven Is a Banquet

Not surprisingly, Jesus describes heaven in terms of hospitality. He says to Peter, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2–4).

And when Jesus says, “Come and follow me” (Matt. 11:28), he is inviting us all to a feast—both the eternal heavenly banquet and the eucharistic feast. In his parables, Jesus describes the heavenly banquet as a marriage feast. The invited guests decline because they are too busy with material cares. In their place, the host has his servants invite the poor, the lame, and the afflicted—those who will appreciate it and be grateful. It is these whom God will invite to the heavenly banquet. “For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). And yet, God is a forgiving host: “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).

Jesus elaborates on the forgiving nature of God’s hospitality in the story of the prodigal son. Just as the father welcomes home with open arms the profligate son and sets to rejoicing, God will welcome into heaven those who sin but ask forgiveness. Meanwhile, most of us sympathize with the older son who grumbles over his brother’s reception. We, too, lack gratitude and envy the feast laid for others instead of being humble like the wayward son, aware of his need, and grateful for what little he might receive.

Hospitality and the Eucharist

Ultimately, all of these teachings on hospitality come together in the Eucharist, in which we welcome Christ into our hearts, offering all that we are to him. Like the centurion whose words we echo at every Mass, we do not feel worthy to receive Christ (literally, to have him under our roof), but we need his love and redemption to heal us. Christ invites us to his feast and offers himself as our bread and our home: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:56).

The early Christians understood the connection between receiving Christ in the Eucharist and sharing hospitality with others. In Acts, we read that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:42, 46). Their homes truly were domestic churches with doors open to receive others.

Similarly, we must receive Christ in the Eucharist with “glad and generous hearts.” The Eucharist is a celebration, and like all good feasts, it requires guests. As in the parable of the marriage feast, Christ prefers the neediest guests. When we offer our needs and shortcomings at his table, Christ the Host offers forgiveness, like the generous master of his parables, and renews grace in our hearts. Mary and Martha of Bethany knew that time spent welcoming Christ allows us to serve others more generously.

Living Christian Hospitality

Our challenge is to share with others the message that Christ’s love cures all ills. Using the example of Christ meeting his disciples on the road to Emmaus, John Paul II links our reception of Christ in the Eucharist with a call to serve others: “Like the disciples of Emmaus, believers, supported by the living presence of the risen Christ, become in turn the traveling companions of their brothers and sisters in trouble, offering them the word that rekindles hospitality in their hearts. With them they break the bread of friendship, brotherhood, and mutual help” (Homily, June 2, 2000). Our response to receiving Christ in the Eucharist is to welcome others in his name.

The early Christians relied on the older Jewish and Gentile conventions of hospitality to find food and lodging while teaching about Christ’s words of welcome. Made pilgrims by their desire to share the gospel and in political exile because of their faith in Christ, the early Christians probably thought often of the Israelites in the desert. The life of a wayfarer would not have been easy. Peter urges the followers of Jesus to behave well so that their actions will evangelize the Gentiles: “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). Later, he urges them to remember that love requires serving others: “Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Pet. 4:8–9).

Like the early Christians, we must also rely on and offer hospitality as a means of sharing the gospel. By creating a welcoming home, we make the Christian life attractive. With further insight, John Paul II writes, “Welcoming our brothers and sisters with care and willingness must not be limited to extraordinary occasions but must become for all believers a habit of service in their daily lives” (Address to volunteer workers, March 8, 1997).

As believers, we are sustained by the Eucharist to welcome not only strangers but also neighbors and family. Being hospitable means being vulnerable and potentially suffering the pains of living closely with those who most clearly see our faults. In marriage, being hospitable spills into how open we are to life and children. Christian hospitality requires the humility of loving service toward each member of the family, including those with whom it might be difficult to get along. But the rough spots of family life offer the most opportunity for growing in charity and holiness.

Mary Is Our Model

We can also look to Mary for a perfect example of this understanding of hospitality as a call to loving service. After she welcomes Christ in conception, Mary rushes to serve Elizabeth, who receives Mary with open arms, recognizing her holy guest. One can only imagine the companionship and comfort the two provided each other, both of whom had become hostesses in the most intimate way to the infants in their wombs.

Later in Bethlehem, Mary continued to welcome strangers and to share the gift of her child. Although she and Joseph found no lodging for themselves in Bethlehem, Mary received the shepherds and wise men who wanted to welcome Jesus without fussing about her surroundings or fretting about what food to serve. When she and her family had to flee to Egypt, she relied on the generosity of others to shelter her family from Herod’s deadly reach.

The miracle at the wedding feast in Cana further demonstrates Mary’s generous and hospitable heart. She takes pity on the wedding host and asks Jesus to help him. Her sensitivity to the need to continue the wedding feast reflects the importance of communion and feast in the presence of the Bridegroom. And Jesus’ response shows not only his respect for his Mother but also his understanding of the sacred nature of hospitality. When he takes plain water and makes fine wine, he shows us how much he can do even with the little we offer.

Come on In!

Fortunately, the idea that hospitality is a virtue is being revived. The continuing success of World Youth Day has taught many people about the graces received by welcoming strangers and receiving hospitality. In honor of World Youth Day, private homes, parishes, religious communities, and civil organizations open their doors to pilgrims and strangers in the tradition of ancient cultures welcoming foreign travelers without question. As Pope Benedict XVI remarked in Cologne, “It is a fine thing that on such occasions the virtue of hospitality, which has almost disappeared and is one of man’s original virtues, should be renewed and enable people of all states of life to meet.”

So how to be a good host? Jeffrey Tucker offers terrific advice in his article “Catholics Give the Best Parties” -

We should also keep in mind what John Paul II said: “Only those who have opened their hearts to Christ can offer a hospitality that is never formal or superficial but identified by ‘gentleness’ and ‘reverence’ (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).”

Our homes and our churches should be places where everyone feels at home. Guests should never feel that they are causing undue extra labor. In short, all that is really needed to be an excellent host is a loving heart, an open ear, and eyes that see Christ in each person who crosses the threshold.

What are Some Outcomes of Hospitality?
Adapted from The Basis of Christian Hospitality by Ruth Ann Buntin-Majawa)

  • Demonstrates the truth about God
  • Disposes us to the action of the Holy Spirit
  • Helps us to honor God and neighbour
  • Contributes to the physical, emotional and relational needs of others
  • Demonstrates and encourages peace and goodwill
  • Helps rid us of selfish preoccupations and fosters solidarity with others
  • Increases our cultural intelligence
  • Forges authentic ecumenical bridges between followers of Christ
  • Creates practical vehicles for sharing the Gospel
The ultimate purpose of hospitality is to minister to all those who are around us, or who we encounter moment by moment. [...] When you sum it all up, hospitality is God’s way of giving us many opportunities to invest in the lives of those around us, while we learn more about our identity in Him.

The Saint who embodied hospitality
Michael M. Canaris

In late July, the church celebrates the feast of Saint Martha, the sister of Mary (whether this is Magdalene or not is still debated, but most scholars think not) and the brother of Lazarus. She appears in two striking scenes in Scripture: Luke 10 and John 11-12.

In the first, immediately following Jesus’ explanation of the Good Samaritan parable, when Jesus calls on his friends for a social visit, Martha famously busies herself, and does not fail to inform Jesus of the inordinate demands placed upon her by such a call to hospitality. Mary simply sits at the feet of their visitor, soaking in her Master’s presence. Jesus lovingly tells Martha that she need not worry about so many things, and that her sister’s willingness to simply encounter the Lord has much to teach the frenetic sibling.

That’s not to say that Martha has nothing to teach Mary. Theologians have often juxtaposed these two as representative of the active and contemplative lifestyles. In fact, Saint Thomas Aquinas splits the difference in a way, arguing that his own career as a teacher is unique in combining these two modes of discipleship.

The two are not antithetical: Jesuits famously refer to themselves as “contemplatives in action” and Benedictines see their vocation as a commitment to ora et labora (prayer and work).

The second scene surrounds the death and raising of Lazarus. Martha runs out to Jesus when he comes to see the family he has loved so much and has been told his friend has died, and while tone is of course open to interpretation, one can imagine her in some sense respectfully and yet bewilderingly accosting Jesus. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus tells Martha that her brother will rise again, it does nothing to mitigate her confusion and pain in the moment. “I know that he will rise on the last day.” But she’s grieving now, the last day is not high on her list of priorities. This evinces Jesus’s axiomatic claim: “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Before Jesus goes to the tomb to restore life in a sure sign of his eventual power over even the grave, I am personally struck by the shortest and perhaps most profound line in all the Gospels: “Jesus wept.” He does not leave Martha abandoned in her grief, but walks with her in this valley of tears.

When Lazarus is once again given the gift of life and the family later eat a meal together with Jesus in Bethany, Mary anoints Jesus in preparation for his own death. While this is unfolding, the typically preoccupied Martha again serves the guests. For this reason she is venerated as the patron saint of cooks, maids and homemakers. She is sometimes referred to as “Saint Martha the hospitable.”

Today Pope Francis lives in the Vatican guesthouse named the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a newer construction on the site of an earlier hospice for the sick and infirmed of Rome, dedicated to Martha.

Eastern Christian traditions include Martha and Mary among the “Holy Myrrh-bearers,” who along with Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, cared for Christ’s body after the resurrection and were among the first to encounter the empty tomb.

We live in a world where hospitality is a virtue, skill and demand upon the Christian life that remains underemphasized. How different would we all act if we took the words of Scripture seriously: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby many have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). We regularly hear the word “xenophobia” bandied about in our political and religious rhetoric today; how often do we hear its — explicitly biblical — counterpart: “philoxenia” (love of strangers/foreigners/the unfamiliar)? Saint Martha embodied this hospitality for one who was utterly and uniquely ‘Unfamiliar,’ and yet also somehow more intimate to her than her own heart.

As Rudyard Kipling makes clear in his poem “Sons of Martha,” it is those like her, often underappreciated, who carry the Good News forward in unforeseen ways:

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their work when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand.
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat:
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that:
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.


Faith is illuminative, not operative; it does not force obedience, though it increases responsibility; it heightens guilt, but does not prevent sin. The will is the source of action. Saint John Henry Newman

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