Lessons from Holy Week

If we want to protect the world, we must learn from and speak of the Crucified, Risen Savior of the world.

This Easter Monday, what will we take with us from Holy Week? No matter what our vocation in this fallen world, we cannot forget the history, the lessons, and the liturgical experiences of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. And given the increasingly high profile of the Church’s commitment to ecological causes—especially in light of Pope Francis’s upcoming eco-encyclical—this is especially true for Catholic ecologists.

Palm Sunday

For those of us engaged in worldly vocations, the great lesson from Palm Sunday is that God and the world have different ideas about what salvation looks like. And when the world learns that God’s ways are not our ways, then the world can quickly turn against those who profess loyalty to God.

This Palm Sunday I was thinking of some of my colleagues in government who speak of outreach to faith communities so that whatever message that needs public support can be brought to the public through houses of worship.

But the desire to use faith communities for such purposes does not equate precisely to a respect for religious institutions. Indeed, as we are seeing with the erosion of religious liberties—most recently when it comes to the right to part ways with those supporting same-sex marriage—governments and vocal crowds can easily detain the faithful, conduct a quick trial of public opinion, and seek to silence those who profess the truths of God.

We must not be surprised if in championing the fullness of the gospel, the world violently and swiftly rejects it—and us.

A takeaway here is that we Catholic ecologists ought to be careful when we associate ourselves too closely with those who reject most everything that the Church teaches. While it is necessary for us to bring the gospel to the public square, we must bring all of it, not just the elements that poll well.

And we must not be surprised if in championing the fullness of the gospel, the world violently and swiftly rejects it—and us.

Holy Thursday

As my pastor reminded us in a wonderful homily at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Thursday reminds us to keep close to Christ through two sacraments—the Eucharist, of course, and Reconciliation. And in order to have these, we need priests.

But sometimes it seems that many applaud the priesthood not primarily for its sacred role in bringing the sacraments to the rest of us, but in how priests can add a certain emphasis to public protests.

Certainly, a priest gives up his life to serve—and this can and often should include worldly action to bring about justice. But as my pastor stressed in his homily, priestly service especially involves the cleansing of the soul through Confession so that you and I can then fully receive the graces of the Eucharist. The exclusive place of the priest in the sacramental life of the Church is, then, of paramount importance for the restoration of the world. Catholic ecologists should recognize this and celebrate it.

We must also recognize and help others celebrate the cosmic and ecological meaning of the Eucharist. For clarity on this, we turn to Sacramentum Caritatis , one of Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortations. In it he rather emphatically calls our attention to the centrality of the Eucharist for protecting the planet. You can read how in Section 92 of the document. But in brief, here’s what he says:

The eucharistic form of life can thus help foster a real change in the way we approach history and the world. The liturgy itself teaches us this, when, during the presentation of the gifts, the priest raises to God a prayer of blessing and petition over the bread and wine, "fruit of the earth," "fruit of the vine" and "work of human hands." With these words, the rite not only includes in our offering to God all human efforts and activity, but also leads us to see the world as God's creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance. The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God's good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ

Good Friday

Considering that the scientific and secular hasn’t gotten us far enough to where we need to be, we should be adding something new.

Rejection is something we must face if we are “called to be sons and daughters” of Christ—if we are to pick up our crosses and follow Him. But what might that mean for Catholic ecologists?

It means quite a bit, actually. It certainly means that we must spend a great deal of time and effort lobbying, petitioning, protesting, instructing, and debating. I know many environmental activists. Most—if not all—sacrifice much in their own ways to build up a culture that protects the planet.

But I would like to consider a different lesson about sacrifice. Here we turn to the Good Friday homily given in St. Peter’s by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household. In it, he said,

Jesus overcame violence not by opposing it with a greater violence but by enduring it and exposing all its injustice and futility. He inaugurated a new kind of victory that St. Augustine summed up in three words: “Victor quia victima: “Victor because victim.” It was seeing him die this way that caused the Roman centurion to exclaim, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). Others asked themselves what the “loud cry” emitted by the dying Jesus could mean (see Mk 15:37). The centurion, who was an expert in combatants and battles, recognized at once that it was a cry of victory.

Building off the lessons of Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday, in Good Friday we see the great finality and lengths to which the Christ saves us and teaches us. And what he teaches is that to change the world one must “endur[e] it and expos[e] all its injustice and futility.”

Such seeming passivity may not come easy for those who seek social justice through action. But whether we may find the way of Christ easy or difficult, we must be cautious not to reject the Gospel because it demands humility, self-restraint, forgiveness of one’s enemy, and, of course, the Cross itself.

The Easter Vigil

The most sacred night of the Church’s year begins with the light of the Paschal Candle entering a darkened church. The light spreads as it is shared from priest and deacon to altar servers to the people in the pews. And then, after hearing of God’s activity in human history and being offered an outpouring of grace, the people in the pews go into the dark world to proclaim the message that Christ is Risen.

This should be the principal rallying cry for Catholic ecologists.

Yes, we must teach and discuss the scientific and secular policy issues that come with working to protect creation and the poor. But if we only do this, what are we adding that others are not already saying? And considering that the scientific and secular hasn’t gotten us far enough to where we need to be, we should be adding something new. And that new message is this: there is a Savior of the world, that Savior is God, His Word made flesh; He was crucified, died, and was buried, and rose on the third day, and now He awaits us to travel with Him, listen to and break bread with Him, and thus be filled with the joy and life that saves souls and worlds.

Easter Monday ... and beyond

Ours is a message of hope because it is the message of Holy Week. If we forget the trials, victories, and liturgies of Holy Week, we will forget this message of hope at our peril—and the peril of the planet and its peoples, especially the poor and the outcast.

Thus our priorities cannot be cheering crowds or the unreliable acceptance of powers and principalities. Rather, our priority must be the slow, often painful, humble path of preaching the cross to a world that flees from it, the Resurrection to those who reject it.

Sharing this Good News, then, is our mission on this first week of the Easter Season—and of every day, week, and year that the good Lord grants us life here outside Eden.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.