The beginning of the summer has brought with it a few issues in the national and international news, which go to the very center of the meaning of life and the freedom of our existence. One is the horrible attack on life and faith in the Charleston, South Carolina Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where nine people were killed and their families, friends and our nation were overwhelmed with the evil and tragedy of the situation. The attack brought before us the reality of racial crime and our need to continue to eradicate the sin of discrimination among us. The escape of two dangerous convicts from the high security Dannemora prison in upstate New York is a frightening event and one that causes us to reflect upon the protection which our nation affords us. The Supreme Court's decision which legalized same-sex marriage for our nation is a disappointing event which brings with it a grave misunderstanding of the nature of marriage. While fully opposing same-sex marriage, we must be careful that another form of discrimination does not become a factor. The final event is the good news of the publication of the Encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, on our care for the world of creation which God has given to us. All of these events were before us as we celebrated the birth of our nation on July 4th and the freedom for which our country was founded. Freedom, as the beautiful land in which we live, is a precious gift which comes from God and one which must be protected and cherished for all.
I believe that the Encyclical of Pope Francis truly dealt with all of the issues which have recently been before us as he delved into the pressing need of protecting God's creation. The Encyclical is a rather lengthy and elaborate one and touches upon many areas of ecology and care for our planet. The Pope makes very clear that taking care of the earth is a critical need on the part of all of us and if we do not do so we are heading to a predictable destruction. The Pope also emphasizes how lack of care for the environment has caused many of the problems of the poor and vulnerable among us and that it is our responsibility to seek to assist our brothers and sisters by the manner in which we live our lives on this earth. The Pope uses rather frightening language as he describes how the lack of care for our planet and looking after only our needs will certainly bring more havoc to our world. Indeed, while some of the areas which the Pope addresses are beyond our reach in terms of eliminating destructive practices, we certainly need to be aware of these to counteract them in the public forum. We especially need to do our best to carefully take care of what we do on a day-to-day basis. A simple matter of recycling and not over consuming can be an important part of counteracting a critical direction.
As the Pope so well describes the situation in which we find ourselves today, he makes clear that our world is being destroyed because we have lost our way and our values. At creation God gave us the world to take care of and to cultivate. It was sin from the very beginning that began to wreak havoc upon God's creation. The Pope emphasizes that we find ourselves in the world today where the meaning of life is lost in over technology and material gain. While he is not opposed to these, when they become ends in themselves, they cannot assist human nature in its deepest need. The Pope emphasizes how we have become alienated from the meaning of our human nature which affects our relationships with one another and with society in general. From the beginning of his pontificate, the Pope has often criticized the "throwaway culture" in which we live. His Encyclical calls us away from this culture and to a culture which is willing to sacrifice our own desires for the good of each other and for our own good. In his encyclical, he clearly states that such matters as abortion and population control are not compatible with caring for the home of the earth which God has given us. Pope Francis states that we need "to recover the values in great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur."
Racism and discrimination are part of a culture which is a “throwaway” one. This certainly was horrifyingly evident in Charleston. When a culture is uncomfortable with a person because of their race, background, family, economic status, immigration status, age, infirmity, social status, sexuality and any number of other human conditions, the culture throws the person away and many times does so in a manner which makes the disposal seem virtuous. We have seen this in our nation in regard to the black population, which treated them in an inferior manner and even used them as slaves. Sins of the past occurred because at the time they did not seem like sins. We have to be careful that our care for where we live on this earth does not exclude anyone from God's gifts.
When God created the earth, he created it for man and woman who would be its inhabitants. He gave them all the fruits of the earth to enjoy and to cultivate. He also created man and woman in His image and likeness so they could give themselves to each other in a bond of love, which would bring new life into the world. Marriage was foreseen by God to be an exclusive relationship between a man and woman for their mutual support and for the gift of new life. Sacrifice and giving of oneself become the very substance of marriage. The Pope emphasizes in his Encyclical that "it is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it." However, recognizing the exclusive nature of marriage as a lifetime bond between a man and woman, does not, in any way, discriminate against those who are not able to participate in this union for whatever reason which includes sexual orientation. While we hold to the truth of the Gospel in regard to the meaning of marriage, we also hold to the truth of the Gospel in the dispelling of any notion of unjust discrimination.
We have a system of justice within our nation which is able to deal with those who transgress our rights and natural moral laws. While the system is not perfect, it is one which is meant to protect us. The escape of the prisoners from the high security facility in Dannemora was a frightening experience because proven killers were free to again attack other innocent life. The convicts were truly examples of what comes about in a “throwaway culture”. However, it is our belief that even their lives are not to be thrown away but to be lived in a manner in which they cannot be threats to others. It is our system of justice which separates us from terrorists and reminds us all of the need to care for our planet and for each other.
The beginning of the summer has brought us some critical issues upon which we need to reflect. We give thanks to God for our nation, imperfect as it is, and we commit ourselves to do all we can to make it the best possible. However, we cannot do this without relying on the grace and the law of God Himself. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reminds us that our greatest act of thanksgiving is the Eucharist. It is here that we most deeply encounter the Lord as well as the meaning of life. The Pope says that the Lord "comes not from above, but from within, He comes that we might find Him in this world of ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life.” May we know that life, especially in the gift of the Eucharist, which leads us also to a love for one another and a deep desire to reach out to all upon this earth so that no one is thrown away.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
July 10, 2015