I have spent the last 6 days in bed with a horrible cold that turned into a double ear infection, a chest cough and I’ve been battling a fever and chills the whole week. My insurance hasn’t been paid for so there was no way that I could afford to go to the doctor and then a friend reminded me that my parish has a community clinic that sees people who don’t have insurance or way to afford a doctor. Off I went and after sitting for 3 hours, I was seen by a doctor and given medicine and sent home. Sitting there I kept thinking about how embarrassing it was to sit in this building that is on the property of my beautiful Parish home. I’ve been on my parish council, I’ve been involved in RCIA and our Jesus is Lord course, I’ve had dinner at the Rectory and I’ve donated hundreds of dollars to the Parish when I had hundreds of dollars to give, and now here I am. Broke and sick with no health insurance, not even able to put the suggested $20 in the donation envelope. I was too sick to even think about what lesson God could be trying to teach me at that moment, but I knew there was one. There always is.
I read the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si, yesterday. You may have heard of it? (I can finally type that without having to check the spelling on the Vatican website after 36 hours) I really can’t stress enough how important it is for Catholics to read this papal document. Don’t just read people’s take on it, even mine, but read it for yourself. Read it prayerfully and with an open heart. Because I don’t think there is one single person who Papa doesn’t address in it. It’s beautiful, not because it was written by Pope Francis but because, as Jen Fritz wrote, it combines so many things, Popes, encyclicals and doctrines and most of all convicting to me about the way me and my family live. If you read this document all the way through and nothing in it makes you squirm, then you’re reading it wrong. And I mean squirm not go all Gollum about it, like so many are doing because the Pope dared to tie our own selfishness and greed to the destruction of the Earth and each other. Pope Francis called us all out and I’ve been trying to digest it since I finished the last line at midnight last night. As Jen said “Christianity is something more than a Jesus-flavored quest for the American Dream.”
Papa isn’t just talking about pollution of the air by fossil fuels, and I’ll be honest, until yesterday every time someone said “fossil fuels” I would snort-laughed. Yes, he does bring it up and it has convicted me about wanting to research the issue and see what he is talking about, but there are other types of pollution of us to consider. Laudato Si talks about the misuse of technology, the pollution of the mind, the chaos of living in urban areas covered in cement and asphalt, and the pollution of thinking the “we” are better than “them”. I have been kicking it around my mucus filled head all day and all I can come up with is that the Pope is warning us about the pollution of our souls that cause us to exploit and abuse the Earth as well as each other. Maybe it’s the binge watching of Hoarders or the addiction to Facebook with all the anger all over my feed about cops, riots, mass shootings or just the riots and mass shootings themselves, but I don’t have to look very far to see that what Pope Francis is talking about is the reality around us.
A man walked into a church bible study and after an hour of sitting with the members of this church as they talked about the Love of God, shot and killed 9 of them. The reaction of people in my line of vision on social media went from “what happened to this young man?” to “if he was black, his arrest would have ended with him dead” to calling him all kinds of names laced with insults about mental illness, race and gun owners. We as people doubled down on this man’s hate with our own hate while somehow thinking we are better than him. Christians are saying we should forget this man’s name and I can honestly understand how people would think that. It’s rational human reflex to call him a “monster” or “evil” or “mentally ill” and to want to throw him in a jail cell to rot. But how many of us are willing to consider the fact that God has this man’s name written in the palm of His hand, just like each of ours? Because He does. God loves each of us scandalously, including a man who can kill 9 innocent people during bible study. Even now, God still longs for him to turn to Christ and be forgiven. The family members of the victims who had the grace, love and courage to say so to him at his bail hearing are witnesses of the Gospel. We should all follow their lead and pray for this man to come to know God.
And that is where Laudato Si has left me: looking at everything through the lens of eternity. When I first said that a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know what it meant, but now it’s so obvious. I went into Austin today and everything looked so different: the homeless man waving and smiling while standing in the rain, the people suffering from road rage because where they have to be and when they have to be there is more important than the lives of other people on the road, the temptation to flip off the guy honking at me at the red light when I don’t take off the split second it turns green, and the fact that I went through the drive thru at McDonald’s to get a bag full of crap to feed my kids lunch (come on $2.50 for a double cheeseburger and fries is a bargain). All of it looks so different now. I am even thinking about that walk in the field that I grew up in when I faced the man who abused me. How much the smell of those wildflowers told me that God loved me, even when evil was taking over the man who would end up abusing me in the worst way. I often wondered where God was and now I know that He was in those flowers, because those flowers are made by Him and they are good.
The message that I got out of Landato Si is that we allow evil to take hold of us little by little every time that we deny the good in something or someone that is created by God. All His creations are good because He is Good, the Supreme Good. Denying that, even when it’s a racist murderer, an abortionist, ourselves or the flowers, is letting the father of lies have a tiny foothold in our heart. The purpose of this life is to take care of every creation of God. By eating right, caring for our health, working, loving, recycling, caring for the poor and fighting exploitation of the earth and others.
Laudato Si is not just about the environment. It is about love and hate. The hate in each of us that helps to destroy the planet we live in, the hate that helps us exploit the poor, our neighbor, ourselves, the hate that lives in each of us when we think of “them” as the enemy. Pope Francis is calling us each out on the ways that we hate and asking us to turn to God, Who is Love, and start to make changes in our everyday life that lead us to love ourselves, our neighbor and the planet given to us from God. Sadly, I see so much anger and ugliness in reaction to this encyclical and the shooting in Charleston. When are we going to quit fueling the evil in this world with our anger? I’ve had an anger issue my entire life, and today I am orientating myself towards Love.
When we do that, we can open up community clinics for those who can’t afford medicine or doctor visits that people can go to when we have no money and we can go to them and not be embarrassed because we understand that we are here to help each other get through this life with love.