Saturday, July 18, 2015

Of Star Trek, Pope Francis & Encyclicals


Let me start with a classic line from TV history. Raise your hand if you know it. “Space, the final frontier…” Good, good. Now, keep your hand raised if you can finish the sentence: “…these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its’ continuing mission to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Okay, you have all just outed yourselves, like me, as a scifi geek.

Now, yes, for the truly geeky among us, I like Star Wars too, but the thing I always preferred about Star Trek was the vision that Gene Roddenberry, its creator, had for a humanity that eventually got beyond all of the things that divide it; a humanity that became united for the common good. In this future Earth, there are no more wars, there is no more poverty or hunger, there is no more prejudice or racism, and we humanity lives in balance with the created world around it.

I have been thinking about my love for Star Trek this week as I’ve seen the spectacular photos NASA has released from the New Horizons probe on a survey mission to Pluto – the farthest mission for a human space craft yet. It has travelled more than three billion miles to get there. How’s that for a “strange new world”?

A priest-friend of mine earlier this week shared one of the Pluto photos on Instagram along with a beautiful quote from Psalm 8 that reads, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;/what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

Believe it or not, all of this was leading me to think deeply about the encyclical of Pope Francis which came out just about a month ago called Laudato Si or Praised be You. I read an article a few weeks ago that was asking if many Catholics had heard a homily preached on this first great encyclical of the Holy Father, and many, sadly, had not. And I began to wonder why? I think that the answer lies in the way that a lot of coverage has focused on the document. It has been treated largely like something that was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency or GreenPeace, rather than a spiritual document by the reigning Pontiff of the Holy Catholic Church.

You see the media keeps calling the document the “Pope’s encyclical on the environment”. It is as if Pope Francis decided to use one of the highest levels of teaching authority in the Church to essentially say, “Don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. Please try to reduce the amount of water you use. And, oh yeah, big oil is bad.” Now, these things are in there and they are good, but that would be like reducing Star Trek to space ships, Klingons and transporters – all of those are in there (and they’re pretty cool), but if that’s all you see, you are missing the bigger vision. The Pope, too, has a bigger vision here for us.

For example, in Laudato Si (which takes its name, by the way, from a prayer of St. Francis praising God in all of creation), Pope Francis writes, “As Christians, we are called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” In this simple and yet profound statement, the Pope reminds us that we care for our common home, the Earth, not because it makes good environmental sense (although it does), but because the Earth is, in effect, a Church – it is the place where we meet God. The world is a sacrament of communion with God.

The Pope says, “Creatures tend towards God…Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.” The Holy Father continually returns to this two-fold theme that everything is created by God and therefore is a reflection of Him; and that because of this divine origin, we are all connected. This not only effects the environment, which we should treasure as a gift from God that has been entrusted to us, but it also effects the way that we relate to one another.

We can understand water, for example as a gift. We need it to live. We can appreciate it for its beauty. We enjoy it for our recreation. We understand its relation to the land and crops and growth. But, we don’t always understand one another as the same kind of gift from God that should likewise be treated as precious to us as it is to God. The Pope writes, “When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.”

And so, my friends, just think of the many pressing, confusing or troubling issues that our world faces right now. If you are trying to understand how to respond to the legalization of gay marriage in our country, or to the transformation of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner or anyone who is transgender. If you have been shocked or rocked by the shooting in Charleston a few weeks ago, the more recent one in Chattanooga this week. If you are dejected by the issues of racism that have reared their ugly heads so poignantly, so disappointedly once again especially over this past year. If you are struggling with what to make of our fractured, wounded and divided world – the Pope reminds us that this answer is our connectedness.

No matter the issue, we are being reminded once again that we are connected; that we are one; that we are sacrament; that we are communion. We are being reminded that everything in this world created by our God – the land and see, the earth and sky, the plants and animals – and so especially the people, all of the people – need to be treated with love and kindness, with compassion and mercy, with hope and joy. We are people of connection, communion and love, not judgment and condemnation. This is how we make the prayer of St. Francis our own – to be channels of peace who bring love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt.

So, my brothers and sisters, “Qapla”, success, and don’t forget to recycle your bottles and cans. And more importantly, don’t forget that every day and every moment; that every person and every encounter; that every breath, and tree and sunrise and sunset – are all experiences of God where the “divine and human meet” in the smallest occurrences of life.

May the Lord give you peace.

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