How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Treasuring God’s Creation
 
By Kathy Coffey

“Thou shalt reverence the earth.”

If we were to add a commandment reflecting the call to God’s people in our century, this might top the list of possibilities. People have long delighted in the beautiful surroundings for the human journey. But for the first time in history, our planet is gravely threatened.

While this commandment isn’t one of the official ten, we have a long tradition of respect for God’s creation. Genesis 1 shows God lovingly shaping the solar system, oceans, land, vegetation and animals in a crescendo that leads to humanity. When God gives humans “dominion” over other creatures, the implication is wise stewardship rather than blatant exploitation.

Many of the psalms are suffused with an appreciation of nature. Psalm 98 speaks poetically of the tie between creator and creation:

Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them
for joy,
Before the Lord…
(8-9).

Psalm 96 personifies the natural world praising God:
Let the heavens be glad and the
earth rejoice;
let the plains be joyful and all
that is in them.
Then let all the trees of the
forest rejoice before the
Lord…
(11-12).

St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun is an outburst of joy in sun and moon, which he called brother and siter. St. Clare, writing the rule for her congregation during a time of warfare, cautioned her sisters about danger when they ventured forth from the convent. But she reminded them to “praise God” when they saw “beautiful trees, flowers and bushes…” Both saints traveled lightly; their commitment to poverty translates into the slogan of environmentally conscious people today: “Buy less stuff.”

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Receiving Well

Each week, Catholics celebrate the Eucharist, whose root word means “to receive well.” Our weekend celebrations should spill into a whole week of receiving well, especially the earth’s gifts: food that energizes our bodies, the sights of mountains, streams, stars or sunsets that feed our spirits. As Rachel Carson pointed out years ago in Silent Spring, the absence of birdsong with all it represents would make our environment eerily quiet and rob the soul of sustenance.

With such a rich tradition of respecting the earth, we Christians should naturally take practical steps to reduce our carbon emissions and, hence, global warming. The scientific explanation of the dangerous effects of fossil fuels on our environment is beyond the scope of Every Day Catholic. The scientific community agrees that we can take practical steps to save the planet now, to prevent our grandchildren from asking, “Why didn’t they act when they could?”

Warning signs are clear: The polar ice caps are melting fast because dangerous gases trap the sun’s heat. The average car driven 10,000 miles a year releases 5.5 tons of this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Over 100 million trees which produce life-saving oxygen are destroyed annually for junk mail. Barbara Kingsolver points out in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that our children will have shorter life spans than ours because of their junk food, obesity and poor quality of air and water.

We know how to solve this problem. Apologies to those who know these steps, but for those who don’t: Use energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances; drive a hybrid car if possible; walk or bike when possible; recycle; turn down the thermostat; plant trees.

Actively Saying Thanks

Hopeful signs of community awareness and cooperation abound.More than 500 U.S. mayors have signed the Climate Protection Agreement to reduce carbon emissions in their cities. Many companies, churches, schools, religious communities and homes are committed to “going green.” Oikos, the Greek word for “household” (the root for ecology, ecumenical and economy), underscores the link between our individual households and God’s house, creation.

In her novel Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver records a conversation with a native American who explains that God lets us live in this house, and we should send a note of thanks just as we would after being anyone’s guest: “We appreciate the rain, we appreciate the sun….Sorry if we messed up anything. Thanks for letting me sleep on your couch.” Reverencing the earth is an active way to express our thanks.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is The Art of Faith (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007).

Next: Thou Shalt Be Joyful

Questions for Reflection:

• How can we receive the earth’s gifts with greater awareness and purpose? What are some practical changes you can make?

• Spend a few minutes reading Psalm 98. Now, write your own psalm in praise of creation and share it with the group.

 
FAMILY CORNER
A New Kind of Sin
By Jeanne Hunt

A few years ago, I was presenting a retreat for young people in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I asked the children, “How many kinds of sin are there?” The unanimous answer was three: venial, mortal and social. Intrigued by this response, I pressed them to tell me more about social sin.

The children offered a glimpse of their world and the evil that is being inflicted on creation each day as we fail to reverence this planet. While their theology was a little shaky, their fervor was inspiring. I left the school thinking about this new kind of sin, one that earlier generations could not have even conceived.

Let’s look at this new sin and our lifestyle. What needs to change? Perhaps we need to conserve gasoline, recycle paper, turn off the air-conditioning, find new uses for old items…the possibilities are endless. For example, I no longer use Styrofoam cups and paper napkins at meetings. I carry a mug and matching cloth napkin. Just for fun I change this duo with the seasons. When people remark about them, it provides an excellent moment to encourage others to conserve in the same way.

Families reverence the earth by observing simple practices of ecological stewardship. As we conserve and preserve we teach our children much about being good stewards of God’s gifts. Wasting and destroying the earth’s resources are sinful, and a decision to take care of this planet as a family teaches an important lesson. Even the smallest act of conservation impacts our future. By teaching our children to recycle, reuse and restore our resources we are ensuring a future for our children’s children on this planet. This effort is the opposite of sin; it is an act of love.

For Family Response:

Look at your family lifestyle habits and make some simple changes that can lend an effort to recycling, reusing and restoring your little acre of God’s Kingdom.

 
Media Watch
Ratatouille
By Frank Frost

They pulled it off! And with rats as sympathetic characters! Ratatouille is a moral tale of tolerance, being true to oneself, the importance of family—and good taste!

Writer-director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) tells a rollicking story the whole family can enjoy. The Pixar animation is as good as anything we’ve seen to date. The rich lighting and texture of the sets and characters almost make viewers forget they are not watching live action. The pace is fast-moving with plenty of visual jokes and thrilling chase scenes. Besides all that, Ratatouille serves up an excellent story with a human touch.

Remy is a rat with special talent for savoring the good tastes in life. But his enhanced ability to discern fine scents goes to waste, and he is appreciated only as a poison detector by his father and the rest of his large rat family. But when he is accidentally separated from the others in a flight down a rushing sewer, Remy is cast out alone on the streets of Paris.

There he encounters the ghost of legendary chef Auguste Gusteau, who has earlier inspired Remy with his motto, “Anyone can cook!” Gusteau leads Remy to the doorstep of his former restaurant. The consequent events involve a hapless garbage boy named Linguini (the unrecognized son and heir of Gusteau); a Peter Lorre-style villain of a chef who is reducing Gusteau’s famous gourmet restaurant to a purveyor of frozen foods; an unbending and malicious food critic, Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole); and Colette (Janeane Garofalo), whom Linguini loves, and who is the sole woman cook to succeed in this male-dominated kitchen.

Venturing into the kitchen, the little rat cannot resist rescuing an unsavory soup by adding just the right ingredients. When it becomes a hit with the patrons, Linguini is given the credit, but must then duplicate his success. This leads to a secret madcap partnership between “the little chef” and Linguini, whereby Remy guides Linguini’s every move from under the latter’s chef ’s hat. Greed and power drive the actions of the villains, while Linguini and Remy seek only to do what they love.

Along the way, Remy bumps into his brother, Emile, who is sampling the restaurant’s garbage. This leads to a rat family reunion.

But secret manipulation cannot constitute a recipe for success for either Remy or Linguini, and eventually Linguini must reveal the real source of his cooking talent. This causes the kitchen staff, and even Colette, to abandon him at the moment of his greatest need.

Remy’s rat family rushes to the rescue. This all happens with such verve and humor that the audience easily buys the eventual reconciliation of Remy with his family, rats with humans, and Linguini with Colette (topped by the delicious moment when the food critic eats his own words).

Food again provides a fitting movie metaphor for relationships and sharing. But perhaps never with such panache.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

 
SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)

He didn’t live a long life, but Blessed John Duns Scotus is one of the most important and influential Franciscan philosophers and theologians. Born in Scotland, he entered the order at the age of 15 and pursued years of study and teaching in some of the finest schools in Europe. Following his ordination in 1291 came more years of study, then lecturing. For all his studies, Scotus was no ivory-tower scholar. He entered into the issues of the day with energy, creativity and a Franciscan perspective.

One of those issues was how to understand the Blessed Mother: Did she need to be redeemed like all descendants of Adam, a view held by the noted Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas, or had she been preserved from Original Sin? Scotus sided with those who believed that Mary was free of sin from the start—a controversial view at the time but later affirmed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Scotus also differed with Aquinas about the Incarnation. The Church had long taught that Jesus was sent by his Father to die on the cross to redeem humankind, that if Adam and Eve had not sinned there would have been no need for Jesus to come to earth. As a Franciscan, Scotus offered another view: Jesus would have come to earth even if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned. God wanted to share Jesus as the perfect model of the human being fully alive. Jesus didn’t simply die on the cross to appease an angry God; he wanted to draw humans to his love.

John Duns Scotus died at the age of 42 and is buried in the Franciscan Church in Cologne, Germany. He was beatified by John Paul II in 1993. His feast is November 8.

Sister Mary Beth Ingham, C.S.J.

It was while taking a walk one day and enjoying nature that Sister Mary Beth Ingham really began to appreciate how John Duns Scotus saw the world.

Suddenly it dawned on her: Everywhere in his writings Scotus speaks of beauty. Where some theologians and philosophers focus on humankind’s sinfulness, the Sister of St. Joseph told Every Day Catholic, Scotus sees evidence of God’s love and generosity everywhere.

Though John Duns Scotus has long had a place of honor in the Franciscan tradition, Sister Mary Beth didn’t become well acquainted with him until she did her doctoral dissertation on him at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. Now she teaches Scotus at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and spends many weekends talking about him to Franciscan groups.

Her knowledge of John Duns Scotus’s thinking and writing has affected her own spirituality. “He has an extremely optimistic and hopeful vision of the world. I’ve learned from him to be a person of hope at a time when so many of us have reason to despair. His is a vision of abundance, not of scarcity. There is always more of God’s mercy and graciousness. Nobody is ever ‘out’—there is always a second, third, fourth chance.” Scotus’s message is not lost on her students at Loyola Marymount. When they hear his view of the Incarnation—that it was always God’s intention to send Jesus to earth—they perk up. “They tell me, ‘This is the kind of God I want to believe in, a God who became Incarnate because he loves us, not because of mistakes we made.’”

It’s a message that keeps Sister Mary Beth Ingham—and others— hopeful.

 
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