HOLY THURSDAY 2015: Reflection for Holy Thursday, April 2, 2015

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by Megan McKenna, Ph.D.

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-15

Every time, then, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes! (1 Corinthians 11:26)

feetwashingThe readings for this night are so familiar that often we do not catch the pathos, the expressed extremes of love and yearning that Jesus has to be with and remain with his friends—us—and to celebrate what he shares with us—freedom, friendship, and the fullness of forgiveness in life and in death—what we are given in broken bread and a cup of wine shared and taken together. Do we ever “understand what I just did for you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and fittingly enough, for that is what I am. But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet” (John 13:12-15). This is the worship that God wants from us, as in Jesus’ own life: to serve one another and feed one another, despite betrayal, despite unfaithfulness, and despite our obsession with ourselves.

This is the bright night of freedom and friendship with God that is Jesus’ legacy and testament given to us. We no longer live in bondage, fear, and oppression. This night has often been called the Feast of Friends because Jesus has so desired to share this meal with us together—“He had loved his own in this world, and would show his love for them to the end” (John 13:1). In John’s gospel, this is Eucharist—the washing of feet, Jesus’ unique way of celebrating with his own. The other gospel writers give accounts of the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup with all. We need to remember both rituals as being bound in the other. The feasting and the bending before each other as servants—as our God in Jesus bends before us is worship done daily—and ritualized as liturgy.

This night is one of deep mystery. Someone once told me that you can see better in the dark! And until we are immersed in darkness and in the mystery of God’s love that is constant, day and night, in times of joy and sorrow, whether we are faithful and true or we are not, we do not know the Light that is blinding in both daylight and darkness. This is the Light of the Cross that stands starkly against light and beckons us to pass through as a doorway into God’s presence ever stronger and vast.

* This reflection appeared in The Light of Lent Through the Gospels: Reflections for Lent 2013, published by Pax Christi USA. See Megan’s new book, Listen Here! The Art and Spirituality of Listening, by clicking here.

PAX CHRISTI INTERNATIONAL: April 2015 newsletter now online

pcibethThe April 2015 Pax Christi International Newsletter is now out and available! Included in the newsletter is information on the Pax Christi International 70th Anniversary World Assembly, “Pilgrims on the Path to Peace.” All are invited to attend the celebrations, taking place in Bethlehem, on 13 – 17 May 2015. Bethlehem was chosen as a symbol of Pax Christi’s commitment to peace and reconciliation. The event is open to all Pax Christi members, partner organisations, local and international peacemakers, as well as interested individuals sympathetic with the Pax Christi movement.

Click here for more from the Pax Christi International newsletter.

REFLECTION: Syria may go from awful to even worse

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by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

Syria has suffered like few countries in the world. Although it lived with minimal conflict for many years, its leader, Bashar al-Assad, maintained order through intimidation and terror. When peaceful demonstrators challenged his dictatorial rule, they were attacked, killed, or put in prison. What started as a civil war has become internationalized with the presence of the so-called Islamic State group and its opponents joining the fray.

iraq-syria-buttonAssad has spared no weapon in putting down resistance, whether it be chemical weapons, barrel bombs, artillery bombardments or snipers. The United Nations estimates that 220,000 have died in the war. There are disputes over what percentage of the dead are civilian, but they are certainly significant.

Assad wants to paint all of his opponents as terrorists or Islamic State supporters, but his opponents also include thousands of people fed up with his regime. His military strategy is to go after the weaker, non-Islamic State opponents while avoiding the Islamic State fighters. His purpose is to eliminate the non-Islamic State forces while leaving the anti-Islamic State coalition to degrade and push back the Islamic State. His endgame is to present himself as the only alternative to the Islamic State after he has destroyed his other opponents…

Read the entire article by clicking here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Reports 3 & 4 from Jesuit Universities’ Climate Change Conference

Jim Hugby Jim Hug, S.J.

REPORT THREE: The first day of the conference closed with a plenary lecture by Dr. George Crabtree, the Director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR).  He highlighted the need for better energy storage capability in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in addressing climate change.  He described JCESR’s efforts to develop batteries capable of 5 times the power storage of contemporary batteries at 1/5th their current cost within 5 years in order to challenge the cost effectiveness of fossil fuels.  And he called attention to the promising new research paradigm that JCESR represents.

Friday morning’s program featured a panel discussion on “The Risks, Nuts, and Bolts of Divestment” from fossil fuels.  The panel was chaired by Bruce Boyd, Principal and Senior Managing Director of Arabella Advisors where he works with foundations to improve planetary health.  Under his leadership, Arabella is now measuring the global commitment to divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in alternative, clean energy sources.

In his opening remarks, he noted that divestments are currently at $50 billion and are expected to reach $150 billion by the UN Climate meeting in Paris in December of this year.  He reported that Global Divestment Day, February 13-14 this year, was marked by 450 events in 60 countries.  There is significant movement globally.  He welcomed Catholic involvement, quoting Pope Francis as declaring an “ineluctable ethical imperative” to act.  He summed up his remarks with what he called the clear message to the world, “The age of burn what you want when you want is over.”

The first panelists were two student representatives from Seattle University, Iree Wheeler and Nico Cruz.  Drawing inspiration from a 2013 talk on campus by 350.org’s Bill McKibben, students at Seattle U. held a rally, gathered signatures, and began a campus movement for divestment.  Before long the student government and the faculty got on board and the proposal went to the university leadership.

There the effort hit a brick wall, with one official saying, ‘We don’t use the endowment to make political statements’ – a comment clearly embarrassing and uninformed for a leader in a school claiming a proud place in the Jesuit FaithJustice mission and supposedly guided by Catholic Social Tradition which recognizes political decisions as ethical decisions.

Though they didn’t get the Seattle University leadership to agree to divestment, the students did succeed in getting the university to look at the ethical implications of their investments and establish a committee on socially responsible investing.

Lessons learned?  They recognized that their movement had not been sophisticated enough about how investments work.  Nor were they prepared when they made the proposal to suggest worthwhile places to reinvest the funds currently supporting fossil fuel development and use.  They are continuing their work, participating in the socially responsible investing committee, widening their focus from divestment to broader, related social justice issues, introducing community organizing principles, and drawing upon the strong call from the Jesuit Superior General never to rest content with social injustice.

The focus on what they learned provides helpful tips for other student movements as they organize to turn divestment/reinvestment into a national movement on university campuses, especially Catholic campuses.

  • Could local Pax Christi organizations help promote this movement?
  • Could you take leadership in your region?

Let us know and we’ll see how we can help.

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REPORT FOUR:  “Are the Marianists [who sponsor the University of Dayton] really that much more intelligent and committed than the Jesuits?”

In my last post, I relayed the report and reflections of two student leaders at Seattle University whose student-faculty movement calling for fossil fuel divestment met initial rejection by university leadership.  This blog piece features a success story.

The University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, is the first Catholic university in the U.S. to divest from fossil fuels.  At the Loyola University Climate Change Conference, two leaders from the school shared their experience, Mr. George Hanley, a member of the Board of Directors who voted for divestment, and Dr. Paul Benson, the university’s acting provost.  Hanley is an entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist.  He is active now in a number of investment roles oriented to “advancing transformative educational, environmental and empowerment solutions.”  Benson is an internationally recognized scholar in ethics and social philosophy and served the university as departmental chair, associate dean, and Dean of Arts and Sciences before becoming interim provost.

They began by urging students interested in raising the issue of fossil fuel divestment and investment in clean alternative energy sources on their own campuses to persevere! They quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu as saying,

“We need an apartheid-style boycott to save the planet… It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future.”

They noted some factors favoring efforts to get Catholic universities to divest from fossil fuels.  They pointed out that universities as universities believe in and understand climate science.  In addition, climate action aligns with Catholic Social Teaching and Pope Francis is calling for it.   Catholic university mission statements are often strong on social ethics, and Catholic screens for investments now exist and are commonly used.

They listed a number of important lessons learned at Dayton that will benefit other universities willing to address the issue.

  • Be ready for roadblocks – there are many misperceptions, a great deal of inertia, and powerful vested interests to be overcome.
  • Clearly define divestment targets – there are lists of the worst polluters and choosing those as initial targets of divestment efforts will make it easier to build support.
  • Assess the fossil fuel holdings in your university’s investments so you can show you know the current reality and can set realistic goals.
  • Learn more about investment performance with fossil fuel screens [the S&P 500 is the standard for measuring]. Divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in clean alternatives need not mean financial losses.
  • Consider stranded asset risk – how risky are these fossil fuel investments in the long run? Growing ecological consciousness and destructive climate patterns are fueling the “Leave them in the Ground” movement, posing real threats to their long-term profitability.
  • Explore new fossil free investment services and products in line with Catholic screens. Stress your integrity as a Catholic institution in your investments.
  • Set a realistic timetable for phasing out investments.
  • Be wary of shareholder advocacy as the panacea. That type of socially responsible investment advocacy has had no significant success in this arena.
  • Prepare your communications and public relations strategy carefully and professionally.
  • Keep the end game in mind: you need to reduce the outsized influence of corporations.
  • Above all, keep Mission Integrity in the forefront. There is no stronger argument than fidelity to your Catholic mission which embraces the core principles of Catholic Social Teaching.  That mission must shape all your sustainability plans and guide your students’ and community’s future interests.

They closed their presentation by emphasizing that too often universities overlook the powerful educational mission that carefully planned and communicated divestment/reinvestment activities fulfill.  These actions call attention to important issues of planetary climate change, of course, but they also offer a strong example of institutional faithfulness to religious identity in the use of all resources.  This has five broad effects.

First, it deepens students’ understanding of core values and mission by illustrating what the mission of service, justice and peace and acting in solidarity with the most marginalized mean concretely.

Secondly, it can serve to expand students’ understanding of the ethical responsibility of investors.  It can provide an occasion to share with students broader, mission-based practices.  It can challenge undergraduate investment programs to incorporate socially responsible investment and develop valuable hands-on experience.

Thirdly, it will highlight the university-wide relevance of sustainability education for every academic discipline.  It provides a valuable case study of the Catholic commitment to the virtue of practical wisdom, the congruence of reason and faith, the ideal of integrative learning.

Fourthly, divestment/reinvestment actions model for students and the full university community the imperative of ethical commitment and action on one of the most critical issues of our times.

Finally, divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in alternative clean energy sources is a crucial lesson in ethical hope.  The situation of climate change is not simply overwhelming and intractable.  Something significant can be done and these actions convey that lesson.

In addition, the reverse side of this coin is disturbing.  Students at universities today learn about the global crises facing the human community and the global responsibility to do something about them.  If they then watch the universities themselves invest their financial weight in the most destructive and irresponsible things, what can they be expected to learn?  The lessons being taught seem to be lessons of hypocrisy and ultimately despair at a time when everyone needs lessons in ethical and ecological hope.

In what should be an enticing incentive to university administrators, Hanley and Benson noted that faculty and student recruitment at the University of Dayton have both benefited in measurable ways from the university’s actions on fossil fuels.  They seemed delighted, in puckish good humor, to leave the audience with a provocative question:

“Are the Marianists really that much more intelligent and committed than the Jesuits?”

I know many Pax Christi members across the country who will delight in asking that question to their friends among the Jesuits and their students and colleagues!

TAKE ACTION: Faith leaders’ open letter against family detention

from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition

Pax Christi USA has signed onto this letter and we encourage faith leaders within our network to add their signatures.

A “Faith Leaders’ Letter Against Family Detention” has been developed by partners affiliated with Detention Watch Network’s “Faith Based Family Detention Strategy” working group.  This team includes clergy/faith leaders within Texas, as well as additional denominational partners in other locations, and some of us who are members of the IIC, too.  The letter is directed towards President Obama, and is cc’d to Secretary Jeh Johnson of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

The letter will be delivered in a meeting with the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships on Monday, May 4th.

Click here to sign the letter.

REFLECTION: Giving thanks for the witness of César Chávez on his birthday

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“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” ~ César Chávez, March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993

LENT 2015: Spiritual obedience means listening deeply to God

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds us, as he had proclaimed many times before to his disciples, “If you really want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me.” And if we listen carefully and deeply to the lessons of today for a few moments, I think we will discover in a very deep way what Jesus means by that, and also we will be aware of the challenge it takes truly to follow Jesus. And first of all, I think it’s important for us to realize that in what Jesus is to undergo.

PC-Metro NY Way of the CrossAnd we enter now the last two weeks of Lent, and we’ll enter Holy Week next week and recall his sufferings and journey to Calvary, and then his terrible death on that cross. As we kind of relive all of this, we need to be very aware that Jesus endured all of this as one like us in every way. You know I think many times we have sort of an understanding, in the back of our mind at least, “Well, it couldn’t have been so bad for him. He knew he was going to rise from the dead.”

But you see, we have to understand that the incarnation, Jesus in his humanness, is totally separate from his identity, and so he’s one like us. He had to trust in God just as we do, and he found that very difficult, just as we do. If you listen carefully to that passage from the letter to the Hebrews, you find Jesus described in a way that I think is almost shocking: “Jesus, in the days of his mortal life, offered himself in sacrifice with tears and cries. He prayed to God, who could save him from death.”…

To read this entire article, click here.