Social Ministry Institute speakers say look to cross for solutions

By: By Tom Dermody

Father Bud Grant proposes a solution to saving the planet that isn’t quite as marketable — or simple — as reduce, re-use and recycle.

His idea?

Embrace suffering, out of love for both God’s creation and future generations.

“I’m going to suggest suffering is an environmental virtue — in fact, the environmental virtue,” said Father Grant in the opening keynote address at last Saturday’s diocesan Institute for Catholic Social Ministry in Peoria.

About 100 people attended the Institute, held at the Spalding Pastoral Center. Many of the themes of Father Grant’s talk were echoed in an afternoon presentation on a proposed path to peace by Tom Cordaro. (See related story below.)

Father Grant — a theology professor at St. Ambrose University in Davenport who specializes in environmental ethics — outlined the “vast” scope of the crises threatening the earth, including global warming.

“If we’re going to save the planet, we have to start acting like doctors,” said Father Grant in his talk entitled “Back to the Garden.”

“We have a very sick patient,” he added, noting that 18 of the last 20 years were the warmest ever recorded.

His prescription of “redistributive suffering” — sacrificing our standard of living so that the impact of the environmental crises shifts away from the world’s poor and future generations — is rooted in faith and family.

Spouses and parents, he said, understand that suffering and sacrificing for the sake of one’s beloved reflects our deepest love can lead to our greatest joy.

Meanwhile, sacrificial love for others, best modeled by Jesus on the cross, is the “essence of our faith,” added Father Grant.

He acknowledged that some people balk when confronted with suffering as a solution, but said “we’ve really lost the battle if we can’t talk to a Christian about suffering.”

Father Grant, who was raised on a farm near Adair, Iowa, said that to help nature repair damage already done “our homes are going to have to be hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.” The lifestyle changes have to go beyond switching to newer, energy-saving light bulbs, for example.

“A lot is riding on the choices we make now,” said Father Grant, calling for Catholics to adopt simpler ways of living. He suggested, for example, that consumers shop primarily the “outside” aisles of grocery stores, meaning the produce sections, and avoid packaged, processed foods.

“If we don’t do something, our children’s children will curse us,” he said.
Father Grant, who is also the soccer coach at St. Ambrose, began his talk by tracing the “greening” of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the environment from scripture through the writings of the modern popes. He called Pope John Paul II “a remarkable environmental theologian,” and noted Pope Benedict is already being referred to as “the Green Pope” for his many calls to be good stewards of God’s creation.

Yet despite the greater emphasis given the cause by Catholic leaders, if the church’s social justice teaching is its “best-kept secret,” Catholic environmental teaching remains “the secret within the secret,” said Father Grant.

It can’t stay that way, he said.

Father Grant gave three succinct reasons why we need to protect the earth.

“We hurt it,” he said. “We need it. And it’s God’s.”

The institute is sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and is coordinated by Msgr. Doug Hennessy and Father Dick Bresnahan, co-moderators of social justice for the Diocese of Peoria.

Msgr. Hennessy called Father Grant’s presentation “profoundly challenging” and “profoundly faithful.”

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Use power of Gospel, cross to
forge paths to peace: speaker

While culture conditions us to believe violence is the only way to resolve conflict, Christians should be living and preaching a different narrative — the power of the Gospel and the cross as a way to transform the world.

“A different world is possible,” said Tom Cordaro, an author who has been involved in faith-based peace and justice work for more than three decades. Cordaro was the second featured speaker at the Oct. 9 Institute for Catholic Social Ministry that drew about 100 people to the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria.

“We live in a time of acute fear and anxiety,” said Cordaro, noting the economic crisis and the ongoing war on terror.

He challenged followers of Christ to lead a needed “spiritual revival” that will move people from fear of others to freedom by emphasizing contemplative prayer and the virtues of mindfulness, compassion, solidarity, and humility.

“What we need most is a breakout new way of seeing the world with new eyes and perspective,” said Cordaro, who is justice and outreach minister for St. Margaret Mary Parish in Naperville and author of the recently published book, “Be Not Afraid: An Alternative to the War on Terror.”

Instead of focusing on acquiring things, Cordaro said Christians should look to “empty oneself” — both materially and in prayer — “to see what is real and be fully present in each moment.”

In the freedom that God invites us to, we can see strangers and enemies as brothers and sisters.

But while Jesus preached to “turn the other cheek,” he “never acted as a doormat for anybody” as he announced the Kingdom of God to a violent world, said Cordaro.

“Jesus lived and died as an example of the power of redemptive suffering,” said Cordaro. “He forgave those who persecuted and killed him, but he did speak truth to power.”

With the Resurrection, God affirmed the power of redemptive suffering as a way of defeating sin and death in our lives. That vision has inspired leaders throughout history, said Cordaro, and is needed today.

Asked how the U.S. might better have responded to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Cordaro suggested President Bush should have immediately called together Muslim leaders and planned a joint response that emphasized “the values and principles that make us great and not those that make us feared.”

Another participant asked Cordaro if violence sometimes was the only solution.

Calling himself not a pacifist but “a non-violent practitioner,” Cordaro encouraged always seeking the least violent way of responding. Sometimes it takes creative thinking, but “each of us does have power to make choices and they have consequences.”

Cordaro said discovering the freedom of Gospel living can be a “lifelong process” and that “to get to the promised land we’ll have to discard a lot of baggage and treasure.”

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