Friday, March 1, 2013

Ecosuffering: Change the World

EcoSuffering "Change the world."
I have recently been invited to give two presentations. One is for Divine Mercy Sunday and the other for a Lenten retreat. Both themes are on suffering. As I reflect on suffering the word eco-suffering came to me. It is St. Paul's take on the suffering of Christ that inspires this. Paul wrote, "I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church" (Col. 1:24).  Ecology is the the study of that relationship of living things to their environments  It comes from the Greek word oikos meaning house, dwelling place, habitation. This is the same root word for a house-church gathering. Ecology is about not wasting the treasures we are given and using them to the best of our ability. 

Any ecological movement recognizes that one environmental change affects another environment  Ecosystems can be regenerative. Ecological systems theory is "an approach to study of human development that consists of the 'scientific study of the progressive, mutual accommodation, throughout the life course, between an active, growing human being, and the changing properties of the immediate settings in which the developing person lives, as this process is affected by the relations between these settings, and by the larger contexts in which the settings are embedded'" (Voydanoff citing Bronfenbrenner). An ecosystem is a community of living organisms, their physical environment, and all their interrelationships in a particular unit of space interacting and interdependent relationships.  


I believe with Paul that in our sufferings we build up the Body of Christ. Since we live and move and have our being in the Body of Christ, suffering may be borne for the sake of the Body in union with Christ.  This Pauline theology breeds a spirituality of hope that offers to integrate the whole of life by broadening the understanding human suffering. “Christ conquered death not only by reversing its evil effects,” Teilhard de Chardin (The Divine Milieu) reminds us, “but by reversing its sting.”  In the ecology of suffering we join in God's plan of redemption as co-redeemers through the grace of baptism. 

"To attain holiness, then, we must not only pattern our lives on Christ’s by being gentle, humble and patient, we must also imitate him in his death. Taking Christ for his model, Paul said that he wanted to become like him in his death in the hope that he too would be raised from death to life. We imitate Christ’s death by being buried with him in baptism" St. Basil the Great.

Nothing is lacking in the saving death of Our Lord, yet He desires that we take an active part in His divine mission in and by our daily living. If this entails suffering we are active in deciding what to do with this pain. In discernment we may find that joining a group or finding someone to talk to will help us work through emotional pain. It may be that we are called to make a change in our life when there is relational suffering. With physical pain we may discern the type of pain management we need. Sometimes we have no options as we work through grief and loss toward acceptance of suffering. All of this is part of our human ecology of suffering - of being an active participant in the creative redemption of our God who loves us. As we move through pain and suffering we change our environment. Prayer, forgiveness, and beginning once again recycles what we may have considered waste. Paul says what he once considered gain is now waste (Phil. 3:7) and the reverse is also true - what he once considered waste is now gain. This is one of those paradoxes such as the ones we find in the beatitudes: "Blessed are those who suffer.... (Mt. 5:10). In ecology what we may have considered waste is recycled or made into compost. If you Google these words you will find that some communities strive to have a zero waste environment.  We can have zero waste because of the grace of Jesus' life, death and resurrection.

Pedro Arrupe, Superior General of the Society of Jesus until his death in 1991, had solidarity with those who suffered because of his experience in Hiroshima. He was serving only four miles from the atomic bomb blast.  Fr. Arrupe believed the ministry to the suffering should not remain on the personal level but should also promote structural changes in the world.

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