Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Hubris of Hearts Swept Clean by Holy Spirit

It is so easy in this world to have hearts cluttered by superficial and transient things. Human hearts easily become like the ruins of ancient cities, covered over by centuries of debris, only to be discovered after much excavation.  Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord by clearing the hubris of heart that leads to so much confusion and discontent.  Advent is a time to let in the Light of Christ that the darkness may be scattered.

Today record high temperatures allowed me to wash windows.  That must have been a first in Wyoming, washing windows in the middle of December!  I love looking through a clean window.  No doubt, our Good Lord loves the same purity when gazing into our souls.The glimmering view lifts my spirit, much as a dirty window tends to diminish not only the view, but one’s outlook.

Let us seek the intercession of our Blessed Mother that we may grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit; those gifts that clear away the inordinate attachments to the things of this passing world.  Let us beg the Holy Spirit to grant us growth in virtue, and thus sweep our hearts clean at the approach of our Lord.

WE pray the Father most kind through You, His only-begotten Son, who for us became Man and were crucified and glorified, that He send us, out of the abundance of His wealth, the Spirit of sevenfold grace that rested upon You in all fullness: the gift of WISDOM, that we may taste in its life-giving flavor the fruit of the Tree of Life which You truly are; the gift of UNDERSTANDING, through which the vision of our mind is clarified; the gift of COUNSEL, that we may follow in Your footsteps and proceed along the paths of righteousness; the gift of FORTITUDE, that we may meet the violence of our enemies’ assaults; the gift of KNOWLEDGE, that we may be filled with the light of Your sacred teaching to distinguish good from evil; the gift of PIETY, that our hearts may be filled with kindness; the gift of FEAR, that we may draw away from all evil and be kept in peace by the awesome might of Your majesty.

For You have willed that we ask for these things in the holy prayer which You taught us: so now we beg them of You, in the name of Your cross, in praise of Your most holy name.  To You, and to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor and thanksgiving, all splendor and power, forever and ever!


(St. Bonaventure, The Tree of Life)


Generous Distributors of God’s Grace

GenerousDistributorsCoverphotoI am very happy to make available a Pastoral Letter on Marriage, Family and Vocations.  The Diocese of Cheyenne will give more specific attention to these important priorities beginning January 1, 2015.

This Pastoral Letter, entitled Generous Distributors of God’s Grace gives some practical suggestions of how we are all called to grow in our relationship with Christ.

All of us are invited to grow in holiness, in our awareness of the specific way in which God is calling us to share in the work of building up God’s Kingdom on this earth and in this Local Church.

Through this letter, I invite a greater respect and support for marriage and family.  There is a strong encouragement for prayer, and a particular instruction that we will pray together for an increase in vocations to the priesthood from and for the Diocese of Cheyenne.

A copy of the Pastoral Letter may be found and read here.  The Letter will soon be printed and after the first of the year will be mailed to the home of all registered parishioners of the Diocese of Cheyenne.  Extra copies will also be available at all parishes.

Together, may we have a heightened awareness of the manifold grace God shares with us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  May we also come to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the role of the Church in our life, and how each of us are members of the family of God, invited to be actively engaged in the life of the Church, according to the plan of God and the strength provided by God.


Pilgrimage of Faith Wearisome at Times, But Our God is Our Strength

Jesus said to the crowds: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

The call of God in every life is to love.  Those who truly love know that it comes not only with great reward, but with a cost as well.  It takes great energy to enter into the life of another person; to accompany them, to know and understand their person and their needs.

Through the Incarnation, Jesus took on our human condition.  He knows what it is like to enter into the life of another person.  He experience hunger, thirst, and weariness, even pain.  We can look at the Incarnation as a means by which Jesus took our yoke upon himself in order to show solidarity in the process of revealing the presence of God in our midst.  Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ invitation to us to take his yoke and learn from him.

During my walk yesterday, I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.  As I pray the rosary, I like to take just a few moments at the beginning of each decade to ponder the mystery for deeper understanding.  The first Sorrowful Mystery recalls the agony of Jesus in the Garden as he enters into his passion.

What did Jesus see and hear from the Father during that period of prayer?  Surely, Jesus experienced the Father ‘giving Himself’ in love.  Truly, what the Father was asking of the Son, namely to give himself for the salvation of the world, Jesus received from the Father, namely, the Father giving himself in love to Jesus.

My reflection came to mind as I read the first reading today.  This is what Jesus received from the Father:

Do you not know or have you not heard?  The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.  He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.  Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.  (Isaiah 40:25-31)

The Father not only sustained Jesus during his passion, but gave him the strength to bring to completion the Paschal Mystery.  In the same way, Jesus comes to be our strength, most especially when we are doing his work.  Jesus is the one who sustains us that we may complete the Father’s will in each of our lives.

So, when we grow weary in the day-to-day demands of striving to grow in holiness, of being faithful to our life as a husband or wife or priest or consecrated man or woman, we have our strength in Christ.  When you get frustrated as a single person longing to discover God’s plan for your life, find comfort in Christ.

Behold, the Lord comes to save his people; blessed are those prepared to meet him.  (Today’s Gospel antiphon)


Comfort My People

Basca Ordination Photos 062Today is a day of Thanksgiving as I celebrate the 5th anniversary of my ordination as a bishop.  The words come to mind of  Blessed Mother’s response to Elizabeth upon hearing the words: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  My own heart is so full of gratitude to God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  (Luke 1 43, 46-47)

Today’s readings could not have better captured the joy and responsibility it is to be a bishop.  The Gospel from Matthew (18:12-14) speaks of that Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep behind to go in search of the one who has strayed.  This is certainly the task of every good shepherd, to look for the lost and to restore them to the family of God.

As I reflected upon this role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I am first struck by the reality that I had to first be ‘found’ by him in order to know his presence in my own life as the Good Shepherd.  I am so grateful that the Lord chased me and hounded me in my younger life, in order to help me find my true way, which is to follow him.

Once I allowed myself to be found, I came to know Jesus also as my Friend, and to know myself as his friend.  I recently had the opportunity to return to my college seminary, St. John Vianney in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I longed to sit again in the chapel where I first began to ‘give in’ to the Lord’s love, and allow him to come to me in the Blessed Sacrament.  A part of my deep desire as bishop is to find ways to help people today come to know the close friendship of Jesus in their lives.

Basca Ordination Photos 113The Prophet Isaiah in today’s reading (Isaiah 40:1-11) is instructed to give comfort to God’s people.  These are the same words the Lord speaks to the shepherds today: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”  Preaching the Gospel is perhaps one of my greatest pleasures as a bishop.  Preaching and living God’s Word is one of the privileged means by which we bring comfort and consolation to God’s people today.  One of my greatest prayers is that more and more of our people will discover the truth of the Gospel and allow this Word of Life to give direction and purpose in their lives.

The final image of Christ that comes to mind today is that of Spouse.  As a bishop, Christ has invited me into a deep and intimate union of love with himself.  This love is lived and experienced in many ways, in preaching, celebrating the sacraments and carrying out the day to day demands of governance.  This spousal union with Christ is experienced in my day to day encounters with God’s People, particularly in the many ways I am asked to serve this local portion of God’s People.

Perhaps even more, Christ comes as Spouse in those private moments of prayer, not all that unlike the private moments of husbands and wives.  It is in those moments when Christ comes to console, strengthen and renew his love for me, and allow me to express my own love for him.  These are the moments that ‘underpin’ all the other aspects of my ministry.

So, to the People of the Diocese of Cheyenne, I say it is good to be with you, and a privilege to serve you as your bishop.  May each of us rediscover the joy of being ‘found’ by the Good Shepherd.  May each of us renew our commitment to follow and serve him for he truly is the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the World.

May Christ continue to capture our hearts and imaginations so that we may never leave him.  Rather, may our response to the Lord be the words of St. Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  (John 6:68)

God’s Immeasurable Love on Display in the Immaculate Conception

Immaculate ConceptionOn this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate the mystery and magnificence of God. With great love, God created all things, the culmination being the creation of man and woman in his own image. Imagine our dignity, being created in the image and likeness of God, for relationship with God, for sharing in the Divine Life Itself! This is the beauty and the dignity of the human person, our communion with God.

But when sin entered into God’s plan for creation, it diminished the human person and dimmed the brilliance of life because sin ruptures the life between the soul and God. But for God, nothing is impossible, even healing the division brought about by sin. And so it is that God who created all things allowed himself to be born of a woman, maintaining his nature as God while at the same time taking on our human nature.

Today we celebrate the love of God that chose Mary to be the Mother of God. In his goodness, God provided for Mary to be conceived without sin by applying to her the grace of the Paschal Mystery which would be accomplished by the death and resurrection of her own son, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because of this unique action of God and the deep faith of Mary that would cooperate fully with God’s providence, Mary is indeed ‘blessed among women.’

It is somewhat ironic, that on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, I will find myself sitting in the 10th Circuit Court in Denver listening to arguments in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor as their legal representatives make the case that they should be exempt from providing the contraceptive services required under the HHS Mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The decision in this case will have a strong impact on the case of the Diocese of Cheyenne which is also before the 10th Circuit Court.

Today’s Solemnity is an invitation for all of us to recall the reality of sin at work in our world, and more specifically, in each of our lives. It is more importantly an invitation to reflect upon the incredible mercy of our God who humbly entered into our human condition in order to save us from our sin. Our Blessed Mother reveals the beauty of a life lived in complete obedience to God’s Word. This woman, fully human, by her cooperation with God’s grace, conceived the Savior in her womb, and lived her life as his first disciple.

Christ, as the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived his human life in this world uncorrupted by the ways of this world. Though never touched by any sin, during his passion his body was disfigured by the sin of the world, which he freely took upon himself in order to conquer sin and death.

This life and grace of Christ is now shared with us through baptism and the sacraments of the Church. The Divine life God intends to share with us is once again possible through the Immaculate Conception. The love and cooperation of Mary gave the world the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus through his life, ministry and preaching reveals God to the world once again. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, sin and death are conquered and the gates to eternal life are opened anew.

We are now called to cooperate with this grace and Divine life Jesus restored and renewed. Advent is a time of preparation and hope. As John the Baptist demonstrates, preparation precedes the coming of the Lord; repentance precedes salvation. On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, let us be mindful of our need for a Savior. Let a part of our giving thanks for the immeasurable love shown us by God be availing ourselves once again to the font of mercy that flows through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Giving Thanks is Good for the Soul


Today, our nation pauses to give thanks.  I’ll be taking time today to help serve meals to the homeless and homebound.  As we gather with family and friends today, let’s not forget those who are struggling in these days.

Early this morning, I began my ‘litany of thanks’ beginning with gratitude to God and my dependence upon him!  I give thanks for my faith, that allows me to believe in God and be grateful for his many blessings; the beauty of creation and everything within it.  I was even able to give thanks for the wind (that is a rare occasion!) as I walked this morning.

I give thanks for the Incarnation, for the gift of God’s Son and his gift of the Holy Spirit.  I am grateful for the Church and the People of God who make up the Body of Christ.  I am even grateful for God’s call to lead his people as a bishop.  I am grateful for this nation and the freedoms we share.

I am grateful for family and friends.  I give thanks even for the challenges of life that help me realize how dependent I am upon God’s grace, mercy, love, and providence.  I am grateful for those who work with me in service to the Diocese of Cheyenne.  I am grateful for our priests, deacons, religious and seminarians and all who strive to grow God’s Kingdom and make this world a better place.

On this day when there we will be celebrations around banquets of plenty, I am grateful for the food placed before us, the many elements of creation required to grow our food, from sun to soil, the body that appreciates the taste and the sustenance it provides, the many people who labored to plant, cultivate, harvest, ship, process and prepare our meals. 

Let us give thanks to the Lord for his many blessings, this day and always:

Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it,
    you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
    you provide the people with grain,
    for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
    settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
    and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty;
    your paths overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
    the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
    the valleys deck themselves with grain,
    they shout and sing together for joy.  (Psalm 65)

With gratitude for all of you, and praying that you have the grace to recognize God’s manifold grace at work in your life, Happy Thanksgiving!




The Truth Of The Nobility And Beauty Of Marriage

In January, the Diocese of Cheyenne will begin focusing on a new set of priorities in our strategic plan. Marriage and Family are among those new priorities. I hope to do a series of articles on marriage and family over the next several months, beginning with this one.

The topics of marriage and family have received much attention in recent months at the Extraordinary Synod in Rome, in a recent ruling here in Wyoming and the Federal Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, and elsewhere. I wish to review our Catholic perspective on marriage. It seems quite clear that much confusion exists concerning this foundational institution of society. We Catholics simply seek to know the truth, rooted always in Jesus Christ. We need to raise up this truth as it is reflected in marriage and Holy Matrimony.

When we Catholics consider marriage, the two realities of nature and sacrament confront our quest for understanding; our belief in a Creator brings clarity to our reflection. We believe that God created everything from nothing. (Colossians 1:12-20) Everything in nature, then, has its origin and fullness in God; and each created thing has a natural tendency towards God, particularly fitted and proper to it.

Marriage includes reference to God, precisely because God created the institution and endowed it with its significance. In this act of creation and bestowal, He willed specifically to bring man and woman together, establishing the nature of marriage and fitting it to the nature of man and woman. Marriage is, for this reason, always more than the mere will of two people (as in a contractual relationship), even though the free will of two people to enter into marriage is also necessary. For this reason, when asked about divorce, Jesus drew attention to the origins of marriage:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  (Matt. 19:4-6)

Pope Francis has also fittingly emphasized that “[t]wo Christians who marry…have recognized the call of the LORD in their own love story.” (Pope Francis 10.4.13)

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus teaches, not only that God has ordered and established marriage as a union of man and woman, but also that the union is indissoluble. Even prior, then, to any consideration of the sacramental character of Holy Matrimony, the close association of nature and grace and the intimate presence of the divine to the human, in God’s establishment of marriage, is manifest.

The one flesh union of the husband and wife aids the couple to express their love for each other. Their love is unique because it is the generative and natural force that brings new life into existence. Precisely in its unity and generativity, the conjugal love of man and woman mirrors the inner love of the Trinity, generative of all creation; so, it is a pathway for both persons to the apprehension of God’s living presence. The love of man and woman, in a very special way, then, “ends towards God. It is, in its very character, a participation in the love of God that generates new life.

An understanding of the sacramental nature of marriage begins with a discussion of Baptism. Every member of the Church is a member of the Body of Christ.  In Baptism, we are joined in a very real and permanent way to the person of Jesus.  Our natural life, upon our receiving Baptism, is oriented to its fullness in the person of Jesus.  To use other language, we have become one flesh with Christ; but the union is even more intimate than the conjugal relationship of man and wife.

Once our bodies are joined to Jesus, we become increasingly oriented to Christ, to His Gospel and His Truth.  Our relationship with Christ frees us from sin and helps us to find our proper freedom in all that we do.  Christ is intimately a part of us and we an intimate part of Him, through Baptism.

All that we do in the flesh, upon Baptism, involves our one flesh union with Christ; recollection of this reality consciously informs us in our behaviors, our thinking and our values.  We no longer engage in actions which seem unworthy of Christ because they do not recall us to Him; we no longer indulge ourselves or define things and relations in our own way, apart from His teaching.  What we see Jesus do and teach, we seek to imitate. (See 1 John 2: 3-6.)

Sacramental marriage is the union of two people whose one flesh union is open to life. Both spouses live their lives as a total gift to the other and to the children generated from their love. Their love is a bond knitting the family together. They learn ever more to imitate the self-sacrificial love of Christ as their proper model; so they help each other to grow in holiness and obtain, with Christ, their eternal life in heaven. The marital love of husband and wife, faithful and true for life, provides a stable foundation for their children and for all of society.

For a husband and wife, their one flesh union is a participation in the Body of Christ, recalling the unity of Christ with His people. On this very point, I quote Jose Granados, vice-president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Lateran University in Rome:

The one flesh of the spouses becomes sacramental because they belong to the Body of Christ, to his flesh (cf. Eph. 5:30). The marriage of baptized persons, their act of making themselves one flesh, is transformed by the fact that they are members of Christ. Configured to the Body of Christ in their flesh by baptism, they can be united in one flesh only if they unite according to Christ’s standard. This is how they will be rendered capable of a new love, the love that unites Christ and the Church; this is how they will be able to obey Paul’s exhortation to love one another according to the standard of Jesus and his Bride. (The Sacramental Character of Faith…)

He adds:

If the Church is structured as one flesh, if being one flesh (the Bride of Christ) contains her fundamental definition, then marriage possesses a singular gift with which to build up the Church. (The Sacramental Character of Faith…)

The above remarks capture the reason that we must all properly understand both the nature of marriage and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. What God intends through this beautiful institution of human love is fundamental to the common good of society; and it is critical for the building up of the Body of Christ, the Church.

Properly understanding marriage and the sacrament of Holy Matrimony matters because we must respect that we are created in God’s image and likeness and that the way we live in the body either honors this belief, ignores it, or disrespects it all together.  It matters also because we believe in eternal life and salvation and the critical character of our free will response to God’s will and the laws that He has written on every human heart in relation to them.  Our response matters, not only because of eternity, but also because the degree of our adherence to God’s truth directly impacts our ability to live meaningful lives now.

The truths discussed here are important because marriage is neither a matter of equality nor of human rights.  It is a gift given and created by God, specifically designed to encompass the loving and life-giving relationship between a man and a woman.  This self-giving human relationship of life-generating love is intended by God to mirror the inner life of the Trinity and the life humbly given by Christ for His Bride, the Church.  Granted, marriage is not the only means of participating in the divine life of God; but we need to be clear about the nature of marriage and do more to support and strengthen the life of married couples and families.

To the many men and women who are faithfully living the demands and joys of married life and love, we owe our profound respect and support. We want to reaffirm the nobility, the truth and the beauty of marriage. Realizing that others suffer from the failures of marriage and broken families, we pledge our understanding and accompanying presence. Together, we are all called to seek the truth and to live the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Together, let us seek Christ and the fullness of life and love that are to be found in Him and lived and loved as members of the Church.

Back On The Holy Hill

Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church.

Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church.

Today marks the completion of two weeks on the road. I’m at St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary in Southern Indiana this morning.

I’m looking forward to visiting with our three seminarians studying here as well as with the faculty, and celebrating the community Mass today.  I remember as a seminarian looking forward to visits by my Archbishop, and now, I enjoy the opportunity to get to know my seminarians and hear how they are growing in discernment and formation.

sems 002

Deacon Augustine Carrillo, Clark Lenz, and Deacon Hiep Nguyen with Bishop Etienne

The first week of November I was in St. Paul for meetings with Catholic Rural Life.  We held a board meeting on Monday and Tuesday and then welcomed 70 agriculture and faith leaders from around the country for a three day symposium on faith, food, and agriculture. Catholic Rural Life is collaborating with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to draft a document on the Vocation of the Agriculture Leader.  This will be a companion piece for the previously written document, The Vocation of the Business Leader.

A part of the work leading up to the writing of the document is to hold two symposiums, the one held last week in St. Paul, and an international one the end of June in Milan, Italy.  We are posing questions on the topics of faith, food and the environment and listening to theologians, farmers and many others involved in various spectrums of the agriculture world and business.

There are many issues around hunger and food, farming, food production and distribution, labor, environment and care for the earth and all of our natural resources.  Our efforts seek to better understand all of these complex issues, while at the same time introducing principles based upon gospel-based values and ethics to help leaders develop sound answers that will respect the dignity of the human person and the limited resources of creation.  As Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us in his encyclical Charity in Truth, Blessed Pope Paul VI “proposed Christian charity as the principal force at the service of development.”  (Charity in Truth, #13)

From St. Paul I made my way to Baltimore for the November plenary meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  I was very encouraged during our meetings this week by the leadership of our President, Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville.  I had a chance to speak with him at the airport in Baltimore yesterday evening, and thanked him for his generous and gracious leadership.

I am also pleased to see more time spent during our gatherings for bishops to gather in smaller groups for more in depth discussions on specific questions.  I was particularly pleased that one of the questions invited the bishops to reflect upon the direction and teaching of Pope Francis in light of our own future priorities as a Conference.  I’m hopeful that this will help us be more responsive to the needs, hopes and desires of the Catholic population, and enable our work to be more capable of making a difference in the day-to-day life of the faithful.

The past two weeks have been very full, and I pray God bless the work of the labor of many people who seek to serve Him for the good of the Church and the common good of society as a whole.  More and more I am convinced that the Gospel is essential for building up the fraternal wellbeing of all of God’s people in society.  Please God, may we find our way to presenting the truths of the Gospel in a manner that can improve the lives of all of God’s people.


Feast of Lateran Basilica Calls To Mind Our Membership In The Body of Christ

Today the Church celebrates the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, St. John Lateran, which also serves as the Pope’s Basilica as the Bishop of Rome. In many ways, the image of a ‘church’ structure, symbolizes the many different aspects and elements of the church architecture which come together to form a beautiful place of worship.

We hear in the readings today that Christ is the foundation of this structure, and each of us are a temple of God.  (1 Corinthians 3)  The Spirit of God dwells within each of us and dwells within the Church.  From the Church flows a life-giving water that sustains the life of every creature and plant, and refreshes the waters of the sea.  (Ezekiel 47)

It is good for everyone of us to think through this imagery of being ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:4-6) in the edifice of the Church.  Our membership in the Church is in and through Jesus Christ, in whom we are bound together in our many varied gifts into the one community of faith.  Thus, for our unity, we are to regularly cultivate our friendship with Christ; our LIFE in Christ.

Another way to look at our membership in the Church  is through another beautiful title of the Church.  We (every member of the Church) are the Body of Christ.  In Baptism, we are joined in a very real and permanent way to the person of Jesus.  This means that our natural life is now oriented to its fullness in the person of Jesus.  To use other language, we have become ‘one flesh’ with Christ.

Once our bodies, our life, is joined to Jesus, we now are continually being more and more oriented to Christ; to His Gospel and Truth.  Our relationship with Christ is what frees us from sin, and helps us find our proper ‘freedom’ in all that we do.  Christ is now intimately a part of us, and through baptism, Christ has made us an intimate part of Himself.

All that we do ‘in the flesh’ now involves our ‘one flesh’ union with Christ, and this knowledge and reality is what consciously informs us in our behaviors, our thinking, our values.  What we cannot imagine Christ partaking in, we no longer indulge in.  What we see Jesus doing, we now participate in.  This is the life-giving water that flows from the Church and renews all things; the life of Christ in us and the life of the Holy Spirit that animates our very existence.

All that God created finds its renewal and redemption in the person of Christ.  Through the Church and her sacraments, Christ brings us into his Body.  In Christ, we are made whole; we are made one.  Let us live our life in Christ in unity, peace and joy.


Cardinal Turkson’s Talk: Agriculture As Vocation

Last night, on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Cardinal Turkson’s representative delivered his presentation on Faith And The Call For A Human Ecology.  The presentation was a keynote address that is a part of our days together with agricultural leaders for a symposium on Faith, Food, and Environment.  It is quite inspiring, and worthy of reflection.  This talk will help Catholic Rural Life in our efforts to develop a document on the Vocation of the Agricultural Leader.


Symposium on Faith, Food and Environment

St. Paul, Minnesota

5 November 2014


Faith and the Call for a Human Ecology: The Vocation of the Agricultural Leader


On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and of its President Cardinal Peter Turkson[1], I thank you for the very kind invitation to the Council to participate in the Symposium on Faith, Food, and the Environment here at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul.[2] Thank you for the warm welcome

I. Introductory Remarks

Cardinal Turkson is very grateful for your invitation. If he were not required by the Vatican to help devise a response to the Ebola crisis, he would be here today where he has found exceptional collaborators at the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought. He would make special mention of the leadership of Professor Michael Naughton who has led the development of our very successful booklet on the “Vocation of the Business Leader”. This symposium is very much an outgrowth and applications of the insights in that work.

Two other touchstones are worth mentioning. In 2011, our Council issued a small booklet entitled Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority. In the midst of the major economic and financial system problems that continue to reverberate, this was an attempt to bring human dignity and the common good to the attention of world leaders who were reacting to the crisis. The production and distribution of agricultural goods and the behaviour of financial markets in relation to foodstuffs are very much part of this crisis, and perhaps this symposium will have good thoughts to add in their regard.

Just last week, Cardinal Turkson hosted a major three-day meeting of some 150 of the world’s marginalized people, representatives of grassroots movements concerned with housing, land and work. These include peasants who lose their land and livelihood to agribusiness, and agricultural workers trapped in poverty. On Tuesday morning (28 Oct), Pope Francis participated for several hours in joyful and lively encounter with them in the Old Synod Hall. First he met selected representatives, then he delivered an inspiring speech that has been described as a ‘mini-social encyclical’.[3] Several chosen spokespeople shared, including a man who had dedicated years to building up a cooperative, but then one of his colleagues “sold out to the usual interests who’re always in charge”.

Your topic is very much on the mind of the Pope; as has been announced, he plans to issue an encyclical early next year on creation, ecology and the environment. In fact, he assured his listeners last week, “Your concerns will be present in it.”

In my remarks, I wish to expound on the idea of vocation, then on agriculture as vocation. Following this, I will give you a glimpse of the origins and main ideas of the book on Vocation of the Business Leader and suggest some questions that link it to your subject. I will end with some reflections on the phrase “human ecology.”

II. Why “Vocation”?

Vocation connotes more than work, more than interest and aspiration. It means “calling”, and the Bible has God frequently calling individuals directly or through dreams, angelic messengers or other intermediaries. For instance, David had a job as a shepherd; God called him to do something else. Jonah ignored God’s call because he had no interest in lecturing the people of Nineveh so God sent a whale to deliver him. And when Jesus called Simon/Peter and Andrew, telling them “I will make you fishers of men”, they followed Jesus but they continued to be fishermen too; what distinguished their new calling or vocation was its larger perspective.

For our purposes in this symposium, “vocation” means a calling which comes from God our Creator. Creation and everything created is purposely willed by God. It follows that the meaning of everything that exists is determined with reference to God. Accordingly, the sense and value of human activity are not fully discovered without reference to the God of creation. All human activity that affects man, his existence and his world, must be related to God and be seen as a contribution to and a continuation of God’s work of creation by man, who is created in the image and likeness of God.

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) explains vocation as the calling to be completely authentic as individual persons and as social beings, based on our status as made in God’s image and relating to God (Gen 1:26-7). Vocation is the acknowledgement of and engagement in the essence of our nature as humans. Here are a few relevant passages:

Compendium § 19: the vocation of every person is to collaborate in “God’s plan of love in history”;

Compendium § 34: “The revelation in Christ of the mystery of God as Trinitarian love is at the same time the revelation of the vocation of the human person to love. This revelation sheds light on every aspect of the personal dignity and freedom of men and women, and on the depths of their social nature.”

Compendium § 36: “only in relationship with God can men and women discover and fulfil the authentic and complete meaning of their personal and social lives.”

Compendium § 101 (citing Laborem Exercens) says that “work has all the dignity of being a context in which the person’s natural and supernatural vocation must find fulfilment”

Pope Francis focuses on vocation in his Apostolic Exhortation. Besides speaking of religious life, Evangelii Gaudium says that “…the essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel…” (201). Then he singles out the worlds of politics (205) and business (203). As he wrote subsequently to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

“Business is – in fact – a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life” (Ev. Gaudium, 203). Such men and women are able to serve more effectively the common good and to make the goods of this world more accessible to all.[4]

Business belongs to such human activity; and entrepreneurs should see themselves as called by God to exercise their necessary and important skills and activities in order to assist in continuing God’s work of creation. Properly understood, business leadership is indeed a calling, a vocation, a very noble role. The Church takes great joy in supporting and helping business people to respond appropriately to your vocation and to find the place of your activities in God’s design for man and his world.

III. A Vocation to Agriculture?

Agriculture is a constant backdrop in the Bible. The language of Jesus is full of illustrations from agriculture: tending flocks, planting, harvesting, managing agriculture with granaries and with payments to workers. Jesus assumes that his listeners understand and respect healthy agriculture; this allows him to make comparisons to agriculture in his parables. For instance, in the parable of the good seed, how seed reacts to different types of ground helps him to teach what happens when people react in different ways to the word of God (Mk 4).

This enriches our thinking as we turn to agriculture as a vocation. From the very beginning, the Creator asks us to “till” the earth and to “keep it” (Gn 2:15). It is part of our assignment as human beings. It cannot be ‘just a job’ if we treat it as part of “God’s plan of love in history” (CST 19).

Putting this sense of vocation positively (based on Compendium §§ 19 and 36), allow me to suggest that:

Agriculture is a vocation when we carry it out within God’s plan of love in history, and when it is the occasion for us to discover and fulfil the authentic and complete meaning of our personal and social lives.

How can we elaborate on this grand vision of agriculture as vocation?

I will try to do so with Vocation of a Business Leader as a model.

III. Origins and Use of Vocation of a Business Leader

How did it happen, two and a half years ago, that the Church issued a handbook on the Vocation of a Business Leader? The stimulus was the encyclical Caritas in Veritate of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace collaborated in two very interesting conferences exploring the implications of Caritas in Veritate in the realm of business. These took place in Los Angeles in late 2010 and in Rome in early 2011. The outcome was a decision to write a handbook or vademecum for business men and women that translates specific principles of Catholic Social Teaching into practical ethical guidelines for making business decisions. The work was begun by an international group of some fifteen business people, managers, researchers and educators. The coordinator was Prof. Michael Naughton (University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota), and the working-group included the then President of the International Christian Union of Business Executives (UNIAPAC), M. Pierre Lecocq. I wish to thank them heartily, and many others who have worked on the document and its different language versions, published in collaboration with various partner organizations. The handbook appeared in its first editions, French and English, in early 2012.

The handbook is being used in a growing list of languages (now 15 completed and at least 2 underway).[5] It is being used in university courses, in discussion groups of business people, to stimulate research, in an ongoing blog,[6] and more.

IV. Vocation of a Business Leader: Outline and Key Ideas


The “logic of gift” is the keystone of voation of the business leader (VBL). It is articulated in Caritas in Veritate, where Benedict XVI observed that:

Every Christian is called to practise charity in truth in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the public sphere.[7]

The principle of generosity / gratuitousness and the logic of gift must find their place within normal economic activity and commercial relationships.[8]

Our very lives and the entire world we inhabit are gifts freely given by God – and this gift should inform how we act in our business endeavours. It humanizes and civilizes business, where businesspeople see themselves as stewards rather than owners, their wealth as common rather than just private goods, and their employees as persons rather than only as instruments of production.

The Vocation handbook points to these eternal implications at the very beginning: “In the Gospel, Jesus tells us: ‘From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked’ (Lk 12:48). Businesspeople have been given great resources and the Lord asks them to do great things. This is their vocation.”


This gifted character of business carries social implications. Business leaders have significant means to undertake something, and with this comes a corresponding responsibility. The Vocation text sees business not in terms of a legal minimalism – “don’t cheat, lie or deceive” – but rather as a vocation that makes “an irreplaceable contribution to the material and even the spiritual well-being of humankind.” It is about a meaningful life that opens the businessperson to God’s will, and not simply their own will, in the day-to-day decisions of ordinary life, which gives us the capacity to share goods in common and build community.

This vision of business is grounded in CST. At its centre is the fundamental dignity of all human beings because we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). This expresses God’s infinite love for us. Faith denies that a loving God would wish untruth, bondage, injustice and strife for us. Rather, based on divine love and human dignity, our faith compels us to embrace four fundamental values: truth, freedom, justice and peace. Because they are grounded in our divinely and lovingly created human nature, we have an absolutely firm response when such values are challenged or denied.

Catholic Social Doctrine enunciates many other principles, some of which are especially pertinent to the world of business. Service to the common good comes before serving narrower interests. The goods or resources of the world have a universal destiny; creation is a gift to the whole of humanity, not just a part. We are called to act in solidarity with those who lack access to these goods – with the large portion of humanity who suffer in the midst of plenty.

This vision of business is not without significant tensions and is not easy to execute in today’s world. Business leaders experience great pressures; excessive competition, the demands for efficiency and profitability. Many external obstacles can also affect a business leader’s decisions, such as the absence of the rule of law or regulations, corruption, tendencies towards greed, or poor stewardship of resources. Chief among the obstacles at a personal level is a divided life which is one of the more serious errors of our age. The split between religious faith and day-to-day business practice can lead to imbalances and misplaced devotion to economic success.


These challenges demand more just and human structures, regulations, policies and practices; and they demand virtues from business leaders – those habits of work that make business people and the world better. For the business leader, one of the most important virtues is practical wisdom – how to be wise in practical affairs. Our handbook is structured on a framework that shows how a prudential leader can encounter the world of business by seeing the situation clearly, judging with principles that foster the integral development of people, and acting in a way which implements these principles in light of one’s unique circumstances. I will explain these three stages one by one, though it is clear that seeing, judging, and acting are deeply interconnected

When we attempt to see the world of business thoughtfully, thoroughly and fairly, we notice both good and evil factors at work. The handbook mentions four major “signs of the times” in particular, four significant factors facing leaders today.

Globalisation has brought efficiency, mobility and extraordinary new opportunities to businesses, but the drawbacks include greater inequality, economic dislocation, cultural steam-rolling, and the inability of governments to properly regulate capital flows.

Communications technology has enabled connectivity, new solutions and products, and lower costs, but its amazing velocity also brings information overload and rushed decision-making.

The rise of the financial sector has created ways to leverage capital to make it more productive, yet it has also intensified tendencies to commoditise all business relationships and reduce them to one value – price – whether that is the monetary value of the firm, the price of a product, or the cost of labour; all of which emphasise wealth maximisation and short-term gains at the expense of working for the common good.

Cultural changes in our era have led to increased individualism, more family breakdowns, and utilitarian preoccupations with oneself and “what is good for me”. As a result we might have more private goods but are lacking significantly in common goods. Business leaders increasingly focus on maximising wealth, employees develop attitudes of entitlement, and consumers demand instant gratification at the lowest possible price. As values have become relative and rights more important than duties, the goal of serving the common good is often lost.

Next, the handbook organizes insights into the judging required in business in three perspectives: good goods, good work, and good wealth.

The first objective is to produce Good Goods. Businesses attend to the needs of the world by producing goods that are truly good and services that truly serve. They make solidarity with the poor a facet of their service to the common good by being alert for opportunities to serve otherwise deprived and underserved populations and people in significant need.

Second, businesses should provide Good Work. By organizing good and productive work, businesses make a contribution to the community by fostering the special dignity of human work. Businesses are communities, not mere commodities! Further, they contribute to the full human development of employees by applying the principle of subsidiarity; that is, by providing them with opportunities to exercise appropriate authority as they contribute to the mission of the organisation. They also allow workers to influence the overall direction of the business and accept their right to participate in intermediary bodies such as unions.

The third objective is Good Wealth. By being good stewards of the resources given to them, businesses create sustainable wealth through efficient and product processes producing healthy profits. But creating wealth in a business is insufficient without the wider context of stewardship for the natural and cultural environment, and just distribution to all stakeholders who have made the wealth possible: employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and the larger community.

Turning to the third step, acting, the handbook urges business leaders to put aspiration into practice, word into deed, by following their vocation and letting themselves be motivated by much more than financial success or formed only by the “logic of the market.” What this kind of action calls for is that business leaders receive and accept what God has done for them and to have this gifted life inform and order the way they give and enter into communion with others in business. When businesspeople integrate prayer, the Sabbath, the scriptures, the gifts of the spiritual life, the virtues and ethical social principles into their life and work, they can overcome the “divided life” and receive the grace to foster the integral development of all business stakeholders. It is precisely this life of faith that can strengthen and embolden business leaders to respond to the world’s challenges not with fear or cynicism, but with the virtues of faith, hope, and love.

As very practical, well-aimed aids to action, the handbook offers two checklists. The first is a set of “Six Practical Principles for Business” that summarise the discussion of good goods, good work and good wealth. The second is “A Discernment Checklist for the business Leader” – nearly three dozen questions to help business leaders to deeply examine their own lives and the behaviour of their organizations in light of the Catholic social principles here presented. These three questions summarize the latter checklist:

As a Christian business leader, am I promoting human dignity and the common good in my sphere of influence ?

Am I supporting the culture of life; justice; international regulations; transparency; civic, environmental, and labour standards; and the fight against corruption?

Am I promoting the integral development of the person in my workplace?

V. Application to Agriculture

Of course, your interests are not business in general but the business of agriculture. Seeing how the Vocation book explores business leadership in general, I believe you will be able to apply it to the particular world of food production and marketing.

What are the unique features of the vocation of a leader in agriculture? I cannot give you answers, but I suggest that you look to the Vocation book for help in asking the right questions.

Thinking about the logic of gift, it is abundantly clear that agricultural leaders exercise influence over immense resources – the very land that feeds us and houses us, the water, the nutritional value of the soil. Is it legitimate to worry that humanity may now have tilled too much and kept too little? Can GMOs and chemical fertilizers make their contribution without inhibiting the preservation and continued spontaneous growth of God’s creation, the original gift to all?

How do agricultural leaders react to the central tenets of CST? For instance, is common good subordinated to ‘ability to pay’? Does subsidiarity influence the willingness of powerful corporations to allow and even assist other farming structures – family farming in some regions, subsistence farming in others – to flourish alongside agribusiness?

When it comes to seeing, we can ask about the influence of globalization and financialization on agricultural planning – do those plans reflect the goal of adequate nutrition everywhere, or do financial considerations push thoughts of food aside? One of the difficult cases is the reduction of capacity for local food production so as to grow ethanol-producing crops for distant customers – a clear case of the impact of living in a global economy.

When agricultural leaders judge about “good goods”, do they think about ‘what sells’ or do they focus on truly feeding a hungry world while stewarding the environment in a responsible and prudent manner? Do the production and distribution decisions address the rampant problems of malnutrition? And are long-term risks such as the growth of resistance to herbicides and pesticides included in how they assess technological innovations?

In the same way, thinking about “good work”, are migrant workers treated with human dignity and with fairness? Do policies and subsidies favour some forms of agricultural business over others without a compelling rationale in terms of human and environmental benefit?

The heading of “good wealth” is especially pertinent. Do agricultural leaders see themselves as stewards of the earth? Do global markets accept the food sovereignty of every country and region? Is wealth generated by agricultural business distributed and used to preserve nature and provide food for future generations?

Finally, I have one suggestion with regard to the acting of agricultural leaders. Before you sign off on an order, ask “Is this what is best for humanity and for the environment?” And realize that “best” is not a synonym of “most”. The most fertilizer may not be what is best. The most profit may not be what is best, any more than eating the most is best for one’s health! We must always try to do what is optimal. This may be neither ‘the minimum’ nor ‘the maximum’; for instance, ‘maximum yield’ in crops and in investments is a worthy objective only if it is an optimal strategy for human and environmental outcomes.

VI. Faith and the Call for a Human Ecology

So far I have not mentioned “human ecology”. Let me close with some thoughts on this phrase.

Our human bond with the earth is absolutely foundational. The second Genesis account, “Adam” comes from adamah or ground, earth. So too, “human” is grounded in humus, soil. Humanity was not created ex nihilo but ex adamah and humus. Without earth, there is no human being.

Moreover, our human story begins in a garden, not the wilds. And it involves more than the inexorable laws of nature. Humanity is the factor that opens the earth up to new possibilities and realizations. Are they new harmonies or new imbalances? The outcome depends on our actions.

When we care for the earth or misuse it, we care for ourselves or abuse ourselves. Because we are earth, and we sent forth as gardeners: our nature is to consciously work the soil, work on and within the ground from which God made us.

So there is a duality in the idea of “human ecology”. On the one hand, we know ourselves as God’s stewards of the earth. When we exercise stewardship or caring in the style of God, when we act in the name of God the Creator and in his image, we must adopt his style of love and communion. Let us seek beauty and harmony in carrying out this role. We cannot divorce ourselves from our instruments, so wonderfully fashioned by science and commerce. If machines and chemicals and investment strategies are hurting nature, we cannot wash our hands – it is we who introduced them into the garden.

Simultaneously, protecting creation means protecting something of which every human is a part. We are all creatures, we are nature, and we share the destiny of created nature. When we care for the environment, we care for life in general and thus for human life. And when our interventions in nature lead to changes in nature, these changes do not occur in some inert matter distant from us. We are changing ourselves too. The authentic wholeness, the integral self of every woman and man, is bound up in whatever we do in our natural environment.

So here’s the connection with human ecology. The way men and women treat the environment reflects how we think about and treat ourselves – and vice versa. Respect for human ecology lays down the limits and perspectives of development. The environment cannot be considered more important than humanity nor as just a warehouse of raw materials. Not to recognize and not to respect our full, integral reality is to poison the human environment at the same time as we poison the air and the water too.

Our faith calls us to this understanding of ourselves and our place in nature. For too long, we have allowed the colossal power of science, engineering and commerce to separate us from nature and treat it instrumentally. Thank you for listening to the call of faith. With prayer, with loving concern for all humanity and with the best that science and commerce have to offer, let us roll up our sleeves and return to the garden.

[1] Due to the Ebola crisis, Cardinal Turkson felt obliged to cancel his trip to the U.S.A. in favor of meetings at the Vatican to assess the situation and develop a strategic action plan to guide the Holy See’s response. Speaking in his place was Dr. Michael Czerny S.J.

[2] Hosted by the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, Catholic Rural Life, Farmers Union, John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota Catholic Conference, and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.


[4] Pope Francis, Message to the World Economic Forum, Davos-Klosters, 17 January 2014.

[5] As of November 2014: Arabic, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish, Ukrainian (and next year Chinese and Thai)

[6] William Bowman, Catholic CEO: How Church teachings can help us build better organizations,

[7] Cf. Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, § 7.

[8] Cf. Caritas in Veritate, § 36.

December 2014
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