Looking Into Laudato Si Part 1: Charity Begins at Home

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One of my friends from college asked me this question recently in regards to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Laudato Si.

No liberal, democrat millennial is going to read the encyclical so why in the world did he highlight the saving the environment (even though Catholics take care of it most) and not something else? There are so many lax Catholics and young Catholics who are missing something: The teachings of the Catholic Church. Why couldn’t he highlight that? Why aren’t things like that coming out from reading the encyclical instead of the environment?”

I’ll be honest when I say that I don’t have an answer for that right now. Pope Francis has never been one to go with expectations. And I’m not even halfway through finishing this encyclical!

From what I read so far, I’ve gotten two things. First of all, it reminds me of something my mother always said: “Charity begins at home.” Even though we were created for Heaven, the Earth is our home. A temporary home, yes, but still our home. So if we’re gonna start changing ourselves, we have to start by taking care of our home first.

I also felt major Josemaria Escriva vibes from this encyclical. Yes, Pope Francis is channeling major Franciscan spirituality, but there’s also the challenging tone that only St. Josemaria Escriva can bring to the table. The encyclical is direct and challenging, forcing us outside of our comfort zones, forcing us to think outside of ourselves. It could also be the Jesuit spirituality as well, given that St. Ignatius has a military background.

Tom McDonald of God and the Machine has been live-tweeting the encyclical, which has inspired me to do something similar here. I’ll be going through a chapter of the encyclical (or as much as I can, depending on how long the chapters are). Today, I will start with the introduction.

The encyclical opens with where the title of the encyclical came from: St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun. He refers Earth as a sister, which makes sense because ontologically, we are related to the Earth by the fact that both the Earth and us are created by us. He also reminds us that we are created from the Earth and we depend on her to sustain ourselves.

Paragraphs 3-6 cite his predecessors’ viewpoints on the importance of taking care of the Earth. He starts with Pope Saint John XXIII and ends with Benedict, showing that this issue isn’t just a hot-button trend, but something that previous popes have brought up before.  The ones that stand out the most to me are, of course, the paragraphs where he refers to St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Standout quotes from Paragraph 5:

The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life itself is a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” “Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and ‘take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection to an ordered system.’

Being pro-environment is being pro-life.

Standout quote from Paragraph 6:

Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment  has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.

Have I ever mentioned how I hate existentialism?

Paragraphs 7-9 emphasize the universality of this issue by citing Patriarch Bartholomew’s views on the issue. The Patriarch’s opinions support Francis’s views on the connection between the fallen state of humanity and the fallen state of the world as a whole.

Paragraphs 10-12 brings up Pope Francis’s namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, and how exactly the saint inspired this encyclical. His love for nature isn’t “naive romanticism” or flower child delusions, but comes out of a genuine awe and wonder. And the lifestyle St. Francis chose to lead wasn’t done for show, but from “a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” (Again, take that, existentialism!) I also liked that Pope Francis brings up Scripture a few times in this introduction.

The last four paragraphs of the introduction focus on Pope Francis’s appeal. He knows that the world is not beyond saving and he knows that “young people demand change.” He calls for a new dialogue about how to make the world better and for cooperation. He also says that there won’t be any easy answers to the questions that my friend asked me, but layers.

I look forward to continuing my commentary, but before I do, I have some snarking that I’ve been saving since last weekend.

Dear pundits and politicians, I really hope that you actually read this thing and aren’t just citing the party line script. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, but the fact of the matter is that this encyclical is challenging you. So if you’re gonna go on your cable news program and talk about how you know more about economics and the environment than a man who actually lived in a country that had constant economic struggles and studied about the environment as part of his science degree, then do us all a favor and keep your mouth shut. Your logic is not compatible with our earth logic.

The Tale of Three Popes: Pope Francis, Justice, and Temperance

I love Pope Francis. I love Pope Francis so much, I’ve marked my calendar for the day of his visit to the United States. I’m counting down the days until that day comes and still want to go to World Youth Day in Poland.

So far, in the past few years, Pope Francis has shown himself to be a pastoral pope, in the sense that he treats the whole world as a parish. If Pope John Paul II was a pope of fortitude and Pope Benedict was a pope of prudence, Pope Francis is a pope of justice and a man who can inspire us to practice the virtue of temperance.

Justice isn’t always about superheroes and lawyers. According to the Catechism:

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. the just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor. “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (CCC 1807)

Pope Francis chose his name to remember the poor. He visited towns and countries where poverty is prominent. He is open to meeting anyone who asks and doesn’t care what people think. He’s talks about the current issues, but refuses to get political about them, although that might change when he gets an audience with the US Congress. He advocates for peace during times of war, but acknowledges that the danger does exist. He cares for the world and has compassion for everyone.

So what does Pope Francis have to do with temperance? Well, it’s more that we should practice temperance when it comes to him. The major problem with Pope Francis isn’t with the man himself, but with everyone having an extreme opinion of him. The media spins him to be this borderline liberal while conservatives buy into that lie and say that the apocalypse is coming and the Catholic Church is going to become modernized. According to the Catechism:

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. the temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.”72 Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.”73 In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.”  (CCC 1809)

Temperance is usually associated with moderation of food and drink, but in the case of Pope Francis, I think we should exercise temperance of the tongue. We need to master our paranoia and fears of the Catholic Church becoming something it’s not. Most of all, we shouldn’t gossip or start creating conspiracy theories.

I think it’s been a long time since the world had a pope who was so bluntly honest about everything. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict both chose their worlds carefully and thoughtfully. Pope Francis is more of an improv actor, speaking in idioms and off-the-cuff remarks. He’s basically like a bartender: open to serve, a great listener, and honest to a fault.

Whenever I hear the panic of Pope Francis having an audience with someone people consider to be scandalous or “not belonging in society,” I recall the Pharisees judging Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. I remember that instead of choosing the best and brightest of his society, Jesus picked 12 clueless morons with working-class jobs that always argued with each other. Mostly, I recall the parable of the Good Shepherd.

One part of being pope is that the pope is an example of Christ on Earth. And like Jesus, Pope Francis is reaching out to all the lost sheep of the world as a form of justice. However, this justice is not in the form of punishment or condemnation, but of mercy and compassion in the hopes that they will bring themselves to God and that God will change them.

I hope that we can all practice the virtue of temperance in our lives, especially when it comes to our opinions.

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What's In A Name?

Today is Pope Francis’s birthday. And something people forget about birthdays is that it’s not only the day you were born, but more often than not the day when you are given a name.

I have been known by many names in my life. I was born Ann Mary Monique Sandil Ocampo. Later on, I insisted on being called by my middle name so I wouldn’t be addressed as “Mary Ann.” In high school, I was called “Mi-chan” by my best friend, “Lady” by my guy friends, and “DJ Dizzy” whenever I was on the morning announcements.  But I also dealt with my fair share of name calling. A high school bully called me “Momo” and “Snaggletooth.” One classmate in college flirted with me a lot and called me “babe” or “baby” at least once. An absent minded professor kept calling me “Michelle.” Someone who I thought was friend wanted me to change my name altogether so that I could start a new life with them.

But now that I’m out of college, I am back to being regular Monique Ocampo. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why is the name we call ourselves by so important?

According to Aquinas, the name of a thing says something about the thing itself. It’s like how St. Peter the Apostle’s name meant “rock” as an analogy to Peter being the foundation of the church as well as to Peter’s headstrong personality. Names can be meaningful by the definition behind the name or they can honor a person by that same name.

When you change your name, you change a part of yourself. Some people change their names to take on a new identity, either to stand out or blend in or mark a significant change in their lives. Sometimes name changes are part of a coming of age ritual such as the sacrament of Confirmation where most young adults choose a Confirmation name or when religious sisters change their name as they take on their final vows.

So why do popes change their names? It started with Pope John II in 533, who originally had the name Mercurius. He felt it inappropriate for a pope to have the name of a Roman god. Nowadays, popes have changed their names to honor their predecessors, a family member, or a saint they have a strong devotion to. In the case of Pope Francis, he chose the name after a friend in the conclave told him to remember the poor when he takes on the papacy. And even though I’ve called popes by nicknames (JP2 and Papa B), I haven’t found the right nickname for Pope Francis. But maybe for now I don’t need one. For now, just calling him “Pope Francis” is enough.

Eat, Pray, Love (Catholic Version) Days 3 + 4: A Weekend Recap

Saturday and Sunday were jam-packed with a lot of awesome, wonderful events. 

Saturday was the day of my cousin Di’s 18th birthday party. I got dressed up to the nines and danced the night away. I ate sirloin for the first time. It was really good, all things considered. The best part was making funny faces in the photobooth, both by myself and with my cousins. 

At the end of the party, my uncle announced that there would be a huge family reunion the next day. But I had other plans.

On Sunday, I went out to Alhambra, where I attended a Papal Party, also known as a celebration of the canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. (Fun fact: The canonization took place at around 12-1AM Cali time so as soon as the party was over, I turned on my computer and fell asleep watching it.) The party was hosted by the Carmelite Sisters of the Sacred Heart. They were all wonderful. 

Part of the party included (you guessed it) line dancing after spending an hour in prayer. Here are some pictures of nuns having fun:

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There was a church nearby, so I was able to fulfill my obligation of going to Mass that day. It was founded in 1924 by Discalced Carmelite Friars from Ireland and at the time, St. Therese was just Blessed. It’s the first church in America dedicated to St. Therese, or so one of the sisters told me.

Although I didn’t get to know the sisters as much as I wanted to, just meeting them was a wonderful privilege that I’ll never forget. Plus, I got to take a selfie with Pope Francis!

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After the party, I went out and got sushi for dinner.

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Overall, I had an awesome weekend.

Lent Day 9: For Such a Time as This

One of my favorite Old Testament books is the book of Esther. The Jewish holiday of Purim begins Saturday night. Today’s First Reading features Esther in a time of prayer. 

Sometimes, things happen that inspire us to change our perspectives, which Fr. Robert Barron talks about in his Lent Reflection. For Esther, she realized that it was no coincidence that she was chosen to become queen at a time when her people needed someone to save them from Haman’s genocide. Last year, it was no coincidence that the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II happened at the same year that Pope Benedict decided to abdicate and Pope Francis was elected.

Timing is everything and since God is the creator and master of time, it was His will that all of these things happened. To this day, I still wonder why Benedict chose to retire, even though I know that he wanted to retire before he was elected. He chose to be pope for eight years, setting the foundation for some changes in the Church that were more interior than exterior. Because of Benedict, the Mass has changed and I’m starting to forget the times before the new Roman Missal.

I’ll be honest when I say that I took him for granted at the time. #cradleCatholicproblems, I know. But I took the pope for granted even back as a kid when John Paul II was pope. I took both popes for granted for different reasons. When John Paul II was pope, I was a little kid who saw him as an old man. He was past his prime, struggling with Parkinsons, and I didn’t know any better. When Benedict became pope, I was a teenager and I was holding onto my faith during a really hard time, but the problem was I didn’t know what it really meant to be Catholic and there wasn’t really anyone around to help me because I was in public school. In college, I realized how amazing both of these popes were and I figured that Benedict would lead the church until God called him home.

Of course, that didn’t happen. And I’ll be honest: I cried when I heard the news. I knew the news could’ve been worse, but I had no idea that popes could choose to not be pope. I felt abandoned and confused. I wasn’t alone in how I felt, either. It was like Lent had started early. I still miss Pope Benedict today, but I always love seeing him, just knowing that he’s alive and well, even though he’s retired.

Fast forward to March 13, 2013.

I was in the living room, watching the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, waiting for the white smoke to come. So far, I have only seen black smoke and it felt like an answer was taking forever. I knew the times that the smoke was likely to appear, but that morning, it took forever

And then at 1:07PM CST (7:07 Vatican time), the white smoke finally came out.

I started dancing in my living room and I wasn’t the only one. St. Peter’s square was screaming and every Catholic on the internet was rejoicing. Ain’t no party like a Catholic party, people, because we are all connected through our shared baptism and when something like this happens, we can’t help but celebrate.

My mom told me that when God chose the pope in the conclave, he wasn’t just choosing a pope for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but that He also chose the new pope for me. God’s timing was working in my life because as I said before, the fact that there was going to be a new pope lifted me up from the sad part of my life. And this was before I even knew who the new pope was going to be.

My first impression of Pope Francis was “He’s kind of awkward and shy.” What I didn’t realize was that he was taking in the crowd and I soon learned just how not awkward or shy Pope Francis was.

Now while people think that Pope Francis is turning the Catholic Church upside-down, I’ll tell you right now, he’s not. The song is the same, but the way the song is played has changed. Think of it this way: if Jesus’s message is like the original version of the best song you’ve ever heard, every pope since then is that band that tries to make their best cover version of that song. Some have made horrible covers, some are okay, and some covers are as awesome as the original. John Paul II’s song was like the showstopping number of an amazing musical. Benedict’s song was a lot more quiet, like a piano sonata. Francis’s song has just begun, but I compare it to an indie pop song that made its way onto the Billboard Top 40. And all of them are equally beautiful in their own way.

But in the end, all popes are striving to sing the same song: follow the example of Christ and live out His message. 

Today, think about how God’s timing has worked its way into your life and pray for all the popes that have come before. Also, pray for Pope Francis, since he asked us so nicely.