In early April, the environmental group Earth Day Network sent a rather poorly written memo to parishes around the country. Signed by the likes of Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Shaquille O’ Neal and Ted Turner the thing read in part:
Earth Day Sunday is traditionally [sic] falls on the Sunday closest to Earth Day (April 22nd) . . . we would encourage you to also consider recognizing Earth Day Sunday during the entire month of April or on May 1st, 2011 as the plants begin to bloom and spring begins.
Putting aside Earth Day Network’s seeming unfamiliarity with the significance of March 21st on the Gregorian calendar (a few days later, on the Julian), the memo essentially encourages Catholic priests to use their religion to promote the quasi-religion of environmentalism, but without the reciprocal notes usually sounded among the ecumenists. Priests were invited to deliver “a homily or sermon on climate change and equitable sustainability. . .” (and submit the sermon to their website) or to “pledge to give one homily over the course of a year on climate change,” or—at the very least—to give the planet a shout-out in the parish bulletin.
A quick search at www.earthday.net yielded no submitted homilies. Certainly as Christians we are mindful of our stewardship of the earth, but given how busy most priests were in preparing for the arduous and triumphant liturgies of the Easter Triduum, I suspect this memo went unread or was quickly recycled at most parishes. The only reason you and I are even aware of it is because of a minor dust-up that occurred online, when Michael Voris of St. Michael’s Media got his hands on the memo and stormed, “If you find yourself in Mass on Easter Sunday and the priest even so much as breathes a word about Earth Day, throw nothing in the collection plate, finish your Sunday obligation and resign from that parish on Monday . . .”
Some online took issue with the pre-emptive nature of Voris’ rant. Advising the faithful to resign from a parish over homily-disgust might be an expedient demonstration of the politically minded, but is it the ideal way for Christians to behave toward each other? What builds the Body of Christ, and what tears it apart?
And why expend angst and energy about maybe-mentions of Earth Day when there is genuinely bad theology being preached from the pulpit, as a friend relates here:
I was willing to overlook the Good Friday sermon saying Jesus didn’t die for our sins and focusing on NAFTA. But I cannot overlook the Easter sermon that says Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. We were told that the empty tomb was just symbolism and that Jesus’ rising from the dead wasn’t corporal, “like something out of a Frankenstein movie,” but more like how when your parent or spouse dies and you feel their presence around you. It’s pretty bad when you tell your children not to listen to anything the pastor said.
While my friend did indeed wonder—with great sadness—whether this might be a parish-changing offense, rather than simply bolting she and her husband have made an appointment to talk to their pastor first, for the sake of clarity, and that’s the right thing to do.
Too many Catholics hear a disturbing sermon like this one and simply move on to another parish, or they begin to allow that badly seeded theology to take root, which is much worse. Running away from a parish with a disoriented pastor dooms one’s fellow parishioners—especially if they have been poorly catechized—to eating from his poor crop and being left undernourished. That cannot build up the Body of Christ.
More importantly, to depart from a parish without seriously attempting to talk with one’s priest is to leave no opening for what may well be a Holy-Spirit-designed moment—an opportunity for the lay faithful to witness to a priest who has gone terribly off course and begun to mistake common weeds for exotica. Just as our children can sometimes hit us in the face with a truth we’ve forgotten in our parental-omnipotence, occasionally we layfolk have to be willing to use our mustard seeds, lovingly, and patiently as we evangelize a priest. In this way, we exercise stewardship of the parish; we re-hoe the rows he has allowed to veer off into the wilderness and re-orient him away from his shades, toward the light of the Son.
Who has, in fact, Risen!
It is not easy; stewardship never is.
Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress. Her previous articles for "On the Square" can be found here.