Once in a while I get something via e-mail and I am not quite sure if someone isn’t having me on.
A parishioner of at Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Durham, NC, a Franciscan run parish known for its emphasis on social justice, sent my an e-mail detailing something rather bizarre which I cannot help but write about.
A visit to the website of Immaculate Conception reveals on the surface nothing out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, it looks fairly straight foward. They have a rather thin confession schedule (Saturdays from 10-11am) but … they have confessions. The rosary is prayed after Mass every weekday and there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament each Friday until 3:30pm. Not too bad. Other items from the website suggest that this is a pretty busy place, a normal urban Catholic parish. They don’t seem to have anything going concerning the TLM, or use of any traditional expressions in their Novus Ordo Masses, but that’s par for the course.
Another great advantage they have is that they are in the Diocese of Raleigh, where one of WDTPRS’s favorites, His Excellency Most Rev. Michael Burbidge presides. You can read about Bp. Burbidge here and here and here and other places on this blog.
So, now we get to the weird stuff.
The parishioner of Immaculate Conception sent me this note (edited and with my emphases and comments:
This evening, I attended the Stations of the Cross [at Immaculate Conception], and the liturgy that was utilized was called The Ecological Stations of the Cross–an adaptation of a liturgy composed by the Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation, of the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara. Simply stated, the liturgy was horrendous. I don’t even know where to begin in detailing its shortcomings. As just a few examples, within the context of the liturgy, a prayer was directed to mother earth, the earth was compared to our crucified Lord, the earth’s care for humanity was offered as an analogy to the Blessed Mother’s care for Christ, Jesus’ crucifixion was reduced to the level of species extinction, mention was made of the Buddhist myth of a life-giving serpent under the Bodhi tree, and a reference to the Nietzschean notion of eternal return was set forth.
As you can see, this isn’t simply sloppy liturgy; this is outright paganism.
I have already written the pastor of my parish and am also in the process of composing a letter of complaint to my Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge. My question for you, Father, is this: does the egregious nature of this liturgy warrant taking the matter to a higher authority, perhaps even to the Congregation for Divine Worship? [Yes, it does. More about this below.]
"But Father! But Father!", you might be exclaiming. "Surely this person is exaggerating. I can’t believe they would have done anything so… so.. well.. blasphemous. I think the person who wrote to you must be mistaken."
That is possible, I suppose, but let’s look at some excerpts from the Ecological Stations the writer sent to me.
Excerpts from the Ecological Stations of the Cross
Second Station: Jesus Embraces the Cross
(Earth as Suffering Servant—Isaiah)
Mother Earth, you are alive with Christ’s Spirit. You, like Christ, are the suffering servant. You serve all Earth’s creatures so splendidly and graciously, but we often treat you as nothing more than a storehouse of goods. May we awaken to see both your suffering and your generosity. May we only harvest wood from your forests in ways that are sustainable and may we leave your ancient, mystical, old-growth forests to grow in peace.
Third Station : Jesus Falls the First Time
(The Poor and Unjust Systems)
Christ, we see you alive in all creation, and know your love extends in a special way to the poor and suffering. Like you, the poor fall so often under unjust social systems that strangle their right to good housing, health care and meaningful work. May we awaken to see how our economic systems and multinational corporations could be made more just. May we create just systems in solidarity with all peoples and nature.
Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother, Mary
(We Meet Christ in Mother Earth)
Just as Jesus met and was comforted by his mother, so too can we all be comforted by the compassionate care of our Mother Earth. Christ’s love pulses through her, and we are truly welcome and at home on Earth. May we be aware of the healing, nurturing love with which she cares for us and all creation. May we awaken to know Christ’s wisdom and care through nature. May we, like Jesus, know our sacredness as children of God and as children of Earth.
Fifth Station: Simon from Cyrene Helps Jesus
The Earth must stand up under the cross of global warming, water pollution, chemical and radiation poisoning, strip mining and deforestation. There are those who stand up for her to alleviate the burden. Earth Saints like Rachel Carson, Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingham, Chico Mendes and John Muir have felt the Earth’s pain and offered their service to her. May we too respond to alleviate the burden of the Christ of Creation, and be of service to our sacred Earth Mother.
Eighth Station: Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem
(Women and Education, Hunger, Poverty and Sustainable Population Growth)
Christ, you look with compassion on women: the birth-givers, the nurturers, and the comforters. May we commit to sustainable world population growth by bringing women out of poverty; by providing adequate nutrition, health care and education, and by honoring the lives of all women.
Point to Ponder:
Unsustainable population growth is a direct result of poverty, hunger and illiteracy, especially for women. Without food, economic security, and education, no amount of family planning programs will curb high birth rates.
Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time
(Redemption for All Creation)
Christ, you created all things, and you liberate all life as well: human, hummingbird, whale, Sequoia, and bacteria. We cry out to you to save our Earth, [Have we prayed for our souls or forgiveness of sin yet?] and you answer that your liberation of Earth arises within each of us. May we understand that your hands are our hands, that your love can work through each of us, that your suffering body is our suffering Earth. [?] May we become deeper lovers of you by loving each other, by loving the world.
Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
(Cosmic Christ is Not Embraced)
Christ of the cosmos, we continue to drive the nails when we try to bind you to a cross of small vision. [What the hell is a "cross of small vision"?] We need to see you through the revelation of some thirteen billion years of creative delight we call the cosmos. May we be free of our limited vision of you. May we greet your living abundantly in our lives as revealed in science, literature, cosmology, imagination, and play.
Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies Upon the Cross
Christ, through you is manifested an unaccountable number of species of animals and plants. One of your species, the mysterious serpent bears the curse in the Garden of Eden, while under the Bodhi tree the serpent provides protection and life. [I think this praised the serpent, Satan, whom God the Father cursed for destroying the bond between man and God.] The snake is born of itself anew each time it sheds its skin and is a symbol of eternal return. Each individual of each species is born with your blessing, and makes up the full mosaic of your heart. Our choices have led to the unprecedented death of entire species, and with their loss the universe forever loses a cherished gift. May we through your grace transform ourselves into a culture of life. May we humbly honor the life of every creature and the ecosystems that support them.
I don’t think the writer was exaggerating.
People have the right to express themselves to their pastors about their concerns. What I read here is troubling enough to bring to the attention of the local bishop, Bp. Burbidge.
I think in this case I would write to the local bishop and wait for his guidance before considering writing to the Congregation for Divine Worship. This should be addressed locally first.
In writing to the bishop, I would include copies of any and all correspondence I had had with the pastor of the parish, or its staff. I would be extremely careful to stick to facts, and avoid harsh language or inflamatory expressions which will just cloud the issues. I would keep my letter very brief and absolutely avoid telling the bishop what his job is or what he should do. He will know what to do. I would avoid setting a time-table in my head for when I might hear back or see results.
Be respectful of everyone involved.
Just convey FACTS and hard copies.