Thursday, March 22, 2012

'Jesus Is Water'

There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
"Do you want to be well?"
The sick man answered him,
"Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me."
Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk."
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.


John 5:1-9

For us who follow him, as for the sick man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus is our source of healing, for he is God's very life. When we cannot get into the pool of Bethesda, Jesus is our water.

Jesus is water. This was the simple and powerful message from Fr. Michael Lasky, director of the Americas program of Franciscans International. There are today millions of women, children, and men like the sick man at the pool of Bethesda who cannot get into the living waters. They and their communities have been denied access to clean, affordable water and sanitation. Will we who claim to follow Christ show forth the healing power of Jesus, so merciful and just, in our actions to build a world where all who are thirsty may come to the water? Like Francis, who praised God for Sister Water, will we feel the thirst of the poor as our own?

With Brother Michael's homily at Eucharist commenced a full day with Franciscans International in and around the United Nations in observation of World Water Day 2012.

Franciscans International is one of the oldest religious non-governmental organizations affiliated with the UN. Its mission is to be a voice at the UN on issues of poverty, peace, and environmental protection. Its vision: "A global community built on Franciscan values, in which the dignity of every person is respected; resources are shared equitably; the environment is sustained; and nations and peoples live in peace."

Franciscans International is the only ministry shared by the entire Franciscan family worldwide. All three branches of the Franciscan movement -- the First Order (Order of Friars Minor, Conventual Franciscans, Capuchin Franciscans), Second Order (Poor Clares), and Third Order (Secular Franciscans and Third Order Regulars) -- participate.

In the company of friars, sisters, and students, I learned about the challenges of establishing internationally the human right to water and sanitation. Over two very rich presentations, I was scribbling notes furiously. I felt like I was back in graduate school. For the first time in four years, I felt the strong desire to sit in a college classroom, or hit a university library.

The first presentation had to do with legal and political perspectives on securing the human right to water. As member nations prepare draft resolutions for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro this June, a few powerful countries, including the United States, seek to delete language that would declare the human right to water with legally binding effect. What measures can civil society take to resolve international conflicts over fresh water; build an international consensus on accessibility and affordability; and enshrine such a human right, when consensus is achieved, in the constitutional law of sovereign states?

The second presentation had to do with the Franciscan perspective on environmental sustainability. Why go green? What good reason do Franciscans propose? In a post-modern world, what are the ethical and spiritual foundations that can support an environmental activist for the long run? Brother Michael gave a dazzling lecture, drawing on the theological framework of the early Franciscan John Duns Scotus. In the end, going green is justified by the centrality of beauty, the intrinsic value of creation, and the limitless love of God in Christ, the human in perfection. Beauty has its own integrity, which must never be assaulted. And creation is beautiful. Every creature is unique and unrepeatable, blessed with an immanent dignity, gifted with an incomprehensible sanctity. All of God's creatures shine with an inner light, and each one sings a distinctive note in the cosmic symphony. If God is the artist, creation is God's performance, and humanity is both a performer and an audience. Human beings are called both to appreciate God's beautiful performance and to sing their part in it. In protecting the planet we let all creatures sound their note in the cosmic symphony. We make this choice also to save our integrity. We do good so we can be who we are. The self-gift of God in Jesus to us shows us how to love the world and thus respond well to God's loving, creative acts.

There's much more to the conversations of today than I can organize into a single blog post. If you would like to read more about how the Franciscan family is addressing issues of water access, check out this manual from Franciscans International. I intend to follow up with their New York office on specific advocacy activities that can influence the draft resolutions for the Rio conference.

What stimulating discussions! I'm so glad our formation director brought us to Franciscans International's event. Let no one doubt that the windows of Franciscan friaries open wide to let in the world; nor let anyone doubt that the friars spend much of their time out of doors.

Working for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation is the calling of every Franciscan. It is a gift and responsibility. We who are in religious formation with the Franciscans are learning how to open up this charism. We are moving from intuition to intention, from understanding to action. To separate recyclables from trash is to get ankle-deep into the water. To make a donation to an environmental cause is to get knee-deep. To begin conversations about just care of creation is to get waist-deep. But to get involved, vulnerably, in reforming unjust structures of power that destroy natural resources, putting whole peoples at risk -- now you are swimming in the river of life.

The angel brought me, Ezekiel,
back to the entrance of the temple of the LORD,
and I saw water flowing out
from beneath the threshold of the temple toward the east,
for the fa├žade of the temple was toward the east;
the water flowed down from the right side of the temple,
south of the altar....

He said to me,
"This water flows into the eastern district down upon the Arabah,
and empties into the sea, the salt waters, which it makes fresh.
Wherever the river flows,
every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live,
and there shall be abundant fish,
for wherever this water comes the sea shall be made fresh.
Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow;
their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail.
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit,
for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.
Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine."


See Ezekiel 47:1-12

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