Yesterday, a nice group of people gathered at the Miles Land Ranch southwest of Casper for the second annual Rural Life Mass and celebration. I’m very grateful to the three ranch families that sponsored this year’s gathering; Jim & Peggy Price, Randy & Vernita Marton, and Roy & Kathleen Jarrard. They did a super job from planning, preparation to welcoming all of our guests, and the clean up was well underway by the end of the day. Their hospitality was incredible! All pics can be viewed here.
I would judge from the number of cowboy hats present yesterday, the number of ranchers this year outnumbered the farmers! But, we were in ranching country! From the comments of many participants as they departed, it is clear that this event serves a needed and appreciated role in bolstering the spirits of our rural families as well as giving me a grand opportunity to be present to and with them.
One of the main goals of these gatherings is to express the Church’s support and admiration for all those who make their living on and from the land. The rural way of life is a natural setting for living faith and raising families in the natural setting of nature which easily keeps alive the truth that all of life is an invitation to know, love and serve God – the Creator of all.
The Winter 2015 edition of COMMUNIO is dedicated to the theme Integral Ecology. There is an article authored by Patrick Fleming entitled “Economics, Ecology, and Our Common Home: The Limits of a Preference-Based Approach to Human Behavior.” In this article, there is an insight regarding the Greek origins and meanings of the two words, ecology (logic or order of the household) and economy (law or rule of the household). He then explains how the original Greek meaning of the term economy has yielded over the years to a more current pursuit of something else, chrematistics (the science of money-making). These thoughts were very much on mind during my homily yesterday.
I’m was also mindful of some comments made at a conference this summer on integral ecology by Dr. Michael Naughton, who is the Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota. He proposes that family and religion are the two primary institutions of our society, and they inform the other institutions, such as business and government (not the other way around.)
Every rancher and farmer and their families know what it is like to be surrounded by the beauty of creation as well as what it is to cooperate with the Creator. Making a living from the land, they have an innate awareness that all of creation is the ‘common home’ for the human family. They know the laws that govern the seasons, from the rising of the sun to the phases of the moon, the importance of rain, (or moisture of any kind) to the warmth that swells the grain, and the winter months that give rest to the soil and the rest of nature. They also know how to respect these natural laws if they are to receive what creation so generously yields, and they also know that if the laws of nature are not respected, they themselves will be the ones to suffer. The laws that govern creation are for our good, providing a generous provision for the human family, while at the same time setting natural limits that are to be respected.
Likewise, every human family knows there are laws that govern the home. Whether mom or dad is the ‘enforcer’ of these laws, every member of the family knows what is required to make the house a home and a place of harmony and flourishing. When one or some of the family members fail to live the demands of love or to keep the family household rules, tensions build, and everyone finds that they are walking on egg shells. The only thing that truly resolves this tension is a willingness to discuss the matter, resolve differences, and quite often someone needs to say “I’m sorry.” and someone else needs to say “I forgive you.” Household rules, lived in love and respect, lead to harmony, which is one of the greatest means by which any of us ‘provision’ a home.
These are the lessons that further extend into the broader society for the common good of all.
If laws and rules are an essential part of the common home of creation and of the household, they are necessarily a part of the broader society. But for rules to be respected and followed, there needs to be an institution that builds up such moral character, and beyond the family, this is the role of religion. The Good Lord designed the earth and all within it with laws that naturally lend to harmony and well being. Likewise, the Lord gave us the Commandments that we might know how best to live in harmony with God, one another and with the common home that is creation.
Following the Commandments, God became one of us in the person of Jesus, who not only taught the truth, but modeled the demands of love and right relationships in his earthly ministry. And, yes, he founded a Church to continue to go into the world and preach the same Good News. Along with preaching, the church forms the consciences of peoples to know what is right and wrong, to respect life in all of its forms, and to respect the rule of law. Without such a moral formation, society lacks members who respect others or the laws that govern us. Harmony is soon displaced with unrest, division and violence; not a good home environment for any of us.
When we think of economy from the original Greek meaning, as the means by which the home is provisioned, it necessarily entails a notion of sufficiency, which also includes limits to what one truly needs. This is precisely why Pope Francis is calling for an economy today that has the human person at the center, rather than money and profit. Money and profit have no limits; all they know is a need for ‘more.’ A person or family or society that is always wanting more can never discover a true sense of peace or fulfillment. Whereas, the family that is satisfied with what is sufficient, knows what it is to be grateful and joyful.
So, once again to connect the dots, rural life is a natural setting to learn and live such truths and values. It is certainly not the only place, but a privileged place.
Every rancher or farmer knows that his work must provide a living for his family. But even with that important reality, it is necessary to speak of this way of life also as a vocation. Vocation carries with it a sense of a way of life that is not so much what an individual wants, but a matter of recognizing what God desires for him or her. Vocation also carries with it a sense of active ‘reception’ of what God is giving. Along with this is the element of ‘limiting’ one’s vision and life pursuit according to what is given by God. Overtime, this becomes the source of motivation that gets one out of bed every day, providing a passion for the work of the day, finding dignity in the daily labor, because they recognize that they are working with God on the land that God created and provided for his wellbeing.
Thus, it is important for all of us to live each day integrating our faith into every aspect of our being and work; every word spoken and every relationship. It is critical that more and more people live each day with the heart and mind of faith. In the Opening Prayer for Mass Sunday, we prayed that we might love what God commands and desire what God promises.
Our faith is what allows us to draw deeper lessons from our life experiences. Work is wearisome, but it is dignified. The work of the rancher or farmer draws forth from the earth its fruits for the sustenance of the family and life itself. Likewise, an integrated faith life is not easy, it requires hard work and courage to live by faith. But such a life is dignified and leads ultimately to eternal life.
God bless all of our rural families and communities, indeed all of us. May we learn each day to live in closer union with God and to walk more by faith, and not by worldly sight alone. May we give thanks to God for His many gifts and blessings, learning to be satisfied with what is sufficient, not always longing for something more. In such faith and gratitude we will learn that the greatest gift of all is our salvation!