This week’s Gospel reading, the famous parable of the Prodigal Son, is one of my favorites to reflect on periodically because I’ve been able to picture myself as different people in the story at different times in my life.
The younger son in the story gets the most attention by many readers – we can all recognize how offensive it would be to ask a relative for your inheritance as if they were already dead. Most people can relate in some way to a time in their lives when they were headed down the wrong path, for a brief or long period of time. Most translations say that the younger son “collected all his belongings, and set off to a distant country” (Luke 15:13). The original Greek description of where the youngest son goes actually means “the big emptiness” – which I think is much more relatable to our daily lives than spending lots of money in a foreign land. Have you ever felt like you’ve ended up in “the big emptiness?” Maybe for you that means feeling stuck in some type of suffering, or even just like you’re exhausted, going through the motions in life, unable to see, or even think about, moving forward. Maybe that’s feeling lonely, anxious, or helpless. How did we get there? Is feeling this way at all tied to our own version of lacking in faith, or not spending time in prayer? I haven’t blown my bank account in a far away place, but when I think of it more in the terms of “the big emptiness…” – that strikes a chord.
The older brother’s complaints are something we can also relate to – the “it’s not fair” mentality comes naturally to us as humans, especially when we read that he offended his family by asking for it, then squandered away everything and became so destitute he “longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed.” My first instinct is to say “serves him right,” and stick out my tongue, like any older sibling who watches a younger one get themselves into trouble. He is right when he complains that it’s not fair that his “terrible, wasteful, embarrassing” brother gets a celebration. But it’s not about being fair – it’s about the love of the Father. When the older brother complains, he misses the point – reciprocal, sacrificial, unconditional love. He treats his relationship with his father like a transaction (I do good things, you pay me back with a big party), instead of a relationship. There are no limits to how much the Father loves us – and there is more than enough love to go around. The Father’s love is infinite – and so beyond our comprehension of measurements and fairness that it can never be measured. “Everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31), because His love is total, and freely given. By refusing to enter the celebration because of his anger, he isn’t taking anything away from his brother – he is only hurting himself.
I can think of lots of different emotions my own parents might have if I asked for an inheritance – awkward laughter, tears, angry yelling, etc. – none of them are willingly dividing the property up without question. When I think of encountering someone who has wronged or hurt me in some way, my initial reaction isn’t to greet them with joy and an embrace (Luke 15:20). And yet the father not only does that, but he also abandons all sense of proper expectations. In Middle Eastern culture at this point in history, an adult man would have always walked, purposefully, as a sign of status and being put together. Running? Out of the question, you’d be taken for a fool. And yet the Father of the Prodigal Son does exactly that – at the tiniest glimmer of hope that his son is returning, the only thing that matters is that he is home.
Lent is beautiful because we are reminded to shed the behaviors, distractions, mindsets, temptations, sins, doubts, and more that keep us from being close to the Father. We fast from the things that make us feel like we aren’t worthy of being close to God, like the Prodigal Son who didn’t think he was worthy of doing anything but being one of his father’s hired workers and eating with the pigs. We are called to sacrifice and serve, in ways that the older son struggled to do. And above all, love, and let ourselves be loved by the Father. Unconditionally.
Sometimes I feel like the middle of Lent is the worst. It’s like the Wednesday of a really, really long week – you’ve used up your energy from a restful weekend, and the next one feels so very far away. The “this is going to be the best Lent ever! I’m going to give up so many things, and do all these extra things, and get so much out of it!” has faded into a tired mood where you find yourself glaring with jealousy at the chocolate cake aisle at the grocery store, and wondering why March 6th you thought that waking up 30 minutes early every day to pray would be a great idea. Easter feels far away – almost like it’s never going to get here.
The first reading this Sunday comes from Exodus 3 – the beginning of the story of Moses. Before this, the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians for a long, long time. Imagine the hopelessness and defeat they must have felt! God calls Moses through the burning bush, and explains how he is going to rescue his people. Moses is unsure of his abilities to do what God asks, but God affirms him, and reminds him that he is the same God who fulfilled every promise he made to the Hebrews who came before him.
“I am the God of your fathers, “ he continued, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob… I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:6-8).
We all have situations, maybe in your past or maybe right now, where we’ve been so stuck in the middle of a situation that it’s been hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. God saw you then, and he sees you now. And he reminds us that even when we feel stuck, he is making all things work for the good. God reminded Moses of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for a reason – because they are each recipients of a fulfilled promise from God to care and provide for them, even after they have not been faithful. God promised Abraham, an old man with an infertile wife, descendants that would number the stars, and Abraham laughs so hard in disbelief that he falls on his face (Gen. 17:17). But, when Sarah gives birth to a son, they name him Isaac, which translates to “laughter.”
Whatever you have weighing you down today, follow in the steps of Moses. Remove the sandals from your feet, shake the dust off, and plant your feet in “holy ground” (Ex. 3:5). If you’re feeling dead in your faith life, like the fig tree in today’s Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), give it another chance. If you need a little extra hope, remember this – that the God who found a way to provide for Abraham and Moses is the same one listening to your prayers today.
This Sunday’s readings – the Gospel reading in particular – always reminds me of Nazareth Farm.
Luke 9:28-36 tells the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. In it, Jesus takes his disciples up the mountain to pray, where his appearance is transfigured by a dazzling white light – the light of God. Peter, John, and James awake from a nap to see the transformed Jesus before them, with Moses and Elijah by his side (can you imagine?!). God confirms Jesus’ divinity, instructs the apostles present to listen to Jesus, and then vanishes.
Throughout Scripture, mountains are significant. They’re often associated with important events, or experiences of prayer or God’s teachings. Jesus preached the Beatitudes on the Sermon on the Mount, Moses received the 10 Commandments on a mountain, and Elijah found shelter in a mountain cave where he recognizes God’s voice not in the earthquake or fire, but in the stillness of silence. For people who have been to the Farm, everything about 665 Nazareth Farm Road calls to mind these scriptures – first, the actual mountain roads traveled on the way, but also the place of learning, prayer, and finding God’s voice in the quiet that is impossible to replicate back home. My favorite experience at the Farm, no matter what time of year I visit, is standing in the parking lot early in the morning – while the world is still quiet, the hollow is filled with mist, and everything is still. I love this seemingly mundane spot – a gravel parking lot – for both the silence it holds in the moment, and the anticipation of what that new day will bring when the sun comes and burns away the fog.
Outside of that hollow, life gets busy. Thinking of that time and place reminds me of how much I fill my life with noise – meetings, phone calls, social media notifications, music or Netflix on in the background. It fills life up so much that it’s hard to even remember how to shut it all off – sometimes the quiet moments actually feel uncomfortably foreign. When I’m in the middle of the noise, I don’t think too much about the lack of silence – until I’m reminded how much I miss it.
The second reading calls us out on this preoccupation, and reminds us of our goals. “Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil 3:20-21). Lent calls us to put aside distractions, take time out of our busyness and spend it with the Lord, and open our hearts to things we don’t necessarily pay attention to in our day-to-day lives. For when we do these things, even if they only last for a moment, we’re on a mountain – or in a foggy parking lot – with all of our attention turned toward God. A God who knows us, loves us, and is deeply committed to showing us his presence. This week, where and when can you stop, pray, and allow yourself to witness the Transfiguration?
The Gospel and second readings are beautiful this Sunday, but the passage from Deuteronomy, which I personally haven’t spent a lot of time reading, has been speaking to my heart.
In this passage, Moses is recalling how good God has been to the Hebrews since He rescued them from Egyptian slavery. The 10 plagues God sends to Egypt after the Pharaoh refuses to release the Hebrews from slavery – they are actually directly connected to the different gods the Egyptians were worshipping. For example, worship of Ra, the Egyptian sun god, is countered during the ninth plague, when darkness falls over Egypt for three days. God shows his control over nature to demonstrate his power compared to that of the Egyptian idols, and then allows light back into the land.
So when the Hebrews are able to escape, they’re not just escaping physical slavery, captivity, and persecution – they’re also being freed from a culture of idolatry. The idolatry of ancient Egypt isn’t as prevalent in our culture today, however, we are constantly fighting against things in our lives that can easily become idols, take the place of God, and become the center of our lives. Busy schedules with no room for prayer, social media that distracts our attention from being made in the image and likeness of God, weekend activities that become more important than going to church, the pressure and desire to always have the most expensive car, house, phone, etc.
And yet when the Hebrews are in trouble and trapped in slavery or wandering in the desert, God actively saves them, and provides everything they need – although not always in the way they expected. Moses reminds his people of these “signs and wonders,” and compares Israel to “a land flowing with milk and honey,” symbols of prosperity.
In return, Moses brings the “first fruits” of their labors – the best of their crops, “which you, Lord, have given me,” – as an offering to God. Not the second best harvest, and not the leftovers, but the best that they have. And Moses trusts God to continue to save and provide for His people – so much so that he gives God back the best of what he has, instead of keeping it for himself.
Do we offer God the best of our time, talents, and treasures, or our leftovers? Do we trust him to provide everything we need, even when we give something of value away (time, money, or items?) Do we thank God in advance for what He will do in our lives, and pray with a trusting heart? If not, why, and what can we do to improve that?
Remember that the same God who “saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression,” and “brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand and outstretched arm,” (Deut. 26:7-8) is the God that we worship today. He is all-powerful, loving, and personally interested in YOUR life, too. How can we better let God love us and work in our lives? What kinds of things do we need to be freed from? There is no sin, no weakness, no situation, that God cannot help you with. This week, let’s try to fast from the things we need God to save us from, pray in thanksgiving for His workings in our lives, and give with a trusting heart to those in need – just like God does for us.
At first glance, Ash Wednesday’s readings are incredibly ironic. In the first reading, the prophet Joel says to “Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly, gather the people” (Joel 2:15-16). But then the Gospel reading says to NOT blow trumpets or be hypocrites by giving alms or praying in the streets to win the praise of others (Matthew 6:2). Ok… so, trumpets or no trumpets? Walk around with ashes on our foreheads, or don’t show off our faith and proclaim our participation in Lent?
When we dive deeper into the meaning of these readings, we see that they’re really referring to our internal disposition to being in relationship with God. They call us to really think about WHY we are doing these things – are we publicly proclaiming our faith because we believe and want to share it with others? Or do we enjoy the attention and making it seem like we are holier than we really are? The hypocrites Matthew talks about are the people without genuine intentions, who find it more important to talk about the external benefits of giving money or accomplishing a challenging Lenten sacrifice than to actually focus on the internal, spiritual benefits of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
These scriptures remind us to focus on the WHY of our actions. To remember that when we promise to give up social media, or TV, or Netflix, as a Lenten sacrifice, but then use that extra free time for something else idle, we’re missing the point. It’s not until we point that sacrifice toward Heaven that we will see some type of benefit in our relationship with God – for example, using that time we would have spent staring at a screen and instead look at God, whether that be through increasing prayer time, reading a spiritual book, spending more genuine time with family, or serving others face-to-face.
So why ashes? How do they remind us of what Lent is about? When distributing ashes, there are two options the minister can say: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospels.” The first reminds us that all we have is a gift from God, recalling the passage in Genesis where God forms Adam out of clay with his hands – an intimate, life-giving look into who God is and how much he loves us. The second, words of St. John the Baptist, who tells us to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Messiah.
In the first reading from Joel, we see a bigger picture of the messages echoed by all of the Old Testament prophets: hope and repent – because the Messiah is coming. “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is He” (Joel 2:13). We are able to look at ashes and see hope, because we know a God who can make something out of nothing, humanity from a pile of ashes and clay, and Resurrection out of darkness. So, as we head into this Lenten season, let’s all take some extra time to truly prepare our hearts.
I have a long and broken relationship with two little letters in the English language: M.S. They seem so insignificant, but when placed together they mean much more than that.
M.S. is an abbreviation for Multiple Sclerosis, an auto-immune disease that affects 400,000 people in the United States. White blood cells, the body’s natural defense system, get tricked into thinking that the grey matter of the brain is harmful and they attack it. This causes lesions and scar tissue on the brain itself. Some people’s MS is progressive, which means it gets worse over the course of your life, eventually leading to death. Others have a relapse- remit variety, where sometimes symptoms are worse (called exacerbation), and times when symptoms are better. This neurological disease slowly but surely takes away from what you used to be able to do. This means that the visible results are very dependent on the extent of the damage; some people have very noticeable handicaps. while others barely show symptoms.
My mom was diagnosed with relapse-remit M.S. about 3 months after I was born. This means I have been around M.S .my whole life. I’ve seen it take away my Mom’s ability to walk without a cane or walker. I’ve seen her fight extreme fatigue. I’ve seen the nerve pain it can cause in the back and in the legs. I’ve seen it affect her memory and her sight. I’ve also seen her push herself too hard, trying to live her role as a mother which led to her having exacerbations. M.S. is awful, plain and simple, and I would never wish that on anyone. So when I found out that the homeowner I was building a porch and wheelchair ramp for has M.S., it stopped my dead in my tracks.
We were a couple weeks into building the porch and ramp for Dream, who is wheelchair-bound, but I was afraid to ask her why. If she wanted to tell me she would, but otherwise I wasn’t going to pry. However, one afternoon she told me that she had M.S. I dropped whatever I was doing and immediately gave her my full attention. I asked her about her M.S. and what all she had been through. Her M.S. had some similarities to my Mom, but also some differences (everyone’s journey with MS is different). But I understood her when she spoke of her pain. She didn’t have to explain, but suddenly I knew how it must be hard for her to not be able to be the perfect parent to her kids. I knew the fears she had.
Dreama was also incredibly welcoming to us. She always invited us inside for lunch to get out of the cold and wet weather. She would always pray with us before working, before lunch, and before leaving the worksite. When the weather was nice, she would be out with us trying to help in whatever way she could. Thinking back on that, I know that is exactly what my Mom would have done. She is very welcoming, has a deep love for God, and desires to help whatever way she can. With all that being said, I believe that God placed me in that situation for a reason and for that, I am very grateful.
I know very well there is no cure for M.S., but I could still do something for Dreama. This ramp built by volunteers and me will make her life just a little less difficult and take a small amount of stress out of her day.
M.S. stinks, but thanks to God and Nazareth Farm, we won a little victory over it.
The Third Annual “Run for Nazareth Farm” is just two weeks away. On Friday, August 11th, a team of Nazareth Farm Staff Members, Board Members, and Friends of the Farm will come together in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia to run more than 100 miles to raise awareness and funds for our 4 Cornerstones and 1 Mission. Since 2015, our runners have logged over 400 miles — from Cape Cod, to Washington, DC, and now through beautiful West Virginia — all in support of Nazareth Farm. The nine members of this year’s Team Nazareth Farm will be running in the Ragnar Trail Appalachians event, an annual long-distance trail relay race, and competing against hundreds of other teams racing through the trails of Big Bear Lake Camplands in West Virginia.
Can we count on your support as we #Run4NazFarm? Help us continue to ameliorate substandard housing conditions in Appalachia and transform lives by providing meaningful service retreats for high school and college students from around the country. Help us meet our $12,000 goal! Click here to donate and change the lives in our Appalachian community and beyond.
Building on the success of the Inaugural “Run for Nazareth Farm” fundraiser last spring, our Catholic community is organizing a second “Team Nazareth Farm” to participate in the 200-mile overnight Ragnar Relay event on September 16-17th (Friday-Saturday) and help raise funds to sustain Nazareth Farm. This challenging but fun overnight relay event will begin in Cumberland, Maryland (not far from Nazareth Farm!) and end in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. We are excited to report that our team roster is nearly complete, but we are still looking for a couple of enthusiastic runners (all ability levels welcome) for this year’s team. Accommodations will be provided for all participants. This overnight relay is truly a rewarding event’s for all participants and a fun way to help raise needed funds for our community. Last year’s inaugural run brought together many members of extended Nazareth Farm family and generated more than $15,000 in support for the Farm’s mission in Appalachia.
In addition to runners, Nazareth Farm is in need of a few volunteers to help us support the relay team on its journey from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, DC. If you live in Maryland or within the greater Washington, D.C., area, we could use a few folks to help support the team at the relay handoff points or upon our arrival in Washington Saturday afternoon.
Do think you might be interested in lacing up for this year’s Run for Nazareth Farm? Or can lend a hand as a volunteer? If so, please email this year’s team captain, Adam Siple, at firstname.lastname@example.org soon.
Photos by Br. Peter Heiskell, Tom Wiley, Jillian Clemente, and Haley Curtin
By Tom Wiley, Staff Member
Simplicity has always been one of the four cornerstones of our life here at Nazareth Farm. Living simply at Nazareth Farm happens in many ways. It is rocking in porch chairs, talking with another volunteer, getting to know them. It is pouring a warm bucket shower over your head—with the sky overhead and creek below—to take off the dirt from a week at the worksites. It is making music together late into the night, with only your voices and a guitar as instruments. It is vigilantly turning off electric lights whenever you leave a room. It is conserving a toilet flush of water through the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” system, or simply using an outhouse. It is reusing or recycling whenever we can. It is taking only the food that you can eat in solidarity with those who must live on less. It is caring for pets and garden plants. It is asking a question about fossil-fuel extraction and sustainable solutions. It is hiking through hills, admiring God’s grandeur in nature.
Since our beginning, Nazareth Farm has practiced this cornerstone as a way of living out the Gospel message of God’s creation. We view simple and sustainable living as our striving for right relationship with each other and our natural world. It is an essential message of the transformational service-retreats that we hold for our volunteers year round.
Last summer Pope Francis put out an urgent call addressed to “every person living on this planet” (3) in his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ reminding us of the responsibility which all of us have for our world, which we must love and protect. Recognizing the serious, man-made challenges our earth faces today—everything from climate change to ocean acidification to the extinction of countless species of life from existence—Laudato Si’ proposes “a bold cultural revolution” (114) to help humanity return to a more modest and sustainable lifestyle that will allow us to better care for our earth.
Part of this revolution, the Pope writes, must be a return to simplicity. Here is what he has to say:
We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more.” A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfillment. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack. (222)
Pope Francis recognizes this return to simplicity as an “alternative understanding of the quality of life,” and he believes that all Christians are called to live out this alternative lifestyle.
On our retreats at Nazareth Farm our volunteers get an opportunity to return to this kind of simplicity. We tell them to ditch the electronics, gadgets, and smartphones that fill up our lives today with so much distraction. We urge them to be attentive to the little things, to see God in all things. In our rustic environment, we can be uniquely awake to nature around us—in the hills and hollows, in the running water of our creek, in the cats, dogs, and chickens who live here with us, and in the small breeze you feel at the summit of our hike on the ridge. On our retreats we also try to be uniquely present to each other in simple, welcoming community, with both our fellow volunteers who come together for a week of service and our neighbors here in Appalachia. During shared prayer, when volunteers share where they saw God during the week, they so often share finding the divine during the simplest of moments.
By opening their hearts to simple moments, our volunteers begin to reflect on how the compulsive consumerism and wastefulness that marks so much of modern life today affects them and their world. Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si’, “Many people know that our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give up what the market sets before them. (209)” On our retreats our volunteers experience giving up some things, such as their daily shower under running water, paper napkins at dinnertime, or the use of electricity when we have our “energy fast” on Wednesday night. These are little actions, just a drop in the ocean of what needs to be done to heal our world. Pope Francis tells us though:
There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle… We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile. (211-212)
One of the most important gifts we give our volunteers is the knowledge to bring these little actions back to their schools, parishes, and communities. When we do a little action to protect our earth, such as setting up a compost bin for food waste or even just turning off an unnecessary light, we become mindful of our own duties to creation and model that commitment to others, too.
At Nazareth Farm we owe so much of our practice of sustainable simplicity to our neighbors in Appalachia who demonstrate this practice with their lives. Appalachia abounds with knowledge of how to live in respectful harmony with nature. People in Doddridge County often have a great commitment to this land. Many have made economic sacrifices to live in such a naturally beautiful location. Their lifestyle here is often marked by a thriftiness of resources guided by a practical, caring wisdom passed on through generations. I think of our neighbor who came by and walked through our tool racks, telling us how to get a longer life out of each tool, instead of throwing them out and buying new ones. I think of our neighbors who get part of their diet from the land around them: by maintaining beautiful vegetable gardens, by canning their extra harvest, by harvesting ramps and paw-paws from the hills (two Appalachian delicacies), and by using and storing all of the meat they hunt. Often this creative practice of ecological responsibility is carried out in Appalachia when people have limited material and fiscal means. In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis observes about such situations:
An admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to orient their lives amid disorder and uncertainty… At times a commendable human ecology is practiced by the poor despite numerous hardships. (148)
Any of our volunteers who come to Appalachia with an open-minded attitude of encounter have much to learn from our neighbors here about the practice of human ecology.
We feel an urgent need to educate our volunteers about sustainability in large part because we know the stakes for Appalachia are so high. Fossil-fuel extraction plays a dramatic role in the story of this place. From coal mining to the natural gas drilling so prevalent today, fossil-fuel extraction in Appalachia has been a driver of economic production, but often it is had its cost on the land and people of this region. Appalachia’s coal and natural gas have powered the American economy for generations, and the people here are rightly proud of their role in our country’s prosperity. Too often, however, it seems that too little of the wealth generated from this area’s resources was invested back in this land and its people. Too often this mining left deep scars of environmental devastation that will take a long time to heal. Pope Francis evocatively writes in Laudato Si, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. (21)” When you look at a denuded plain of rocky soil that was once a mountain, now stripped of its peak through mountaintop removal, when you see a 900-foot deep coal slurry impoundment filled with the chemical refuse of coal mining, when you see a hillside that you once treasured now torn apart and occupied by a hydro-fracturing pad several hundred feet across, it is easy to see what the Pope means here.
It is our great responsibility then to educate our volunteers who come here in as much of the story of fossil-fuel extraction and sustainable solutions as we can. We tell them about our neighbor who is grateful to have a job with a natural gas company, even though it requires him to work long hours and have less time with his family than he would like. We tell them about the mineral rights to this land that were usually sold by the people who live on the surface of the land long ago, and the disparity that creates. We tell them about the hydro-fracturing drilling of natural gas, often called fracking, which takes place at eight different large wells in Doddridge County. There is much debate about the safety of hydro-fracturing drilling. Many assure us that when properly regulated, it is a safe process. Others raise concerns about the potential impact of chemicals injected into the earth draining into the water aquifers people drink from, or the ground tremors that may result from disturbing the earth thousands of feet below its surface. Again, Pope Francis gives us some guidance about what a debate should look like:
Environmental impact assessment should not come after the drawing up of a business proposition or the proposal of a particular policy, plan or program. It should be part of the process from the beginning, and be carried out in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure. It should be linked to a study of working conditions and possible effects on people’s physical and mental health, on the local economy and on public safety…The local population should have a special place at the table; they are concerned about their own future and that of their children, and can consider goals transcending immediate economic interest. (183)
Our overwhelming concern is always for the people who live here among the resource extraction. One of our neighbors spoke clearly about this when he said about hydro-fracturing drilling: “I don’t mind a person making an honest living, but I want them to respect the people who have been living on this land a lot longer than they’ve been making money off of it.”
Finally, at Nazareth Farm we must consider how home repair itself factors into the care for creation. After all, we are, at our heart, a home-repair organization in Appalachia. We must remember that the human creature is part of God’s creation, too, and that the home people live in is a large part of their environment. Pope Francis thinks of this concern as well:
Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives. These settings influence the way we think, feel and act. In our rooms, our homes, our workplaces and neighborhoods, we use our environment as a way of expressing our identity. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy. (147)
Caring for the human environment then means caring for its physical manifestation as rooms, homes, and shelter from the elements. When we replace someone’s roof that is leaking, when we build a new porch that they can enjoy a view of nature from, when we repaint a house to help maintain it and make it more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, we are improving and repairing their environment. Often in this home repair, we can make our homeowner’s houses more environmentally sustainable, too. We can better insulate windows and doors or install metal skirting on the bottom of trailer homes, so that they better keep heat in and use less energy. These changes help people save money on their heating bill, too. Such improvements increase the quality and happiness of human life in its environment.
Pope Francis gave his prophetic encyclical Laudato Si’ a meaning title. The document’s full title is Laudato Si’ (Praised Be You): On Care for Our Common Home. That subtitle On Care for Our Common Home is a powerful metaphor for a home-repair organization like Nazareth Farm. It is a reminder that caring for our common home can mean more than the repair of constructed houses. It is also caring for this natural world that we all live in, this creation that God has given to us as a gift. Pope Francis gives us this goal:
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. (13)
Nazareth Farm, energized by our faith and guided by our cornerstone of simplicity, will continue to carry our work of the home repair of this common home that we all share. We are grateful for the gift of Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si, which will embolden us in this task. Pope Francis has reminded us of the need to work together—with our volunteers who come here from all over the country, with our neighbors here in Appalachia, with the church and all people of goodwill—to build up this home that we share together. We do this work hand in hand with the Loving God who created us and gave us the gift of our world together.