The new year came early for me this year–while in America 2022 still had almost a full day left to go, I was as close to the International Date Line as I’ve ever been watching fireworks erupt from the Sky Tower in Auckland, New Zealand. I will be spending the first half of the year doing Jesuit “tertianship” in Melbourne, Australia. Tertianship is the final formal stage of Jesuit formation in which we do the 30-day Spiritual Exercises again and have a chance to reflect on all that’s happened so far.
New Year’s Eve also brought the sad news of the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, someone I have immensely admired as a man whose character balanced both courage and humility, as a Christian for whom Jesus was the center of everything, and as a theologian capable of expressing the most profound truths with luminous clarity. Benedict knew how to cut through both theological jargon and political rhetoric to get to the heart of the matter– always the absolutely unique encounter with Jesus Christ.
Shortly after Benedict’s death I was contacted by a scholar of Lakota Catholicism, Damian Costello, who wrote this article highlighting an under-appreciated aspect of Benedict’s work, his focus on creation: The unexpected way Pope Benedict helped me learn to pray with all creation. Dr. Costello’s work came to my attention last year in an insightful article in America magazine about Native American religious sensibilities and the Latin Mass. His book Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism makes an important and original argument, and it’s on my to-read list.
Damian’s reflections on Benedict and creation came at an interesting time for me, as New Zealand is truly remarkable for its natural beauty. Yes, it really is as stunning as it seems in Lord of the Rings! Thus an ideal place to reflect on the gift that is the natural world. And New Zealand has done a good job preserving that natural heritage while making it accessible to visitors. Its South Island seems to combine a little bit of everything geographically–volcanoes, glaciers, badlands, Alpine mountains, rainforests, fiords, pastureland. In the unspoiled parts there is something, perhaps, just a touch Edenic…