Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Living in Harmony, Recognizing Dignity

Dr Bryan Cross

Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of religious studies at Mount Mercy University, speaks Sept. 18, 2018.

At the end of a sometimes discouraging presentation that had multiple examples of the damage humans have done to the Earth and ways in which people take advantage of each other, Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of religious studies, offered a brighter view.

“If we think it’s too late, it will definitely be too late,” he said. “You have to do what you can. And I still have hope.”

Cross, a professor at Mount Mercy University, spoke during the Fall Faculty Series called “Sustanability: Human/Nature and the Future of the Earth.” His Sept. 18 forum, the second in the series, also happened during Mercy Week at MMU, when the university celebrates its Sisters of Mercy heritage—and the week this year is dedicated to concern for the Earth. The presentation was called “Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí: Harmony with the Natural Order and the Dignity of Creatures.”


Shadow of Dr. Bryan Cross.


Dr. Bryan Cross explains a slide.

The presentation, using ideas from a book written by Pope Francis, began with some religious perspective on why it’s important to care for our planet. Partly, it’s recognition that nature has intrinsic value. And it’s also showing respect to other humans, too, including those who will come after us.

“I am my future generation’s keeper,” Cross said. Exploitation of other humans, viewing them only as utility, is part of the mindset that allows exploitation of other living things and the Earth itself—so the antidote is a recognition of dignity of others—other people, but other parts and pieces of this reality, too.

About 60 people attended, which is a pretty good turnout. The audience seemed caught up in the presentation, and there was lots of good discussion at the end. I thought I spoke a bit too much—a bad habit I tend to have—but it was still an enjoyable evening, if a little discomforting, too.

And I also felt that it set the bar pretty high for me. I speak next in the series, on Oct. 11 I will give a presentation called: “Hot Story: How the Media Struggles to Cover Climate Change.” Hope to see you there!


Leave a comment

Filed under Mount Mercy, Science

Pope Francis and His Call for “Mercyfying” Hearts


Dr. Matthew Ashley, University of Notre Dame, speaks at Mount Mercy University’s Chapel of Mercy.

As Dr. Matthew Ashley, theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, noted, Pope Francis, a man of peace, has done some violence to the language.

One of the Pope’s favorite words is “Mercy,” and he has called upon Christians to work for “Mercyfying” hearts. “It doesn’t work any better as a gerund in Spanish than it does in English,” Ashley said.

But the idea is important. Mercy, Ashley noted, can be sort of condescendingly granted, as when a professor grudgingly looks the other way when a student has a lame excuse for a late paper. He contrasts this with the way Jesus treated St. Peter.

“Peter was not the brightest bulb in the package,” Ashley said. “He made lots of mistakes.” But, he also accepted God with an open heart, and that gave him the steadfast faith that made Jesus declare him the rock on which the church would be built. The mercy extended to Peter included a call to action. “Jesus was ‘mercifying’ him,” Ashley said. The mercy was not condescending, but rather empowering. And our world desperately needs more such mercy.

“Mercy is probably the one word that characterizes Pope Francis’ papacy,” Ashley said. His presentation, “Pope Francis and the Message of Peace,” was Sept. 19, 2017, in the Chapel of Mercy. I think around 90 people attended the event, which was both the keynote speech for Mercy Week, which celebrates MMU’s Sisters of Mercy heritage, and was part of our Fall Faculty Series, “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age.”

Ashley did take one minor, but well-paced, jab at President Trump, noting his threat to annihilate North Korea clearly falls outside of what Catholic teaching would call a “just war.”

The presentation was laced with quotes from Pope Francis, and it couldn’t have been a starker contrast between the leader of the Catholic Church and the President of the United States. Trump delights in cheap insults like “rocket man” while he dangerously plays with unthinkable violence. Pope Francis insists in seeing connections between violence between people and violence to the Earth and condemning violence in all its forms.

When Trump jokes, it is with inappropriate and violent memes. When Francis jokes, it makes you think.

Anyway, the speech tonight was the second one in the Chapel of Mercy for the fall series. One week ago, writer Tim Wise spoke on “The Great White Hoax: Racism, Divide-and-Conquer, and the Politics of Trumpism.” He speech, as well as being in the fall series, was part of English Program’s Visiting Writer series.

Wise said that Trump must be understood as fitting in to a long narrative in America, of the powerful invocation of ancient racial fears that have always infected our politics. He noted that in American politics, “nostalgia is a sacrament,” although the memory is often not clear.


2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Of the two speakers, Wise drew a much larger crowd and was much more animated. Still, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Ashley’s presentation tonight.

One thread that unites them, I suppose, is that both speeches are part of Mount Mercy’s ongoing mission to have provocative and revealing public conversations on matters that concern us all. That, to me, is vital to who we are, and a key reason we recently started having these fall series

Ashley concluded his speech by noting “the university” is a key institution that should help the culture by imagining and working towards “another possible world.”

Taken together, the two contrasting evenings felt like highlights of this fall’s series—but the series continues and there is plenty of good material yet to come. Stay tuned and check MMU’s web site—Dr. David Klope, associate professor of communication, is up next in the series on Monday.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Mount Mercy

Save the Earth, One Pretty Worm at a Time


Dr. Joy Ochs talks worms.

To make a point, Dr. Joy Ochs, professor of English, asked a question: “How many of you have a cute puppy that you love?”

Many hands (not mine) shot into the air. (Not that I hate puppies, but I don’t have one.) Ochs then pointed out that not only are puppies worthy of love, but that also worms are a valuable part of our ecosystem, and she described the earthworm tub she keeps in her kitchen so the worms can convert kitchen scraps into soil.

“It’s the most amazing soil,” she noted. “It’s so rich, and it smells like life.”

The worms are doing something beautiful. And if you think of their abilities, the slimy, wiggly creatures have their own kind of beauty as an amazing part of nature. Or, as Ochs stated: “We sometimes ignore the miracles that are all around us.”


Blakely, an MMU student, who  volunteered to cover this event the MMU Times.

Ochs was part of a panel of Mount Mercy faculty who spoke Feb. 25 in the 2016 Aquinas Project, which was a reflection about an encyclical from Pope Francis called “Lauado Si.” The Aquinas event has been held at MMU since the late 1950s, and usually brings an outside speaker to campus. This year was different, but also very well done.

Pope Francis, as it turns out, is an environmentalist who makes the point in his book-length papal statement that love of the Earth is part of a Christian’s duty to love God. To paraphrase Dr. Bryan Cross, professor of philosophy, love of God implies love of His creation and His creatures—and to recognize that creation has intrinsic value beyond what utility it has for humans.


Dr. Bryan Cross, philosophy, as part of the faculty panel. Earlier, he summarized the Pope’s encyclical on the environment.

Cross started the program with a detailed summary of the encyclical, in which, among many other points, Pope Francis notes that love of neighbor and love of nature are closely tied concepts.

I could only attend about an hour of the 90 minute program—right in the middle, I had to leave for half an hour for another meeting, although I was fortunately able to come back. Sadly, I missed the end of Cross outlining the papal letter, and I missed at least half of the panel discussion.


Dr. Mary Ducey, philosophy.

But I was moved by what I heard. I know the professors on the panel, and they are a diverse group of people who have many different perspectives on many different topics. Still, they universally agreed, with Pope Francis, on the urgent need for action to save the Earth.


Father Tony Adawu. The MMU chaplain noted that the Catholic teaching of “the common good” was not utilitarian, because it means no ones suffering should be tolerated.

And, for the record, Pope Francis believes in global warming. Granted, it’s a reality whether he believes it or not—but it is refreshing that a major Christian leader isn’t among the science deniers who are all too common. A few days ago, a faculty member asked me, as a practicing Catholic, how I felt about the Pope speaking out on science. I hemmed and hawed a bit, but I have not read the encyclical.


Dr. Carol Tyx, English, makes a point during the Q and A portion.

After the Aquinas program, I feel I should read it. The taste I got was pretty powerful and beautiful. And one attractive point happens to coincide with an idea I’ve long held without hearing it articulated—that appreciation of the Earth’s beauty is one key to the movement to be more respectful of the earth.planet.

Cross used this quote from Pope Francis: “If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used without scruple.”

The Earth—love it or leave it. And, I don’t recall which panelist made the point, but one quote put me in mind of Ash Wednesday. One reason we should love the Earth is, as the panelist said, we literally are part of it. Or, as a priest says when he puts ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

You can be depressed by that thought. Or you can see the beauty in it. Science teaches that we are bits of cosmic dust, brought here from deep space by ancient comets, and come to life. Pope Francis urges us to recognize what is lovely and lovable in that.

So how do I feel when Pope Francis talks science? It’s like an earthworm. It’s beautiful.

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden, Mount Mercy, Weather

A Great Thought and a Great Name for a Bike

Campus Ministry and Mount Mercy University President Laurie Hamen hosted a prayer service in the Chapel of Mercy Thursday—an afternoon ecumenical gathering meant to emphasize respect for all faith traditions.
An Imam from the local mosque was the featured guest. That was by intention, as rhetoric in our public discourse has turned dark, with one presidential candidate even calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. I liked the service, partly because I agree with the sentiment behind it. It also included this video from Pope Francis in which he calls for respect among religions.
And, during the service one of my favorite hymns, “The Prayer of Saint Francis” was sung. Sadly, I sang along, and for that, universe, I apologize.
Following the service, I took advantage of the chance to sign the Mercy Door in the chapel, a replica of a special jubilee door opened at The Vatican in honor of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I felt a little funny signing, because I was putting my name under a “pledge” to do an act of mercy each month.
Door signing

Another MMU faculty member signs the Mercy door.

Today, its Jan. 15. Half a month is left and I have to figure out how to be deliberately merciful, and then try to carry that on throughout 2016. I’m sure my CO 101 students could suggest an idea, but of course “giving” a good grade is not a true act of mercy because it doesn’t aid the recipient. Still, it wasn’t an intention to do an act of mercy, it was a pledge. That feels like a serious promise. I’ll have to think about that.


Anyway, I was glad to be there, to hear from Pope Francis, to sing a song that reflect the ideas of Saint Francis and then to hop on my bike—Francis—to ride home. Somehow, the pretty sunset on campus seemed to fit the whole mood. Where there is mercy, let there be hope.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mount Mercy

Francis Called the “Mercy” Pope

John L. Allen Jr. speak in the Chapel of Mercy Feb. 19.

John L. Allen Jr. speak in the Chapel of Mercy Feb. 19.

Well, it was music to our ears. To a mostly full Chapel of Mercy, journalist John L. Allen Jr. had this to say about Pope Francis: “My prediction is in the long run, Francis will be known as the pope of mercy.”

I don’t suppose it’s any wonder that the Mount Mercy crowd ate it up. Allen, an associate editor for the “Boston Globe” who writes for the web site “Crux” which covers the Catholic Church, talked about what he called the “radical” leadership style of Pope Francis Feb. 19 at Mount Mercy University’s Chapel of Mercy. The presentation was based on his book “Against the Tide: The Radical Leadership of Pope Francis.” I got a copy at a reception for Allen, and the slim volume seems readable and interesting—I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, the speech Allen gave was also quite informative.

By “radical,” Allen made clear he was not talking about a political identification. Pope Francis enjoys not being pinned down politically, and tweaks the conventions of both left and right—in fact, Allen said he suspects Francis will make both American political parties uncomfortable when he soon becomes the first pope to address Congress.

In the pope’s case, Allen said radical leadership means two things:

First, the pope is bold. He is willing to make changes whose impact even he can’t be sure of. Allen noted that when the pope recently added more cardinals to the church, most of them came from around the world, rather than from Rome or Europe. He noted that the tiny nation of Tonga, which as a total population about equal to Cedar Rapids, now has a cardinal.

“Francis thinks that the top of the church should look more like the bottom of the church,” Allen said.

Second, the pope is radical in the sense that the word itself refers to the “root” of things. This second sense of radical leadership is what Allen spent the most time talking about, and includes three broad thrusts of Pope Francis:

  • Francis sees “leadership as service.”
  • Francis has a missionary vision for the church.
  • Francis sees mercy as the core of Christianity.

For instance, Allen said that Francis instructed the global community of papal ambassadors who help name local bishops to look for those potential bishops who are connected with the people—or, as Allen said Francis put it, shepherds who “carry the smell of their sheep.”

Allen had many other interesting insights into the current pope. He noted, for example, that Pope Benedict was cast as a media villain, the “Rottweiler of God.” But, Allen said, he personally observed Benedict for many years, and the previous pope was much more consistent with Pope Francis that the media image of the two men suggest. He notes that when Benedict became pope, he immediately behaved in a humble fashion, such as packing his own bags and personally thanking nuns who had helped cook for cardinals during the conclave that elected him—actions that Francis echoed when he was selected.

John L. Allen Jr. speaks with Bill Mulcahey, who retired last fall as director of campus ministry at MMU.

John L. Allen Jr. speaks with Bill Mulcahey, who retired last fall as director of campus ministry at MMU.

But, because Benedict already had a poor media image, his humility was not recognized. Allen noted that Francis deserves credit for many ongoing reforms in the church—but also that many of those reforms, such as more financial transparency and confronting the priest sexual abuse scandal—were continuations of initiatives that Benedict began.

Another tidbit Allen offered was to sum up the central messages of the three popes he has covered. First, he issued the caveat that these complex leaders could not be reduced to a simple phrase, and then he proceeded to do exactly that. For John Paul II, the pope who helped bring down Communism in Eastern Europe, the phrase was “be not afraid.” For Benedict the 16th, the central phrase was “reason and faith,” the concept that neither reason nor faith functioned well without being balanced by the other. For Francis, Allen said the central theme has been “the church needs to get out of the sanctuary and into the streets.”

“He (Francis) thinks of himself as the missionary-in-chief of the church,” Allen said.

Allen also noted that he thought the humility and positive image of Francis are genuine and reflect who he is, but are also the result of an intense strategic mind at work. While nothing the pope does or says is easy to predict, Allen said it’s also true that nothing is unplanned.

“Never forget this: Beneath his humble exterior is the mind of a brilliant Jesuit politician,” Allen said of Pope Francis.

John L. Allen Jr. signs a copy of  his book on the leadership of Pope Francis for an MMU student.

John L. Allen Jr. signs a copy of his book on the leadership of Pope Francis for an MMU student.

Well, it seems that the Francis effect was in full flower at Mount Mercy. Whatever else you can say about this pontiff, he certainly has made the church far more lively, and that energy could be sensed in the almost-full chapel.

And, sometimes, Francis can even spark lame humor. At the end of this speech, Allen warned his attentive and appreciative audience that they had better ask questions, or he would regale them with pope jokes like this one: “Pope Francis walks into a bar with a frog on his shoulder. The bartender looks up and says, ‘where did you get that?’ The frog answers, ‘Buenos Aires.’”

It’s probably good that questions followed.

A few more of my photos from Facebook.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mount Mercy