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AMDG

The power of humankind has become breathtaking.  Geologists recently claimed that we are entering a new planetary epoch called the Anthropocene. This reflects our impact on the planet, on its geology and its ecosystems, with climate change constituting a small part of this ‘human-shaping’ effect.  Beyond harnessing the power of the atom we have also discovered that we are affecting the planet in ways that we could not imagine. One of the more interesting ways of the new ‘Anthropocene’ is how we are affecting the fossil record, particularly with chicken bones. Of the 60 billion chicken that are bred and consumed a year, there are so many bones filling our landfills that it is possible we are laying interesting layers for future geologists to discover – when the planet has become vegan.  Manmade artifacts such as litter, engineering structures, old cars etc will be known as ‘technofossils’.

It seems that we are not restricted to shaping our own planet,  I have just been reading about ‘directed panspermia’.  This is the plan of seeding alien worlds with microorganisms from the earth.  We know that bacteria can survive for years in the chill of deep-space, shielded from solar radiation. So if the time-span of homo sapiens is limited on this planet some ‘visionaries’ have started looking for other homes.  The first step is to identify suitable planets, one’s that revolve around a similar size star, in the life-enabling ‘Goldilocks Zone‘ i.e. not too close and not too far away from the star it orbits.  Having identified the target planet we could then scatter photosynthesising bacteria and algae into its ‘atmosphere’…. thus preparing an atmosphere that could assist the colonisation of the planet.

Are we playing ‘God’?  Contaminating other planets in this way risks destroying life that may have evolved on the ‘host’ planet independently.  So we might be playing Shiva (the Hindu Goddess of Destruction).  There are ethical issues being debated about this form of galactic colonisation.  Nasa is pressing head with ‘The Starlight Project’ – whose focus is on how to ‘propel’ intergalactic travel.  The plans include a  Terrestrial Biome in Space which will observe how the interstellar environment and extreme acceleration affects micro-organisms as they are frozen and then thawed on arrival.  As the experiment may potentially contaminate exoplanets, NASA’s funding does not cover it.   On a more positive note – an argument can be made that this is humankind using its God-given intelligence to assume its invitation to become co-creators. Our greatest organ for survival is our brain which leads to our ability to adapt.  This could be an incredible use of our intelligence.   Others would say this is our original sinfulness, the pride of Lucifer, who reached too far and was cast out of heaven.  It may even call for a seventh chapter to Laudato Si.

Ascension

AMDG  

As the church enters an intense time of prayer for nine days between Ascension and Pentecost (the original novena) …. I thought I’d share this beautiful reflection from Romano Guardini in his masterpiece ‘The Lord’. This book has been a delightful discovery for me recently …. it just keeps on giving beautiful insights from the soon-to-be beatified Guardini.  Although its 86 bite-size chapters cover the whole of Jesus Christ’s life – I have just noticed the picture on the English Translations is taken from El Greco’s Ressurection and Ascension.

 

 

Now the Evangelists’ manner of writing changes… we feel in the lines how He pauses on the sill between time and eternity …. He is in eternity yet in time, though differently than before, in the intimacy of becoming….  at that extreme edge of Christian history stands the ultimate event in which all that has been will be finished and fulfilled: Christs return for judgement.

What is the heaven into which Jesus was accepted on that first Ascension Day? The heaven that will once be all? In the Biblical account an upward movement is unmistakable; according to the Gospels,  Christ seems to mount upwards from the Earth. Is then heaven the summit of space? Certainly not.  The spatial ‘up’ is only a figurative expression for something spiritual. In the sense of the New Testament, though we were to fly to Sirius we should be no closer to heaven than we are on earth. Heaven is no more in the infinity of the cosmos as it is within earthly limits…. “Heaven” is also not what is meant by celestial beauty or peace ….. the Bible’s Heaven is something else.

Want to find out how Guardini describes heaven?  You’ll have to buy the book ….   🙂

 

Disrupting Funerals

AMDG

A glut of funerals here at St.Ignatius, North London, has made me curious about the whole funeral business.  Every minute there are over 100 deaths on the planet,  in an ageing population such as the UK, the Death Rate is climbing, in 2016 there were over 560,000.  Losing a loved one involves a lot of grief and people are very vulnerable at these moments,  when families are sadly open to exploitation.  As a business, it seems ripe for disruption and reform.  I have been surprised about the costs and the variation in prices on what is a similar service.  On the face of it, funerals are a predictable, low risk, high margin business with a steady supply of uninformed loyal customers.  The more unscrupulous directors seem, the more likely to sell things what the customers do not know they can refuse,  or feel too embarrassed to question.  It’s not a business where it feels right to haggle,  though that might be changing.  If I meet the family at an early stage in planning the funeral,  I now suggest that they go on a website called “Beyond Life “.   This is a funeral director price comparison site.  You would be surprised at the variations within a short space.  If you go to Amazon to see what the price of a coffin is,  then you will realise the outrageous markup that the funeral directors have placed on it. In Britain, Dignity plc.  is the biggest provider of funeral plans and operates over 44 crematoria around the country, but like all dominant market players it might not be the most efficient.  It has merged many funeral providers around the country and at a cursory glance, the directors affiliated to Dignity seem to charge the most.  It is important to realise that there is no legal obligation to use a funeral director.  In fact, more and more people are getting into unnecessary debt paying for a funeral – The Natural Death charity are campaigning against this exploitation and have a website link worth visiting.

We know there are profound changes in society,  as families are more mobile and dispersed they are also less likely to tend a family grave.  So the traditional ‘Victorian’ funeral in this country may be dying out.  A funeral director recently told me that they are beginning to feel more like event planners. Thank God, in the Catholic Church there is less leeway and the liturgy in some ways protects the grieving family from funeral planners who may want to fire the ashes out of a canon (and then charge you 5k for the privilege).  For a Catholic there are three reasons for a funeral, firstly the family gets strength from their faith in the resurrection, the community and the sacraments.  Secondly an honest celebration of the deceased life and finally the disposal of the body either through burial or cremation.  Other funerals will often include the second and third element.  According to a recent article in the Economist, there seems to be a growing trend of separating the disposal of the Body with a commemoration of someone’s life.  I have noticed that receptions afterwards (like in weddings) are becoming more elaborate and more lavish. In a less religious society, we are seeing an increase in direct cremations, with no-one present, or what Dignity euphemistically call ‘Simplicity Cremations’, wheras the life may be celebrated in a lavish hotel around the corner.

As the internet has cut out the middleman, with companies such as Uber, Amazon, Skyscanner getting rid of taxi companies, bookshops and travel agents – it is also starting to affect the funeral process.  This has lead to a new generation of ‘disruptive consumers’.   However bringing an assertive attitude to the church’s door is difficult for older priests to manage, when ultimately the church is on their side and are trying to respond pastorally. For a £5000 package the church would often only receive around £150 from the undertakers.   This asserting themselves can create a bit of tension in the planning process when we are burying a stalwart of the parish who wishes a simple Catholic requiem mass. However, as the funeral arrangements are not stated in their will then you suddenly are at the whim of a son or daughter who feels they have the right to dictate the service. If they are alienated from the church they are often ignorant about what is appropriate and also what will confuse the loyal parishioners.