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Visiting professor connects Lent, ‘Laudato si”

| Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Clemens Sedmak, visiting professor of Catholic Social Tradition and community engagement at the Center for Social Concerns, discussed “Laudato si’” — Pope Francis’ encyclical on environmental issues and consumerism — and how to integrate its teachings into Lenten practices.

Sedmak said a monk told him Lent was meant to be a time to form habits which will last throughout the year.

“I once met a Benedictine abbot, as one does, and he told me that Lent is something like intensive exercise time for the monks, and it means you try to take something very seriously which will help you throughout the rest of the year,” Sedmak said. “So the idea is that your Lenten exercises and sacrifices will sustain you through the rest of the year, trying to establish habits that you hopefully will bring into your life after Easter.”

According to Sedmak, Pope Francis focuses on habits in “Laudato si’” as a means of obtaining a more sustainable world.

“Pope Francis encourages us in ‘Laudato si’’ to establish new habits,” Sedmak said. “I think the most sustainable way of changing an institution or any person is habits.

“So you change your everyday life. You change what you take for granted, what is familiar, what is regular. You change the space, you change the things you repeat over time and you change your actions.”

Last November, Sedmak and 18 of his students experimented with various aspects of their lives in light of “Laudato si’” and tried to live more sustainable lives. Sedmak said this process helped his students to reflect on their habits and question the practices they took for granted.

“If you try, as one colleague did, to live without buying plastic for a month, you don’t buy plastic for a month, you will refine certain categories and you will rethink what you took for granted,” he said. “And certain categories all of the sudden become problematic.”

Sedmak said Lent offers a time to undergo this process in light of “Laudato si’” and free one’s self from excesses.

“I see ‘Laudato si’’ and Lent coming nicely together in the concern of try[ing] to renew yourself so that you’re open for what’s really important in life,” Sedmak said. “And I think most of us have made the experience, and can make the experience that if we forego certain things. We gain a freedom that makes us much more open to the things that really matter in life.”

Adapting the mindset of “less is more” helps to be successful with Lenten goals, Sedmak said.

“In the spiritual life you have to have some sense of moderation,” Sedmak said. “ … [Ignatius of Loyola] had to deal with over-ambitious, young Jesuits in Portugal. They were overdoing it and fasting too much and sleeping not enough. So they took Lent over seriously.”

According to Sedmak, Ignatius of Loyola responded to these Jesuits with a letter, telling them not to exhaust themselves with excessive fasting.

“He sent a letter in two parts,” Sedmak said. “The first part basically said ‘Yes, God expects very impressive fruits from us, and yes, should be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect. However, don’t overdo it because if you overdo it, you will break down, ruin your health and not be able to serve the kingdom in the long run.’”

According to Sedmak, Lent — viewed in light of “Laudato si’” — challenges Christians to take the suffering caused by environmental degradation and make it their own.

“To turn what’s happening in the world into our own personal suffering; that’s how I see, in a nutshell, the Lenten challenge because if you are honest, this is a challenge,” Sedmak said. “ … It takes an effort for me to turn what’s happening in the world into my own personal suffering.

“That’s why we need Lent. To make this bridge happen, because here on campus we may not see much of the climate change or the ecological threats that the pope talks about.”

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