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Sister Jenny’s Hour

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 07, 2008

On one evening at the end of March, people turned off their lights to observe “Earth Hour”. This is essentially an exercise in consciousness-raising for the environment, global warming, and carbon footprints. No harm done, certainly, but some people don’t feel that turning off the power for an hour is sufficient to wipe away their sins. So a few religious stalwarts used the occasion to make a more far-reaching statement about planet-saving spirituality.

Thus did two Australian Catholic bishops (of Maitland-Newcastle and Broken Bay) and the Anglican bishops of Newcastle join with aboriginal tribal elders for an Earth Hour ceremony on April 3rd at the Newcastle Anglican cathedral in Australia. The assembled religious leaders prayed together over a font of water, which was then sprinkled over a congregation of about a thousand. According to the glowing report of the diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, the goal was to combine “the reconciling elements of water and fire within Aboriginal culture and the centrality and commonality of baptism within the Anglican and Catholic traditions.”

If this spirituality strikes you as more Wiccan than Catholic, then you can probably write the rest of the script. Yes, the congregation was called to prayer by the sound of the didgeridoo, followed by a smoking ceremony. Yes, the preacher for this high liturgical occasion was a female religious, in this case Dominican Sister Jenny Gerathy. And yes, Sister Jenny’s message for this “joyful and historic occasion” was just what you’d expect: “The Church is changing. We are the Church; we are the change.” So let’s join together, please, for Sister Jenny’s closing chant: “Earth hour! Church hour! Now is the hour!”

Before we get carried away, though, we might remind ourselves of how Jesus used the term “hour”. It began with his protest to Mary at Cana, when He said: “My hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4). Later he used the term “hour” again and again to refer, first, to His suffering and death and, second, to his coming in judgment. Of the first hour, Jesus said “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Lk 22:53). Of the second He said: “The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful” (Lk 12:46).

Perhaps that’s where the smoking comes in.

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