A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Craig Larkin – An Echo of Laudato Si’

Fr Neil Vaney sm

Fr Neil Vaney sm

Great tributes flowed during the recent funeral of Craig Larkin. They touched upon his skills as dramatist and story-teller, his personal charm and his work as Marist formator, New Zealand provincial and vicar-general in Rome. On the other hand, little attention was given to him as a scholar, especially in his loved field of spirituality.

The publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, ‘Laudato Si’ has shone a light upon the spirituality of the Eastern Church, a passionate interest of Craig. Among the influences upon his thought acknowledged by Francis is Patriarch Bartholomew, perhaps the leading figure in the dialogue between Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy; he has been labelled ‘the green Patriarch’ because of his insistence of the importance of the natural world in Christian faith.

Both Bartholomew and Francis share a common esteem for John Zizioulas, the metropolitan of Pergamom, reputedly one of the sources that the pope drew upon in the writing of the encyclical. He has long insisted that the world of nature is an indispensable part of the link between humans and the divine.

St Francis, Killarney - preaching to the birds

St Francis, Killarney - preaching to the birds

At the time of his death, Craig was trying to complete three works. One tentatively called When Prayer Has Been Valid  examines the prayer and spirituality of seven saints and mystics of the Oriental (Syriac) and Eastern (Orthodox) Churches. These studies make up the first half of the work. Significantly, the underlying ideas were born and nourished in visits that Craig made to the Egyptian desert, to Sinai, Syria and Mt Athos, breathing in the landscape and environment where these great mystics lived and prayed.

This Eastern spirituality shows marked similarities to the Celtic spirituality of Ireland which it overlapped especially in the 7-8th centuries. Just as important, both stand independent of the thought of Augustine of Hippo whose teaching came to dominate the Western Church, particularly his preoccupation with Original Sin and sexuality.

In contrast, both Eastern and Celtic spirituality are full of wonderful stories of birds and beasts and their relations to the saints. There is Gerasimos of the Jordan, who healed a lion with a splintered paw which went on the become part of the monastic community and roared in grief over the abbot’s grave till he too passed away. Then there are the Irish saints like Brendan whose coracle rested in mid-Atlantic on the back of a whale while the monks cooked up a nourishing meal; also Kevin who prayed so intensely in the wild with arms outstretched  that a blackbird built her nest inside his hand; when the saint came to himself he remained in this position till the nestling was raised.

When Craig’s book finally comes to birth it may well prove to be one more of the growing resources that are helping to place the world of nature back within the heart of religious and Catholic doctrine and spirituality where it finds its true place, one that it gradually lost from the time of the Renaissance and Reformation.   

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