It’s so easy being green

Sunday 22 April 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Earth Day

You’ve heard, dear readers, of Superman, Spiderman, and Batman, but have you ever heard of Terracotta Man? Sure you have. You know him as Adam. “Adam” is the Hebrew word for reddish-brown clay — what we call “terracotta.” God formed the first man out of clay and named him “Adam”— that is, “Terracotta.” This gives you some idea of how deeply we are connected to the earth. It’s the stuff of which we are made.

I am writing this on Earth Day, the unofficial environmental celebration. Earth Day doesn’t date back to Adam and Eve. No. Earth Day originated in 1970. The credit goes to the honorable senator from the great state of Wisconsin, the late Gaylord Nelson.

Earth Day has struck a chord with some. People observe the day by collecting litter, planting trees, holding marches, delivering rousing speeches, and signing petitions. Earth Day appropriated some of its tactics from the anti-war movement. 

This year, I decided to spend Earth Day digging deeper. I asked myself, “How do we as Catholics relate to the earth?” My musings went far beyond Earth Day.

Start on the mountain. Humans have always favored high places as the location for worship sites. If we can’t find a high place, at least we can build a steeple reaching to the sky. Heaven is not a physical place and therefore cannot possibly be located in the sky, but still we naturally want to reach up to God. We seem to be more in touch with God on mountaintops. Google “Biblical mountains” and you will get 35 million results.

Then there is the matter of the physical orientation of our churches. When the Lord returns, His glory will shine from one end of the sky to the other. Still, Catholics historically prefer to worship while facing in the direction of the rising sun (ad orientam). This is not always possible due to the topology and to the fact that in our current Liturgy, priest and people face in opposite directions. In this parish church, for example, the people face south but I face north. Well, it’s the thought that counts. Ad orientam is a state of mind.

The calendar of our worship, its feasts and seasons, is especially aligned with the natural world. 

Lent, for example, means “spring.” Our holiest day, Easter, is determined by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are the most ancient way to mark the passing of time. 

By Pentecost, the earth is green and vibrant again. In fact, some people call Pentecost the “green” holy day.

At about the time the summer solstice is observed, so is the Nativity of John the Baptist. It’s the longest day. Thereafter, however, days grow shorter — in the same way that John the Baptist chose to decrease in order for the Lord to increase. This is not coincidental.

Summer passes and we reach the first of the harvest festivals, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother is the first of God’s harvest of souls. God’s harvest of souls will be completed when the Lord returns in glory.

The days grow short when we reach September, as Frank Sinatra famously crooned. On September, 14 we lift high the cross against the encroaching darkness.

In the month of November, as the natural world withers and dies around us, we remember our beloved dead. The nights grow longer still. We sit in the darkness of Advent and light candles.

The date of Christmas approximates the winter solstice. At the darkest time of the year, we celebrate the birth of the Son of God. Then the wheel of the year turns and so does the cycle of our Liturgy. The world grows ever brighter. Ad aeternam

And consider, if you please, the “all-natural ingredients” we use in our ritual spaces: water, olive oil, wheat, grapes, beeswax, fire, precious metals and gems, stone, wood. These are all things of the earth. Anything plastic or artificial is unworthy. It’s not good enough for Sacred usage.

Catholics who are attuned to both the Liturgy and to the natural world have a year-round prayer life that is rooted in the earth. This connectivity, unfortunately, is mostly lost to industrial and technological societies. 

Dig deeper still. The Catholic Church has been “green” much longer than today’s ecological movement. For us, respect for the earth goes back to the beginning — literally. We respect the earth because God created it. God appointed us stewards of the earth and all it contains. We are responsible for each other, for “all creatures great and small,” for the whole planet. Catholic ecology is about relationships. In the last 40 years or so, under the leadership of the popes, the Church has been ever more clearly addressing this fraying web of relationships.

Catholic ecology is human ecology. It is more than a hot-button political issue. It’s a reflection on who we are; on our way of being in the world. 

It’s not good to forget who we are and what we’re made of.

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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