Care of Creation

This past Tuesday was the first day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Pope Francis has asked that it be an annual observance, held each year on September 1. He credited Eastern Orthodoxy with having such a day before the Catholic Church.

The idea of caring for Creation as Catholics did not originate with Pope Francis. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1, 2010, used as his theme: “If you want to cultivate peace, protect Creation.” He said that day in his Angelus address, “When the message was published, the heads of state and government were meeting in Copenhagen for the summit on the climate at which, once again, the urgent need for concerted approaches at the global level became apparent. At this moment, however, I would like to stress the importance that the decisions of individuals, families and local administrations also have in the preservation of the environment. We can no longer do without a real change of outlook which will result in new life-styles. In fact we are all responsible for the protection and care of Creation. Therefore in this field, too, education is fundamental; to learn to respect nature, to be increasingly disposed; to begin building peace with far-reaching decisions on the part of individuals, families, communities and states.”

In 2002 St. John Paul II and the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I issued a “Joint Declaration on Environmental Ethics.” In it the two of them said, “At the beginning of history, man and woman sinned by disobeying God and rejecting His design for Creation. Among the results of this first sin was the destruction of the original harmony of Creation. If we examine carefully the social and environmental crisis which the world community is facing, we must conclude that we are still betraying the mandate God has given us: to be stewards called to collaborate with God in watching over Creation in holiness and wisdom.”

Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ echoed this joint Catholic/Orthodox declaration by speaking about the misinterpretation of the mandate to be stewards that God gave us back in Eden.

The saint and the patriarch continued, “A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. A genuine conversion in Christ will enable us to change the way we think and act. A new approach and a new culture are needed, based on the centrality of the human person within Creation and inspired by environmentally ethical behavior stemming from our triple relationship to God, to self and to Creation. Such an ethics fosters interdependence and stresses the principles of universal solidarity, social justice and responsibility, in order to promote a true Culture of Life.”

In Tuesday’s Liturgy of the Word in St. Peter’s Basilica, presided over by Pope Francis, paragraphs 84, 86-87 of the Holy Father’s encyclical were read. In No. 86 he wrote, “The universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God. St. Thomas Aquinas wisely noted that multiplicity and variety ‘come from the intention of the First Agent’ Who willed that ‘what was wanting to one in the representation of the Divine goodness might be supplied by another,’ inasmuch as God’s goodness ‘could not be represented fittingly by any one creature.’ Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships. We understand better the importance and meaning of each creature if we contemplate it within the entirety of God’s plan. As the ‘Catechism’ teaches: ‘God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other’” (CCC, 340).

At the Liturgy of the Word, the preacher of the papal household, Father Raneiro Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., delivered the homily and echoed the teachings of the last three popes, calling for a commitment to ecological change, always tied to the dignity of the human person. Towards the beginning of his address he noted the horror of countries where thousands of miles of land are reserved for the protection of animals (a good thing in itself), while thousands of human beings are starving to death in the same land.

“Jesus condemns dishonest wealth, which takes advantage of the poor,” the Capuchin clarified, not all riches (he noted that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man and a friend of Jesus, but that Jesus required that the dishonest Zaccheaus repent of the evil manner in which he became rich). He spoke about how we offend our Creator by the ways in which we use His world without respect for all creatures, beginning with our fellow human beings.

“We suffocate the truth,” the preacher said, when our hearts are so closed that we never thank and praise God for the beauty of Creation which He has given us. He repeatedly spoke about how we need to become more conscious of this. He noted that we pray “Heaven and earth are full of Your glory,” and yet seem unconscious of this reality.

“We need a radical change in our relationship with Creation,” the Capuchin said. Being a son of St. Francis, he noted how the man from Assisi reminded the Church of the need to contemplate how God has created such a beautiful world and contemplate even the smallest elements of this Creation, seeing God’s work in them.

“Think globally, act locally,” is a slogan which Father Cantalamessa quoted in English during his homily. He then quoted a participant in an Orthodox synod in 1989, who said that without a conversion in the human heart, no environmental project will be successful.

There are sacrifices which will be required of us, but the results will bring us joy. St. John Paul and Patriarch Bartholomew wrote, “We must frankly admit that humankind is entitled to something better than what we see around us. We and, much more, our children and future generations are entitled to a better world, a world free from degradation, violence and bloodshed, a world of generosity and love.

If we do nothing, that better world will not come about. Only someone totally lacking in compassion would want to hand on a worse world to their offspring or to future generations. Last December Pope Francis spoke to Christian volunteers from all over the world and told them, “Among the principal causes of poverty is an economic system which plunders nature — I am thinking of deforestation in particular, but also of environmental disasters and the loss of biodiversity. It bears repeating that Creation is not a possession that we can dispose of as we please, much less a possession of only a few. Creation is a magnificent gift that God has given us to care for and use to the benefit of all, with respect. I encourage you, therefore, to carry on in your commitment in order so that Creation may continue to be the patrimony of everyone, to hand down in all its beauty to future generations.”

May God help us to do that on the personal, familial, local and national levels, always beginning with a prayerful contemplation of all that God has given us.

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