Catholics and Methodists in the United States have been holding official ecumenical dialogues for the last 40 years. This year, instead of looking at dogmatic differences between the churches, the dialogue turned to an issue of common concern –“the ecological crisis as a summons to an ecumenical response.”
The result is a document entitled “Heaven and Earth are Full of Your Glory: United Methodist and Roman Catholic” which discusses the way the two traditions see the environment through their traditions of prayer. Both churches believe in Christ who died, rose from the dead and is coming again; both churches recognize the role of the Eucharist in their prayer. A common appreciation offers an opportunity for a common witness.
The document looks to the mystery of creation. The signs of the times call for an “ecological conversion” as we face “climate destabilization, the destruction of the ozone layer and the loss of biodiversity,” and hear creation’s groaning.( Romans 8,22) The prayer traditions of both churches proclaim the place of creation in the plan of God; they need to emphasize this insight more and more.
“Creation is God’s first gift. Creation is the first sign of God’s glory and love. For humans, the world is not simply a stage for human action; our relation to the world, to creation, is constitutive of our very identity as persons.” (8)
“We believe in one God who both creates and redeems.” We have forgotten today what the psalmist proclaimed long ago: “ Know that the Lord is God; he made us, we belong to him.” (Psalm 100) Forgetfulness can lead to a distorted understanding of the role given to us in the Book of Genesis, “to subdue the earth.” Rather than absolute power, we have received a “summons to responsibility” based on a humble realization of our dependence on God’s mercy and kindness.
Looking at creation in an inadequate way also “leads to a diminished sense of the salvific work of Christ.” (12)
We gather for the Eucharist on Sunday, the first day of the week, to celebrate creation as well as the resurrection of Jesus. Sunday, the 8th day, is also the day creation is renewed in hope.
In the Eucharist, we praise God as the voice of all creation and acknowledge our common place before our Creator and Redeemer. We listen to the divine word in the scriptures, but we also listen to the witness of all creation.
The bread and wine are signs, both of creation and of human work. The Eucharistic prayers of both traditions recognize the blessings we have received from God through creation. It’s important to see the interconnectivity between the bread and wine and the reality of creation. The document offers a practical suggestion: if possible use locally produced wheat and grapes to make the sacramental bread and wine for the Eucharist celebrated by each church. (34)
A Christian response to the ecological crisis, to environmental degradation and environmental justices is adequate only if it is informed by a sense of wonder before God’s gift of creation. The Eucharist evokes that sense of wonder when we join with the choirs of angels, the whole company of heaven, and indeed with all creation singing:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest.