“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.
The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.
It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”
The Season of Creation spans five weeks between the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1st, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th
This “time for creation” offers, in the words of Pope Francis, “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”
“As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.)
Pope Francis, August 6, 2015
“The heavens declare your glory, O Lord, and the stars of the sky bring light to our darkness.
You spoke, and the earth burst forth in life, you saw that it was good.
You called forth creation, and enlivened every creature on land and sea.
You made human beings in your image, and set us over the whole world in all of its wonders.
You gave us share in your dominion, and called us “to till and to keep” this garden, the work of your hands.
This day we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our daily care for your creation show reverence for your name,
and reveal your saving power in every creature under heaven.
We make this prayer in the name of Christ your son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.
A number of martyrs have been remembered in our liturgy recently. Last week, August 10th, we remembered Lawrence the Deacon, one of the most important martyrs of the early church. The day before, August 9, we remembered Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on that day in 1942.
Today we remember Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, who also died in Auschwitz about a year before her, August 14, 1941.
Peter Brown, an historian of early Christianity, says it wasn’t the bravery of Christian martyrs that impressed the Romans. The Romans were a macho people; war was in their blood. They prided themselves on dying bravely.
What the Romans marveled at was how Christian martyrs approached death. They had other values. They saw themselves as citizens of another world, who followed Jesus Christ in how they lived. They believed in his promise of everlasting life.
Lawrence the deacon, for example, could have escaped Roman persecution, but he wouldn’t abandon the poor in his care. Jesus said take care of the poor.
Centuries later, Maximillian Kolbe was a priest who wouldn’t abandon the vocation God gave him.
Before World War II, Kolbe was active as a Franciscan priest, promoting devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He ran a large, successful Franciscan printing enterprise in Warsaw.
In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi arrested him and a number of other Franciscans and imprisoned them for some months. They ransacked their printing place, probably hoping to intimidate them. Then, they left them go.
Instead of being intimidated, Kolbe began to house refugees from the Nazis, some of them Jews. That got him into trouble, so he was arrested again, on February 14th, 1941, and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labor.
Concentration camps like Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe and Sr.Teresa Benedicta died are the nearest thing to Calvary in modern times. More than 1500 of them were spread mostly through German occupied territories in Europe. Twenty million people died in the camps in the Second World War, 6 million were Jews. 1.3 million people went to Auschwitz; 1,1 million died there.
Five months after Kolbe entered Auschwitz, in July 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped. In reprisal, the Nazis took 10 men from the barracks to put them to death by starvation. One of them cried out that he had a wife and children who would never see him again. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place.
He was the last of the ten men to die of starvation and an injection of carbolic acid two weeks later, on August 14, 1941.
Many stories of Kolbe’s ministry among the prisoners in Auschwitz were told after his death when Auschwitz was liberated. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1983, who called him “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Age.”
He was a sign of God’s love in a place where God seemed absent.
Maximillian Kolbe’s death on the vigil of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven has been seen as a further sign. God’s hand reached into the dark horror of Calvary to save his Son. God reached out to Mary to bring her, body and soul, to heaven. God reached into Auschwitz and other camps of horror to bring suffering human beings to glory and peace.
What can we do as we swelter through the heat these days? We wonder in a world worried about its future. Can we do anything? Let’s not be afraid of big ideas. Why not think big?
In September 2015 world leaders at the United Nations agreed to work for 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The goals aim to “eliminate poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change, while ensuring no one is left behind. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while also tackling climate change and environmental protection.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/
The 11th goal of Sustainable Development is “making cities safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable by 2030. Sustainability differs from city to city, but quality of life means among other things, adequate housing, work and employment, clean water and air, access to public transportation.
We may think morning prayer is a few mumbled words or the Sign of the Cross quickly made, but morning prayer is meant to be an important part of our experience as we wake from darkness and sleep.
“Let there be light and there was light; and God said it was good.” (Genesis 1, 3-4) Light was the first thing God made. True Light, which enlightens everyone, came into our world, John’s gospel says. ( John 1, 9)
I sit on the porch for a few minutes in the early morning and watch the sun come through the tall trees lining our garden to the east. In winter it takes awhile. In summer, the sparrows and the doves and sometimes a pair of cardinals gather at the bird feeder to begin the day. Before I do a thing, the world gradually is bathed in light and comes awake.
Before I do a thing.
Morning prayer is a Genesis Prayer, an assurance we shouldn’t miss. Light comes to our world today, True Light, as it was from the beginning. Darkness is a sign of the world that’s chaotic. The psalms and hymns of morning prayer say light comes, and we pray our eyes be open to see.
The images in morning prayer are important. In the beginning God created a garden, a symbol of the world ordered and in harmony, beautiful and fruitful. God is the great Gardener, a king enthroned over creation, and all is God’s garden, the morning psalms say.
“Shout to the Lord all the earth, ring out your joy…Let the sea and all within it thunder praise, the world and all its peoples. Let the rivers clap their hands, and the hills ring out their joy. Rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” (Psalm 98, Wednesday Morning 111)
The world, however chaotic it seems, is cared for by the One who made it.
Sometimes God is a Shepherd, a Great Shepherd bestriding the world: “Here comes with power the Lord God…Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers his lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40, Thursday Morning 111)
Sometimes we’re asked to see the world as a city, God’s holy city. “On the holy mountain is his city, cherished by the Lord…a holy city.” (Psalm 87 Thursday Morning III) We’re asked to see our world as holy, yet still to be built.
“Sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth; sing to the Lord and bless his name.” we’re told as we begin the day. (Psalm 96. Monday Morning, 111)
“Serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence singing for joy.”
The temptation when reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, on our common home, is to limit it to a series of political or economic or social recommendations. It goes deeper than that.
Early on in his encyclical Laudato Si, the pope says that “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (19) He’s asking for a change in the way we see things and do things.
A painful seeing and a painful doing. The pope seems to me to be recommending we take a traditional form of Christian prayer, meditation on the Passion of Christ, and extend it to a meditation on the pains of creation and the pains of the poor. We are to make their pain our own and then “discover what each of us can do about it.”
Mystics are usually the people who see the connection of things. Is the pope calling for a passion mysticism, prompted by the Passion of Jesus, that hears “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor?” (49)
I like his quotation of the Sufi spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas who “stresses that we not put too much distance between creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.”
“Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…” (EVA DE VITRAY-MEYEROVITCH [ed.], Anthologie du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).
Cyril of Jerusalem has a wonderful sermon on water that he preached to catechumens centuries ago. Here are a couple of lines:
“Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”
The saint goes on to say that just as water adapts itself to every creature, the Holy Spirit gives life to each one according to its needs and to benefit the common good. The Spirit’s coming is gentle, not felt as a burden, with tenderness, as a true friend, to save, heal, counsel, strengthen and console.
So back to spring rains. Will they come this year? Climate change? Is it at work with the spring? The magnolia tree outside my room hopes the rains will come, and the other trees and plants in our garden hope they will too. They’re waiting for the rain to fall on the earth to do what it always does. Like the Spirit of God, water brings life.