The Twenty – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
2019 – Cycle C
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 2 Timothy 1:6-8; Luke 17:5-10
When mining corporations pour toxic waste into rivers claiming that it is a necessary price to pay for jobs and consumer goods, do you consider that progress?
If increased production and consumption leads to a deterioration in the quality of human life, especially for the poor, and the degrading of the environment, do you consider that human advancement?
If a company increases its profits at the expense of future, and often limited, natural resources, should we consider this kind of growth a success?
These questions challenge us to reflect on what we mean by progress, human advancement and success. Are they qualities only for the select few or for the benefit of the common good of all people? The common good being one of the key principles that buttress the social justice teaching of the Catholic Church.
This Friday past, 4 October, the Church commemorated Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis, patron of the environment, challenges us from the 13th century on the common good and relationship between human beings and creation.
Francis was a charismatic personality with a deep love for God’s creation. At the abandoned Church of San Damiano outside Assisi, Jesus appeared to Saint Francis and asked him to “repair my house…which is falling into ruins”. Initially, Francis took the request literally and began working on repairing the chapel until he realized Jesus was asking him to reform people. Now a pope named after Saint Francis is asking humanity to take responsibility to “repair” God’s creation; a creation that we have not allowed to fall into disrepair but ourselves have seriously damaged.
There was a time not so long ago when nature – Mother Earth – was considered sacred. Indigenous peoples and farming cultures around the planet have innately understood this. Maybe because they lived close to the earth and knew their dependence on the planet, its animals and plants, its weather and seasons. That was before we contemporaries forgot or worse, rejected the earth’s sacredness and began paving over and scarring the earth.
The earth, our planet, our home, is to be respected and cooperated with. Why? Our Hebrew tradition records, “In the beginning God created…” Creation is to be respected because all of creation is sacred; that creative act of God. Genesis continues. Then God said, “See, I give you [the human being] every seed-bearing plant…all the animals…all the birds…and all living creatures. I give all the green plants for food.” Creation is a gift to humanity. It is not of our own making. And what kind of gift? “God looked at all of his creation, and proclaimed that this was very good”. [See Genesis 1: 29-31] Sacred – very good – gift: this is our planet, this is our solar system and galaxy; this is the universe!
Then came the Enlightenment and the triumph of science and industry at a time of population explosion, great economic activity and the raw power of technology. And with this advancement (?) occurred a disruption in the consciousness of people between the sacred and human progress. This divide is only now beginning to be addressed. For if creation is merely raw materials without intrinsic value, than the cost – benefit analysis of my initial questions are justified; but if, as Genesis teaches, humanity and creation are governed by a logic of sacred gift than respect must be the response.
Now in themselves science and technology are also gifts to humanity. Employment/work, as contemporary popes have taught, give the human being dignity because it reflects the “work” of God in the creative act. Yet whenever anything, even something good like technology and science, is taken to an extreme this results in an imbalance that proves destructive in some manner.
This disruption in the human consciousness, which has consequences for all living creatures on our planet, has been addressed by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato si’ – On Care For Our Common Home. The important word is “common”; common good, common home, a shared experience that began in God for we are all God’s creatures. The sin of the garden is that we humans, and we human beings alone, have ever thought we could be equal to God. The imbalance and disruption were struck. Genesis records that a rift now exists between the man and the woman, between humans and creation and the earth. [See Genesis 3:8ff]
Francis addresses this rift at the root by putting God in proper order. The Pope begins the encyclical letter by quoting the Saint: Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord” from the great “Canticle of the Sun”.
The genius of Pope Francis is that after many centuries of assumed animosity between faith and science, he has been able to discern this moment when science and faith are reaching out to each other, ready to be in a partnership. A partnership that could enable us to see in new ways so as to halt the hurtling train of consumption, imbalance and destruction.
Science examines and deduces, pinpoints and informs; it can shout and sound the alarm, but science cannot move people to act and care about what they do not love. Saint Francis of Assisi loved God’s creation. Do we? One of the great oceanographers of modern time, Walter Munk, remarked in a Vatican conference in 2014 that global warming could only be overcome by “a miracle of love and unselfishness”.
Thus Francis strives to address the polarities of respect for nature and respect for human autonomy and creativity and create a new synthesis. It is not a choice between the environment or humanity but a unified moral narrative that encompasses both. Humanity has been called to be a custodian of creation, not its arrogant overlord. Humanity needs to reclaim that we are interconnected with and dependent upon our fellow species. All of us are God’s creatures. No animal, plant, human or ecosystem is to be excluded, for all are divine gifts as one environment, one planet, one home.
Let us return to this topic again as we sing, “Laudato si’, mi’ Signore…”
[Passages, phrases and ideas are taken from: “Why Call it Progress?” by Austen Ivereigh, Commonweal, October 2019.]