B16 on sin and ecology

September 2009

Well, there he goes again. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has again (and again) used the image of earthly pollution to teach us about things eternal.

In his latest encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict gives the subject a distinct perspective—one I’ll cover in a subsequent column. For now my interest is in the Holy Father’s recent homily on the Feast of Pentecost, in which he deconstructs the imagery of the Holy Spirit as a roaring-wind and connects this to a warning of spiritual illnesses brought on by the toxins of sin.

“What air is for biological life,” Benedict preached, “the Holy Spirit is for spiritual life; and just as an atmospheric pollution exists that poisons the environment and living beings, thus a pollution of heart and spirit exists that mortifies and poisons spiritual life. In the same way that one must not become inured to the poisons in the air and for this reason ecological commitment is a priority today likewise one must not become inured to what corrupts the mind.

“On the other hand it seems that it is not difficult to become accustomed to the many products that contaminate both the mind and the heart and that circulate in our society for example, images which boost pleasure, violence or contempt for men and women. This is also freedom, people say, without realizing that all this pollutes, and intoxicates the mind, especially that of the new generations and moreover ends by conditioning their very freedom. The metaphor of the mighty wind of Pentecost makes one think instead of how precious it is to breathe clean air, physically with the lungs and spiritually with the heart, the healthy air of the Spirit who is love!”

These words pair the earthly and the divine in a sort of double helix of Christian theological truth—that the unseen God, the creator of the heaven and earth, for us took on a human form. The Holy Father is reminding his flock, and those of other Christian traditions, that our human, bodily existence is not immaterial. The cosmos and we human beings have meaning, as Christ’s entrance into human history must teach us.

This point was made in another homily, this one given a few months back by my pastor. In it he reminded his own flock that we Christians do not hope for an eternity of mere ethereal existence; we shall not flutter endlessly within clouds playing harps. God has revealed his intention to re-form Creation at a time of His choosing. We proclaim this each time we say the Creed. But this truth of our soul’s return to a then-glorified body is one that of late seems to have been misplaced in catechetical programs—and it’s high time we stress this truth again, lest we loose yet another generation to modern versions of ancient heresies.

Naturally, Benedict XVI is leading the charge. His penchant for ecological metaphors are meant not only to rouse his flock to tend well the garden and the womb that is Earth. He is also reminding us that, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome, “we know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom. 8:22-23.)

His Holiness is well aware that like the toxins in our air sicken us, the great toxin of sin keeps us from the radiance of Christ. Sin obstructs us from breathing deep the fresh winds of the Spirit of love—the Holy Spirit that seeks to bring us into what God the Father intended from the beginning. That is, a cosmos that is good, perfect and beautiful—one inhabited by real people who, by the grace of God, have been purified into the fullness, truth and purity of human existence.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.