"We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation and thus we no longer manage to interpret within it what Benedict XVI calls 'the rhythm of the love-story between God and man.'"
+ Pope Francis
“Be protectors of God’s gifts!”
Two years ago today on the Feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis gave his inaugural homily in St. Peter’s Square. In it, he famously exhorted the Church to be like the humble foster father of Christ and be a “protector” in every meaning of the word.
That includes, of course, protecting nature. But according to Pope Francis, this means more than we may think.
“The vocation of being a ‘protector’ … means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us,” the Holy Father preached.
And then he went on:
It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!
Theologian and author Dr. Jame Schaefer reminded me a few weeks ago about this homily. I’m glad she did, because I’ve always had a devotion to St. Joseph. He is the patron of the parish of my youth and I have more than a few stories to tell of his powerful intercession.
In her email, Dr. Schaefer called attention to the ways Pope Francis portrayed St. Joseph: “humbly,” “utter fidelity” to God, “open to the signs of God’s presence,” “realistically,” making “truly wise decisions,” “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live,” “showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about” “protectors of God’s gifts!”
That Pope Francis chose to open his pontificate by stressing these qualities not only tell us who Saint Joseph was, but who you and I are meant to be—and what we are meant to do.
“[T]he mission which God entrusts to Joseph: he is to be the custos, the protector,” Pope Francis preached.
But we don't limit our protective vocation of the natural order to the natural environment.In other words, St. Joseph’s vocation was not primarily to care for or to nurture Mary and Jesus (and thus the Church), but also, and primarily, to safeguard. For Catholics engaged in ecology, this means that, as protectors, we must take an active role in defending the created order that has been given to us by God—even if we could never deserve such a gift.
As we would hear later from Pope Francis and his brother bishops—who would speak about "human ecology" and "integral ecology" and other such things—we must also protect human life, human dignity, the family, and so on. As Benedict XVI famously put it: "The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development." (Caritas in Veritate, 51)
We see in this first homily the themes and exhortations that have surged through the Holy Father’s first two years and that will certainly continue in so many ways—and thus they tell us something of the themes and exhortations that we will find in his encyclical on the environment.
Of course, what exactly he’s planning to tell us in his encyclical is, in case you haven’t noticed, open for discussion. My guess is that the Holy Father’s words will sound a lot like the ones that conclude his first homily—far-reaching ones that call us to an ongoing and personal conversion to Christ:
“To protect Jesus with Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly. Let us protect with love all that God has given us!”
St. Joseph the Protector, pray for us!
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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.