"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
The eco-implications of the Annunciation
Given its natural placement nine months before Christmas, the Feast of the Annunciation typically falls sometime during the end of Lent—a time when our focus draws to what Mary’s Yes made possible: The Cross and Resurrection.
In three ways that stem from Christ’s saving presence, the Annunciation is especially important for Catholic ecologists.
The Annunciation’s and the natural world.
A great heresy of the early Church—one that festers still among the often “spiritual but not religious” among us—is the denial of the goodness and the permanence of nature. Rebellious sects outside of and within the Church were especially vocal during its first few centuries. They believed that the brokenness of the world, that sickness and death, meant that the created order was something from which we must flee.
In response, the Church made certain to codify the books that would be recognized as scriptural—hence the formation of the Bible. As part of this process, it maintained the canonical status of the Hebrew Scriptures, which some voices had wanted to suppress.
A key moment of the Hebrew Scriptures is, of course, the creation of everything. Including humanity.
Millennia ago, pagan creation myths, such as this Babylonian one, viewed evil as a reality before the created order came into being—thus, teaching that evil is hardwired into creation. To this, the Book of Genesis opens with a powerful, corrective notion. It teaches that God created the cosmos, Earth, and all life, especially humanity—as "very good." (Genesis 1:31)
This “very goodness” is amplified in the Annunciation.
At Mary’s Yes, divinity enters intimately into the created world. The Son of God “leaves” the glory of heaven and enters into the water, minerals, proteins, and every other created reality that composes a human embryo.
No longer, then, can creation be seen as some transient, unimportant reality.
It becomes the very vehicle that Jesus the Christ uses to bring his teachings and salvation to the world—a reality that continues today in the sacramental life of the Church.
Which gets us to …
The Eucharist and the Annunciation
A piece in Catholic Exchange today examines the Eucharistic foreshadowing and implications of the Annunciation—of Mary’s internal carrying of Christ within her, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to carry out the necessary will of God (more on that below).
As the Catholic Exchange piece points out, today, fewer and fewer Catholics believe in the Eucharistic presence of Christ. This unbelief comes with consequences. One of them is the tendency to uncouple divinity from creation, which, as noted above, does not bode well for our appreciation of the natural world.
Moreover, our lack of faith in the Eucharistic presence of Christ is at its core a simple matter of lacking faith in the words of Christ, in the unbroken witness and presence of the Church, and, importantly, in what it means to receive the Body of Christ.
For believers, like Mary, the Amen we proclaim when presented with the Body of Christ is a statement of faith. It is a sure and certain appreciation of God’s promise to save the world from the inside—form within us and through our activity in human history. This faith often requires of us some perceived or actual sacrifices. Faced with such choices, we humans often lack faith in God's saving presence—His grace—and we then fail to take the right path. (I know that's true for me!) And so, like our first parents, we too often choose what is not right and just for each other for the world around us.
Creation, in other words, depends in many ways, large and small, on our choices. Which gets us to …
The Annunciation and free will.
Mary’s dialogue with Gabriel has always been a teaching moment for the Church. Humanity’s use of the great gift of free will, we learn, becomes necessary for salvation and for the protection of the common good.
Mary’s choice is a model for our individual choices today. As consumers, producers, citizens, and governing officials, we must choose every day—every hour and second, really—to do the will of God. To put our desires behind what’s necessary for the common good. To align our will with God’s, and thus to abide by his laws—the natural ones and the spiritual.
Otherwise, we allow our base instincts—such as fear, anger, lust, and other worldly desires—to dictate our choices, which usually spells disaster for us personally and for the world around us. We humans, in other words, have in Mary a model of what it means to be truly human in how we choose what is truly the will of God.
And with that, let us pause and reflect on all this, today and every day, as we ponder the glorious implications of the great Feast of the Annunciation.
Happy and a Blessed Feast Day, all!
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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.