Ecology and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

The Fall 2011 edition of the journal Communio has a wonderful essay by Stratford and Léonie Caldecott. “Divine Touch: The Laying on of Hands” explores beautifully the place of the human body in salvation history.

The essay may eventually be online, but for now I will try to do it justice with a few quotes. I hope what I’ve selected shows how this work speaks volumes about the meaning of this day – the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God – and about ecology.

All religious traditions try to read the body symbolically, and the various schools of traditional medicine are based on imagined correspondences between each part of the body and some element or component of the universe at large. The human body is like a very dense, very complex poem. We know it is dense with meaning because it is made by and in the image of God. Our attempts to decipher it in the past may have been crude, but they were based on valid intuition. In recent times, we have neglected the symbolic dimension almost completely, to our loss. As Cardinal Ratzinger said in 1989, “bodiliness reaches the metaphysical depths and is the basis of a symbolic metaphysics whose denial or neglect does not ennoble man but destroys him,” Among other things, a blindness to symbolism and its “metaphysical depths” renders Scripture almost unintelligible. The “theology of the body” developed by Pope John Paul II was precisely an attempt to read Scripture and the human body as two books that illuminate one another, revealing what it means to be human.

Indeed, as Catholic ecologists know well, there is a truth to the order of all creation that speaks to us – that reveals to us – something about our Creator.

Becoming incarnate, God respects the natural symbolism of his own creation, and uses it. Christ walks on the water, raises his gaze to heaven, rubs spittle into a man’s eyes to heal them, breathes on the disciples to communicate the Holy Spirit, and lays his hands on people in order to bless them.


The wounds of Christ’s body are sacramental, and have inspired particular devotion. They are not simply washed away by the resurrection, but glorified.

Truly, the Caldecotts give us much to relish. The incarnation of God – the Word becoming flesh as a human person – elevates our expectations and appreciation of the human body and, indeed, the whole being of humanity.

Contrast this to the place of the body in popular culture and in pornography. In those spheres, the body is seen in a raw, meaty way, devoid of any cosmic significance or connection – sort of like the way we humans can sometimes look at creation, as a heap of resources to use as we wish. Of course, our human evolution has certainly endowed us with lust so that the species can procreate, and do so with those who (for better or for worse) attract us the most. But with Christ, we are no longer limited to seeing bodiliness simply as biology. With Him, we enter into a deeper relationship and companionship with creation – with our bodies and our cosmos.

This is why the dogmatic proclamation of this feast day is so important. This is why the residents of Ephesus cheered through the streets on that day in 431 A.D. when the church’s bishops declared that, yes, Mary is truly the theotokos – the God bearer, the Mother of God.

Indeed, for Christian theology to lift up the human person in the manner in which God has revealed, the Word-becoming-flesh required the human cooperation of a mother, of a womb, of DNA, of organic molecules, of sub-atomic particles, of living, human, motherly matter and will.

Likewise, in the proclamation that Mary is the Mother of God, all creation is elevated by Christ. After all, through the Word of God, all creation came from nothing, detonated outwards and mingled for billions of years to bring into existence our sun and our planet and our carbon, nitrogen, iron, and so many other elements, that build us up from the inside. And now, this creation keeps us alive with ecologies that circulate and exchange oxygen and water and thermal energy. This is why ecology is a matter of vital importance to Catholics. As was Mary to Christ, the cosmos and especially our planet provide the human race – and especially the Body of Christ – an earthly womb to grow and a home for salvation history to unfold.

What a miracle and a blessing it is to be part of this great and wonderful race of creatures – a race so loved by God that he joined it to save us.

And so we entrust 2012 and all our lives and souls, our intentions and our great joys and thanks to the Blessed Mother as we pray

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. Amen.

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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.