A homily for peace—and creation

“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”.  This allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message.  We can ask ourselves: what does this message mean? What does it say to me, to you, to all of us?

The homily given by Pope Francis at today’s peace vigil included some profound catechesis. It also occasionally sounded like a homily for Earth Day. This should come as no surprise since many of the roots of man’s violence against nature are the same as those that sound the drums of war.

Benedict XVI said that it is a disorder of our “inner attitudes” that corrupt our good human nature. This disorder makes us selfish, demanding, and gluttonous consumers of worldly pleasures.

Today, Pope Francis put it this way: 

When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: man enters into conflict with himself, he realizes that he is naked and he hides himself because he is afraid (cf. Gen 3: 10), he is afraid of God’s glance; he accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him.  

And so in the midst of worldwide conflicts, Christianity offers a view of creation—and thus of mankind—that denounces the belief that man’s foundation is corrupt. It proclaims that our foundation is God—the Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible. And God, who is love and relationship, is indeed the perfection of good.

Here I would like to restate a reply in my recent interview with Dr. Robert Brinkmann of Hofstra University. My answer helps place into context how the Christian understanding of creation—and thus reality—shapes our hopes and expectations—and can then inform our actions. Dr. Brinkmann had asked me about the roots of the Christian understanding of ecology. I answered that 

[i]t goes back to the beginning—to those early mystics within the nascent people of Israel who recorded (orally at first and then in writing) that in the beginning God created everything good and orderly. Hebrew Scriptures are a love story about God’s relationship with humanity and the entire cosmos. It’s a revelation about the innate goodness of all creation. What we often don’t appreciate is how this message was a radical addition to human thought made by the early Jewish people. All around them—in ancient Babylon and Assyria—much more powerful nations taught that evil existed before the creation of the world. The Jewish people, inspired by God within human history, said no to this. Interestingly, this teaching on the goodness of creation that we find in Genesis (which we all know is not a science book) survived and remains with us today while the Babylonian creation stories (which presupposed evil) were lost for centuries in the sands of the Middle East.
 This insistence that creation is good because God created it is a central reality within Christianity. Christians proclaim that the Word of God entered the human condition in Jesus Christ. That alone elevates the natural world. And then, as taught by Christ, the natural world becomes a vehicle of coming into contact with God’s grace—for instance, through baptism with the use of water; Communion through the sacrificial offering of bread and wine; reconciliation, with the familiar use of human dialogue; healing, with primitive oils. And then there is Mary. She also connects creation with the divine in an amazing demonstration of love and relation.

 At today’s peace vigil, Pope Francis put it this way: 

All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation.  God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other.  

But then he added:

This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire?  Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts?  Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations?  And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

Good questions. And they are appropriate not just in times of war. We must ask the questions during every moment of our lives. For how we answer them—how we choose to live our lives—determines not just the fate of nations or the prospects of conflict. Our answers also dictate whether we will tend to or devastate the garden that is Earth.

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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.