A Question of Faith, Fr Liam Power’s Fortnightly Column
THE month of September is marked throughout the Christian world as the Season of Creation. The theme for this year is ‘Restoring Our Common Home’. It is a time for Christians to celebrate the joy of creation and to pray, reflect and decide on initiatives, which will help to raise awareness of the environmental crisis threatening our planet and to decide on actions which will serve to protect our natural environment. The season ends on October 4, the feast of St Francis of Assisi, who, according to Pope Francis, is “the example par excellence of an integral ecology lived out joyful and authentically.” He is the one who “communed with all of creation even preaching to the flowers, inviting them to praise the Lord just as if they were endowed with reason.”
It is easy to exhort Christians to reflect on nature and to advocate action promoting a more sustainable lifestyle. How to actually do this reflection and to identify concrete actions which are within our capacity is more difficult. In the inspired encyclical Laudato Si (LS) the English title is ‘On Caring for Our Common Home’, Pope Francis spells out in a definite manner how we might develop a contemplative spirituality rooted in nature. It is a spirituality that challenges the activism so characteristic of Western society. It involves being fully present to nature, to the scenery and to the seasons, “to the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air” (LS 226).
‘We are hurtling towards a global catastrophe with tragic loss of life across all creation unless we act now with great urgency’
Such a contemplative approach should enable us to be serenely present to each reality in nature. We are called to grow in a loving awareness that we are not “disconnected from the rest of creatures but joined in a splendid universal communion”(LS 220). He invites us to “fall in love with nature.” The pope is convinced that it is only love which will inspire us to be more respectful and caring of our natural environment.
We are invited to recover a capacity for wonder which will take us to a deeper understanding of life. When we contemplate the complexity and fragility of a flower, or look closely at a leaf, or a swarm of bees or birds we cannot but respond with a sense of awe and wonder. Cycling in Kerry during the summer, I was utterly enthralled by the majestic beauty surrounding me in places like Moll’s Gap or the Gap of Dunloe. Viewing the rugged landscape of the Great Blasket Island surrounded by the great expanse of ocean from a vantage point in the Dingle Peninsula fills the heart with a sense of awe at the grandeur of our creation.
Francis is convinced that a renewed appreciation of the beauty of creation and the awe and wonder which this inspires will evoke a spirit of gratitude in our hearts. We will come to realise that nature is gift. Christians identify it as the gift of creation, the gift of the Creator God to us. We are challenged then to recognise and discern the presence of the Creator in the creation. From this faith, we are conscious of the presence of God in the beauty that surrounds us. The God of Jesus is present in every aspect of the creation… “intimately present to each being” (LS 80). Christians believe that the Spirit dwells in every living creature. Indeed the whole of creation is sacrament or symbol of the bounteous and compassionate God who is the source of all life.
The Christian is called to live their faith and to express it in diverse, concrete ways in life. We cannot be content with a spirituality that is quietist or passive. We are people of hope who trust that by responding to God’s call echoed in the cry of the earth our world can be renewed and transformed. There is a call to action in the programme for the Season of Creation.
We are invited to sign a petition which will be presented to all political leaders who will participate in COP15, a United Nations Conference on the biodiversity crisis due to take place in China in October and COP 26, a UN Conference on Climate Change scheduled for Glasgow in November. (It is expected that Pope Francis will attend this most significant conference which aims to follow up on the goals in relation to climate change agreed at the Paris conference in 2015).
The petition highlights the fact that climate crisis and biodiversity collapse are twin crises. “A warming world is exacerbating the spiralling loss of blameless species. And further loss of nature will jeopardise our capacity to deliver on the 1.5 degree limit to global warming.”
We are warned that we are hurtling towards a global catastrophe with tragic loss of life across all creation unless we act now with great urgency. The petition pleads with the leaders to “urgently affirm the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and to a new global biodiversity goal of 50% conservation of land and waters and sustainable management of all the rest of land and water bodies to ensure no more biodiversity loss.”
The petition can be accessed on the Irish Episcopal Conference website and can be signed and submitted electronically. In this Autumn Season of Creation, the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, may we rediscover the awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds us and reflect on ways to protect and care for this wonderful gift of creation.