Creation is the great sacrament of God. All creatures are the manifestation of His beauty and wisdom. God cannot be praised in the middle of ugliness and trash. A reflection which help us to understand the meaning of the importance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Paris, this month of December. Time for action.
The dream of a mutually beneficial partnership between God, humans and the cosmos is present in the Bible from the first pages of Genesis in the story of the deluge and Noah. Unfortunately dreams do not always materialise. Pope Francis in his encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (‘Praised be’) says that in the last 200 years since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the relationship between creation and human beings has been one of horrible devastation at the expense of creation. The respect for creation has been lost by human beings for whom what was technologically possible was also ethically valid. The power of technology has had a ruinous effect on the environment as we all can witness and now it is important to start a counter-revolution; not to go back a 100 years but to learn how to make technology friendly to the environment, precisely because this former aggressive attitude has been so destructive.
A positive relationship between humans and the cosmos is present in the Bible. Chapter 2 of Genesis is particularly enlightening: “When no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground”, (Gn 2:5). There was water, there was land – all the conditions for a superb vegetation and yet the environment remains desert-like, lifeless, because there were no human beings to till the soil. It means that according to the vision of Genesis 2, the infinite potentialities of the earth would never blossom without the intelligent and loving intervention of humans. Thus, the paradisiacal vision of positive relationships between the environment and human beings for the triumph of life is the great message we Christians should disseminate. The rapid depletion of biodiversity, states the Pope, is a clear indicator of the blindness shown by the human approach to the cosmic ecosystem and of the urgency of unprecedented ecological conversion.
Conversion to the environment
Usually we link conversion to Jesus, to our own brothers and sisters in fraternity, solidarity and forgiveness but we must also link such a transformation to the environment. The Pope tells us in his letter that this divorce between conversion to God and conversion to the environment is absolutely untenable. We cannot be converted to God as creator without becoming co-creators with Him, without sharing His own concern for creation, for our habitat.
The Christian communities – dioceses, parishes, small Christian communities – are sacraments of salvation, teaches Vatican II – but salvation for whom: for the souls of human beings after death? The future of God is a new heaven and a new earth as the Book of Revelation tells us. It is not alienation from this world to enter into a distant and invisible paradise; paradise is a favourable environment in joy and fullness of life and it should become visible through each of us and our Christian communities. All of our parishes should become sacraments of salvation for the environment, taking all the initiatives available. We cannot dream of saving ourselves as human persons, as a human community, without preserving and promoting the habitat where humans are located.
Contemplation instead of possession
At the centre of the message of the Pope there is a contemplative vision of creation, linked to our own Christian faith. In the psalms and in several chapters of the Book of Wisdom, the beauties of creation are highly praised as a tangible manifestation of the beauty of God. It means that according to the biblical message, creation and the environment is the sacrament of God. All creatures are the manifestation of the beauty of God, of the wisdom of God, of the livelihood of God.
The Pope speaks of people’s addiction to consumerism. Addiction is an almost irresistible urge – irresistible for the majority of human beings. The sin is in grabbing and accumulating. Africa, for example, is the continent most ‘grabbed’, most assaulted for the plundering of all the types of natural resources from oil to coal, from uranium to coltan (more precious than gold to produce computers and all kinds of cell phones and new apps), from real gold to platinum, from silver to timber. As a result, civil strife and internal wars are promoted with an endless outpouring of weapons of all kinds.
As we turn a lot of creation into garbage, which litters and destroys the environment, we must begin to understand that all these things which we call garbage are yet part of creation. They have the potential for the creation of energy; they can be turned into beauty again. But with the mentality of ‘use and throw away’, the notion of creation is lost. We need, and it’s urgent, to correct one of the effects of secularisation which turns creation into merchandise. We have forgotten that we are supposed to be creators. If we would ask at the end of the day, ‘What have we created today?’, perhaps we could think only of what we have consumed in food, water and air. We might ask: ‘Have I made the world a bit more beautiful?’ We may also have lost the sense of duty.
We speak of the seven sacraments and in each sacrament there is part of creation – wine, water and bread – of human justice. But these seven sacraments are possible only if creation is sacred. If bread and wheat and vineyards are not the manifestation of God’s glory as part of creation, how can they become the manifestation of God’s glory in the Church, on the altar? People will less and less have a sense of appreciation of the sacraments if we lose the belief in the main sacrament which is creation; all the others are derivations of this first sacrament.
The commercialisation of creation is one of the main reasons for the destruction of faith in many people. Ugliness, now rampant in our urban environments does the rest. Just think about the children in filthy slums who don’t have a single tree around them. How can they feel the sacredness of life, the joy, the awe, the wish to explore the world and to create, without a single sign of God’s creation about them?
All the Christian communities, all the Christian families, should prompt to build creation, to disseminate beauty, to take initiatives to remove dirt and ugliness and to replace them with the shining light of forests, of gardens, of flowers – of everything beautiful and exquisite that exists under ‘Brother Sun’. If there is enough determination, not even the brutal blindness of natural disasters can erase these.
The encyclical finishes with two prayers, so that the message of the document is turned into prayer, and if we do pray often, prayer also generates feelings, mindsets, motivations and ongoing commitment. The Orthodox world, and particularly Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who is quoted by the Pope, proposed that all Christians could have a common day with Mass, with the intention focused on the environment (the date proposed is the 21 September, the International Day of Peace). Unity is needed. The task is so great that all human beings, male and female, Christian and from other religions – the document is addressed to all – may turn the inspirational reading into action and an experience of insertion of ourselves into the mystery of creation.