October 2021 Recollection – Ecology: Care for the common habitat

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One of the urgent topics of our time is the ecology. As we have heard in many occasions and in many mass media, the state in which we find our planet is a critical one and demands appropriate and decisive actions to avoid an ecological catastrophe. In fact, Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’ reminds us that : “This sister (the earth) cries out against the damage we do to her because of irresponsible use and the abuse of the natural resources that God has placed in her. We have grown thinking that we are its owners and masters, authorized to exploit her.” (LS 2). It is necessary to be conscious of our role as administrators and guardians in the name of God of all the things that he has created, since the world in which we live does not have only a practical purpose of being the fount of the resources for life of human beings, but also has a deeply sacramental meaning. God has implanted a seal in every one of his creatures that becomes a path of encounter with God, and an occasion to contemplate its beauty. 

Return to yourself. 

Let us now dispose ourselves to live out this day of recollection, putting ourselves in the presence of God, and today in a particular way in communion with everything that surrounds us, that, as creation of God, also sings his marvelous works. 

I asked the earth and it said to me: ‘I am not;’ and all the things that are in it said the same. I asked the sea and the abyss and the living reptiles, and they answered me: ‘We are not your God; seek him above us.’ I asked the air that we breath, and all the air with its inhabitants told me: … ‘I am not your God.’ I asked heaven, the sun, the moon and the stars. ‘Neither are we the God you seek,’ they answered me. Then I said to all things outside the doors of my flesh: ‘Tell me something about my God, since you are not him; tell me something about him.’ And they all exclaimed with a loud voice: ‘He created us’ (conf. 10, 9).

Your voice is my joy. 

With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words from the Book of Genesis; savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them. 

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. 

11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation: every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.” And so it happened, 12 the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it. God saw how good it was. 13 Evening came and morning followed – the third day….. 

26 Then God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.” 

The firmament of the Scriptures. 

Biblical Keys. 

The text that we meditate today contains the first words of the Bible, that make us enter into a very particular theologico-existential dynamics. Since the first two words (“In the) beginning (God) created” (vv.1-2), begin with the same Hebrew consonant beth (bereshith bara). They tell us that God is in the beginning of everything, and is the head of everything. In the word bereshith resounds the word rosh, which means head, beginning, origin. The human being and all of creation did not come out of nothing, rather they have an origin and birth in God, who is the first, the beginning, the origin. 

The word “beginning” (bereshith) has an axiological existential meaning, because whoever acknowledges that he has his origin in God, he accepts it as the foundation and meaning of his life and puts nothing higher than he. Furthermore, it points to a Christological-eschatological meaning, because Christ is the first born or the first from among the dead (Col. 1:18). In Christ, who is the Beginning, such as St. Augustine wanted to interpret this text, is also manifested the future condition of the human being, created by God and called by God himself to a new life in Christ and to the final resurrection in Jesus (Rom. 6:8). 

The word “created” (bara) recalls that God created all things not only in the beginning, but that the work of creation continues at present, because God today continues creating everything and the universe daily continues to come out of the hand of God. All this can be seen in the qal verbal Hebrew form of the verb ,which does not have temporal connotations, as happens in the Spanish verb, but only quality of action. In this case it expresses the essence of the verb, i.e., the action of creating. From this consideration, it can be affirmed that true ecology is that which can recognize this continuous act of God in everything that surrounds the human being. This biblical meaning would have much to do with what St. Augustine affirmed, that if God would stop thinking of the world, even only for a brief moment of the wink of an eye, this would disappear (Grn. Litt. 4, 12, 22), since it is really the power of God that sustains everything in existence. 

Later, the vv. 11-13 present to us, like a synecdoche, the third day of creation, in which God creates all the plants and trees of the planet, all that is vegetal or green (deshe), with the characteristic of the plants that must produce seeds and the trees fruit. Verse 11, like many others in the primordial narrative, points out that God creates by his word. Once again it is fitting to point out the profound Christological meaning of this reality, because God creates everything by his Word, as is pointed out in the prologue of the Gospel according to St. John (Jn. 1:3) and the text of Col. 1:16, just to cite another text of the New Testament. 

The verses 26-28 present to us the summit of creation, that which God calls not only good, as he had been doing through the days of creation, but very good (tov meod: v. 31). It is common knowledge that the Priestly narrative emphasizes the equality between man and woman (literally, male and female), by the fact that they were created simultaneously, but also the mysterious reality and peculiarity that the human being was created in the “image” (besalmenu) and “likeness” (kidmutenu) of God. The word “image” comes from the Hebrew tselem, that would mean image, form, and the word “likeness” would come from demut, the similarity and the appearance. The human being created by God, carries in itself the imprint of its author. One deals with footprint, an imprint that is interpreted in diverse ways by the Fathers of the Church. The “imprint” of God not only gives dignity to man above all other creatures, but also gives man a mission: he shall have “dominion” (vv. 26&28) over all creation. Even though various words are used in the verses previously mentioned, the root of both is the same, radah, which means in qal form, to dominate, to regulate, to rule. God, therefore, designates the human being as administrator of everything created, as the chosen to have dominion over the creation, in the sense that he must channel and direct it towards God, avoid being dominated by it and governing it so that it will not return to the chaos mentioned at the beginning of the narrative (v.2). 

As a conclusion we say that true ecology, according to the text, would consist in acknowledging God as the beginning of everything, that he created all things in Christ, that invites to acknowledge in the natural beings the act of continuous creation on the part of God. It also makes clear that all things are good, but must be submitted to the human being, so that he may be able to orient it towards the Omega point who is Christ, the First Born of all creation (Col. 1:15). 

Augustinian Keys. 

According to the thought of St. Augustine, every human being carries in his interior a profound desire for transcendence, which makes him restless, and searches for God, the Being in whom he can rest. That is why St. Augustine genially says at the portico of his Confessions: “You made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (conf,1, 1). 

The human being’s search does not remain only in intrinsic or anthropological elements. God loves man so much that he leaves him roads and tracks that he may find it. St. Augustine emphasizes principally two paths: A living encounter through his own revelation, by means of the word in the Bible, and a cosmological encounter through the other book that God wrote, which is the book of the creatures (en. Ps. 45:7). For St. Augustine, the cosmos is not only a means in which man can satisfy his necessities, nor is it only a habitat where he lives. The world, the whole of creation, is a living and patent sign of the existence of a loving God who has disposed everything for the human being (en. Ps. 8:10). Thus he comments in Psalm 18 saying:

Through him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that was made. The heavens proclaimed, proclaim and will proclaim, the glory of God (en. Ps. 18:2, 3). 

About this world, St. Augustine points out that everything created by God is an invitation to acknowledge the greatness and the beauty of God, the pettiness of man and to seek an encounter with him. The creation is also a living messenger of the profound love that God has for man, and of his universal call to salvation. That is why St. Augustine would invite us to open the ears of our heart to be capable of listening how the whole creation, animate or inanimate, has a voice, and what that voice says is no other than “God loves us”: 

But also, behold that heaven and earth and all they contain tell me from all parts that I should love you; they do not stop telling everyone, so that they are inexcusable (conf. 10, 8). 

There is a voice, resounding and strong, that those who became deaf by sin cannot hear. Thus, St. Augustine, echoing the cosmological argument at the start of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, points out that whoever cannot listen to, or contemplate the greatness of God in creation, makes himself inexcusable of being condemned, because by obstinacy in sin or by hardness of heart, he cannot listen to the symphony that all creatures sing to the Creator (Rom. 1:20). 

Creation becomes an invitation and an example for man to praise God. At the same time it is the territory that has been recommended to him to obtain from God everything he needs for his temporal life and to guard as property that God himself has put him in charge. In this way a very common idea in St. Augustine is repeated, that man owns nothing but only his sins (s. 176, 6). It is in this sense that we ought to understand the commentary of St. Augustine on the words of Genesis, according to which God placed man in the garden ‘to cultivate and care’ for it (Gen 2:15). When St. Augustine comments on the meaning of ‘care’, he points out that he should take care to avoid that an alien element may harm it, and therefore, he deserved to be expelled from it: 

“He was likewise placed in Paradise to care for Paradise to his own advantage so that he should not permit to enter it anything harmful, for which he merited to be expelled from that place”(Gen. litt. 8, 22). 

Thus, the world, the creation and the whole universe belong to God who entrusted it to man in order to make it flourish, and contribute, with its beauty and harmony, that all of nature continue to give glory to God, and keep reminding all men to raise head and heart, and lift them up to God (en. Ps. 148:5). 

The Gold of Egypt 

The artistic work that serves us at this occasion for our reflection is the painting of Hieronymus Bosch (1453-1516), “The Garden and its Delights”, kept in the Museum Del Prado of Madrid. The opus was painted between the years 1510 and 1515. It depicts a triptych of which we shall focus only on the panel at the left, where Paradise is presented. In this panel we can see at the lower part God (or Christ), who is holding the hand of Eve to give her to Adam as wife. Behind Adam is the tree of life, presented as an exotic tree (dragon tree) that Bosch must have known through paintings. It is a tree whose sap (blood-red) was believed to have the power to prolong life. In the center can be seen a fountain of rose color, representing the four rivers of Paradise. This fountain has a hole under it, through which a horned owl can be seen, to which many meanings have been attributed, among them the presence of evil in the world, or God’s wisdom itself in creation. Finally, among many other details, it must be pointed out that this creation of God already points to sin, since beside Adam we see a cat with a rat in its snout (preda- tor / prey) and at the posterior is depicted a white elephant, symbol of innocence, that carries on its back a monkey, symbol of lust. It is, therefore, a creation made perfect by God, but would be spoiled by man’s sin, needing to be redeemed and liberated by Christ. 

From Word to Action. 

The Book of Genesis says that God created man in his image and likeness, and designated him administrator of his creatures. In what way do I care for the goods of the earth that I have received to administer? 

At this moment of history there is great ecological sensibility. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be co-creators of integral ecology. What steps do I give into the dialogue with persons more committed to the integral ecological care? Has the encyclical Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis made me sensitive to commit myself to the care of the common habitat? 

The creatures are a clear sign of God’s existence and the great love God has for humanity. Do I discover the love of God in the creatures? Am I sensitive to praise and love God by contemplating his creatures? Am I in the process of ecological conversion? 

Final Prayer 

Christian Prayer with creation. 

We praise you, Father, with all your creatures, that came forth from your powerful hands. They are yours, and they are filled with your presence and tenderness. May you be praised! 

Jesus, Son of God, all things were created for you. You were formed in the maternal womb of Mary, you made yourself part of this world, and you looked at this world with human eyes. Today you are alive in every creature with your risen glory. May you be praised! 

Holy Spirit, with your light you direct this world towards the Father’s love and join in the groaning of creation, you also live in our hearts to impel us towards the good. May you be praised! 

One and Triune Lord, precious community of infinite love, teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe, where everything speaks to us about you. Awaken our praise and our gratitude for every being you have created. Give us the grace to feel intimately united with everything that exist. 

God of love, show us our place in this world as instruments of affection for all the beings of this earth, because not one of them is forgotten in your presence. Enlighten the masters of power and of money that they may safeguard against the sin of indifference, let them love the common good, let them support the weak, let them care for the world in which we live. The poor and the earth cry out: Lord, take us up with your power and your light, to protect all life, to prepare a better future, that your kingdom of justice may come, a kingdom of peace, of love and of beauty. May you be praised. Amen. 

Papa Francisco, LS.

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