Earth Church And Christian Discipleship
Since Vatican II, as Christians we have been reminded of the call to “read the signs of the times.” To do so is to root the call to discipleship in the “here and now”. Our “here and now” is our presence in a world, at once sacred and beautiful through which we experience God’s indwelling and divine reflection and simultaneously a world under intense environmental distress that threatens all life systems and results in profound human suffering. In this context it is perhaps little wonder that Pope Francis chose to be named for the patron saint of ecology, Francis of Assisi!
Like his predecessors, John Paul 11 and Benedict XV1, Francis is a leader wholeheartedly committed to the Christian call to care for the Earth. In the recent Encyclical, Lumen Fidei, begun by Benedict and finished by Pope Francis we read: “Faith, by revealing the love of God the Creator, enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and a dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care”. (#55) Through this Encyclical, Francis adds to the vibrant and evolving tradition of Catholic Social Teaching in which we have seen increasing and urgent calls to Christians to enter into a new consciousness in creation, revitalized environmental responsibility and partnerships with all peoples who have a care and concern for the Earth.
This is not something new but the growing of a tradition steeped in Scripture that tells us that God “fills the world with awe” (Psalm 104) and that Christ is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”, because the entire universe was created in, through and for Him.” (Col. 1: 15-17).
Building on Scripture the Canadian bishops have recently reminded us that “The wondrous beauty of creation ought to lead us to recognize within it the artistry of our Creator and to give him praise. The created world is not simply a place to live or material for our use”.
The environmental crisis, the Bishops of the Philippines have said is “the ultimate pro-life issue”. Care for the Earth, John Paul 11 stated strongly “is not an option for Christians”. So the formal teaching of the Church is not at odds with the modern environmental movement; rather it is a lively participant in it calling each of us to personal conversion and committed action.
One recent call may especially touch our lives as Sisters of St. Joseph, Associates and Companions. In his inaugural homily, Pope Francis referred to St Joseph as “protector” historically of Jesus and Mary, and as protector of the Church in the world today. Francis then calls each person to learn from Joseph the “vocation of being a ‘protector’”. He explains that vocation: “Being a protector is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and St. Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person … It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”