Listen to Nature and Our Response
By Father Pete Iorio
Faith and reason are not in opposition to each other. Our religion and science have much to contribute to each other. Science gives light to the wonderful workings of our world and even through the ingenuity of humans has brought forth better ways for us to live and sustain life. Antibiotics is one example. Our religion offers moral guidelines to help us. Just because we have the capability to do and make things does not mean that we should do it.
Jesus used the laws of nature to teach about God and the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel today, He tells the disciples to Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
We too can learn a lesson from nature. Scientists speak to us about what they learn and determine in the physical world and the majority of scientists today agree that there is a dangerous phenomenon called climate change. Pope Francis and his two predecessors John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI were concerned about climate change.
In his first Encyclical called Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Mankind), Saint Pope John Paul II warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”. JP II would call for a global ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”. The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies”. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”. In other words, he is saying that we need each other.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”. (This is the morality piece that I noted… just because we can grow an individual economy does not mean that we should.) He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”. Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”.
And of course, Pope Francis issued the encyclical on our common home, the environment in 2015, three years ago. Laudato Si (from Canticle of St. Francis of Assisi) is its name and it calls attention to this moral crisis that is facing our world. It is addressed not only to Catholics but to everyone who lives on Earth. There is an urgency in the message and I highly encourage you to read it.
The popes gave their teachings based on the Scriptures. They knew that before Jesus began his public ministry, He went into the desert, a barren place on earth and was tempted to fall into the trap of three things that this world offers: Greed, power and prestige. Jesus successfully resisted the temptations against greed, the accumulation of money and possessions; against power which displays an indifference or lack of dependence on God; and against prestige – which exalts a person or nation and makes them better than anyone else on the planet. And then by his words and actions, He cautioned us to do the same. Have we resisted greed, the accumulation of money and goods, not just personally, but also in regard to our nation? Have we resisted power that relies on our own selfish ways of doing things? And have we resisted prestige that makes us as individuals or as a nation better than all the rest?
We Christians are called to live as followers of Christ who emptied himself in sacrificial love; who proclaimed the poor blessed and always opted to associate Himself with the poor and the outcast; and who lowered Himself by becoming flesh and by submitting to death on the Cross so that God’s love and glory would by divine essence make itself known.
Christians should always strive for holiness and to bring holiness into the whole of Creation. Jesus brought hope to a weary world when he was born. Jesus brought hope to a divided and destructive world when he died and rose to new life. The New Evangelization ushered in by Pope Saint John Paul II inspires us to bring hope to a world that may feel like being “unsurpassed in distress” as it says in the first reading from the Book of Daniel.
The poor, the immigrants and even our land and rivers are being brazenly attacked by the purveyors of greed, fear and racial and class hatred. All that saps and drains our energy and can leave us on the verge of despair. In this context, it is imperative that we hold up hope, that we walk on the path of beauty, and cultivate joy.
The passage from the Book of Daniel speaks of a time unsurpassed in distress. It is in that context that the prophet conveys the vision of hope. In a similar vein, the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews refers to a life-threatening, interpersonal conflict and then paints a vision of God’s victory. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, too, offers a radical hope in the context of anxiety and insecurity.
There is great hope when we work together to solve our problems. We are at our best when brothers and sisters live in unity. It is like oil flowing down the beard, according to the psalmist. We are at our worst when we go it alone.
Even now we are journeying towards eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly banquet. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God. Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope in Jesus Christ.