Monday, April 27, 2015
Our Radically Relational God – A Trinity of Love
Originally published April 21, 2015, for the Archdiocesan Office for Peace and Justice.
Earth Day is April 22, 2015. Millions of people across the globe will interrupt their normal daily routine and do something to show their care for our Earth – home to some 8.5 billion people.
But so what??? Why should this matter to Catholics?? Why should we care?
Something matters to us when it is important to our loves, our fears, our needs, our convictions, our beliefs, or even our puzzlements. At Mass each Sunday, Catholics publicly proclaim: “… I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible…. I believe one Lord Jesus Christ… [who] by the Holy Spirit was incarnate ….of the Virgin Mary, and became human…I believe in Holy Spirit…the Lord and Giver of Life…” At the end of each Mass we are dismissed to “Love and serve the Lord.” Are all of these words just rote routines? Or – are there implications of these statements of faith for who we are and for how we ought to live in today’s world?
Catholics strive to live in tune with how God has been and still is actively present in our lives and in all of God’s creation. We know how to live by following the example and teachings of Jesus – the Incarnate One – God in the flesh, one like us, one who was part of the material world.
Significantly, the Gospels show us that Jesus took his relationships seriously. He was rarely alone. The Gospels tell us his was frequently at prayer out of doors – in deep and intimate relationship with his “Abba”– Father and the beauty of creation. He was “moved by the Holy Spirit” to act out of profound love and care for those most vulnerable and marginalized. Indeed most of his relationships were with those suffering the painful burdens of poverty and oppression. When he taught – most often – he was outside, and he used the bountiful and marvelous elements of the creation to show us who God is and how God cares for even the most insignificant creatures.
So – what does all of this have to do with Earth Day? Simply put – this all points to the fact that the God that Catholics claim and proclaim is a radically relational God, who created a world that is related to its core! Every plant, every animal, every earth element, and every human being is related to all others. But, what is more, because all creation has the same Creator, Jesus called us to live as he lived – in intimate relationship with God and all others.
Everyone and everything in all of creation resembles God the creative artist in some way. We are called to virtuous integrity in relation to ourselves, and great love and care for those human and other-than-human that are most vulnerable. When St. Francis of Assisi called everything and everyone “sister” or “brother,” this is what he was pointing to – not merely some poetic saccharine romantic ideal! Indeed, the great Franciscan theologian St. Bonaventure explained this interrelationship of the entire universe this way:
“All things are said to be transformed in the transfiguration of Christ. For as a human being, Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he shares existence; with plants he shares life; with animals he shares sensation; and with the angels he shares intelligence. Therefore, all things are said to be transformed in Christ since—in his human nature—he embraces something of every creature.” – Sermo I, Dom II, in Quad. IX, 215–19.
Click here to listen to “Trinity of Love” by Cathy Tisel Nelson (scroll down to “Trinity of Love”)
Indeed, the existence of the entire universe is evidence of the outpouring of God’s vast love. Humans are creatures among other magnificent creatures – all of whom are distinctly gifted and marvelous. As creatures gifted with reason and the capacity to be self-reflective (we can think about our motives and actions) humans have, as Pope Francis reminds us – “to be guardians and protectors of creation.” We need to carry out this responsibility in our daily lives, through the four major kinds of relationship each person has with: God; ourselves; other humans; and all of creation. Through these relationships Catholics live out what matters to us – or so we say….
In a July 2014 talk at the Italian university of Molise, Pope Francis described harm to the environment as “one of the greatest challenges of our times.” It’s a challenge, he said, that’s theological as well as political in nature. He continued, “This is our sin, exploiting the Earth. . . . This is one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation” (emphasis added).
Writing in The Atlantic Monthly, Tara Isabella Burton called the pope’s vision one “that is, radically and profoundly, pro-life.” Burton’s reference to “pro-life” connotes that Francis is leading Catholics to view environmental concern as part and parcel of what it means to foster a “culture of life.” This idea should not be totally new for Chicago Catholics. Indeed – it rings true with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s “Consistent Ethic of Llife” and also with St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life). All life on Earth is interdependent and sacred in the sense that everything we have comes from the generosity of God – the Giver of Life and Builder of Communion. But in so many complex and diverse ways we humans have exploited and abused one another and raped the earth and ravaged our fellow creatures. Indeed, the poor, marginalized, and excluded suffer the worst effects of pollution and global climate change.
On this Earth Day, along with Pope Francis, our sisters and brothers across the globe – indeed many in our country (California droughts, wildfires in the western US, foods in the Southeast and pollution by chemical leaks and oil spills) – cry out for our return to living out what we say matters to us. Matter matters!
The GOOD NEWS is that we matter to God! The Earth is a gift from God and it reflects a divinely ordained beauty and order. We human bear the divine image (imago dei) and we have been honored and entrusted to act as the guardians and protectors of this order. Yet, the poor and excluded suffer the worst effects of pollution and climate change. There is a clear relationship between nature’s destruction and the vice of greed. We can think differently about what drives the global reality that two thirds of the human family lives in abject poverty, while we in the U.S. bask in comparative opulence, and the earth’s ecosystems hoover on the brink of total breakdown. We can stop tolerating a “throw-away” system, in which the rich get richer and the poor poorer!
Conversion is challenging, but more GOOD NEWS is that we have one another and millions of people of good will who desire this change. What is more – the Office of Justice and Peace has many resources to support us. Beyond that there is the national Catholic Climate Covenant, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement. Also, Pope Francis will release an encyclical this summer to provide more guidance for our efforts.
On this Earth Day – As Catholics, sisters and brothers in Christ – let us join Pope Francis in this universal prayer intention for April 2015: “That people may learn to respect creation and care for it as a gift of God.” AMEN. Let’s show the world what really matters – acting for creation together!