TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Custodians Of The Earth

It is Monday afternoon and I have just returned home from a beautiful weekend in the Blue Mountains.

I don’t think I have been there since we lived in Penrith in the 1980’s and I had forgotten the grandeur of looking out into the magnificent Jamieson Valley in all of its majesty. I was pleased to have been invited to a friend’s birthday gathering over the weekend which afforded us with this opportunity. Not only did we view this great valley but also the Grose Valley with its massive cliff faces and sheer beauty. We also walked into the mountains to view the Katoomba Falls. We joined thousands at the Three Sisters and it feels good to have spent a weekend in the splendour of this great country of ours and the absolute beauty of God’s creation.

This encounter with nature and creation will assist me in the plans I had for this week’s message. Friday 5th June was World Environment Day and its theme of Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care, aims to raise awareness of how humanity, the environment and societies all rely on the responsible management of the planet's natural resources. Recently at the One Heart Many Voices Conference in Sydney, Fr. Denis Edwards spoke on the topic Ecology at the Heart of Mission. Denis Edwards is a Professor in the School of Theology at Australian Catholic University and is a priest of the Archdiocese of Adelaide. In recent years he has taught mainly in Christology, Trinity and some ecclesiology. In the light of evolutionary science, and because of the ecological crisis we face, Denis has been exploring a theology of the natural world and trying to ground it in the heart of Christian faith. And so his talk to us at this Conference was embedded in theology, spirituality, ecclesiology and just pure goodness. The core of the theological question is the relationship between humans and the natural world.

He maintains that creation is at the heart of our faith and on this weekend of the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, in which we remember the Sacrament of Jesus, then I am in no doubt that this is the case. Our faith is about fleshiness, earthiness, and is grounded in the incarnation of God in our universe. So creation is at the heart of our faith.

In Pope Francis’ first homily of his Papacy on 19th March 2013, he asked the following; "I want to ask you to walk together, and take care of one another … and don't forget that this bishop who is far away loves you very much. Pray for me." He then went on to speak of the need to protect the environment, to serve one another with love, and not to allow "omens of destruction", hatred, envy and pride to "defile our lives". He said the role of the Pope was to open his arms and protect all of humanity: "Especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. .... Today amid so much darkness we need to see the light of hope and to be men and women who bring hope to others," he said. "To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope, it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds."

We are finally acknowledging that we are not to dominate the earth but we are its custodians. God is present, and every creature is a self-expression of God, and every creature exists with mutual delight of the divine. Creation is an expression of God’s self-giving. Denis Edwards referred to this as ‘deep incarnation’. Matter and flesh matter to God, eternally from the end to the beginning and from the beginning to the end. Creation is the place created by God for us to inhabit and which embodies His divine plan for us.

I recall when I was studying science in the 1970’s and then teaching Biology that the word ecosystems and ecology were quite new terms and concepts that we were grasping. Re-cycling did not form part of our thought processes, let alone action and pollution was beginning to enter our consciousness. We now know and can view from out of space, what environmental destruction humans are capable of, and so our Catholic faith is inviting us to a ‘theology of protection’. We are being asked to look upon creation with tenderness and love.

I recently read an opinion piece by Clive Hamilton (ABC Religion and Ethics, 3rd March 2015) in which he says:

For Bonaventure, “the created world is a kind of book reflecting, representing, and describing its Maker.” In her excellent commentary, Ilia Delio explains that, for Bonaventure, the world is the external expression of God so that “we know the Word of God through the world....All of creation....in some way reflects the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Trinity. God shines forth through creation...”

I do hope you are aware of the Environmental Forum that is being hosted this Wednesday 10th June, by the diocesan Social Justice Council. It is called Transitioning to Renewable Energy and all are invited to attend. John Hayes, a member of this Council has worked hard to secure five great speakers for the evening. We are invited to listen to a variety of positions and to engage in conversation.

This Forum has been intentionally sandwiched between World Environment Day (5th June) and the expected Ecological Encyclical of Pope Francis (18th June). We know that if this Encyclical is like any of his other writings or words, it will call us to a greater solidarity with the poor and with the environment, because Pope Francis has stressed several times that nature is God’s gift to humanity. I think he will be reminding us that sin is just not an individual deviation, but we err socially when we do not honour many of the Principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

While I was going to include in this message something of the Interfaith Dialogue of last week, you will need to wait till next week because this message contains enough food for thought for the week.

I leave you with the following:

Canticle of the Sun (St Francis Assisi 1224)

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendour!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars;
in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You brighten the night.
He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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