Catholics called to communion with animals, nature

| October 2, 2015 | 0 Comments
Sister of St. Joseph Elizabeth Johnson, theologian and author.

Sister of St. Joseph Elizabeth Johnson, theologian and author.

Plants are eaten and animals are killed or die — sharing their nutrients so that others might live.

Some species adapt to changing conditions while others fail to adapt and die out, allowing the adapters to develop and thrive.

These facts of the natural world are not unlike the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, theologian and author Sister Elizabeth Johnson proposed.

A member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood in New York and professor at Fordham University there, she delivered the Myser Lecture Sept. 25 before an estimated audience of 1,400 at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

“Death is deeply structured into the creative advantage of life,” she said. When a plant or animal dies, “the nutrients of one support the other,” making death “an essential element” in the continuing process of creation, Sister Elizabeth said.

In both the natural world and in belief in faith, therefore, death is not in vain. “God is there with the promise of something more,” she said.

“Jesus of Nazareth shared the fate of all living things,” Sister Elizabeth said, and his death was a redeeming grace, one that offered “a gleam of life to all others who suffer” that extends to all creation.

“The good news of Easter is projected into the whole natural world,” she added. “It was the redemption not only of human beings but of all creation. Christ is the first-born of all the dead of Darwin’s tree of life. Nature’s affliction, even at its worst, does not have the last word.”

Environmental ruin ‘sinful’

Moving from the theological to the tangible world, Sister Elizabeth decried the loss of species — 23,000 annually, according to a United Nations estimate — due to human behavior. She praised Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ for addressing ecological issues.

“This destruction is profoundly sinful,” Sister Elizabeth said. “Sacrilege, desecration are not too strong a designation.”

She quoted the encyclical in pointing out that a God-centered world has other species in its circle, and she called for a new theology that re-envisions humans not at the top of the pyramid of life but as an integral part of all creation.

“Within our circle of compassion we need a capacity for communion with the natural world,” she said.

In a question-and-answer session after her talk, Sister Elizabeth described some living conditions for animals raised for food as “horrible” and the way and the amount they are being raised as “all out of proportion.”

She complimented Pope Francis for refusing to make a division in his encyclical between eco-justice and human justice, and she used the term “environmental racism” to define how the destruction of natural resources often has a devastating effect on people with the least means.

She said, “The way we are conducting global business is devastating the environment and having a negative impact on the poor.”

St. Catherine’s Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity and the Hedgerow Initiative of Wisdom Ways Spirituality Center, a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul Province, sponsored Sister Elizabeth’s talk.

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