Caring for creation an act of mercy

| James Ennis | April 19, 2017 | 0 Comments

As we approach Divine Mercy Sunday, I have been thinking a lot about the mercy of God and the Church’s more recent efforts to teach us about — and remind us of — this most beautiful attribute of God. April 22, the day before Divine Mercy Sunday, also happens to be Earth Day, when many around the world promote the need to protect the earth’s precious resources.

Some readers might be thinking, “What has Divine Mercy Sunday have to do with Earth Day?”

Actually, quite a lot.

Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated in the Church since the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska April 30, 2000, is an invitation to all people of goodwill to contemplate the rich mercy of God and to re-establish a relationship with Jesus, who offers forgiveness. As St. John Paul II stated on the day of St. Faustina’s canonization, “Divine Mercy reaches human beings through the heart of Christ crucified.” Divine Mercy Sunday amplifies the message of Easter. Mercy is a great gift from a loving God.

In 2015, Pope Francis wrote his second encyclical “Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”): On Care for Our Common Home,” because of the Church’s concern for the earth, another great gift from a loving God.

Pope Francis writes: “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis … suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself. … These three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to ‘have dominion’ over the earth (Gn 1:28), to ‘till it and keep it’ (Gn 2:15).”

This “distortion of our mandate,” this brokenness between human beings and the land, has had serious negative consequences. As the executive director of Catholic Rural Life over the past nine years, and as the director of a sustainable agriculture program for nine years before that, I have worked with farmers, ranchers, agriculture scientists and environmentalists from around the country who are on the front lines of some of the environmental degradation in rural communities due to the brokenness Pope Francis speaks about in “Laudato Si’.”

Earth Day, started in 1970 by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, was initially a grassroots effort to raise awareness of environmental degradation in the U.S. Today, Earth Day is a worldwide movement involving 200 million people in 141 countries.

Addressing both the causes and the remedies of our alienation with God, our fellow humans and the earth, Pope Francis focused the Church’s attention on mercy when he led the Church through a jubilee year of mercy from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016. During this spiritual pilgrimage, he proposed a complement to the two traditional sets of mercy: “may the works of mercy also include care for our common home.”

As a spiritual work of mercy, contemplation of the natural world — God’s handiwork — can help us perceive more about all that God wishes to teach us. As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires us to take concrete steps to change our patterns of thinking and acting that are more respectful of creation.

Ennis is executive director of Catholic Rural Life in St. Paul.

Tags: , ,

Category: The Local Church