The Challenge of the Gospels, through the lens of Laudato si’ and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
‘The Spirit of God is upon me; because I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor. I have been sent to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of God’s favour.’Luke 4:18-19
‘The Cosmic Christ is present wherever there is pain. The Cosmic Christ unites all this pain in the one divine heart, in the one divine – but wounded – body of the Christ which is the body of the universe. The Cosmic Christ is the crucified and suffering one in every creature, just as much as the Cosmic Christ is the radiant one, the divine mirror glistening and glittering in every creature. Divinity is not spared suffering – that is the lesson of the Cosmic Christ who suffers.’Matthew Fox
In his letter for this year’s Season of Creation, the theme of which is ‘Listen to the voice of creation’ Pope Francis says that as we listen, we can hear in the voice of creation a discordant note: a sweet song in praise of the Creator; and, an anguished plea, lamenting our mistreatment of this our common home. She weeps and implores us to put an end to our abuses and to her destruction. At the mercy of a ‘tyrannical anthropocentrism’ (Laudato si’, 68), different creatures who cry out and countless species are dying out and their songs silenced. The poorest among us are crying out as they gravely feel the impact of the drought, flooding, hurricanes and heat waves (Europe, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Ethiopia) – all becoming more intense and frequent. Our brothers and sisters of the native peoples are crying out in Australia and the Amazon because predatory economic interests, have invaded and devastated ancestral lands ‘provoking a cry that rises up to heaven’ (Querida Amazonia, 9). His words to First Nations or Indigenous people is also appropriate here: ’.. it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture. ’ (LS #146)
Laudato si’ reminds us that we all share one common home and need to recognise the inherent sacredness, goodness, and value of the material world. we share a small interconnected planet which is realised in ‘relationship’ with all creation, people and the Creator. ‘There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.’ (Wendell Berry).
Francis ‘knows that something invariably stirs in us when we stop to look around us with eyes of wonder; what he calls ‘the contemplative gaze’ or loving look where we begin to see more deeply into the beauty of ‘ordinary things’ and recognise that:
‘Our world is not just a useful resource, a place to live on to supply with food, to be exploited for our benefit, ‘to be plundered at will’ – and then to be left behind as we head for heaven. She is a living, breathing, precious entity to be cherished daily…Only when we begin behaving as though the Earth is our true home does it begin to really feel like one’.(Daniel O’Leary, An Astonishing Secret).
Daniel Mascarenhas, SJ in a recent article writes:
’Catholics have a sacramental view of the world that is stridently opposed to a utilitarian and blind-chance view of the world pervasive in our culture today. The Catholic faith is a way of seeing the world is an expression of God’s love and creativity. As in, this beautiful world is not some impersonal entity that is an accident of fate but is a gift from God who creates and holds it in existence. Furthermore, all creatures and objects praise God through their existence. As a result, every creature and entity has inherent value through its very existence, regardless of its utility to humans.’(What Will Motivate Us to Care for Creation? The Jesuit Post September 14, 2022).
Instead, we tend to see environmental issues solely in terms of the effects on human societies.
With this in mind, Francis calls for a change (conversion) of heart – both individually and communally in response to the love story of creation. It is a call to all people of faith and no faith who seek justice and integrity of creation. He appeals for a new dialogue about the planet’s future where everyone is included in the conversation because the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. [LS 14] We need an honest and open debate where narrow interests do not prejudice the common good [LS 188] which exclude and marginalise our most vulnerable sisters and brothers.
The change of heart involves amplifying the cry of the earth and cry of the poor. By listening to these cries, Francis tries to awaken the consciences of all, especially the economically and politically powerful, to the plight of the poor and the now impoverished earth. At heart, the larger problem is the failure to recognise that we are all, everyone and everything, interconnected. So,
A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. … This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. … Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.(Laudato Si, 91)
Pope Francis is promoting a radical new form of care for creation – a radical refusal to objectify reality that can be used and controlled (LS 11). It is about care. Stewardship still implies domination and control whereas ‘care’ approaches the Earth with an attitude of awe and wonder or ‘contemplative gaze’ rather thanacting like masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters who cannot set limits on immediate needs. Where we feel intimate connections with all that exists, then care can well up spontaneously.
For Francis, the concept of ‘integral ecology’ weaves all of life together. ‘The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, His boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.’(Laudato Si’ (35). ‘Integral ecology’ is the connection between respecting human dignity and caring for the natural world. This awareness can awaken us to the painful reality of our collective ‘ecological sins’ that harm the most vulnerable people – where environmental destruction impacts on some communities more than others, particularly people living in poverty, indigenous communities and communities of colour. All are vulnerable but some are more vulnerable than others. John Muir expresses it this way: ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,’ This is the ‘integral ecology’ referred to in Laudato si’ that connectscare of the natural world with justice for the poorest and most vulnerable people. It is only by reshaping our relationships with God, with our neighbours and with the natural world, can we hope to address the threats facing our planet today.
At the heart of the Pope’s reflections is the question: ‘What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?’ The pleas of our children must not be forgotten. They feel menaced by short-sighted and selfish actions, and anxiously ask adults to do everything possible to prevent, or at least limit, the collapse of our planet’s ecosystems. In the face of this Francis calls for profound changes to political, economic, cultural and social systems, as well as to our individual lifestyles.
We are invited to practise an ‘ecological spirituality’ (Laudato Si’, 216), attentive to God’s presence in the natural world; a spirituality based on the ‘loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion’ (ibid., 220). Brian Grogan sj asks if God, like an artist, grieves at what we do to Creation, to other species and to our sisters and brothers. Creation is a gift to be cared for and treasured. God has pitched a tent to be among us, in this Common Home, to be with us. God is a God of infinite care and we are to be part of a civilisation of care.
Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing in The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibilitiy of Life in Capitalist Ruins says that western philosophers since the Enlightenment have shown us a Nature that is grand and universal but also passive and mechanical. Nature was a backdrop and resource to be tamed and mastered. This has disastrous implications for first nations people around the world and especially through the Doctrine of Discovery. It was left to writers of fables and storytellers to remind us of the lively activities of all beings, human and not human.
Pope Francis has called us to have a ’contemplative gaze’ towards all creation. The contemplative tries to see it simply as it is: as gift, as awesome, as rich mystery, as offering a simple path to GodIn Laudato si’, the loving gaze sees things in terms of their beauty prior to their usefulness or function. All that exists reveals God. Each bird, sunset, flower, leaf or stone are a caress from God. Francis says that nature is a ’a continuing revelation of the divine’ (LS 85). Our everyday world can be transfigured when we appreciate this and life becomes a song of gratitude. I will return to this call to have a ’contemplative gaze’ throughout this presentation.
Pope Francis: we must learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. He wants to open dialogue about the distorted values of consumer culture, the power of multinational corporations and abuse of power, the view that sees people and creatures as objects to be used, economic systems motivated by short term profit, a mentality that puts technology on a pedestal. The conversion that we are called to must lead to a revolution in thinking and acting that leaves behind domination, control and abuse of power that results in more and more impoverished people and an impoverished Earth. It results from a new way of seeing where ‘right relationships’ or justice and the common good recognises that market forces and corporateness cannot and will not respect the interconnectedness we need. The heart of injustice and violence is the ‘lie’ that those we ignore, neglect, accuse, condemn, attack, or kill are ‘not like us.’ We forget what we share with those we treat harshly or ignore – a common humanity. It is about to forgetting the humanity of the other. This is applicable to creation as well. It is thingified and many resent people who say otherwise. We forget our common humanity and the sacredness of all things. We forget what we share with those we treat harshly or ignore – a common humanity and above all a common home.
At the core of the gospels and our spirituality is the promotion of justice, peace and care for the integrity of creation. ‘Everything is connected.’ Concern and reverence for creation cannot be separated from a sincere love for our sisters and brothers which involves a commitment to resolving the problems of society. Closeness with God calls forth human responsibility for the good of the world by appreciating God’s wonders, sympathizing with God to resist whatever degrades people or creation, to have God’s passion for the world’s flourishing which begins with the neighbour in need. Pope Francis has combined this in his two great encyclicals. Key to Fratelli Tutti is the insight that ‘everyone is connected’ in the face of ‘present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others’ and to promote ‘a new vision of fraternity and social friendship’ (n 6). Laudato si’ was written in response to attempts to ignore that ‘all creation is connected.’
For Pope Francis, peace, security and the flourishing of people and the planet involve embracing a culture of encounter and dialogue that is central to the call to conversion. This involves a real paradigm shift by ‘rethinking of politics itself as something other than security politics, as a politics of vulnerability.’ To do this we need to recover kindness (n 222).
‘Consumerist individualism has led to great injustice. Other persons come to be viewed simply as obstacles to our own serene existence; we end up treating them as annoyances and we become increasingly aggressive. This is even more the case in times of crisis, catastrophe and hardship, when we are tempted to think in terms of the old saying, “every man for himself”. Yet even then, we can choose to cultivate kindness. Those who do so become stars shining in the midst of darkness.
223. Saint Paul describes kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). He uses the Greek word chrestótes, which describes an attitude that is gentle, pleasant and supportive, not rude or coarse. Individuals who possess this quality help make other people’s lives more bearable, especially by sharing the weight of their problems, needs and fears. This way of treating others can take different forms: an act of kindness, a concern not to offend by word or deed, a readiness to alleviate their burdens. It involves “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement” and not “words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn”.
Francis says, ‘Kindness frees us from the cruelty that at times infects human relationships, from the anxiety that prevents us from thinking of others, from the frantic flurry of activity that forgets that others also have a right to be happy. Often nowadays we find neither the time nor the energy to stop and be kind to others…….. Yet every now and then, miraculously, a kind person appears and is willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference. If we make a daily effort to do exactly this, we can create a healthy social atmosphere in which misunderstandings can be overcome and conflict forestalled. Kindness ought to be cultivated; it is no superficial bourgeois virtue. Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.’(FT 222-224)
What kind of God do we allow into our lives? The constant call of Jesus was for us to walk through life with an open heart, which means a heart that can also be broken, a heart that allows the world, creation, and others in. The gospels call us to conversion and that has been widened to eco-conversion. It entails a growing in appreciation for creation, as well as a supportive and respectful presence to one another and to all our neighbouring species and natural surroundings. When I think of God it is through the lens of a heart, the lens of a broken heart, and a heart that is always open. Joanna Macy puts it well when she says that we too should not be afraid to allow our hearts to be broken open because this is how the world comes in or is let in, and healing follows. This is how the heart of God is continually broken open to let the world in. Though constantly vulnerable to human rejection, God embodies agonising love and never lets suffering have the last word because God has no ambitions and seeks nothing beyond restored relationship which is the end, the ‘telos’, of creation.
When we look to the needs of others, and of all, rather than only to our own interests, we leave ourselves vulnerable. Kindness involves noticing their vulnerability too. As already mentioned, for Francis kindness ‘entails esteem and respect for others’ and when it becomes part of the culture of a society it ‘transforms lifestyles, relationships and the way ideas are discussed and compared’ and it ‘facilitates the quest for consensus’ and ‘opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges’ (n 224). This is the humble attitude asked of us when we contemplate the Voice from the Heart and our response to the call to us from First Nations people. They are asking us to walk with them. To be with them. To be in this together. To sit with them and listen. To realise that we are part of the story when we listen to them. The challenge of Pope Francis is that without openness, without vulnerability and humility, we cannot be open to awe and wonder towards creation; we cannot speak the language of fraternity – only of ruthless exploitation. A contemplative gaze, a feeling of intimate closeness with all that exists, care will rise up spontaneously (LS 11). The contemplative gaze applies to how we see one another. It makes things sacred and gives them a priority in our lives. We may, in falling in love with nature, work to protect its beauty and sacredness. When Jesus prays, ’May they all be one’ it is not just for ecumenical unity but also for the growth of universal harmony between God, humankind and all Creation. However, all these relationships are wounded and need healing. We see how the rich are hurt least and last by disasters, whereas the poor are hurt first and worst. Global compassion for the disenfranchised must grow. The optimism or passive fatalism that science or God or both can fix things is not sufficient. Otis Moss lll (quoted by Andi Lloyd, The Land Mourns, The Christian Century, September 2022) says, ’When we recognise the interdependence and interconnection in nature, we begin to build human systems that are interdependent and interconnected, based on justice and love.’ This is the case also with how we look at our sisters and brothers, and particularly in terms of the Voice from the Heart. Without this contemplative gaze it is not sacred. Laudato si’ is, as I see it, a lament, a mourning, on the part of Pope Francis. This makes possible the change of heart and change in our lives necessary to care for our Common Home that includes all people, and all species. We move closer to God’s vision of the world as it ought to be: a world of justice, interdependence and mutual flourishing. We become participants in the work of lament as we join our voices to the creation-wide expression of grief that is pouring forth. It is to recognise our interdependence and to affirm our interconnectedness by stepping into a deeper solidarity with one another with all of God’s creatures. Jesus did this continually with his boundary-crossing solidarity to embrace people and hold people in right relationship with one another, with God and all creation. Mourning together, in true solidarity, enables us to name the truth of what is wrong and in doing so, we begin to make it right. True prayer is the refusal to settle for what should not be because silence and tacit consensus always protect privilege and domination. The very act of prayer is a way to remain courageous. It is an act of resistance against discouragement and defeat. To see and hear we need hearts that feel. William Sloane Coffin: ‘The quickest way to lose your humanity is to begin to tolerate the intolerable.’ To ‘hear the word of reality’ we must listen to the reality of people and earth who are hurting. We must ‘treat the wound of God’s people carefully.’ The poor take us into the heart of reality. They put us in touch with the world, ourselves and the mercy of God.
As persons of faith, we feel ourselves even more responsible for acting each day in accordance with the summons to conversion. It is not simply on the individual level but ‘the ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion’ (ibid., 219).
Creation is grieving, languishing, perishing, but we do not easily hear that the land is mourning. A foundational truth is that when one part of creation suffers, the whole suffers. Andi Lloyd (The Land Mourns, The Christian Century, September 2022): ’if we could see our interconnectedness, it would look like a fabric: threads running between each of us and every person on whom our lives depend; threads tracing the path from each of us to each nonhuman creation that interacts with our life-the food on our table, that tree that we smile at every morning, the birds that sing us awake; still more threads travelling from each of those creatures to all the creatures on which they depend-their pollinators, their food, the earthworms that till the soil in which they grow. And finally, there are the shimmering, gossamer threads, spun of some gorgeous hue, running from each creature and each human to God.’
Our lives are held, connected, one to the other and all to God. We live in a relational world deeply interconnected and interdependent, but injustice is fraying the threads of that fabric. All that connects creation is badly torn: by manifold injustices perpetrated by exploitative systems, torn by ideologies of scarcity that teach us to love too narrowly and too little. To mourn is to speak the truth to the lies that prop up the denial on which the status quo depends. To take seriously the land’s mourning is to acknowledge that the grief we feel is wider than our lives. This acknowledgment is an invitation to become even greater participants. It means creation’s lament inspires us to do with our own rarely acknowledged grief: to get engaged.
‘The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world.…..The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that…….. The sorrow, grief, and rage you feel is a measure of your humanity……..As your heart breaks open there will be room for the world to heal. The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. Not only is there an impoverishment of our emotional and sensory life, flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic but this psychic numbing also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information.’Joanna Macy
The price of admission into that present is to allow one’s heart to break. It is here that we see the overwhelming social and ecological crises. Here despair becomes clarity of vision, followed by constructive, collaborative action. ‘It brings a new way of seeing the world, freeing us from the assumptions and attitudes that now threaten the continuity of life on earth.’
We have to hold on to each other. The coronavirus illustrated a very important theological teaching: the unity of humankind. And when we hear in 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love’, it is not about the potential to love but that God exists as love and that we are all created in God’s image and likeness. If God exists in community—and if we are created in the image and likeness of God—then we, too, are created to exist in community with one another. We are not created to live in isolation which has its consequences for all others. We were created for one another, to live in relationship and give ourselves as God gives to us in relationship.
The story of the fall in the book of Genesis is a story of humanity’s descent into fragmentation and division, and it is a story repeated by every generation. We are divided along national and racial lines; we are divided by gender and sexual orientation; we are divided socioeconomically and politically. We fragment within our societies, our communities, our churches and even our families.
Francis appeals to our hearts and our heads. For us in Australia, Fratelli tutti’s reflections on truth, forgiveness and reconciliation hold important messages for our journey towards a just relationship with First Nations people and communities. He says that ‘we can never move forward without remembering the past; we do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory’ (n 249) and that we cannot demand a ‘sort of social forgiveness’ of those who ‘have endured much unjust and cruel suffering’ (n 246). The Uluru Statement from the Heart can provide an element of ‘architecture’ while all of us can cultivate the ‘art’ of seeking out and listening to the voice of First Nations people and communities.
In any authentic commitment to social justice, we start by listening to the personal stories and experiences of the others. I referred to the politics of vulnerability. As I see it, it is an openness to others, to all, which means opening ourselves to new possibilities. We can change as individuals and as communities. This is where we find God – in our connections with one another as well as Creation. open up the possibility for transformation in ourselves, and new perspectives and possibilities might emerge for fundamental social and economic change. What can we do for this broken world? Cornel West writes of the painful truth of social suffering and the challenge of ‘allowing the suffering to speak’: we have to keep aware of who is bearing the greatest social cost. Need to view the world from the lowest rung-from undergoing socially induced forms of suffering. That now applies to creation and the suffering of God within it. Nelson Maldonado Torres says: The cry is a sound uttered as a call for attention, as a demand for immediate response, or as an expression of pain that points to an injustice. We are called to hear the cries of the wretched of the earth today just as God heard the cry of the Israelites in ancient Egypt: ‘The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out……..God heard their groaning.’
Taking a passionate interest in others and the world around us is what falling in love is all about. Ultimately, such passions vibrate with the passion and love of God. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, affects everything. It determines what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything. But, the way of the burning heart is ultimately not just about ‘oneself’ and personal fulfillment but about ‘us’ and the common good because the deepest and most authentic desires of the human heart are ‘public’.
True heart spirituality connects compassion and social justice. Compassion helps us appreciate how some unjust conditions, policies, and ideologies hurt and deprive particular groups of people in particular ways. The opposite of compassion is indifference. It is an emotional or spiritual numbness where one is unable to be touched or moved by the needs and sufferings of others. It includes a sense of apathy regarding the unjust or hurtful conditions that result in hurt or deprivation. The awakening of compassion involves a change of heart, a personal transformation, a movement from a numb, unfeeling, self-centred perspective to a deepened capacity for heartfelt compassion and just behaviour. Walter Brueggemann says that the prophet’s function, as well as criticising the unjust status quo, is to give voice to God’s grief, pain and anguish at how bad things are for God’s people. The prophet articulates the heartache and heartbreak of God for the poor and the oppressed, for the ‘least’ and the ‘last’ of this world. Our vocation question is to identify those for whom we hurt. To which of God’s people do our hearts seem to go out to most? Whose sufferings and aspirations speak or call to us? Where, or to whom, is our heart leading us? ‘To whom does my heart belong?’
Theologians like Leonardo Boff, along with Pope Francis, have joined the ‘cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’. When we see the interconnectedness of all of creation, we see how we have fallen short. It takes different eyes, a deeper capacity to listen and an open heart. God’s voice is heard in our hearts and through the lives of other people. It requires careful listening and respect because all have something to say. It is in the most privileged and sacred places that God’s voice is heard is through the needs and suffering of others. God is always trying to get us to pay attention to all forms of injustice. The suffering must be allowed to speak. This cry is a call for attention, a demand for immediate response. These are cries of the wretched of the earth combined with the Earth herself.
Laudato si’ manifests a faith that walks as it synthesises the human sciences including ethics, ecology spirituality and society. Addressing one of the most critical moments in human history, it has been labelled explosive, prophetic, bold. It is directly addressed to all people who will listen and want to be participate in caring for God’s creation. The call for a renewed and deepened humanity is an assertive call for dialogue that will shape our lives for decades to come. Things need to change. We need to go beyond asking crude questions as to the cost of acting or not acting to asking the value of respecting the earth with profound responsibility.
Laudato si’ is not a mere policy document or formula for political partisanship. That would date it in no time. It is about transforming hearts that lead to action for the common good. ‘An awareness of the gravity of today’s cultural and ecological crisis must be translated into new habits’ (LS 209). It is not about rules or strictures. The call is to open our minds, and for open hearts, to be attentive to God’s gift of creation – a gift of love. Creation, like the four written gospels, draws us into the story of God’s wondrous acts of love and salvation. It connects us to all living things.
Throughout history, religious congregations were founded based on seeing and being present to the needs of the poor. Now our eyes are opened towards care for the poor and for the Earth itself. Prayer and spirituality open us to advocacy and strengthen us for the biblical call to care. In recent years, there has been a call for a renewed relationship between Christian spirituality and socio-political concerns leading to an important conversation with today’s urgent social, political and economic issues. It has been expressed in various ways like mysticism and politics, contemplation and prophecy, mysticism and resistance.
For Johannes Baptist Metz a ‘mysticism of open eyes’ is a true response to suffering. It is a way of seeing more and more deeply- not less. It makes visible suffering what is often made invisible and inconvenient. It pays attention to suffering and takes responsibility for unjust suffering. (J.B Metz, A Passion for God, p. 163). This suffering of the other was always the focus of Jesus’ life. It means we must acknowledge the absolute authority of victims.
A true spirituality must awaken us to the reality of a suffering Earth and people. This spirituality, unlike dogmas and religious and secular hierarchies, gives us an actual experience of the unity of all things. Suffering becomes visible. We cannot our turn backs to the invisible – or the rendered invisible – sufferings in the world. Amnesia about past injustices and sufferings or apathy in the face of present injustice and suffering cannot be sustained.
So I repeat:
The authority of those who suffer – the crucified peoples – becomes absolute over against the claims to ultimacy of churches and religions.
Opening one’s eyes to the suffering of others, and our Earth, must culminate in a liberating action of compassion and mercy. Metz calls it ‘political compassion’. It entails a confrontation with all that commodifies people and God’s creation.
The interlocking nature of injustice – the intersection of class, race, and gender – is clear. The imperial fantasy of endless power, the capitalist fantasy of endless growth, the technological fantasy of endless comfort must be abandoned. The arrogant fantasies fostered by political and economic systems do not benefit the majority. Systems that celebrate domination, unlimited growth and inequality are death cults and not the basis for justice and sustainability. We must acknowledge the role of protection and care and connection of Indigenous peoples around the world with creation. They with creation and earth’s resources are integrally connected. We live only because we are cradled by the loving web of life God wove out of creation. We must now hold creation among the poor and sick whom we seek to serve.
We can create a more sustainable world. Everything from everyday acts, to corporate investing, and international advocacy, matters to save our common home and all life. God’s call to ‘care’ for creation takes on new life within our MSC charism that constantly calls for a transformation or conversion of heart.
Edwin O. Wilson says: ‘A change of heart occurs when people look beyond themselves, and then to the rest of life. It is strengthened when they also expand their view of landscape, from parish to nation and beyond, and their sweep of time from their own lifespans to multiple generations and finally to the extended history of (man)kind’ (The Future of Life). Clearly our spiritual values and our daily actions must be connected.
COVID-19 has forced us to focus on the centrality of life. In the struggle to face the direct health challenges of keeping people alive we fail to see that we also have capacity to destroy some or most life on the planet. Laudato si’ has pointed to the fact that we live in a period where human individualism and self-gratification have caused irremediable damage to life in all its forms and the well-being of ‘Our Common Home’. Unlike Indigenous people, we have not understood our place in the world and our relationship with nature. The Covid-19 pandemic might have led many to a new way of seeing, being and doing. I have already mentioned Pope Francis’ invitation to learn and understand with a ‘contemplative gaze’ upon Creation. Laudato Si’ is even more relevant now. Covid-19, on the back of climate change, shows even more poignantly the ‘cracks in the planet we inhabit’ as suggested in Laudato si. We need a paradigm shift – a shift towards an earth-centred economics, politics and culture. Globalisation, like Covid 19, have taught that despite our differences we are fundamentally all linked, where what we do in one part of this global village affects the other part, and in turn affect us again. Through the virus, we saw just how intertwined we humans are. Despite our best efforts, we could escape this fundamental unity. It did not respect human division and paid no attention to borders, to race, to gender, to sexual orientation, to socioeconomic status or to any of the ways that we endeavour to fragment ourselves. Rather, we’re having to come to grips with the reality that what happens to our sisters and brothers, even if they are on the other side of the world, necessarily affects us. We are confronted with the fact that we exist in common with others.
We need a spirituality that is concrete, incarnate and leads to taking responsibility. Earlier I mentioned ‘political compassion’. It must have arms and legs. It is about heart. The sense of awe and reverence or ‘contemplative gaze’ for creation is vital for an ‘ecological conversion’ where we discover ‘a loving awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion’ (LS 220). It is a spirituality of peace that is earth-centred and steers away from conflict. It shows that there are alternatives to the so-called economic normal towards alternatives found in indigenous cultures and local economies which people are defending with their lives. The spirituality of peace requires a paradigm shift that begins with the recognition, as I have already said, that we are part of nature-not its masters or owners; that we are part of the earth family, and that we have the responsibility to care for all life on earth – in all its beautiful diversity. Here lies the imperative to live, produce and consume within ecological limits without encroaching on the rights of other species and peoples. The artificial or false categories in politics of unlimited economic growth, free-trade, consumerism, and competitiveness need to be put in their place. It means challenging systems on which capital, corporations and growth are founded and which unleash destructive forces upon the earth. So, let us appreciate God’s wonders by sympathising with the God of Love to resist whatever degrades people or creation, to have God’s passion for the world’s flourishing which begins with the neighbour in need. This spirituality requires that recognise that we are part of nature not its masters or owners (Genesis and Job). It means seeing ourselves as members of the earth family, with the responsibility of caring for other species and life on earth in all its diversity. To have peace we need to develop a consciousness of the rights of the earth, of our duties towards earth, our compassion for all beings on the earth. It means challenging the capitalist patriarchy on which capital, corporations and growth are founded and which unleash destructive forces upon the earth. It means that we need to make peace with the earth, or face extinction as we humans push millions of other species to extinction. We need to overcome the illusion of separateness of humans and nature. We are one with the earth as the web of life is woven through interconnectedness.
As always, we must look at our images of God. We need see that the God of Creation is revealed in the human Jesus whose heart is also broken open. This spirituality of the heart – a heart of flesh – looks from below, the underside, the forgotten side and unheard or invisible side. It critiques structures built on power for a few and powerlessness for the majority because it is based on a ‘politics of vulnerability.’. It refuses to climb pyramids, being competitive, and works to form circles, solidarity, cooperation, interdependency. It means a compassionate engagement with this world that consists of respect for otherness, equality, mutuality, interdependence, and care where the deepest and most authentic desires of the human heart are ‘public’.
I conclude with another reference to Brian Grogan, The Amazing Story of a Small Blue Planet: A Creation Walk in 30 Steps. ‘Our efforts may seem small and futile, but many gospel episodes reveal the recurring motif, that god has an eye for small people and small things.’ There are examples like the small mustard seed, the widow’s mite, the multiplications of the loaves and fish, turning water into wine, using bread and wine to become the Body and Blood of Jesus, etc. We need to maintain the hope that our tiny contribution on behalf of our languishing planet have great value.
‘Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.…If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear.’ (Joanna Macy)
Fr. Claude Mostowik msc
St Mary’s Towers, Douglas Park
September 17, 2022