by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
It is remarkable that so early in this five-week liturgical season the theme for this Second Sunday is a call to patience, non-judgment and forgiveness. And this in the face of the deliberate, selfish and uncaring exploitation of Mother Earth. The expected attitude would be a raging condemnation of anyone and anything which causes the ongoing agony of our common home and its impoverished victims.
A good example of actions which would normally cause this reaction in all who are deeply concerned about the Earth, in its present and future travail, was publicized in the September 8th edition of the Washington Post. The article pointed to a mammoth gold rush taking place in the Amazon region of Brazil. The report was enormously disturbing — and infuriating. Disturbing, especially for all of us who delighted in Pope Francis’ celebration of “Querida Amazonia” in the Church’s Synod of 2019. Infuriating, because this exploitation of that sacred region has all the elements of the sins we lament and condemn in this Season of Creation.
- Years of such mining have left the earth barren and lifeless
- The toxicity of mercury used to collect and purify gold traces in the soil seeps into the land, air and water
- Maritime ecologies have collapsed
- Indigenous communities have been poisoned
- The mining has become industrialized in the last decade
- Well-financed networks equip miners with heavy and destructive construction equipment
- National agencies charged with protecting the precious environment of the Amazon have had their enforcement scaled back and now legalize increased mining of indigenous lands
- The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has promised to expand mining even further and is accused by environmentalists of defending the miners against them
This is another classic case of environmental degradation being promoted by outside interests and enabled by traitorous national oligarchs. And it is infuriating!
And yet this Season of the Earth counsels the reaction cited above. Guided by the Scriptures for the Second Sunday, the call is clearly to gentleness and forgiveness.
The First Reading from Sirach says: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Paul writes to the early Christian community in Rome: “Why then do you judge your brother or sister? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
And in Matthew’s Gospel we read: “Peter asked Jesus, “If my brother or sister sins against me, how often must I forgive them? As many as seven times? And Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
So how do we square these two reactions to the evil being done to the Earth — condemning rage vs. forgiveness? Let me suggest a way of proceeding, a very personal observation, but one which might help.
Anger is surely justified in the face of the enormous evil represented in such a monstrous defilement of Mother Earth in Amazonia. We have to look no further than Jesus’s own examples: his anger at the desecration of the temple; his disgust with the two-faced religious leaders of his time; even his curt reaction to Peter when the apostle tried to dissuade Jesus from completing his mission in Jerusalem. It seems clear that God has given us the capacity for righteous anger in the face of all injustices.
The call (this week) to forgiveness, non-judgment and patience in reaction to planetary destruction strikes me then as compatible with the indignation we feel in these times of increasing harm done to our common home. In fact, I believe that the call to “forgive those who sin against us” in this context does not in any way forestall energetic and passionate defense of Mother Earth in its pain. In fact, she gives us a lovely example as she continually seeks to recover and renew herself — quietly, persistently and with a forgiving spirit. Perhaps that is why she is called “Mother.”
“God does not always rebuke, nurses no lasting anger, has not dealt with us as our sins merit… (Psalm 103, read on this 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time).”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.