by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This Sunday, September 5th, is the first in this year’s Season of Creation. Christians across the world have increasingly observed these six weeks of prayer and action in defense of our common home, Mother Earth.
As mentioned in last week’s essay introducing Season of Creation 2021, like the other liturgical times of the year, this can be seen as an ongoing spiritual retreat for us as individuals and as communities of Christian faith. That at least is the way in which one reliable group (named “Listen”)* has produced reflections for each of the season’s five Sundays. Using the readings of those days, we are presented with the application of each of them to concern and efforts for our common home. This is also how these essays will proceed. One corollary to this approach will be an increased appreciation for the relevance of Holy Scripture in our lives and the life of the world.
It is often useful to reflect on the Sunday readings in a slightly different order. This week the Second Reading seems a logical first, the Gospel a second, and Isaiah by way of conclusion. The excerpt today from the Letter of St. James speaks to the enormity of the task of rescuing Creation. The Gospel underscores Jesus’s own struggle with the “powers of darkness”. And the Prophet Isaiah encourages us in the battle.
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
From the Letter of James, Chapter 2, verses 1-5
As usual the Apostle James writes to the early Christians in a totally practical way. He challenges them (us) to live Christ’s Way in the ordinary and extraordinary circumstances of life. [Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of Liberation Theology, used to advise intellectuals who wanted to “discuss theology” with him: “Go and read the Epistle of James”.]
In this reading James focuses on the widespread practice of honoring wealth as a measure of individual and business success and worth.
Pope Francis applies this inversion of values to a global level and its devastating ecological consequences. He charges the activities of rich and admired multinational businesses with doing violence in their worldwide activities, causing “great human and environmental liabilities … depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, impoverishment of agriculture … open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers…” (Laudato Si’, No. 51)
Gospel of Mark 7:31-37
Jesus “groans” when confronting human suffering and treating it. That surely is our reaction as we come to terms with the destruction of Planet Earth. Like the Lord, what we are about here is clearly the mortal struggle between the light and the darkness, good and evil, God’s will and the “powers and principalities”. Jesus also prays as he moves to heal the deaf man’s tragic circumstance. In another place Jesus commented to his disciples who complained about not being able to cast out a demon that in the face of certain wrongs “this kind can come out only by prayer [and fasting].” (Mark 9:29)
The prophet urges us to “be strong, fear not” because God is faithful and engaged in salvation history. These affirming words bolster our intentions to do everything possible to save the planet despite enormous forces destroying it. The prophetic words challenge all feelings of discouragement, even paralysis in doing this saving work. Indeed, God’s encouraging words through Isaiah help us to remember that we are not alone in this struggle; that throughout the world people like ourselves are engaged in it; that we certainly have numberless companions doing this salvific work.
Unfortunately, as is too often the case, whoever assigned these particular phrases from the Prophet Isaiah neglected to quote it fully; it should begin with verse 3: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak.” Not only are we urged to be engaged in the enormously crucial work of saving Mother Earth, but we are called to help one another, especially those who understandably find it overwhelming.
* Many of these reflections are thanks to “Listen”.
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.