by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
On this second Sunday in the Season of Creation, the readings once again provide much by way of challenge and encouragement as we respond to God’s call on behalf of our suffering Mother Earth. The relevance of Scripture to the world’s issues at any given time in history is unfailing. The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are not ancient and dusty literature. Rather, as St. Paul writes, “[the Word] is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword . . . able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). However, the great Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner worried constantly that the preaching of God’s word in our times too often falls flat, “like birds frozen to death and falling from a winter’s sky.” He yearned for the Christian message to be presented as relevant, available, meaningful to modern people.
This is what reflection on biblical readings in these Season of Creation Sundays enables.
In one of his servant songs, the Prophet Isaiah foretells the attitude which the Savior will have: “I have set my face like flint knowing that I shall not be put to shame … the Lord God is my help.” (Is. 50:7-8-9)
Just as Jesus was totally steadfast in his redemptive vocation, our determination in this historic moment of global crisis must be the same. The Savior knew that “the Lord God was his help.” We can expect no less.
The ever-practical Apostle James lays out the futility of “faith” (my quotation marks) without works since, as he says, that sort of “believing” is dead.
Again, the connection is clear. People may know all sorts of facts and figures about the present threat to life on Planet Earth. They may even feel deep sorrow for this state of affairs. But, as Pope Francis writes in Laudato si‘, many become passive and choose not to change their habits (No. 217). In other words, people can have the knowledge (faith) but lack the willingness (works) to do anything about earth’s suffering. They become indifferent. Pope Francis concludes, “Too often we participate in the globalization of indifference.” More positively, says the Holy Father, “Compassion for the earth is a vaccine against the epidemic of indifference. This is what St. James is driving at with his faith/works connection.
The incredible Christian paradox – losing one’s life for Christ and the sake of the Gospel means to gain it – applies directly to our caring for Creation. In modern terms, this promise of Jesus can be translated to “losing one’s life for the common good means to gain it.” In all life-giving work, we place the center of gravity outside of ourselves, directing it to the benefit of others.
Nowhere is this more the case than love and active concern for our endangered Mother Earth.
Often, secular literature can articulate truths like this in compelling ways. For example, the columnist David Brooks speaks of such other-centered orientation in his book The Second Mountain. He describes the usual quest for “the American Dream” as a first (and legitimate) climb for most people in our culture. But along the way, he says, the question often presents itself: Is this all there is? If one is fortunate enough or reflective enough, a “Second Mountain” comes into focus.
Brooks puts climbing “The Second Mountain” this way: People “see deeper into themselves and realize that down in the substrate, flowing from all the tender places, there is a fundamental ability to care, a yearning to transcend the self and care for others … They are finally able to love their neighbor as themselves, not as a slogan but a practical reality.” In Gospel terms, they lose their lives and find them.
This Season of Creation and beyond this is what we are about – and as Brooks observes, it brings lasting joy.
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.