by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
September 11, 2022 — As the 20th century unfolded, a “new grace” of the Holy Spirit, Catholic Social Teaching (CST), emerged. It expanded human consciousness naming structural causes for war, poverty, underdevelopment, just to name a few, and situated them alongside traditional, individual questions of morality. CST was indeed a “new grace” for the Church and indeed for society as a whole, a response to the world that was becoming increasingly interdependent.
This new challenge to people of good will gave rise to a deepened spirituality. It moved us from simply “God and oneself” analyses of ethical questions to include structural, systemic realities as also subject to moral imperatives. Catholic Christians and all other people of good will were now called to deal not only one-on-one responses to impoverished people or victims of violence but to recognize the underlying causes for endemic poverty or structural violence among humans and between nations. A qualitative leap.
A analogous paradigm shift has taken place in our time thanks to what is called the New Cosmology, the New Story, the Great Story, the Epic of Evoluton. The amazing developments of science enabling humans to probe worlds beyond ours has set a challenge before us that has everything to do with our relationship to God and to our universe. We are being called to make a huge shift in our overall spirituality, one dimension of which of course includes our common home, Planet Earth. This is why the celebration of this Season of Creation and its consequences are so crucial. As Pope Saint John Paul II wrote 30 years ago: “Our duty toward nature and the Creator [have become] an essential part of our faith.”
Pope Francis has given valuable insights for navigating this new era in our relationship with God and God’s creation. In his historic encyclical, ”On Care for our Common Home” (Laudato si’), the Holy Father writes about “the Gospel of Creation.” In the very first chapter he says, “I wish to address every person living on the planet.” Naturally, however, the Vicar of Christ writes from his own – our – view of life. He says: “Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Holy Trinity.”
A look then at further insights which for Francis flow from this Trinitarian foundation of our Christian faith:
-“The Trinity has left its mark on all creation: the Father is the ultimate source of everything; the Son united himself to this earth; the Spirit is intimately present at the very heart of the universe.”
-“The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. The ideal is to discover God in all things.”
Pope Francis also writes about sacraments, the Sabbath, contemplative rest. He points to very earthy things like water, oil, touch, sexual intercourse, and above all bread and wine which our tradition uses as metaphors for the indescribable beauty of God’s gift that is Mother Earth.
In particular, the pope’s reflections about the Eucharist enrich and expand our understanding of the connection between wheat, grapes and the celebration of God’s Incarnation and the inauguration of the New Creation in the world. These fruits of Earth are offered to God, having been made into bread and wine through “the work of human hands” and, as Jesus’ promised at the Last Supper, become the actual reenactment of His redemptive death and resurrection.
Finally, in Laudato si’ the Holy Father calls to mind the creaturely reality of rest. Our vocation to enjoy, admire and celebrate our common home requires “relaxation and festivity” or what is sometimes referred to as “wasted time in prayer.” These, says the pope, “protect human activity from becoming empty activism… Rest opens our eyes to the larger picture and gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others” [including and especially those of our beloved Mother Earth].
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.