Last year Pope Francis invited everyone to observe the Season of Creation. It begins Sept. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and concludes Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. The symbol for this season is the burning bush, a reminder of the wildfires wreaking havoc in some states. But also a depiction of Moses’s burning bush. God was present in those flames that did no harm. We are to look for God’s presence in all of nature.
Back in 2015 I posted the following reflection. It is more apt than ever today.
Years ago when I was in Vancouver, my companion and I went up a snow-covered mountain to a ski lodge. From that height, the view was spectacular: a vision of pale blue water and islands wrapped in lavender mist. Not having a camera, I tried to imprint the scene on my mind for future reference.
Such revelations of the world’s beauty touch the heart and can move us to tears. We see awesome sights not only in person, but in the National Geographic and posted on the Internet. Our earth, a blue and green gem floating in black space, was entrusted to us by God, its creator. We have dominion over it and all the plants and animals that exist in it. Apparently we are failing in our responsibility—so much so that Pope Francis has written a letter to the world in which he doesn’t mince words. He states, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
I think of the depleted forests, the miles-wide island of plastic floating on the ocean, the corpses of animals slain for just a small piece of them like a tusk. But I also think of the people who toss garbage out of their car window. When this happens in front of me, I feel like making a citizen’s arrest! Then there are those who cover walls with graffiti and those whose houses and lawns look like no one lives there.
On the other hand, some people are fiercely fighting to keep our world reflecting its pristine beauty. Just this week I observed a man walking along our curbside, spearing litter and depositing it in a bag. Then too there are organizations working to save animals, purify water, and reseed forests. We are encouraged to compost, recycle, be sparing with water, and cut down on carbon emissions.
The true, the good, and the beautiful have long been identified as values that human beings yearn for. Straying from them is in a way an assault on our very selves. It makes us less than the kind of humans we are meant to be. The three ideals are found in their fullness in God.
St. Augustine in his book Confessions addressed God as “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” We’ve been taught that creation reflects God, its maker. Its beauty is a sign of God’s incredible beauty. We speak of beholding God in heaven as the Beatific Vision. Beatific here means causing happiness. Preserving and cultivating the beauty of the earth leads to joy. Marring it and turning it into something ugly is not only sad, but it insults God. Moreover, it cheats our grandchildren and their descendants.
The next time you sing, “For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, . . . .” a hymn giving thanks to God, you might resolve to show your thanks by cherishing and protecting the gift of earth.
In the meantime, you might reflect on the lyrics:
• What is the most beautiful thing you have seen on earth? A graceful deer leaping over a fence? A multicolored rose? A sleeping baby? What steps have you taken to keep our world flourishing?