Today we celebrate the last Sunday in the “Season of Creation,” a period extending from September 1 – October 4th, The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Ecologists. During this time, the world’s Christians focus on their duty to care for God’s Creation. In recent months, the world’s people have become more aware than ever of the effects of planetary warming and global climate change. Record-breaking climatic disasters on every continent have forced personal experiences of raging forest fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or droughts. We humans have only begun to viscerally comprehend how interdependent we are with all dimensions of planetary systems and the actions/inactions of one another. Amid these conditions, the readings for today bring us important challenges, food for thought, and action.
A story is told about a prayer meeting of a group of ministers that took place during the U.S. Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln was present. He was known to not be a “church-going man,” but a simple man of deep faith and a decisively sharp wit. At one point a minister addressed Lincoln: “Mr. President, Let us pray that God is on our side.” Lincoln immediately quipped back: “No, gentlemen – let us pray that we are on God’s side!” I suggest that today’s lectionary readings challenge us in a similar way.
The questioner in our First Reading cries out against the perceived lack of fairness of God’s actions. Indeed, Israel is experiencing the harsh realities of their captivity by enemies – Egypt, Persia, and Babylon. Sadly, their suffering is the result of their infidelity to the God’s ways and commands. The Prophet Ezekiel brings them hope, pointing out their suffering can be reversed by a change in their behavior and a renewal of the commitment and fidelity to God’s commands. Today, we too can change our way – but we must do it now. We need to act both spiritually and concretely in how we treat the natural world around us.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul lists significant ways and actions that bring unity to the Christian community and beyond. The characteristics uniting the community include being unified in convictions, bonded in love, and refusing conceit and competition. Preferred behaviors that lead to happiness include being self-effacing, preferring others above oneself. But the ultimate source of inspiration is the exemplary obedience of Jesus to God’s will and activities. In view of our climate threats and disasters, we Christians need to join together and extend our care and actions toward unifying the world toward making the necessary changes preserving lives beyond our own, including God’s creation. We need to engage in actions of conserving water, eliminating our use of fossil fuels, eating plant-based diets, being willing to train for work in new sustainable industries, and doing many other things proven to pare down global warming.
In the Gospel, Jesus challenges us in a similar way using the parable of the Two Sons. Frequently, we Christians have been more like the First Son, knowing God’s charge to us to care for the Creation (Gen 3:26-28). But ultimately, we’ve acted like we don’t care by barely changing anything about how we live. We have effectively said, “No” to creation care. We, for the most part – until now – have failed to adequately care for God’s planet and for our sisters and brothers across the globe who are already drowning in rising waters, covered in toxins, or aflame. We have neglected Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si’- On Care for Our Common Home and gone on with “business as usual.” Just one example: In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls on the world to end fossil fuel use. Today, numerous excellent new technologies exist to aid us in making a transition that is necessary, but very few of us have acted.
When explaining the action of the First Son, Jesus reminds us that the Tax Collectors and the Prostitutes of his day were more receptive of his message than some of God’s chosen people. Indeed, we Christians too have said a lot of nice words, but we have done quite little for creation care. Still, recently we’ve seen thousands of youths across the globe fighting for planetary care. Some Christians have joined the effort and been amazingly effective given their small numbers. The good news is that more and more Christians are awakening to their spiritual, moral, and civic duty to truly do “the Father’s will”! Are you ready to make a change? Are you ready to take your place with the “First Son” and besides your sisters and brothers to care for God’s Creation?
The Catholic Climate Covenant website https://catholicclimatecovenant.org/ is a place where you can find suggestions for how to begin. Our loving compassionate Creator God is waiting with open arms! Are you on God’s side?
Dawn M. Nothwehr, OSF, Ph.D.
The Erica & Harry John Family Professor of Catholic Theological Ethics