The following is a reflection given by Associate Lisa Steiner at a Creation Mass on September 23, 2019 in the Motherhouse Chapel. Lisa also serves as the Coordinator for Social Concerns for the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville.
We hear from today’s readings that God loved us into being. We were created in the likeness of God and called by the Holy Spirit to be in communion with God. We are called to set creation free from the slavery of corruption and to share in the glory of creation as children of God. We are given the awesome responsibility of loving everyone – especially the vulnerable and those who suffer – like God does. And we are empowered by the Spirit of God who dwells within us, a gift freely given from God. That is a lot to ponder. What could it possibly mean?
During this Season of Creation, Pope Francis implores us to be present and to reflect on the state of the world. We open our eyes and hearts to the reality of a dying planet, of starving people, of the many injustices that prevail when human power and greed are valued more than life and the common good. It is an inner-connected issue: our human condition and the vitality of earth. As much as our society likes to compartmentalize issues and think in “either-or” terms, there is no escaping that the health of earth – its water, air and soil, and all the plants and creatures dwelling on it – directly relates to human life. In fact, our future existence as a species fully depends on the existence of a life-giving planet.
I’d like to explore two ideas today. One is that our faith challenges us to think differently about the world and our place in it. The other is that the presence and promise of Christ are much bigger than anything we could ever fathom.
(Let me say, I recognize there is a lot of wisdom present in this chapel today, so I will likely be reminding you of what you already know. )
First, how might we think differently about the world and our place in it? Yes, God clearly loves us and has gifted us, not only with bodies but also with minds and souls. We are the most like God of any living creature, we learn. Yet, God is God and we are God’s people. He is the potter, we are the clay. He is the vine, we are the branches.
This dependence, this unity with God, instills goodness and peace in the world. God’s love is big enough to encompass all of creation and heal every wounded or sinful heart. The good news of the Gospel is that we all belong; we are all worthy of redemption if we can love God and neighbor first.
Richard Rohr says, “When we can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then we will – ironically – find that we are more than enough.” Yes, we are important because of the Creator who gives us life. And we learn from the Gospel reading today that our own holiness depends on how we treat “the least of our brothers and sisters.” And, I will add, how we treat animals and nature. We become better people when we realize – ironically – that we are in fact no better than anyone else. In Pope Francis’ words, “People have forgotten that they, too, are God’s creation and not lords of the universe, free to exploit anything they want.” Instead we are “stewards of this earth with a responsibility to care for our common home.”
It seems to me that grace comes from recognizing we are all one – we are connected through life and called to be in relationship with one another. Seeing ourselves above others creates separation, provokes violence and leads to sinfulness. Ronald Rolheiser writes, “One does not walk away with a clear conscience from the challenge Jesus gave to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give of our lives and resources to those less fortunate….The fuel that fires our quest for justice must be drawn from the same source as the truth of justice itself, namely from the person and teaching of Jesus.”
Speaking of Jesus, this leads me to the second idea – that the presence and promise of Christ are much bigger than anything we could ever fathom. I think it goes without saying that we know we are not God. The book of Wisdom asks: who would presume to know the mind of the Lord? And how might we ever grasp the infinite love of God? Also, we have been told that Jesus is saving a place for us when our time comes to leave earth. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard.
And yet our faith is real not only because of the promise of the Resurrection, but also because of the presence of Jesus through the Incarnation. Life is so precious and humanity so blessed that God was revealed to us in human form. And so, in our lives, we are inspired to be like Jesus, to love and serve in his image.
On a deeper level, not only do we believe in the beauty of life and the hope of salvation, we also believe in the cosmic mystery of Christ: that Christ was, is and ever shall be. As St. John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
This mystery leads me to ask, who are we and who are we in relation to our Creator? I think Saint Angela Merici’s contemplative love of God shows us the way. Martha Buser writes, “[Angela] grasped the reality of her finiteness and of her limitations, and she accepted them. She stood at the foot of the Cross, and said, Let your first refuge be always at the feet of Jesus Christ.” May we be so humble and yet so confident in knowing that the love of God, manifest in Jesus, is the source of everything we are and ever will be.
So what about the person that says he has a God-given right to use the earth for his own gain, to put himself above other living things? That because of the promise of Christ we are saved regardless of what harm we may do to the planet? That scripture tells us the physical world we know is subject to futility and will disappear someday anyway? I don’t have an answer for that person and I am certainly no better than that person. But I do believe that each of us needs to do our part, however we can, to honor and love the world God gave us. If we are willing to claim God as our parent, then we can learn to love more abundantly.
So as we come together around Christ’s table today, we pray, “Lord send out Your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” We also pray for the renewal of our commitment to love the way God loves, with awe and respect for all of creation. Amen.