WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR THE PROTECTION OF CREATION
Reflection of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Church of the Holy Cross, Clonliffe, Dublin, 1st September 2015
“We gather this evening as Christians of various denominations. Our gathering in this context of reflection on protecting creation puts into focus, however, not our divisions, but what we share as believers in the one Jesus Christ who came to reveal to us that God is love. What unites us is both our faith in Jesus and our awareness of the continuous need of conversion of hearts so that our world can truly be a world marked by love.
Last Sunday in many of our traditions we heard a Gospel reading which stressed the fact that our faith is not removed from reality; it is a faith which is expressed in externals and in things to be done. But the fundamental message of that Gospel reading was that our externals and our traditions can easily become nothing other than the empty activities of humans, if they are not accompanied and inspired by an authenticity in what goes on within us, within our hearts. Our hearts are in continual need of conversion.
The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has taken a lead in establishing this Day of Prayer for the Protection of Creation which has the support of Pope Francis and the leaders of a wide range Christian Churches. The Orthodox Churches in particular share a beautiful tradition of ecological spirituality. We have here, this evening, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of the Moscow Patriarchate, and of the Romanian, Ethiopian, Armenian and Antiochian Orthodox Churches, as well as of the Church of Ireland and the Society of Friends and other religious traditions
This event reminds us that as individuals and as Churches we have often neglected our responsibilities for the protection of creation or have even distorted the true attitude towards the environment which should mark the believing Christian. This distortion then led some to act as if we humans can look on the earth just as a resource to be exploited for our own interests, that the resources of the earth are just raw material for us to shape at will or for narrow economic gain.
Pope-emeritus Benedict noted that the “earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives”. The Christian attitude to creation is that we are not its lords entitled to do what we wish with it, but in a way we are subject to the directives of nature and are called to ensure that those directives are respected in our societies. This requires a greater conversion that most of us would admit; a conversion of our hearts and a conversion of the culture of so much in our society: a conversion of the social heart.
What is evil and wrong in our world is the fruit of secrets which lie deep in the hearts of all of us; secrets which cry out for conversion. How often do we find wonderful words to express what protection of creation might mean, and yet we know deep down that these words do not always touch our own hearts? Conversion is not an act of concession to political correctness or simply the use of nice formulae; without conversion of our hearts we will be left living a life that is still selfish and self-centred and inward looking.
Today’s celebration is a cry to all to develop a totally new and different relationship with the world that surrounds us. It is about appreciating the beauty of creation; it is about respecting that uniqueness that every element of creation possesses and of respecting the harmony that exists among all those elements. It is about enjoying the gifts of the created world, but also protecting creation from the negative effects of human selfishness and ambition and arrogance. An ecological spirituality must protect both endangered plant and animal species and human beings whose life and survival and very existence has become vulnerable through the effects of climate change and unscrupulous plundering of the earth’s resources.
We can truly enrich ourselves through contact with the beauty and harmony of nature. We have tried this evening to create a special atmosphere and I am grateful to the authorities of the Dublin Botanic Gardens for their help. Pope-emeritus Benedict also reminded us of a certain reciprocity in our relationship with God’s creation, a notion which might well be the fundamental reflection we go away with this evening: “as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us”.
From the beginning of time God revealed himself in creation. Our faith is not a pantheist faith which identifies God with the earth; but the Christian belief in creation is to recognise that God revealed himself in creation and that we must always realise that in creation we encounter something of the God of love which challenges us to live the reality of love in all our relationships.
The world and all it possesses is not ours. That is what the term “creation” involves. The cosmos is not just something for us or for what we might wish to pass on to future generations in a sort of measured utilitarian view. The very term creation reminds us that the earth and all it contains is in the first place God’s and must be used in the plan which God established which every day is tarnished by negative human activity.
Creation reveals a God who loves and cares. We are called to respond in love, a love that is not the narcissism of greed but one in which we reflect the detailed care that God has for every dimension of his creation, in which all of the elements reflect the nature of God. The God of care who can count even the number of hairs on our heads, is also the God who knows and cares for very tiny element of his creation.
An ecological spirituality of care for creation is in its depth an act of faith. Let me quote Pope Francis: “For it is by faith we know that we are creatures, not the accidental or fortuitous products of blind forces or chance coincidences. This concern does not turn the Church into a “green NGO”, on the contrary, we must repeat with the [Second Vatican] Council that humanity today “raises anxious questions about the current trend of the world, about the place and role of man in the universe, about the meaning of its individual and collective strivings, and about the ultimate destiny of reality and of humanity”.
An ecological spirituality is about what life is about, about nature and how we care for it and about how nature cares for us. It is about what God plans for his creation and about the place of each one of us in that plan. In humble prayer before God let us humbly recognise our genius and our limitedness. In trusting prayer before God may we inspire new hope for a future world closer to God’s plan. ENDS