We are stewards of God’s good gift of creation – called to care and protect it, not damage or harm it. Climate change, rising sea levels and global warming are an existential and a real and present danger. Never has our vocation to be Stewards of the Earth and of Creation been greater or more urgent.
If you want to feel humble, go and stand atop a mountain. From there, look out over the vastness and beauty of nature: the hills, the rocks and the trees, which are far older than us, the rivers and lakes glinting in the sun and the hundreds of thousands of species of flowers. God made all this, and imbued it with such power that it all works in unison, in a celebration of life that is constantly regenerating itself, season after season.
Scientists suggest that the earth regulates itself in an incredibly complex way, so that temperature, marine salinity, oxygen levels and other variables are always balanced, ensuring that life is sustained. Of course, as we all know, this balance is currently under threat because of all the pollution released into
The world population has now reached over 8 billion and we must begin to live in a way that cares for nature (for example, by growing food organically, controlling carbon emissions, reducing our consumption), otherwise we risk irreparable damage to our beautiful planet. At present it’s estimated that 10,000 species are being lost every year.
Pope Francis takes the environment very seriously indeed and said recently: ‘Another threat to peace arises from the greedy exploitation of environmental resources. Even if nature is at our disposition, all too often we do not respect it or consider it a gracious gift, which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations. Here too what is crucial is responsibility on the part of all in pursuing, in a spirit of fraternity, policies respectful of this earth, which is our common home. I recall a popular saying: “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives!”’
Pope Francis has apparently called upon the wisdom and expertise of the theologian Leonardo Boff, who has written much on the sanctity of nature. In his book Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, he writes: ‘Beginning a new convenant with the Earth absolutely requires a reclaiming of the dimension of the sacred. Without the sacred, affirming the dignity of Earth and the need to set limits on our desire to exploit its potentialities remain empty rhetoric.’
Our dear Saint Francis of Assisi (after whom our new Pope is named, of course) understood more than most the deep sanctity of nature. He sensed that the countryside really is a kingdom of God and so he sought refuge there alone, in order to contemplate God. This echoes the practices of Jesus, who retreated into the wilds of the desert and prayed amid the hills: ‘In those days, he went out into the mountains to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God’ (Luke 6:12).
The natural world resounds with life. The hills really are alive… with the sound of peace. A walk in the woods or beside the sea, washes our problems away – amid the vast immensity of nature, we seem refreshingly miniscule.
‘Praised be You my Lord through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,’ wrote St Francis in his Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. As well as sustaining us spiritually, the earth provides us with everything we need to live. One of the easiest ways to cultivate a deeper love for the earth is to be grateful for this.
As well as caring for humanity, as Christians we should surely be caring for all life. ‘Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough,’ said St Francis. ‘We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it.’
Our modern farming methods and our ways of living are threatening many of our beloved wildlife. For example, butterfly habitats and passageways are wiped out by motorways, and coral reefs are smashed to pieces by trawler fishing methods. Even if we are so hardened not to care about such life and such beauty, we cannot think it will never affect us. For instance the worldwide honeybee population is currently under threat, and since bees pollinate one third of our food, we had better help them!
There are many ways we can easily live in harmony with nature, if we all make just a few small changes. For example, spending a little bit extra on organic food and opting to purchase locally grown, seasonal produce instead of food that has been flown or shipped halfway across the world.
There is great love and service in these small changes, and when made by everyone, we can ensure that the earth remains a beautiful and peaceful place for all life to enjoy. We are truly stewards of God’s good creation.