*The following homily was delivered on October 13, 2015. Homilies are written in a conversational style and do not follow traditional writing conventions.
As many of you know, the religious world is buzzing about how we, as people of faith, ought to deal with the environmental crisis. And of course, its great time to be Catholic because we have seen many theologians and pastors of our Church face environmental issues head on and serve as leaders in the crisis. Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Ask the Beasts; and of course, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si have started conversations among many different groups, both religious and secular, and I think their work has left many of us trying to figure out just how we as Christians ought to relate to our common home…the earth.
In our first reading Paul helps us to do just that: he describes our common home through a sacramental lens. Listen again to what he says:
“Ever since the creation of the world,
his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity
have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.”
In other words, to use the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins: “the world is charged with the grandeur of God…” You see, Paul is saying that by looking at creation, we can know something of God. Perhaps when we look at a lion, we can know something of God’s majesty. Or when we look at a dove, we can know something of his meekness and purity, and so on.
And ultimately this gives us an ethic: an ethic to protect the Lord’s creation. Because if creation speaks to us about God, then to destroy creation destroys the muses of our theology: the muses being that lion that helps us understand God’s majesty, or that dove that helps us understand God’s purity, or that massive awe-inspiring landscape that helps us understand that there is indeed a creator, and that I am but a creature.
But aside from just giving us a way to understand creation in a positive sense, Paul also gives us a warning. Listen again:
“While claiming to be wise, they became fools
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for the likeness of an image of mortal man
or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.”
Here Paul describes idolatry. Because if our work toward protecting and respecting the earth becomes divorced from God it becomes mere activism, and to repeat Paul’s words, we exchange the glory of the immortal God for the glory of the birds or four-legged animals, or of snakes, as Paul says. We start worshiping creation, and can easily neglect our own humanness—both in the vertical sense: which hungers and thirsts for God, and in the horizontal sense: which suggests that human beings have a special dignity in creation and that humanity’s more immediate interests need to be addressed, too.
On the other hand, if we ignore creation, how easily we can exchange the glory of God for the glory of human beings: with our skyscrapers and our technology and all those things that have contributed so much to the health and well-being of the human race. But without creation, it is so easy to become convinced that we are the one’s who are the master creators, and not God–that we have ultimate control; and we make a god out of ourselves.
So today, as we as a Church continue to try to understand our place and role on the earth and the universe, lets remember Paul’s warning to us: that we indeed have a responsibility to take care of the earth, lest we turn in on ourselves and make ourselves God. And lets remember the reason for our ecological outreach. By protecting the environment, we give glory to God.