By Deacon John De Gano
We’ve experienced a lot of turmoil this last year.
A ‘top ten’ list would likely include: Plague. Pestilence. Political upheaval. Violence against brother or sister. Wars and rumors of war. Shortages of TP and hand sanitizer. Food lines and vaccination trials. And, of course, fear and death.
And now we await the emergence of billions of cicadas who will be coming out of a 17-year hibernation in May - ready to cause additional havoc and devour the crops in the fields of the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
Does anybody feel like they’ve seen or heard this movie plot before?
Perhaps a sort of replay of the Exodus story, with its plagues and pestilence? Golden calf idols. Self-absorption and greed…
Could God once again be trying to tell his chosen people something?
Are we willing to listen and reflect on what God is saying to us?
Or, are we, like the whiny Hebrews of Moses’ day, a stiff-necked lot, destined to wander about in the heat of the desert of sin, be bitten by bugs and tormented by snakes, until we either die (refusing to look upon the image of the snake on a pole) or humble ourselves enough to allow God to love and minister to our needs -- providing manna and quail, water from the rock. A cloud by day and a column of fire by night so that we may reach the Promised Land.
Surely, we have not already forgotten that the Book of Exodus comes right after Genesis in the Bible, and the very first stories are about Creation, with God placing the first people in a Garden and saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’? Be caretakers of the land, the creatures and vegetation. And everyone was at peace… That is, until sin entered the picture and we have known little peace ever since.
Perhaps, God is trying to get our attention…calling us back to the garden.
Pope Francis thought so. Writing in his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si (on the Care for Creation), he described a Creation in balance. Where we aren’t attempting to destroy the very land we’re standing upon and we care for all living creatures -- much like St. Francis of Assisi, who recognized the dignity of all creation, calling Brother Sun and Sister Moon a part of his family.
The Pontiff spoke of the hope that rests with us - to use our God-given brains to devise solutions to pollution, to global warming and, as a corollary, global poverty. He encourages us to educate ourselves on the environment and to take steps to limit our “footprint” so that future generations may have an equal footing on our planet and not have to witness the destruction of the ozone layer, rise in temperatures, radiation or sea levels and the forced starvation and migration of billions of eco-refugees.
And Pope Francis said we can begin to reclaim our ‘garden’ planet quite simply, through prayer.
He asks each of us to pray the Examen every night - reviewing the encounters of our day, trying to identify where we met God in one another (and where we slipped up), and asking God to create in us hearts of gratitude and mercy.
Only this time, Pope Francis suggests, we should expand our “review of the day” to include those times we did something positive for the environment/creation and/or failed to consider the rest of creation in our choices.
If we pray this regularly, he says, our awareness of our interconnectedness will grow, our conscience will be properly informed, our hearts will be converted by the Holy Spirit to love and a habit of gratitude will take root.
If only we allow ourselves the ten or 15 minutes to pray... (and play in his garden!) then we will know and experience inner peace and we will allow others to live in peace, as well. We will be less likely to trash our planet or one another.
The fruit of our loving actions will bring glory to our Heavenly Father and unite us to his Son, Jesus, who by his cross united heaven and earth together and through his Resurrection renews all of creation in himself.
And we will once again be good stewards of our world.
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.