A looming spiritual battle

The other day, at a forum, speaker after speaker highlighted overdevelopment, the ecological challenges and the lack of affordable housing for the poor.

Feb 23, 2020

By Anil Netto
The other day, at a forum, speaker after speaker highlighted overdevelopment, the ecological challenges and the lack of affordable housing for the poor.

They were specific and passionate about their numerous complaints, which they felt strongly about.

It dawned on me that humanity is facing a spiritual battle that is much larger than many of the specific problems that were highlighted.

What we are confronted with is human and corporate greed – a problem down the ages – which drives some to grab and accumulate more than their fair share, even resources that should be shared (the Commons) by all.

Now, this may not have been as critical in the past, when the population was lower. Back then, many, including mainstream economists, assumed that the Earth had infinite resources to feed our production and assembly lines and satisfy our appetites to consume. But this is no longer the case.

While we argue about race and religion, the reality is that we are faced with critical problems that recognise none of these human divisions and borders. Think of the coronavirus, the regional smog, the water crisis, the declining fisheries, plastic waste that have affected so many countries.

This is why Francis of Assisi is so relevant today. At a time when the Church was steeped in pomp and illusions of grandeur, he “got” the Gospel message of simplicity and renunciation.

More than that, he understood the mystical bond that connects all of Creation – not just human solidarity that embraces the poor and  the sick, he could see the interconnectedness of all Creation.

This is why his Canticle of the Sun, much of it composed in 1224 – almost 800 years ago – while he was recovering from an illness is so relevant today. Tradition says the entire  canticle was sung by Francis on his deathbed two years later, accompanied by his companions, Brothers Angelo and Leo.

What was remarkable was that Francis was believed to be suffering from an eye disease – and yet, he could see in his inner mind the unity of all Creation. Perhaps this is why some people feel so much anguish when they see bulldozers clearing a forest, or fishing waters being destroyed. They can see or feel the wrenching of the spiritual bond that ties all of Creation together.

So Francis’ canticle assumes much significance in our age. Here are a few verses:

Be praised, my Lord,
through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day;
and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and
radiant in all his splendour!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness....

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy
and serene, and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble
and precious and chaste…

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us
and who produces
varied fruits with coloured
flowers and herbs.

Francis’ poetic language to describe the beauty, solidarity and interconnectedness of all Creation is reminiscent of the language Jesus used in Luke 12:23-27, where he spoke about the birds in the air and the flowers and lilies in the field clothed grander than the royal robes of Solomon.

Jesus then goes on to warn in Luke 12: 33 “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it.” This accumulation of wealth is driving much of the destruction of the ecology in our world today.

Francis, seeing the interconnectedness of Creation and its communion with the divine, took the words of Jesus literally. He renounced his father’s inheritance and embraced “Lady Poverty” while holding a special bond with all of God’s creation. Even the birds are said to have responded to his singing and preaching.

May we try and grasp the vision of interconnectedness that Francis was able to see so vividly and then respond to with heartfelt “ecological conversion”.

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