The mystical interconnectedness of all Creation

The title of a recent Guardian report stood out: “Pope Francis is a bit like Naomi Klein in a cassock.”

Jul 01, 2015

By Anil Netto
The title of a recent Guardian report stood out: “Pope Francis is a bit like Naomi Klein in a cassock.”

Now Klein, a prominent secular social activist, has been a trenchant critic of present-day corporate capitalism. She recently wrote a prophetic book on the environment — This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate.

Ten days later came another Guardian report, “Pope Francis recruits Naomi Klein in climate change battle.”

The Bishop of Rome is certainly reaching out to all those concerned about what is happening to raise public awareness of the perils of climate change and environmental degradation.

Not everyone is happy with his criticism of capitalism. Listen to US presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a convert to Catholicism: “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home… But I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops, or my cardinals, or my Pope.”

A report in salon.com revealed that many American Catholics are sceptical of climate change. The title of the report? Why Catholic Americans are rejecting the Pope: They worship the free market now.

For Klein and others concerned about the environment, Francis is spot on. Back in Rome, several thousand people, including people of other faiths, rallied in suppport of Francis’ encylical, Laudato Si’. For them, Francis is a new moral and spiritual voice in the battle against climate change. St Francis of Assisi would have been bemused!

Today, let’s take a closer look at Chapter 2 of Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, which focuses on the interconnectedness and interdependence of Creation, adding a mystical dimension to it all.

First, concern for the environment is not optional. St John Paul himself said that Christians must “realise that their responsibility within Creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.” We have been created in the image of God, with special dignity. Unfortunately, “the harmony between the Creator, humanity and Creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.”

This broken relationship distorted our understanding of what it means to have “dominion” over creation. Many see it as a licence to plunder the earth. But no, dominion brings with it a responsibility for us to protect and care for it.

We are called to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). i.e. to cultivate, plough and work; to care for, protect and preserve Nature. This implies “a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature,” one that respects the “delicate equilibria” that exists among all creatures. There is no place for “a tyrannical anthropocentrism, unconcerned for other creatures.”

In fact, in our Catechism, we are taught that “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection.”

In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain is told that “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now, you are cursed from the ground” (Gen 4:9-11). Even the ground is affected! This shows that everything is interconnected — “that genuine care for our own lives, and our relationship, with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.”

Often, when we think of the Sabbath, we think of a day of rest for our toil and labour. But Scripture goes beyond that. It calls for rest even for Nature to renew itself. “This renewal entails recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator.”

Every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside when sowing was forbidden and you could only reap enough to feed your household. A complete rest for the land! And every 49 years, a Jubilee year was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Lev 25:10).

This was to ensure fairness and balance in relationships with one another and with the land. It was also to remind us that “the gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone.”

All creatures are interconnected. Even the sun, the moon and the shining stars are invited to praise God (Ps 148:3-5). After all, the God who liberates us is the same God who created the universe, and this God can also intervene in this world to overcome evil and injustice.

Francis asserts that “the best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and, who alone owns the world.”

Creation, he says, has a broader meaning than Nature — “it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance…. Creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.”

This communion means that every creature is the object of the Father’s tenderness, care and affection.

We have to see the “fragility of nature” and discard the “modern myth of unlimited material progress.” We should discern all the open and intercommunicating systems in the universe which have “countless forms of relationship and participation.” From this, we begin to understand God’s transcendence and the mysterious beauty unfolding. We can either use our intelligence and work towards evolving things positively, or “towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks.” The choice is ours.

Even when bad things happen, “the Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge.”

The same Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and invites us to enter into a relationship with him and cultivate “ecological virtues.”

Through this, we would be so entwined with the rest of Creation that “we would feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.” And we would be just as outraged by the huge income inequalilites around us: one side lording it over others with all their posessions, producing so much waste, the other side living in desperate poverty.

Even though we may have private ownership of property, Francis reminds us that “the Christian tradition has never recognised the right to private property as absolute or inviolable; it has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.”

Francis of Assisi gives us a glimpse of the harmony we should achieve with Creation, best reflected in his Canticle about Brother Sun and Sister Moon. This echoed the lifestyle of Jesus, who lived in full harmony with Creation.

Jesus reminded us how God cares even for the smallest creatures. Remember the parables of the sparrows and the lilies of the field? And remember what they said of him: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

Yes, everything is interconnected. “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three absolutely interconnected themes,” asserts Francis.

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